[Montecito Journal] Quint and Korngold
By Steven Libowitz, Montecito Journal
When then Santa Barbara Symphony decided to pay tribute to America's influence on composers around the world with Korngold's Violin Concerto No. 1 as the centerpiece, Philippe Quint was the obvious choice for soloist. The oft-Grammy nominated Russian-American violinist has made the piece one of his repertoire staples and is on record as championing the concerto's brilliance. Quint talked via email about the Korngold, which sits between modern Japanese-American composer Karen Tanaka's "Guardian Angel" and Czech composer Antonin Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 ("From the New World") on this weekend's concert at the Granada.
Q. I saw an interview from almost six years ago where you raved about the Korngold Violin Concerto, "If I could play it three times during the concert - I would!" Given that you'll be playing the piece in Santa Barbara next weekend, I'm guessing that still holds true. Why is it a favorite of yours?
A. I've downgraded wanting to play it three times to just twice--maybe because I am older and it's hard enough to play it just once? I also use to say that I know it so well that I can play it backward, however, the real challenge is still to play it forward!
I have been championing Korngold Concerto for approximately 20 years now. It is finally becoming a concerto that is being programmed almost regularly with all major orchestras around the globe. Korngold's writing is very original and complex, and in a great tradition of Wagner, Strauss, and Mahler. Perhaps Korngold is one of the last truly great composers to complete the great Romantic Era. After giving more than 100 performances of the piece, it still holds a special place in my repertoire as one of the great concertos to have an absolutely unique voice and identity.
Has your approach changed at all since you recorded the concerto that same year? And maybe comment on the difference between playing it on the 1708 "Ruby" Antonio Stradivari and the one you used for the recording, the 1723 ex-Kiesewetter?
I always like to say that there is one thing in this world that you can't buy: experience. Of course, it is not the same Korngold as it was when I learned it and not even the same Korngold that I did a few months ago in Milwaukee. This entirely depends on the collaborative process with the orchestras and conductors I am working with. There are certain things that I am very particular about when it comes to interpreting this concerto, and then once in a while someone points out a new detail to me that becomes a thrilling discovery. I really live for finding tiniest hidden details and subtleties about any work, and therefore for me the process of getting to know the piece is never finished.
Naturally, using different-period Stradivaris made a huge difference in my approach toward the piece. A new (old) violin is like a new person in your life--it takes time to get to know each other and to make necessary adjustments and compromises, but that's what makes this process so fascinating.
The Korngold is a touchstone piece in terms of the relationship between Hollywood and classical music, as he was very successful in film scoring, but it also haunted him later. The concerto is comprised of many of his film compositions, including Robin Hood. What are your thoughts on the conflict between the two worlds that seems to exist even today?
Aside from programming the work in a musical sense, I have been a very active advocate of anti-"Hollywood" connotation that Korngold is associated with. What very few people know is that although some of the film scores he composed were specifically written for those films, a lot of these works already existed before they made their way onto the screen. This is the case with the concerto as well. All three movements had existed for some time before they appeared on soundtracks of Robin Hood, The Prince and the Pauper, Another Dawn, and Juarez. Korngold revisited the original sketches and organized them into a traditional three-movement classical concerto. My favorite speculation here is that if Wagner had access to a film camera, I suspect he would have jumped on every opportunity to further his concept of "musical drama." It is a great pleasure to see that Korngold's music is finally getting the respect and attention it deserves.
On your current tour you're mostly playing the Op. 35 Tchaikovsky, which you recorded last year--which I believe is the one that was once called "unplayable" because of its difficulty. The Korngold is said to be tough, too. You're famously drawn to concertos that are difficult for violinists. Is it the challenge that interests you?
Leopold Auer (to whom the work was originally dedicated) called the concert "unviolinistic" and the Russian word neudobni, which really translates in English as "uncomfortable" for violin, while also noting that overall it was a wonderful work that just needs some revisions. Frankly, there are many more concertos that are very awkwardly written for violin. In fact, the violin is just a very uncomfortable instrument to play. I've always been envious of cellist and pianists. At least they get to sit when they play!