Violinist Viktoria Mullova talks about her forthcoming recital with Katia Labèque, 6 November 2015

Monday, October 26, 2015 - 15:03
It’s hard to think of Arvo Pärt’s Fratres as a modern work. Its beautiful chords seems to have existed forever, although it was written in 1977 in its first version for string quintet. And yet when Viktoria Mullova and Katia Labèque performed tonight’s programme in Rio de Janeiro recently, the marketing poster made no mention of either this piece or Takemitsu’s 1951 Distance de fée, which the duo also plays. Mullova explains: ‘They thought it would scare the public away. Sometimes contemporary music can be difficult and people are worried, and think, “I don’t understand it, it’s just a lot of notes.” But the public came, heard both pieces and they got the biggest applause.’ Mullova and Labèque perform these two pieces straight through without a break, as Mullova describes: ‘One comes out of the other, which works fantastically, because they mesh together so well. I like Pärt’s harmonies, the simplicity of it. The effect is incredible. Takemitsu was very much influenced by Debussy, and this piece sounds like Pelléas and Mélisande. Usually these two pieces have the biggest success of the whole programme. It’s easy to understand this music. It goes straight to the heart, which is the most important thing – that the music speaks to you.’ One of the benefits for performers in playing contemporary music is that they can actually encounter the composers, and Mullova has met Pärt several times and even had direct feedback from him about performing Fratres. She says, ‘It was wonderful to see him and talk to him. He was so kind and inspiring, and we discussed little technical things about the piece.’ Paradoxically, the oldest music on the programme – Mozart’s Violin Sonata in A major K526, written relatively late in Mozart’s career, in 1787 – is the newest to Mullova. She has only lately started playing the work, as she explains: ‘I’ve never played the Mozart sonatas before. I like Mozart’s symphonies, operas and piano music, but I never liked his violin writing very much. I always thought the sonatas were a little boring. I didn’t understand them until recently, when I saw them brilliantly choreographed by Czech choreographer Jiří Kylián. For the first time I understood what it’s all about. There’s lots of humour – it doesn’t take itself too seriously. This sonata is one of the most difficult ones technically, but it’s well written and lots of fun to play.’ This humour provides a contrast to the Violin Sonata by Robert Schumann, written in 1851, by which time the composer was probably showing signs of mental breakdown. This sad fact can be felt in the music, according to Mullova: ‘The Schumann Violin Sonata is very dark and manic, especially the last movement. You can feel Schumann’s madness in his writing. The phrases are very unusual and strangely written. There are lots of tempo changes and it doesn’t take the usual sonata form. The melody of the first movement is my favourite of the whole work.’ Completing, and ending, the programme is Maurice Ravel’s jazzy Violin Sonata, written between 1923 and 1927. Unusually for most classical musicians, Mullova has ventured into the genre, having recorded several jazz CDs, so this change in style holds little fear, and when asked how she finds the right atmosphere for it, she says, ‘I just feel it.’ And with that, tonight’s programme runs the entire gamut of eras, emotions and impressions. Mullova explains, ‘It’s very well balanced, very unusual. I like different pieces and styles in a programme – it’s boring to play one composer over a whole concert. I like contrasts.’ © Ariane Todes Viktoria Mullova and Katia Labèque perform at St John's Smith Square as part of Southbank Centre's International Chamber Music Season on Friday 6 November at 7.30pm. Tickets from £10.  Book tickets