Nikolaj Znaider

Nikolaj Znaider

Interview with Nikolaj Znaider

Nikolaj Znaider is not only celebrated as one of the foremost violinists of today, but is fast becoming one of the most versatile artists of his generation uniting his talents as soloist, chamber musician and most recently, as a conductor.

We caught up with Nikolaj to ask him about his experience as a conductor and plans for the future.

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Was there any particular moment in your life or a particular piece of music that made you want to start conducting?

There were several but the first instance was when I was studying the Beethoven Symphonies, closely followed by attending a week’s rehearsals for The Marriage of Figaro

What did your first professional conducting experience feel like?

Terrifying. Nothing can ever prepare you properly for it. You think you can look at it from afar and predict how it’s all going to go but you just can’t. As a violin soloist, I have been standing next to conductors – very close to them on the stage – for many years, and yet the feeling that your physical movements can impact in a very real way what comes out is a totally overwhelming experience. I remember after my first rehearsal being so exhausted, so overwhelmed that I went to straight to bed. It must have been only two in the afternoon and didn’t get out of bed again until the rehearsal the next day!

Has your experience as a violin player influenced your conducting style or understanding of conducting in any way?

I think it has to have. I would say that it has influenced the way I conduct. The ideal sound that I hear in my head and that I try to recreate as a violinist is the same in principal as when I hear my ideal orchestral sound. This way of listening has very much informed the way I conduct, and the way I listen to the orchestra’s sound.

What would you say is the biggest performing difference between being a soloist and a conductor?

As a violinist you are directly responsible for the sound, and as a conductor, indirectly responsible. Aside from that, and this is really the miraculous discovery I made, there is no difference. It is the same thing. It is all about sharing the delight in music with others, being aware of what the musicians with you on stage are doing; interacting with them and reacting to them. Yes, the function is different but it’s really all the same thing.

You have described yourself as having ‘Mahleria’. Are there any other great composers or works you are looking forward to working on?

Anything Mozart, anything Beethoven, anything that when you return to it remains our Holy Grail, the things that we can only hope to ever get near. There’s Opera, and I’m looking forward to getting into that. Something coming up for me in the very near future are the Stravinsky ballets; they really fascinate me and I haven’t been able to do anything like that before. In the same way that Mahler didn’t write any violin concertos and so he was a new performing experience for me, Stravinsky is something completely different that I can’t wait to sink my teeth into. Stravinsky did write a violin concerto but it was much later on and in a completely different style to the early ballets.

What are you most looking forward to about your concert with the LSO?

They are all such generous musicians and a music making experience with them is truly about love. It is very much about all of us on stage sharing our passion for the music we are performing. This Orchestra has so much to give, and that is what I am looking forward to most about being on stage with them.

You always wear jackets with a wonderful red lining, is red just your favourite colour or is there another reason behind them?

The red lining came about very early on when I was working with a colleague of mine who greatly admired Bernstein. Bernstein used to always have a red handkerchief and that’s how it all started. It became sort of a thing for us and I’m a bit superstitious so… anyway, I think it has brought me pretty good luck so far! Whenever I get a new jacket made I make sure that they put in a red lining, and that’s all there is to it!

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Interview by Isla Jeffrey

Nikolaj Znaider returns to the LSO again on 1 May 2014, conducting a programme of Brahms and Strauss.

Read Principal Flute Gareth Davies' blog about Znaider's conducting debut with the LSO in Bucharest.


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