More than good technique

Violinist Arabella Steinbacher’s diverse repertoire includes more than 30 concertos of different epochs.

October 13, 2011 22:23
3 minute read.
Arabella Steinbacher

Arabella Steinbacher. (photo credit: Thomas Rabsch)


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Nowadays, when violinists with infallible technique that prevails over artistic interpretation of the music are far too numerous, German violinist Arabella Steinbacher is different. Her music making has both the quality of the big masters of the past and the energy of our time.

Steinbacher is making her Israeli debut with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra under Christoph von Dohnanyi, performing Mendelssohn’s concerto. In a phone interview from her home in Munich, she says that for her the emotional charge of her playing is of utmost importance.

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Born in 1981 in Munich to a Japanese mother and a German father, both professional musicians, she has been playing the violin from the age of three. At nine, she was the youngest student of Ana Chumachenko at the Munich Academy of Music.

When asked about schools and influences, Steinbacher says that “Although Chumachenko’s parents come from Russia, she was raised in Argentina, so I cannot say that she totally belonged to the Russian school. I started from the classical violin repertoire, such as concerti by Mozart and Beethoven, and then expanded it to pieces of other composers, including those of the 20th century.”

Paris-based Israeli violinist Ivry Gitlis (now in his late 80s) is among those who have influenced Steinbacher in many ways. “Some 10 years ago I decided to take instruction from Gitlis, but no way do you even talk to him about regular lessons. He is such a Gypsy in the way he lives and plays, his entire life is an improvisation. So I used to go to him, sometimes we went to concerts together, or he would tell me about his life and about his music making. We played to each other. It was such a musical dialogue. It was so interesting and so unusual.”

When asked how she felt about being catapulted into a major career after replacing an ailing soloist in a Paris concert in 2004, Steinbacher said, “Well, that’s what’s written in my biographies, but that is not exactly what happened. At that time I had already appeared with orchestras and I toured, but after that concert I had many more opportunities. Looking back, I can say that this was a natural development. Even more than that – since I did not have too many concerts too early, I had enough time to learn many concertos, and in that I was really lucky,” said Steinbacher, whose diverse repertoire includes more than 30 concertos of different epochs.

Steinbacher also performs contemporary music: “Not too much, but yes, I do play it, for example, [Russian-born] Sofia Gubaidulina’s Offertorium. I had a chance to meet her at her home [in the German countryside]. It was so interesting to see how she lives and how she works.

She has a huge collection of exotic musical instruments from all over the world. She explained to me that she tries to create the same colors in her music as these instruments produce.

This helped me to realize where the rich music colors in her Offertorium come from and to see the entire piece differently.”

The musician admits, “Playing violin is not such a healthy occupation, so I do a lot of sports. But besides this physical activity, I just enjoy the calmness of my home between tours.

This is the place and the condition that is a total opposite to concerts and crowded airports, and this is where I come to myself, where I write my diary and recharge my batteries.”

Arabella Steinbacher plays Mendelssohn’s violin concerto between October 13 – 20 at the Smolarz Auditorium in Tel Aviv. The program also features Con Brio for orchestra by Jörg Widmann, and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7. Christoph von Dohnanyi conducts. For reservations: 1- 700-70-30-30

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