When you first began to learn the violin were you playing the romantic repertoire?
Like all young children (I started at the age of seven), I played baroque sonatas, etc., first, and then the classic and romantic repertoire.
At what stage did you begin to be attracted to the idea of historically informed performance?
This happened in 1979 on the occasion of a master class with Professor Eduard Melkus, who came to Bern to introduce us to the baroque violin. It was love at first sight with this instrument and resulted in me studying with him in Vienna at the same time as finishing my studies in Berne.
If you were asked to play a Brahms violin sonata for some prestigious festival what would you say?
I could not do this anymore since I have not touched a modern violin or modern bow since 1986 when I moved to England. I could not even cope with the weight of the modern bow anymore.
How have attitudes to playing baroque music changed since you began to concentrate on playing music from that time?
A lot of so-called modern players are much better informed about the historical way of performing baroque music. So, in general, I think there is more awareness for the special stylistic requirements of baroque music. Having said that…of course you can still hear the most famous violinists playing a Bach solo sonata or concerto as if it were a romantic piece to be played in a huge concert hall. And what you also get (sadly!) is a totally distorted vision of speed when it comes to for example Bach violin concertos or even fast movements within the solo sonatas and partitas: some modern players tend to favor extremely fast speeds which in my opinion reduce Bach’s music to light weight entertainment.
What technical difficulties arise when playing one of Barry Guy’s compositions for baroque violin?
Barry composes in a way which is very idiomatic for my baroque violin and its potential. So, there are not that many specific difficulties for the baroque violin. BUT, the pieces are in themselves very hard and virtuosic. So, it takes me a long time, in the case of Lysandra and Aglais for example even several years to feel really on top of it. Having said that, he has also devised a few techniques which go totally against all the engrained instincts, which are inbuilt for many years—one example being a passage in Inachis where one plays very fast virtuosic scales , but is not allowed to fully depress the string onto the fingerboard. So, the fingers only lightly touch the string but in the correct position. This took me many months to learn, but has had a wonderfully freeing effect on the overall left hand technique.
How easy, or difficult, do you find it to improvise when you are required to do so?
I am still not a REAL improviser. So, I only feel comfortable when I am led into an improvised passage via fully notated sections.
Barry is a master at this. He can free me up by giving me for example a note row, or given pitches to be played in any order within a box of possibilities. In the case of “Amphi” for the BGNO and baroque violin he has also written passages where I play fully notated material, but at the same time can react to the glorious improvisations of Evan Parker, Agusti Fernandez, Johannes Bauer, etc. This gives me the chance to change the written material, extend and vary it, and feel as if I was improvising. A fantastic feeling.
To read the entire interview with Maya Homburger, purchase your copy of Music & Literature no. 4 . . .