Interview with: Arabella Steinbacher

Arabella Steinbacher
Arabella Steinbacher Dreams and Rhapsodies


In September 2016, Arabella Steinbacher released ‘Fantasies Rhapsodies and Daydreams’ with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo under the baton of Lawrence Foster. The recording features much-loved virtuosic pieces by Camille Saint-Saëns, Maurice Ravel, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Pablo de Sarasate, Jules Massenet and Franz Waxman. Arabella spoke to primephonic’s Rina Sitorus about the recording, her experiences and about being a classical musician in the digital age. “Two weeks before the recording I called Larry, completely desperate, and blamed him for making me learn this devilish piece. I wanted to record the Carmen Fantasy by Sarasate instead, which I had played many times before. I ́m too old to learn this kind of circus piece!”

Could you tell us about the new recording?

I am very lucky that PENTATONE is open to the idea of me recording pieces I really love such as from the 20th century. On the other hand, I realized how much people enjoy it when I play virtuosic pieces that I don’t play very often in concerts,. There are many different kinds of virtuosic pieces – some of them might be more superficial or technically not on such a high level, but on this CD we found a very nice combination of really high quality virtuosic pieces which are written by fantastic violinists like Pablo de Sarasate or composers like Maurice Ravel or Camille Saint-Saëns. With these works I also wanted to reach more people who don’t always listen to classical music.

How did you prepare?

Before the recording I had already developed my ideas of the interpretation during the weeks of preparation. But in the end, you can’t control every phrase, otherwise the music doesn’t flow in a natural way. That’s why I find it sometimes difficult to do studio recordings because many different takes are put together and sometimes the natural flow gets a bit lost.  It is always wonderful to work together with Larry (Lawrence Foster) as he listens in a very attentive way, so that I can play completely free and feeling musically supported.

I read that you became rather frustrated with the Waxman. How did you motivate yourself to go back and study it?  

It was such a hard piece, especially when you study it later in life. If you learn these virtuosic pieces as a child, they stay forever in your hands. I had played the Carmen Fantasy by Sarasate many times but Waxman’s version is musically more interesting and technically very challenging. Larry said to me that if we record the Carmen Fantasy, we have to do the version by Waxman. So I decided to learn it. When I was studying it, I realized how hard it was compared to all the other virtuosic pieces which I had learned in my childhood and I was getting a bit nervous. I called Larry to tell him that I might record Sarasate’s version and he said to me ‘No problem, we’ll do the Sarasate. Oh by the way, (Jasha) Heifetz learned it when he was above forty.’ After that I thought, hmm thanks Larry [chuckles] and it really helped, I was so motivated afterwards that suddenly this piece felt much easier. I’m not saying that what Heifetz can do I can also do, but you know… it  challenged me.

What would be the best advice for when you’re faced with this kind of situation?

The best advice is actually to always give confidence to somebody by motivating them in a nice way. Like the way Larry did it. We are very close friends and when we make music together there’s always a lot of humour and lightness in the air. Recordings can sometimes be exhausting, because one has to repeat the passages every time with full energy but I always felt motivated by Larry and the wonderful musicians of the Monte Carlo Orchestra. We had a lot of fun during the session.

Is there anybody who you feel never fails to motivate you musically?

My teacher Ana Chumachenko. She was, or she still is, always there for me. Sometimes it just takes a little conversation and you see things in a completely different way and you feel more energetic and confident. She has been accompanying me since I was eight years old. I came to her at such a young age and she was almost like a second mother to me. Between the ages of eight and 18, you are living through so many different stages in life, developing musically and also as a human being. That’s why it is important to have somebody next to you who is leading you in the right direction.

Do you think if this recording was done by musicians on their earlier career it would get the same warm reaction?

I can imagine it could be ‘dangerous’ as a young talent to record virtuosic works if you haven’t developed your musical profile yet. People might  judge too easily when you record such pieces in your early career, as it is easier to impress people through virtuosic music. Musically it is much more difficult to play Mozart or Beethoven.

What is your dream project?

In general I hope that the recordings will never stop. I know it isn’t an easy time for the labels as there are so many recordings on the market already. If I had the choice I’d love to do more live recordings. I go on stage with a completely different feeling than in the studio. When I am playing a concert, something is happening on stage which you can never repeat a second time. It’s the feeling of ‘now or never’, you have only this one moment on stage where you give everything. I wish that these moments could be recorded. In the studio it’s completely different because the energy of the audience is missing.

All these years and all those recordings, is there any major change we can see from you? Do you feel any differences yourself?

Well, I hope so [chuckles]. I wish to always continue developing myself as a musician. Maybe I can say that after performing for so many years, I now feel more confident and calm on stage. Although I always have an extremely high expectation of myself and want to give my best, the wish to share the music with the people who are listening is much stronger than the fear of making mistakes. We are all human beings; we all make mistakes. That is not the point, but to realize that gives a great sense of freedom.

What about major changes in your personal life, if any? Is it somehow more glamorous now?

I may not be the type who pays much attention to all the marketing stuff, which is very important of course today. I’m happy when there are good articles published about me but I always concentrate on what I love and what I do. I believe that as an artist if you pay too much attention to the glamorous part of marketing, you become distracted from the actual thing. On the other hand it’s part of the whole business.

In between all the craziness of travelling and performing I need my own little islands of privacy. For me it’s meditation, making own jewelry or writing my diary. When I visit my second home, Japan, I find my quiet moments in temples and nature to get my strength back.

Have you ever daydreamed about collaborating with artists outside your genre?

Well, I’m not against it but I guess it is more a question of if it would fit. I often listen to other genres than classical music but haven’t really given it any serious thought to play other genres myself. I think you must be the type for it and talented in improvisation and crossover. I’m more into works which are already written and finding my own intrepretation.

Digital technology has changed the way people consume music and classical music is not immune. What do you think about online music sharing? Would you give your music away for free?

I think this is a wonderful idea because we want to share the music with everybody. Still, the labels and the whole music industry have to survive, so it has to be in a good balance. Some people just never come to the point of listening to classical music, maybe because they think it’s too expensive or they have other prejudices. If they had the possibility to listen to it for free then they might suddenly become curious and hopefully want to get more of it!

Rina Sitorus interviewing Arabella Steinbacher
Rina Sitorus interviewing Arabella Steinbacher

Arabella Steinbacher in conversation with Rina Sitorus

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