Liza Ferschtman, violinist

Who or what inspired you to take up the violin, and pursue a career in music?

I was born into a musical family: my father’s a cellist, my mother a pianist, both at a very high professional level, so music was all around me and it was an almost logical future. I often joke that they had me pick the violin so that we could play piano trios, which we still do occasionally. The amazing violinist Philippe Hirschhorn was a close family friend, so I am sure I was also inspired by him.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

Of course my parents – they instilled a very deep love for and dedication to music in me, on which I still feed everyday. Later Nobuko Imai guided me at just the right moments, suggesting I go to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, letting me lead ensembles at an early age and bringing me into contact with performance practice specialists. Working with David Takeno gave me the final building blocks to become the musician I am today, a chance meeting in Banff with Nicholas Daniel opened up doors for expressiveness, and playing for Anner Bylsma gave me the freedom to use greater rhetoric in Bach.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

I haven’t had to overcome anything dramatic so far, if I am completely honest, but I think what I am sometimes battling is the music industry’s desire to box artists. As well as solo concerts I play lots of chamber music, I collaborate with dancers and jazz musicians, and I love all sorts of repertoire. Back home in Holland I have full liberty, as people now know that I can do all those things, but abroad I am still challenging preconceptions!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Very recently: performing all Biber’s Mystery Sonatas with Jonathan Cohen on harpsichord in one night, at the Muziekgebouw in Amsterdam. We were on stage for three and a half hours and I used seven violins to get all the 15 scordaturas (different tunings) required. It was pure madness, but also an exhilarating experience.

In terms of recordings: the latest, the Mendelssohn concerto and octet. It took me by surprise last spring when I started to fall in love with the concerto all over again, rediscovering it as it were, and the need to make a recording suddenly became very strong! And the octet was recorded live at the Delft Chamber Music Festival, where I have been artistic director for the past 10 years. I was very grateful to have incredible colleagues with whom to play it!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I am fully committed to whatever I am playing at the time and I try to be the chameleon a musician needs to be when performing music between 1670 and 2017. But wherever I can put my imagination and need for storytelling to full use is where I feel best. That can be in Bach, Beethoven and Brahms but also in music by early 20th-century composers, like Prokofiev, Bartok, Szymanowski and Berg.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I look at the people with whom I want to partner; repertoire grows from that. I always look for a personal challenge as well, like doing the complete Mystery Sonatas this season and complete Bach Solo Sonatas and Partitas a couple of seasons ago. When playing with orchestra I put forward pieces I would like to do but you can’t always have the last say. So I actually end up playing a lot of repertoire per season!

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I have had the pleasure of performing in many beautiful concert halls across the globe, but back home in Amsterdam I am spoiled with incredible venues so I have to choose these: both halls of the Concertgebouw for their great acoustics, atmosphere, history and prestige; and the multi-functional 700-seat hall of the Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ for its versatility – wonderfully warm and intimate, yet big enough for both orchestral and solo performances.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

If forced I would have to say the Beethoven concerto. I can still vividly recall the gratitude I felt when performing it for the very first time! But there are so many incredible pieces to perform – I just finished a seven-concert tour with the Berg concerto and I also love Prokofiev’s violin concertos.

Listening…. I love listening to Bach keyboard works. They create clarity in chaos, always. And otherwise I listen to jazz, lots of jazz.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I have always loved the depth of Radu Lupu; his playing touches me deeply. I find Ivan Fischer very inspiring in how he always searches for new ways to bring a score to life, while remaining utterly faithful to it. And I love Billie Holiday, for not just having a beautiful voice, but always revealing something of herself.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

15 years ago I played Mozart’s G minor String Quintet for the first time and that night I briefly felt what it is like to have nothing between you and the music. It was an incredible sensation, received through the sheer brilliance of that genius’ music. As musicians, this is what we strive towards and fail at most of the time, but this striving is what keeps us going, aiming to convey something of the genius of a composer to the audience.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Be curious, keep searching, in music, in context, in yourself. Really express something, don’t just play your instrument but really play music. That means automatically that the objective should be so much larger then just to have a beautiful tone and to be in tune. It seems so obvious, but somehow I find myself saying it over and over again to young kids.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

A beautiful day spent in countryside with loved ones and a meal at the end of that day with great food and drink and those loved ones all around.

Liza Ferschtman’s Mendelssohn Violin Concerto and String Octet album is out now on Challenge Classics (CC72748). More information on her website

Dutch violinist Liza Ferschtman is known for her passionate performances, communicative qualities on stage and innovative programmes. Original projects include working with dancers and singers and interactive concerts. In 2006 she received the highest accolade awarded to a musician in the Netherlands, the Dutch Music Prize.

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