London Philharmonic, violin star Janine Jansen to play Mozart and more at Hill Auditorium
But Jansen, a stately 33 now, is a model of a modern major violinist, too: Her first big recording success, in her mid-20s, came via a Vivaldi “Four Seasons” that sold more in iTunes downloads—it was an iTunes U.S. Top 20 album in 2005—than CDs. It became the year’s top-selling digital classical album.
Many CDs and performances later, Jansen’s warm, committed, elegant playing and stellar technique have made her an international star, and she when she makes her University Musical Society debut here Tuesday, she comes with a star orchestra—the London Philharmonic—with whom she is a resident artist this season.
Her vehicle on this occasion is the last of Mozart’s five violin concertos. The orchestra, directed by Principal Conductor Vladimir Jurowski, also offers Tchaikovsky’s infrequently heard “Manfred Symphony,” based on a poem by Lord Byron; and Pintscher’s “Towards Osiris.” Tuesday’s concert is the first visit here by the London Philharmonic since 2007.
The fifth Mozart concerto, often known as the “Turkish” for the music of its last, rondo movement, is a Jansen favorite. (See video below)
“This concerto in A Major has everything,” she said in a phone conversation from the Netherlands. “It’s virtuosic, it has a second movement that is so lyrical, with beautiful phrasing. It’s the Mozart violin concerto I’ve played most, and I’ve worked on it with authentic -practice conductors like Franz Bruggen and Philippe Herrewege. That is also very good to work with them and to have a very clear point of view about phrasing, ornament and use of vibrato."You know, in any case, Mozart is wonderful to play and challenging to play, in a way. It’s so pure, the simplicity and pureness of it is so great.”
Jansen’s work with people like Bruggen and Herrewege pays off, she said, even in performances with orchestras, like the LPO, that aren’t authentic-practice specialists.
“We haven’t played it together yet,” she said of the Mozart with the LPO. Just a few days ago, we did the Tchaikovsky concerto in London. That’s a completely different way of producing sound. I’ve never played anything like Mozart with them. But Jurowski, he’s a very intelligent and informed musician, and it really just depends on the attitude of the musicians. Anyway, nowadays, everyone is more open to historic practice. It’s not somebody saying that it has to be one way and not another way. Even the baroque specialists are not fixed in one way; they are not like that.”
It’s wonderful to be open to different ideas, Jansen said, adding that in the Mozart perhaps the most desired quality is “transparency of sound.” It’s a matter of “breathing the same way, of articulation and having life.”
“And the big orchestra,” she continued, “well it would be nice not to have 8 double basses for Mozart, but I imagine that will not be the case. It is nice to play that repertoire with a smaller, chamber orchestra. Even at the same time, if the way of playing is with air and life and lightness, then maybe you could do it with 8 basses.”
It’s not so much about loud or soft, but the music having a speaking voice and character. “This music needs so much character,” she said. Though Jansen began playing the violin at age 6, it was not her first choice. “I am very happy I’m playing violin,” she said, “but I wanted to play the cello as a little girl.”
That was the instrument she admired in an older brother’s hands, but her family—all musicians—thought a little variety in the house would be a good idea. So violin it was, and she hasn’t looked back—though she does love the cello.
“It is one of my favorite instruments,” she said. “but the violin is also not so bad. In the end of the day, we are musicians, and we are looking for the voice to make the music come out.”
The human voice, she added, is “the most natural approach to the music. That’s also what I want with the violin - I try the colors, there are so many possibilities.”
The instrument she plays, a 1727 Strad on extended loan from a Dutch foundation, helps her find those colors and possibilities.
“They bought it for me 11 years ago,” she said, and since then I’ve played it and grown closer with it. I love it very much. It’s a very versatile instrument with a very clear sound. That’s what I love. I have to work to make it more dark, to make the character come out. That’s nice. If you have an instrument that’s dark and big, then there are many more difficulties to have the sweet, dolce sounds. That’s what love, all the possibilities, but my violin is very even in sound, from the starting point. I really love it, I feel I can be very free in finding characters and colors, and the more I get to know it, I think it’s a great match. It’s important to have great instruments.” And players like Jansen to use them.