LSO International Violin Festival: Meet Isabelle Faust

The LSO International Violin Festival continues on 7 May, with a performance of Brahms’ great romantic Concerto. Soloist Isabelle Faust makes her LSO debut with this cornerstone of the violin repertoire; we find out more about her – and her instrument – in this blog.

Isabelle Faust

Isabelle Faust began playing the violin at the age of five, winning the Leopold Mozart Competition just ten years later, followed by the Paganini Competition at the age of 21. Two decades later, she’s in-demand as a soloist all over the world, playing repertoire from J S Bach right through to music by the composers of today, and has won many of the major international awards for her acclaimed recordings.

The Concerto

Faust is particularly known for her commitment to exploring the stories behind the music, using her knowledge of the context of each work to inform every performance. In the Brahms Concerto this story is the friendship between the composer and the work’s dedicatee, violinist Joseph Joachim, a friendship that resulted in a work marrying symphonic drama, exquisite lyricism and infectious Eastern European dance rhythms.

The Violin

Isabelle Faust has been playing the 1704 ‘Sleeping Beauty’ Stradivari violin since 1996. The violin is said to have received its intriguing nickname as a result of its being stored, un-played, for around 150 years – first in the cupboard of a German noble family and then locked up in a safe in Switzerland. As a consequence, it remains in excellent condition.

Isabelle Faust told The Strad: ‘I heard about this Stradivari violin from a friend back in 1996, who saw it at a violin dealer's place. He told me I should have a look, and I found it was as if it was made exactly for me. So I went and played on it for about an hour. I was immediately struck by some particular notes on each string that were so beautiful and special in a way I had never experienced before.’

Once Faust began working on the instrument, she says that ‘it seemed as though the violin just longed to be played seriously, after about 150 years of being forgotten. The first days of playing on it made it clear to me that the instrument would open up and change a lot in the future … Every day the violin sounds a bit different, and so is my playing. We have to adapt to each other, but also to climatic and acoustical conditions. It remains a new challenge every day to play an instrument with such strong and versatile personality. But I think we fit well together and I certainly feel privileged to be the one to have woken it up from its long ‘Sleeping Beauty’ sleep.’

Some excerpts originally printed in The Strad and re-printed with permission

Isabelle Faust appears in the LSO International Violin Festival at the Barbican on Thursday 7 May, performing Brahms' Violin Concerto

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We'll be getting to know the stars of Violin Festival on the LSO blog throughout the Festival, so keep checking back to read our latest interviews and behind-the-scenes stories.