5 Questions for... Patricia Kopatchinskaja

11 July 2018

In June, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra celebrated its first American residency at the Ojai Music Festival, where violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja was this year’s Music Director.

As one of the MCO’s close partners, Patricia Kopatchinskaja has collaborated with the orchestra on a wide range of projects and repertoire, quite a few of which question the status quo in, and the future of, classical music. Some of the most memorable concerts include the staged performance Bye Bye Beethoven, conceptualized by the violinist herself and premiered with the MCO; as well as performances of Ligeti’s notorious Violin Concerto.

MCO violist Yannick Dondelinger spoke with Patricia Kopatchinskaja at the end of the three-week project – which included appearances in Berkeley, California and Aldeburgh, Great Britain in addition to the orchestra’s Ojai residency – about the impacts of her Ojai experience, her friendship with the MCO, and the responsibilities of today’s musicians.

We have all spent two weeks now in California: at the Ojai Festival, where you are this year’s Music Director, and in Berkeley. What are some of the impressions you will take home with you from our time here?

The overwhelming impression was the utmost dedication and united spirit of so many clever
people who made one of the most crazy schedules I’ve experienced so easily possible. Tom Morris and his office, all the people who helped on stage and back stage, the MCO, the JACK Quartet, Michael Hersch, Ah Young Hong, Anthony Romaniuk, Tito Muñoz, and all the others.

Every concert – intense and complex – was unlike any concert routine, with difficult or unusual music, and with so many open-air rehearsals and performances, often under the hot Californian sun. This is only possible if all participants are radiating positive energy. And don’t forget the legendary Ojai audience, absorbing unknown music with an incredible openness and joy. I will remember that all as a beautiful firework-dream.

The combination PatKop, MCO and Ojai is a first. The visionary, the explorers and the collaborator. Can you describe the chemistry between these three elements? What has come out of the melting pot?

I played with the MCO for first time many years ago. It was the Beethoven Violin Concerto under Philippe Herreweghe; later, in 2012, it was the Bernstein Serenade and then in 2016, when we developed the Bye Bye Beethoven project all together for Hamburg and Berlin. But Ojai was indeed the most fertile ground for a true togetherness, where I felt being part of the family, enjoying not only the playing but also the talking, thinking, inventing, eating, coming closer as friends. I came to understand what the ideal situation would be for me to play a so called solo-concerto with orchestra – it’s when I don’t feel like a soloist; it’s when l hear all the voices, when I know and feel the soul of every musician, and can converse with everyone on the same level. It’s almost mystic.

The Ojai audience is undoubtedly a special one. They listen, think, express, interact and are very much integral to the Ojai performance experience. What can they teach other audiences?

What we can learn from Ojai audiences is that with courage and persistence, you can find audiences and sponsors who support strong ideas and want to explore the unknown with musicians, and who are eager to create but not to copy the past. We need to find the relevance of music and speak the language of NOW, sense the art with fresh eyes and ears – like children. The block comes mostly from not even daring to think about this.

I want to ask you about the overriding feelings, emotions and themes that you have woken with your Ojai programming, and indeed the whole Ojai, Berkeley, Aldeburgh project. From the future environmental apocalypse of the Dies Irae concert, to laying to rest dead master composers in Bye Bye Beethoven, to the utter finality of death in Michael Hersch true-story-inspired I hope we get a chance to meet again soon. These are dark places!
Even the inspiring, ingeniously complex Ligeti Violin Concerto takes us, in the end, to a new world. We finish the festival, in a way, leaving planet Earth.
How much is it our duty in this time in history to tip the balance and prick the audiences’ conscience and open their minds to the future? As opposed to help relieve their stress and offer familiar sounds and old world sentiments as comfort at the end of a long day’s work? Are we communicators, comforters, conscience, all three?

There is a whole industry – as you say – “offering familiar sounds, old world sentiments as comfort and stress relief at the end of a long day’s work”. This attitude governs a greater part of our life, be it politics, media, psychopharmacology or the entertainment industry. The problem is just that they are helping us to tell lies to ourselves. I have no interest in being part of this industry. There is an overwhelming interest in truth, because truth in the end will always triumph over illusions.

We at the Mahler Chamber Orchestra are celebrating our 21st birthday this year. 21 is, in many countries, seen as a coming of age; the final passage into adulthood. With this huge Ojai, Berkeley, Aldeburgh journey, you have been with us to shepherd us forward into the next stage in our musical life.
Has it been interesting to see us learn and experiment with ourselves? How would you wish us to go forward in our future. How should we tackle the wider musical world as a group?

The MCO is not an orchestra; it is a spirit that unifies all of the MCO’s phenomenal independent individuals.

Keeping the eyes open and being very alert if we find things that seem surprising, new, odd or paradoxical, you are able to create very personal visions of well-known pieces, but also by being curious, you can make new music understandable and unforgettable.

I wish you to go your very special way, with love.

Photos: David Bazemore