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Interview: Jacques Israelievitch and Christina Petrowska Quilico on climbing Mount Mozart

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violinist, Jacques Israelievitch and pianist, Christina Petrowska Quilico
violinist, Jacques Israelievitch and pianist, Christina Petrowska Quilico

Be it running a 42-kilometre marathon, or performing for seven hours in a single day, marathons require extraordinary athletic preparedness. But ask any experienced marathon athlete, and they will tell you the hardest part is the mental fortitude it takes to keep pushing forward.

On Sunday, May 4th, violinist Jacques Israelievitch and pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico will team up to perform The Complete Mozart Violin Sonatas over the span of an entire day. This event, which takes place at Gallery 345, will allow listeners to hear the evolution of Mozart through his early Mannheim period and two later periods in Vienna.

The marathon will be divided into four concerts starting at 11 am, and continuing at 1 pm, 3 pm and 5 pm, with only a short break in between. If you are in it for the long haul, you will witness history in the making, as they have never been performed in their entirety in Toronto until now.

Pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico is a force to be reckoned with. Born in Ottawa, she began training at Juilliard, and went on to study in Paris and Germany with Ligeti and Stockhausen. Her professional career has taken her all over the world, including Carnegie, Alice Tully and Merkin Halls. She has performed with nearly all of Canada’s leading orchestras and premiered some 150 new works with no signs of slowing. Just last week she released a new CD of music by Ann Southam (Glass Houses vol.2).

Jacques Israelievitch is no different. He made his debut on French National Radio at the age of eleven, and after graduating from the Paris Conservatory at sixteen, went on to serve as Concertmaster of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra for a record-setting twenty years. He has over 100 albums to his credit, including the first-ever complete recording of Kreutzer’s 42 Studies for Solo Violin.

Jacques and Christina first started playing together while on faculty at York University. They had admired each other’s work, and said it was a very natural process to begin performing together.

When asked why perform all the Mozart violin and piano sonatas in one day, Jacques responded “It’s fun to see in one day the evolution of the form in Mozart’s head. He started very young… and the last Sonatas are written three years before he died.”

This wouldn’t be the first time Jacques has endured a gruelling marathon concert. He has done two marathon concerts before: Beethoven’s violin and piano sonatas, as well as the complete Brahms Sonatas for Violin and Viola.

In comparing them, Jacques stated that Mozart’s sonatas were right up there in difficulty. “Brahms is pretty taxing, because emotionally it is intense… I was pretty tired at the end of the day. But when I did the Beethoven, I felt so elated… and when I came to the Sonata #10, I felt so energized… I said to the pianist at the time –  ‘you know I could start from number one all over again – but of course the next day I could hardly get out of bed.”

Christina is no stranger to knuckle-busting rehearsals and concerts either. As a faculty member at York University, she often stays on top of her technique by playing though entire series of works. “Every summer I take a project such as the Bach Preludes and Fugues, or Partitas, and play through all of them to keep things fresh.” Throughout her long career, she thanked her Juilliard training for preventing an injury “as long as you keep relaxed”.

Jacques concurred, stating “I also stay quite relaxed when I play, so I don’t injure myself, and that’s how I’ve been able to play in orchestra for 36 years, and have never been out with tendinitis” (knock on wood).

One of the aspects to Mozart’s Piano and Violin Sonatas is that violinists have favoured the later Sonatas, as the first ones serve as more of an accompaniment to the right hand of the piano – as it does with Haydn. Jacques states, “if I were to choose myself, of course I would choose the later Sonatas.” But this opportunity “gives a chance for all of them to have their due.”

When discussing the various Sonatas, Christina stated that when they first started the project she “didn’t plan to do the early Sonatas.” But she noted “I try to find beauty in all of the pieces. I enjoy playing the early ones. And I enjoy playing the later ones.” She also stated that she looks forward to improvising the cadenza sections as well.

Mozart’s Sonatas are not without their challenges. “Articulation and clarity, and a good tonal quality for the slow movements” are things Christina spends a lot of time thinking about.

Jacques was quick to comment that for the violin, his personal pet peeve is to hear violinists play every composer in the same style. “You have to pick a tone that is suited to Mozart. It can’t be too soupy or romantic, and yet there are very many romantic moments in the Mozart Sonatas. But you have to do it with good taste. You can’t just make it sound like Tchaikovsky.”

When asked what both of them are looking forward to the most about the day-long event, Christina responded “it is really our love of the music that’s really going to carry it through.”

 

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The Mozart Violin and Piano Sonata marathon at Toronto’s Gallery 345 will be split into four concerts beginning at 11 am to  5 pm, with a short rest period in between.

For tickets and info visit here.

 

Michael Vincent

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