Interview with Patricia Kopatchinskaja
This past season, I was very lucky to work with Patricia Kopatchinskaja during one of the weeks I was playing with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. She is known for her unique and at times radical interpretations and for playing barefoot in her concerts, but in person I was struck by the seriousness and thoughtfulness with which she engages the music she plays. It was both refreshing and inspiring to witness her work process and to share that journey together in performance. I’m very happy to have talked to her one-on-one about the questions that Salon Séance explores and I hope you find this interview as inspiring as I do.
Mari: A lot of Britten’s music was composed as a response to what was happening around him and the society he lived in. Was there anything that happened to you personally or in the world that affected you as an artist?
Patricia: Of course! There is no way of stopping or blocking the reflection of what happens now. I think no artist could hide from the reality. Though there is one composer that succeeded in not dealing with what happened around him—Prokofiev. His music was hiding in fairy tales. He was very untouched by the cruel things that was happening around him. Britten was a brave man, but it wasn’t really dangerous for him to write music. For Prokofiev, it was.
I think the only right thing you can do is to understand what you can do in order to make this world better. To criticize what we don’t like—this is our duty as artists. Also in times of Trump and Putin, we have to be active. This is our role. Sometimes it can cost you. You know Fazil Say, he was almost in court just because he shared a quote on Facebook.
M: Was there a time you made a bold statement like that?
P: Myself? Right now. I have a project about the environment. This is one of my most important things. It’s called Dies Irae. I put it in a form that I think is workable. I think the environment is the number one issue. It’s not enough for us to play Mozart and Beethoven on stage, because then we become a part of an archive of our past. We have to deal with today.
M: Another issue that Britten talked about was finding your own voice in the modern age. You have a unique voice and are able to express your opinions very clearly—how did you find it and did it take a long time?
P: You know I’m now 41. It took time to find the self-confidence to say what I really think and also to understand that I don’t really want to please or to be liked by everyone. This is so important. To know that my duty isn’t to be liked—my duty is to do what I have to do, what I think is right.
M: Do you think it’s more difficult now that we have access to so much information? Or do you think the more challenge you face, the stronger your voice becomes?
P: I think so. The more challenge, the stronger you become. But we deal now with a very new situation. As you say, we have so much information around us. We have to select what we trust and build our opinion out of so many different views of the same situation. I find it quite difficult. But in classical music, what disturbs me the most is that it is in a dead street if we don’t play contemporary music—we don’t develop any more. When we play older music, as you do in your project, we should find the relevancy for us today. And do it in a personal way, exactly what you do. So if you think something is important to you, you tell the audience what strikes you, what you find exciting and meaningful in the music—that’s the way of presenting music. Because we are so much less than a composer, we are just the medium. I think that’s wrong as well, we should also compose. But at least what you do now with your project, it’s also like a composition, right?
M: Yes, we are actually working with a playwright to develop an original script, so it’s much like composing. The project started out as something similar to a lecture concert, but we incorporated theatre to make it more emotionally engaging—that was an element that was missing before.
P: I think we lack emotions as well. Because we play always the same way. We come from conservatories, where we lose the ability to think individually. They teach us the standard way but that’s not really interesting. After a few times, you don’t understand the structure any more, you don’t hear the expression, you have no emotions, because you always see the same thing. So you have to refresh it. You have to go into the roots of the music, to the meaning of the notes, then you will again have a direct connection to what it used to be. Why did he write it like this? Because he wanted to say something. And I don’t see any difference between a play, a concert, an opera, a dance, they’re the same. Because it’s something that happens in time and you’re actually in charge of controlling it. You can change it in that time. In photography, you can’t do that, and CD—it’s not really for me. It’s about the moment of emotion. This is the tool you need to catch the attention of people and to touch them.