MUSICTEACHERS.CO.UK VOLUME 2 ISSUE 8, FEBRUARY 2001  
Online Journal

It is not only as a ‘modern’ violinist that Mullova has become a familiar performer; despite a formally-‘Romantic’ training, her interest in period-instrument performance, encouraged by bassoonist Marco Postinghel, has resulted in her re-stringing her 1723 Stradivarius in gut and performing Baroque and Classical music in an ‘authentic’ manner. ‘That was when I first went on tour with The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. It was a great experience, although to begin with I had a major problem with intonation…I felt as though I was in a boat – my intonation was going up and down continually and for the first couple of concerts I really struggled.’ Eventually she came to terms with a style of playing that was alien to her Moscow training and even began directing other players from her leader’s position in the orchestra. ‘Telling the orchestra what to do was quite a challenge for me, but I soon got so used to it; by the end of the tour we were all quite happy together and I had discovered how much I loved playing Mozart, something I would never have envisaged previously. Then I thought that I would never be good enough for him and that all I would ever play would be big concertos by composers such as Brahms or Tchaikowsky.’

It seems that standing on either side of the period-modern instrument fence is still not enough and, as her recent Through the Looking Glass recording for Philips shows, a slightly different and more relaxed Viktoria Mullova has been revealed. The original concept came from an idea to record an album of encores, but she didn’t want to do the usual lollipops – an album of arrangements that included some element of improvisation seemed much more appealing. ‘I had to learn a new style of playing, which was very difficult to begin with…you cannot just start improvising, it’s something you have to learn. All my life has been spent training to play one hundred percent perfectly, so it was a step into the unknown. I felt so vulnerable and was scared that I would do something that people would laugh at.’

In certain respects, she seems somewhat unhappy with some of the responses promotional copies of the CD have received. Two years have passed since the recording, during which time the Through the Looking Glass tour, which started in Italy last August and will finish in Taiwan this April, has afforded the band an opportunity that musicians are rarely afforded, to become musically more familiar with each other. Initially, she found improvisation difficult, but now it comes to her more easily since the beginning of each rehearsal is spent practising it. ‘That provides me with some opportunity, but even now there are times when don’t feel like playing, when I just keep silent and listen to what the others do.

‘It’s certainly not a crossover album’, she says almost indignantly, ‘and despite what the critics say it isn’t jazz. Jazz musicians need to devote the whole of their lives to perfecting their art, something I haven’t done. You only have to listen to the album to see that; it’s a classical album that’s been influenced by jazz and pop.’ She refers to the music as New Classical, a style that she wants to explore further: ‘It would be wonderful to play works that have been commissioned for such an exciting combination as a marimba and violin, works that will include some elements of improvisation.

‘There’s so much to do, since I intend to continue playing period music, I want to continue with New Classical and also want to learn new repertoire, in particular the Walton concerto…do you know, I’ve never played an English concerto, despite having lived here for ten years? I also want to take things further with my chamber group, the Mullova Ensemble.’ She also has plans to work with one of the piano duo Labèque sisters, Katia, on a recital tour of Italy, Germany and the UK, performing classical music, particularly Schubert, as well as hopefully commissioning works from young composers.

‘You’ve not yet asked me about teaching,’ she teased. ‘OK, what about teaching?’ I asked, wondering how she could even consider fitting that into her schedule as well. Erupting into a belly laugh: ‘Ah, teaching…well…I don’t have time to do that!’

It’s possibly just as well; chamber music, period performance, jazz, soloist, mother…what more could she possibly be able to do? Maybe Mullova is set for a new label, one of which she certainly won’t approve, but given the sheer variety of styles and techniques she uses in her career, she is truly a ‘crossover’ musician.


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