Our shores will be graced by cellist Sol Gabetta and the Basel Chamber Orchestra performing a number of dates around the country in November. They make their Australian debut in these special performances that form part of an exchange that sees the Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) reciprocate with concerts in Switzerland in 2016. Their programs sparkle with music by Holliger, Fauré, Saint-Saëns and Bartók’s vibrant Divertimento, commissioned by impresario and founder of the Basler Kammerorchester, Paul Sacher.
Musician and award-winning recording artist Gabetta, who recently made her debut with the Berlin Philharmonic under Sir Simon Rattle, spoke to Fine Music Magazine ahead of her visit.
Born in Argentina, raised in Europe and based in Basel, fame has come a bit later in life for Gabetta than some musicians. However, she is happy with the timing. For those who hit the big time as teenagers or are promoted as child prodigies, she worries this an be dangerous for them mentally and emotionally, particularly when parents push them into an agency, gruelling tour schedules and a recording contract. “So often, in 10 years they are finished because they have done everything musically already and they have not had the time to develop themselves as a person. The market is finished with them. What do they do then?”
Mixing with the biggest names around Europe, Gabetta sees clearly that career longevity over the decades usually come to the artists who start later. In regard to her own childhood, Gabetta started out trying many different instruments and settled on the cello relishing the fact it was a larger instrument than the violin her brother, five years her senior, was playing. Learning to play by ear via the Suzuki method was the first stage of her learning before moving to a more classical, strict education of a Russian school. She found this mix of training made an extremely solid foundation was the Suzuki style for training the ear and the Russian style in self-discipline and music reading, now she finds she can learn an entire concerto by heart in just two days. Her parents could see her passion building for the cello and offered huge support. They would drive her to Buenos Aires 800km away once a fortnight for lessons, then shifted the whole family to Europe where she could access the best mentors and teachers. “There aren’t many parents who would have done that for their children,” she told Credit Suisse. “They couldn’t give my brother and me much money, but a profound love of music, belief in our talent, and support and solidarity for our professional plans were never in short supply.”
Things really started to accelerate in Gabetta’s career when she won the Crédit Suisse Young Artist Award in 2004 which earned her a debut with the Vienna Philharmonic and Valery Gergiev. Echo Klassic Awards gave her the award for Instrumentalist of the Year in 2007 and three years since then. She’s also won Gramophone Young Artist of the Year Award, Würth-Preis of the Jeunesses Musicales and commendations from both Moscow’s International Tchaikovsky Competition and the ARD International Music Competition in Munich.
Now travelling the world, highly in demand as a premium international concert soloist, speaking six languages tends to come in handy. Gabetta travels with one of the very rare and precious cellos lovingly made by J. B. Guadagnini dating back to 1759. The ultimate perfectionist, she is rarely without it and finds it is hard to leave it alone. “I come back home even if I practised that day, I say, ‘Oh, maybe I should do this passage again.’ or ‘I didn’t practise this as well as I could.’”
Practice, rest, perform!
For Gabetta, preparation is the key. Even with musical works she’s had in her repertoire for 15 years she still finds herself most satisfied when she can spend six hours a day on each of the movements when preparing for a concert. “If I do that I feel extremely free on the stage. That’s what I am looking for because then I can concentrate on the music and to connect with the people. If you are fighting with the technical things you cannot concentrate on that. It’s impossible,” said Gabetta.“Then you’re only trying to play correctly, nicely. But if you really have this stability you can go to another world. You just bring the people to a dream world. You win when you rehearse.” Other components for optimal performance include chocolate – very important for the concentration” – a simplified schedule on the day whenever possible and 1.5- 2 hours’ sleep. “If I don’t get the sleep I don’t feel I am really there. I cannot sleep every time because, in Europe, you often arrive on the day of the concert and you play. But I always try to organise time to sleep,” said Gabetta.
“I find I am also doing a lot of sport which is making me physically stronger on the stage.” It takes a lot of energy to keep completely in the present moment and to hold the focus of the audience throughout the evening. This, she says, has been the big discussion amongst soloists in the unending search for the ultimate way to keep an audience enraptured. “Of course, we are playing in bigger halls but it’s not the solution to always play faster or louder. You need to pick them up, you need to bring them closer to you,” said Gabetta.
“The strongest moment happens almost never when you play louder. It happens when you are looking for one incredible soft note and you get that everybody wants to listen to this note with you.”
Living the dream
As if she hasn’t enough on her calendar throughout the year, this pocket rocket also runs her own music festival in Switzerland which, in June, celebrated its 10th Anniversary. Aptly named “Solsberg” the title incorporates her own first name, Sol, with the city in which it’s held, Olsberg and the fact it is run annually on Summer Solstice. She’s already putting together the program and artists for 2016.
In summing up her career so far Gabetta says she is extremely satisfied in achieving what she thought could only be a dream when she was a girl. “I really get to travel around and now I have the most incredible chance to play bigger concerts with the most incredible orchestras. I’ve just come back from Concertgebouw and earlier in the year I got my first chance to play with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and Simon Rattle,” said Gabetta. “When you get the chance to play with one of the five best orchestras in the world, it’s not just because they have a big name but it’s because of the people who are inside. They are incredible musicians… I am so lucky because I am doing what I love.”
The Grammy Award nominee and Sony recording artist says she has loved working with Richard Tognetti in the past, and has high admiration for the ACO. “I was completely excited by how fine, dedicated and agile they are. For me, they are one of the best chamber orchestras in the world,” said Gabetta. “I know they’re incredibly famous in Australia but they’re also incredibly famous here (in Europe). “Not only is the orchestra amazing but… like everywhere in the world you need some locomotive, a leader,” she said, praising Tognetti’s ability in this role. “In this orchestra you don’t see tension, it may be there but you cannot feel it and somehow I think the positive side of the orchestra is really predominating,” she said.
As part of the exchange with the ACO, Gabetta will be bringing with her the Basel Chamber Orchestra from where she is based in Switzerland, a group with which she has a strong and long-standing relationship. “I am quite free with them because, even if a new concerto is written for me, like the Vasks Concerto we are bringing with us to Australia [being performed in Melbourne], they are open to doing it. They are incredible but also flexible from Baroque music to modern music,” she said.
Gabetta and the orchestra will visit Canberra, Melbourne and Brisbane then, for one night only at the Sydney Opera House. What makes an Australian audience different from European ones? “There’s a big difference!” Gabetta tells Fine Music magazine. “I love Australia because I love the reactions of the people, how open and positive they are… and they come to the concert in a lighter frame of mind, not so serious. They can be serious but they can really enjoy it at the same time,” she says.
Gabetta reflects that perhaps it’s related to the “culture” in Europe and “expectations” of audiences.“They don’t really take the concert as something surprising. Even if you bring something interesting, you have to be so very different from everybody else,” said Gabetta.
With the Australian Chamber Orchestra having such a strong following from their subscribers, Gabetta already knows she can expect sold out performances throughout the tour so getting tickets early is a must. Audiences will be thrilled; Sol Gabetta is precision and passion all rolled into one.
– Annabelle Drum
This article was from Fine Music Magazine November edition. To read the complete magazine click here
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