Interview with Viviane Hagner

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Back in 2014 at Marlboro Music Festival, there was a senior artist who appeared at breakfast with wide-legged pants reminiscent of Aladdin with bright, interesting prints. Every morning she would walk elegantly through the dining hall wearing similarly shaped pants but with different prints, and I finally approached her one day to compliment her eye-catching outfits. And that was how I first met Viviane.

A year later, we found ourselves at Viviane’s own festival, Krzyzowa Music, which she had founded that very year and which was modeled after Marlboro. I feel honored to have been at the inaugural edition of the festival, and I’ve now spent three wonderful summers there. What makes Krzyzowa so special, in addition to the amazing history behind the place (worth googling!) is the open, warm, and friendly environment comprised of top-notch musicians from different generations and cultural backgrounds that Viviane has cultivated. Thank you, Viviane, for letting me be part of your wonderful endeavor and for being a supporter of Salon Séance!


Mari: What was the first piece by Britten that you'd ever heard?


Vivane: It must've been The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra (Op. 34), when I was still in high school. But the first piece that I got to know really well was the Violin Concerto (Op. 15), because I played it myself and studied it for some time. I have to say, though, it took me quite a while to find my entry into that piece.
I think his compositions always combine lyrical elements with a deep sadness and in the concerto especially so. Once I found my way into Britten’s musical world, those emotions left a deep impression on me. I think he’s one of those composers who can have such an impact on you. The only other one I can think of is actually Schumann. He seems to grab everything from you, physically and emotionally. Whether you listen it or play it, it's very special.


M: How would you describe his music to someone who'd never heard it before?


V: It’s definitely tonal. I think you can also hear that he had a thing for voice and string playing that is very melodic. It’s tonal, but at the same time it has very idiosyncratic harmonies. It can be very spiritual too.


M: Does it evoke any images?


V: No. I always have difficulties associating images, because I think it takes away from the music.

M: Britten was somebody who was very aware of what was happening in the world around him and I believe music was his response to that. Is there any event in your life or in the world that really affected the way you approach music?

V: I think it's quite obvious that any major incident can have an impact on how one feels about music and how one expresses it. It's very difficult to put it in words, because what I find especially beautiful about music is that it's really stronger than words. But I do remember that the first time I wasn't able to play regular concerts was after 9/11, because those incidents were just beyond what I could comprehend, so catastrophic. I had just finished studying in New York that summer and everything was so present to me. There were so many friends and colleagues whom I couldn’t reach that day. I was on tour in South America and we were scheduled to perform the following day, but I didn't know whether we had it in us to put on a concert. Luckily, we had 24 hours let things sink in. But still, the concert was the last thing on anyone’s mind. So we felt that we should use the concert to give the audience some distraction — in a good way — from what had just happened. Bearing that task in mind helped us return our focus to the pieces we were playing that evening.

M: Did you feel different when you were playing?

V: I think so, yes. After all, we had decided we were going to play, so once we sounded the first note I found it in a way liberating.

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M: If you could ask Britten one question, what would it be?

V: Whether he would prefer to have lived in a different time, without having those daily problems in the world on his mind, and whether it would have made him compose differently. I guess I already answered my question — yes, I think it would’ve been different, but I’d be interested to see how he would have written. It's all extremely hypothetical!

Check out this year’s edition of Krzyzowa Music here.

Interviewed on September 6, 2018 at Café Einstein Stammhaus, Berlin.

Mari Lee