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Conversation with violinist Sarah Christian on her debut CD

18.11.2017


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Violinist Sarah Christian's debut CD recording ''Gegenwelten'' with the pianist Lilit Grigoryan has been issued by Genuin last summer. Besides being the concertmaster of Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, Christian has been building a succesful solo career for herself. ''Gegenwelten'' has just been announced as a nominee for the ICMA 2018 Award in the chamber music category. I spoke with her in Munich. 

Bringing Prokofiev and Schubert's pieces together in your debut CD recording is a very interesting concept. I am talking about the repertoire of your new CD which bears the name ''Gegenwelten''. Do you find a correlation, something parallel between the works and these two composers, their way of composing?

They are analytical but at the same time very emotional composers. I feel that these works are like small worlds. I don't want to compare them but it is logical to me also to play in concerts Prokofiev first and after this depressing and mystic ending of this piece you go through so many hard feelings. In the end, it still wins. I don’t see many common things in their lives and styles, it’s really like the title Gegenwelt. There is no relevant English translation of this word. I think it worked.
 
And Sei mir gegrüsst?
Sei mir gegrüsst is a very nice melody with three to four bars. It's just so beautiful and perfect and actually a sad song, typical of Schubert. It is a minor piece and when he changes to major, it always makes me cry.
 
Schubert had a tough life. He had his good moments but also had severe depressions from time to time. 
That’s true. In his music, he is welcoming everything, accepting his situation. It is so generous and that makes it incredibly sad.

Such an illness but in spite of that, trying to make lots of music must be tragic…
He never owned his own flat and he was never independent.
 
He didn't even own a piano. There were only his bed, notebook and friends. So what about Prokofiev?
His violin sonata is very special for me. The theme is clearly about the war, you know he started to write this sonata before the war and finished after it ended. You can hear it from the first note to the last except the third movement. This movement is a dream and I imagine that there is a soldier dreaming about something else. But it is also like Schubert, it feels like the whole life when playing the piece. You start from zero and you go to everything that is there and in the end, you feel like you spent all of your emotions you have. And it goes for 28 minutes.
 
How about the reactions to your new CD?
Everybody says that it is ''ungewöhnlich'' which means uncommon, unusual. This is my debut CD. I really wanted to record something that I know very well. Ever since I started to play Schubert's Fantasie a couple of years ago, I had a strong feeling. I always said: “If I ever record anything, this will be among the first ones.” I looked for another piece which fit or don't fit and finally we decided to add Prokofiev. The reactions to the recording are very nice so far.


 
You were a student of Antje Weithaas in Berlin. I heard a lot of good things about her. Please tell me about your relations with your teacher.
She is a very brilliant pedagogue indeed. Before I went to Berlin, starting from the age of 6 I studied 
with Igor Ozim in Salzburg. He is famous for teaching technical stuff and at that age he was a perfect choice for me to learn how to play the violin. Then I went to Berlin to study with Weithaas. She is the opposite of Ozim. She forces her students to think and to trust in their instincts. That was actually the most important thing I learned from her. It was also important for Schubert. I learned to be spontaneous and trust my insticts to do the right thing. She opened my eyes to a lot of things. She is still incredibly important for me. We have a very good relationship.
 
How was her attitude towards teaching?
If somebody comes to her and wants to play Bach in a romantic way, she could accept it and let him or her to play that way. Of course she has her own tastes but she prefers to say to her students: “You have to decide for the style which you want to play.” So she respects the students' choices. She is really in love with violin and that makes her a great teacher.
 
Do you believe in practising hard? I'm talking about practising 6-7 hours a day?
There was a period in my life which I was practicing six hours a day, but not anymore because I don’t need it. I believe that practicing for four hours will be enough for the muscles. 

Are you happy being the concertmaster of the wonderful ensemble Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen?
Yes, I'm very happy. I was only 23 when I got that position. Antje had told me “To work within a chamber orchestra would be good for you.”
 
You must have a huge traffic, because it is a very 
well known busy orchestra…
The orchestra has three concertmasters. I didn’t play in any one of their concerts in May and June. We get along well and for the moment everything's perfect.
 
How would you define 
Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie's style?
I think the best word to describe the orchestra's way of playing is pure energy. As soon as you get on the stage with them, your feel that power and energy.
 
And where does this energy come from in your opinion? 
Every player in the orchestra has something to say, we have a very democratic system. Everybody feels that he or she is very important for the whole ensemble and I think that's the biggest point. They are very experienced as well. They know where to stop and to listen to other. 


And what about Paavo Järvi?
Besides being a very capable musician, he's also a very calm and relaxed man, always attentive to his musicians' feelings and requests. He's also very funny and a real party man. He always parties with the orchestra after the concerts. He's really interested to be in touch with the musicians.


Do you also conduct?
Not with the baton but with my bow yes I do. The first time was really stressful for me because I was the newest and the youngest musician in the ensemble. It's always hard to tell the people what to do but I enjoy it more today, I think that I got used to it. 

How often do you conduct?
Only one project per season. Last time I conducted a Haydn symphony and a Beethoven concerto.

Being a concertmaster must take a huge time of yours. Are you also teaching violin?
I was Antje’s assistant for two years but not anymore. When I finished my studies in Berlin, I moved here. Maybe I can think teaching again someday but I'm not focused on it now.
 


Do you have some favorites among violin concertos?
Not really, because there are so many great concertos. The one I have played most until now is Brahms. Now I’m into Prokofiev's Second Concerto. I think the concerto I listen to most is Sibelius. When I was a child, I listened to it almost every day. It's so incredibly romantic, beautiful; it's so violinistic and soloistic; even more than Brahms.
 
What about your next CD projects?
Me and my pianist want to record Schumann. Let's admit that his music is not for everybody, it's very intense. But I would love to play Schumann.
 
Do you have any interest towards modern music?
Sometimes I do. Last week I played a brilliant solo violin piece, it was a masterpiece. To be able to ask the composer “What was your imagination? What do you want?” was indeed a great luxury. After consulting, it suddenly became a different piece. I was very thankful for this experience and I loved the music.
 
What do you think about Bach and his music?
I think it gets harder to play Bach when you get older because you get to to know about the music more and more. You know how your colleagues think about it. Sometimes it gets really hard for me to have to rely on a special style or phrase. Because you can phrase Bach's music in many different ways. I think the most important thing to do in Bach's music is to let it go, to be spontaneous and create the piece at the moment you play it.

Interviewed by: Serhan Bali

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