During my years in musical school, I had the opportunity to attend a general rehearsal for the little philharmonic in my town. I was so excited that I got to be on the stage with my teachers and see how it felt to be there, surrounded by the sound of music, that I talked about my experience many days afterwards.
Recently, on a fine Saturday afternoon, I got the chance to hear a rehearsal from the Royal Chamber Orchestra in the great hall of the Romanian Athenaeum. I was impressed by the precision of the indications, by the fluidity of the playing, even if the musicians received late-minute instructions. I was also surprised by the readiness of the soloist to repeat the passages as many times as necessary in order to get it as close to perfection as possible.
The soloist of that part of the rehearsal was Valentina Svyatlovskaya, an appreciated violinist and a member of the Royal Concertgebow Orchestra of Amsterdam.
Valentina Svyatlovskaya started studying music while still a child, in Sankt Petersburg. She was admited at the age of ten at the Conservatory in her hometown before leaving for the Yehudi Academy in Switzerland. Valentina took part in various international competitions, where she was awarded many prizes for her interpretation, including Lipizer International Violin Competition, Valsesia Musicale International Violin Competition or Queen Elisabeth Competition. I was grateful that she was willing to talk to me for a few minutes about her passion for music, her special violin and the inspiration of her teachers.
First of all, I would like to ask you about your childhood. How was music perceived in your family and why did you choose to play the violin?
My parents are musicians; my father is still playing the violin at St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra and my mother used to play the oboe. I had music in my house, we had a musical family. When I was little, I had absolute ear so it was no question about being in music. Of course, when you are little, you cannot decide for yourself. When my parents asked me to choose an instrument, I chose the violin. It was my second choice though, because I wanted to be a ballerina.
The connection with the violin was very easy actually. I had a fantastic teacher when I was little so it was very easy to learn and I had a big help from my father. My teacher had a special kind of classes, full of nice stories over the music, making it interesting to play. When I was playing, I was thinking about princesses and castles. Starting playing the violin is very difficult, but my teacher made it all nice.
Speaking of teachers, who was the greatest teacher you had?
It is very difficult to choose only one. I had a few nice teachers in Russia, but I think the most important one was Liviu [Prunaru] and his master, Alberto Lysy. He is our idol and I know he’s gone from our lives, but he will be always present. I spent only six years with him, but Liviu spent almost half his life (16 years). He was fantastic and he is still in our hearts. I am very proud that I met him and that I studied with him. This is the greatest experience. We are still listening to his recordings and he is still teaching us now, like always.
Lately, we see lots of youngsters coming to classical music shows. How can we make this kind music more accessible and easier to understand for them?
I don’t really know how it is here in Romania, but I see how it works in Holland. I see lots of young people coming and I think it’s a huge work for the organisation in order to make the place nice and the music and program exciting. We even have special programs for little kids and a few times a year we organise various schools and it’s so funny.
I am very sad that they are not interested anymore in this beautiful thing that we do. I love the old school of playing and I don’t see this anymore. Sometimes, to attract youngsters, we do things that are not, in my opinion, honest for ourselves. It should be a lot of excitement, but I want to listen with my ears, other than my eyes. Nowadays there are not so many musicians that play with their hearts, because they make compromises, like sitting down on stage or playing without shoes. All this is done to attract the attention of the public. Our world is a world of excitement; we have to be excited about the speed or about something shocking. This is nice for the public, but for me it’s painful, because I like simplicity. Sometimes I close my eyes and I want to listen with my heart, because I do not care how people dress on stage, but what they are feeling. You go to the concerts for the music, not for the view. We, the musicians, have to be inspiring and not be remembered for our jumping on the stage.
You are playing on a Guarnieri violin and I am very curious about your experience with it. As a pianist, I did not get the chance to play on such old and valuable instruments. How is this different to the other violins?
It is very beautiful, because it is small and it’s like a baby. I am so fortunate that the Swiss Foundation gave this violin to me. Actually, Liviu played on the same violin, offered by the same foundation, and then he gave it to me when he received the Stradivarius one from Concertgebow. I love playing on this violin and I have a real connection with it. I have been playing on it for almost six years and I don’t picture myself without it. I remember though how it was not to have a good violin, back in Russia, when I had a horrible German violin. I think that when you play a lot, you make the instrument sound. In the end, that violin sounded nice. The colours and the cords of this Guarnieri make me feel so happy and lucky to have it.
Finally, I would like to know which is your favourite piece of classical music?
This is a very difficult question. Of course, I would like to play more romantic pieces, because they are closer to my feeling of music. I am not so much attracted to the modern music, although we play it a lot in Holland. I think I would choose Robert Schumann, the Violin Concerto, but this is mainly because I go back to maestro Lysy and his interpretation. I think I love hearing him in this piece.