3 Aug 2017

Five fascinating things about violinist Isabelle Faust

From Music Alive, 10:00 am on 3 August 2017
Violinist Isabelle Faust

Violinist Isabelle Faust Photo: Felix Broede (Nordic Arts Management)

1. Isabelle Faust plays a 1704 Stradivarius violin nicknamed "Sleeping Beauty" because it slept for 150 years in an attic before being played again.

"It was forgotten for about 150 years, in a family attic where at some point nobody played the violin anymore, and they put it in an attic. Then they found it again, around 1900.

During the Second World War it went to Switzerland in a safe. I got it when it was on sale, but it was almost like a new violin. It had been played very little before me, so it really felt almost like a modern instrument, which needed to be played for years so it can open up.

It took me six years to make it "sound" freely, and to make it bloom again."

She describes the sound as "celestial".

2. Isabelle took up the violin at the age of five when her father, a secondary school teacher, took her along to his lessons. She quickly surpassed him and surprised everyone with her precocious talent.

3. When she was 11 she performed in a women’s prison with her quartet. She was the only girl in the group and she’s never forgotten the moment when one of the women stroked her hair and talked about her own little girl at home.

4. She's a Duke Ellington fan and given the chance (and a time machine) she'd loved to have performed with the legendary jazz musician.

5. The German violinist is a meticulous researcher and insists on knowing the historical context of the music she performs. She read all of Bartók's obsessive love letters to Hungarian violinist Stefi Geyer to help her to understand his concertos.

“As musicians we are very grateful for anything to show us the way into the meaning of a score.”

Isabelle Faust was a guest soloist in the BBC Proms 2017. RNZ Concert is broadcasting highlights from the Proms over August and September.