There are not many musicians with such a broad artistic spectrum as Patricia Kopatchinskaja. In addition to her devotion to her instrument, the violinist with Moldavian, Austrian and Swiss roots often crosses the boundary to staged performances. And that applies to her latest project »Les Adieux«, where she focuses on the climate change and conservation. How much time have we got left on Earth? When will our natural resources be used up? When will natural disasters, rising sea levels and new illnesses bring us to our knees? In »Les Adieux«, Kopatchinskaja performs several works that look at these issues, combining them to form a staged concert. She will be accompanied by the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, with whom she has a longstanding collaboration. The visual design is by the award-winning set designer Lani Tran-Duc. In this interview, they answer questions about their new project.
Ms. Kopatchinskaja, you are known for your unconventional projects that shy away neither from traditions nor from their renewal. Do you sometimes find yourself wondering whether or not to give a piece by Beethoven or Schumann »a new coat of paint«?
I’m not trying to give any music a new coat of paint. My aim is to penetrate to the real quintessence of a work – to what it means for us today, in the here and now.
Do you sometimes run into a headwind?
I think I’m probably my own strongest headwind!
What constitutes a good interpretation of a work in your opinion?
A really good interpretation has me sitting on the edge of my seat in rapt attention and full of astonishment.
Your projects are highly creative and often have a multi-media character. How do you get the ideas for new projects? What drives your search for new ideas?
It’s the search for meaning that drives me. And then I proceed as one does with dream analysis: any association is allowed. But input from the others involved in the project is important too: they enrich the palette of artistic expression immensely with their ideas. At the end of the day, a whole team of creative individuals is behind any one project.
You are appearing at the Laeiszhalle in mid-May 2022 with a new project. How did you get the idea for »Les Adieux«?
Nature and the environment in connection with Beethoven’s »Pastoral« have become popular festival mottos. With our project we explore what the »Pastoral« means for us 200 years later – and show how our species has behaved on the planet up to now.
»What’s important is that the production comes from the music itself. If it works, the boundaries between the visual level and the music merge into a single, multilayered narrative.«
Your concerts often have a staged character, and you have even made entire musical films. What is important to you where the visual design of a concert is concerned?
Visual design has always played a role. For instance, Haydn’s »Seven Last Words« was first performed in a chapel where the walls were covered in black material. What’s important is that the production doesn’t turn into an end in itself or into director’s theatre, but comes from the music itself, and in turn supports the music. I personally have never worked with a director, I have always tried out everything with the musicians myself. If it works, then it doesn’t seem staged; rather, the boundaries between the visual level and the music merge into a single, multilayered narrative.
The environment is an important issue for you, both in your private life and in your art. Where do you still see learning opportunities for cultural organisations?
Everyone is talking about the environment, but the emission of greenhouse gases continues to rise from year to year – and with it, global warming. This is not a matter of opinion, these are facts. It’s high time that we all pitch in to help change this!
Ms Tran-Duc, you are putting on the project »Les Adieux« in the Laeiszhalle together with Patricia Kopatchinskaja. What do you enjoy about working with her?
Patricia and I are interested in the same issues, and that makes her an ally. I love it about her that her projects focus on things beyond the actual music. In our joint projects, I look for the right set design for what Patricia wants to say with her choice of pieces, and hope that it successfully conveys the desired atmosphere. Always, of course, focusing on the music,
Your new project focuses on the destruction of the environment. How does this fit into the splendid historic surroundings of the Laeiszhalle? How do you deal with the space as a set designer?
As we often plan concerts for several very different venues, I need to design so that the room conveys the atmosphere, and still remain flexible. In that context, Markus Güdel’s lighting and the projections by video artists Tabea Rothfuchs und Ruth Stofer play an important role. In »Les Adieux« Patricia wants to convey the image of a procession and a funeral. Mankind is destroying the world and its fauna and flora, it is destroying itself. I came up with the idea of hanging a huge black veil above the orchestra, a veil of mourning that is at once a projection surface and a theatre prop. Changing the performing space is always of central importance in my designs: I try to establish a dramatic narrative that tells a story in its own way.
Annette zu Castell / Mahler Chamber Orchestra
What are you particularly looking forward to with regard to the collaboration with Patricia Kopatchinskaja?
Patricia does everything with a sense of urgency and compelling necessity. This applies to every note she plays and every message she wants to convey through her performances. Still, there are always the elements of joy, playfulness and sheer virtuosity in her music-making.
What do you want to communicate with the project?
With all our knowledge about species extinction and climate change, with all the knowledge about human responsibility for this, there comes a feeling of grief. A grief for the world that we are on the brink of losing forever. Patricia developed the concept of the performance around this, and next to bringing these feelings onto a stage and making them visible, we also hope that the evening will help to emotionally establish an urgent sense of responsibility.
Do you think that artists have a political responsibility?
Everyone has political responsibility in the frame of her or his possibilities. Being on stage means greater visibility and therefore also greater responsibility. It also gives the opportunity to convey messages emotionally, which helps for sustained understanding but also asks for a very careful choice of messages one wants to bring forward.
How do you approach the issue of climate protection as an orchestra?
The Mahler Chamber Orchestra is working hard on bringing forward the issue of reacting to climate change and other environmental problems. We are measuring our carbon footprint and are developing benchmarks and saving goals. We try to be as efficient as possible in our travel planning, to stay at certified hotels near the venues, to use public transport as much as we can. Above all, in our planning we consider artistic, financial and environmental factors equally, and we work on raising awareness in our global network.
Interview: Anastasia Päßler, last updated: 10 Mar 2022