November 12, 2010
I recently had the pleasure of having lunch with violinist Natasha Korsakova,who was on the Cape to perform Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 with the Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra. ( The concerts took place on November 6 and 7.)
The luncheon was part of the Luncheon with the Artists series sponsored by the CCSO Guild. The luncheons, held at Alberto’s Ristorante in Hyannis, are open to the public, and they are a great way to learn a little more about the musicians and the music to be performed.
Korsakova, who had arrived the night before, was on the last leg of her 10-concert tour of North America, which had taken her to Virginia, Maryland, Oklahoma, Mexico, and Tupelo, Mississippi. Despite an exhausting schedule, which involved performing five different concertos and participating in social and educational activities at every stop, she was a particularly amiable luncheon guest, charming, good-natured, open, and very easy to talk with.
And she can talk in any of five languages. A couple of people at our table carried on conversations in Italian with her. She also speaks Russian, German, Danish, and, of course, English.
Do musicians pick up languages more readily than non-musicians? It is possible, Natasha said. Both skills require a good ear and a good memory—and motivation for the many hours of learning required.
Natasha spent her first 17 years in Russia, where her father, Russian concert violinist Andrej Korsakov, and her mother, a concert pianist from Greece, lived. Her Russian grandfather was her first teacher, introducing her to the violin when she was 5. It was a very natural thing for her to do, she said, and, in her family, to be a professional musician was expected: she is the sixth generation of musicians in her family.
Later, Natasha described her early violin training with her grandfather, in response to a question from Jung-Ho Pak:
Natasha’s mother discouraged her from choosing the piano as her major instrument. Concertizing is difficult when you play the piano, her mother told her. It is difficult to find a place to practice, and concert hall pianos are of varying quality. Also, she said, there are so many pianists that competition is very great.
The cello is too big to lug from concert to concert, Natasha said; the violin is just perfect for a career as a concert musician. One of her cousins is a cellist though, and they play together when their busy schedules permit.
In this clip, Natasha talks about where she lives and why:
Practicing, traveling, concertizing, teaching master classes, and talking to students in schools and colleges keeps Natasha very busy. Recently, she said, after a busy day teaching and mingling, she found herself “literally falling asleep on stage” during a concert rehearsal.
With an active tour schedule, and homes in Germany and Italy (where her boyfriend, also a professional violinist, lives), one might thing she has little time for anything else, but Natasha also plays tennis and writes. An avid reader of detective novels (her favorite authors are Agatha Christy and Henning Mankel, a Swedish author), she writes crime stories herself. She has completed two short stories and two short novels, all in German. One involves an Italian detective investigating the death of a violinist. She assured me that all the musical details in the novel were accurate. (I love fiction about music and musicians, but am distressed when the musical information is flawed.)
Natasha’s favorite violin concerto is by Shostakovich, but she also enjoys the Bruch concerto. When she performs, the concerto is usually chosen by the orchestra’s conductor, based what fits their program. It may make it more interesting to play a different concerto at every venue, but it does require a lot of practicing.
Rarely is the concerto chosen with her in mind, as it was the case in Cape Cod. Junk-Ho Pak selected the Bruch concerto for her because both she and the concerto are full of passion. “Passionate” is the word she uses to describe Pak, as well, and she appreciated his personal selection of the music for her, and she was very pleased with how the rehearsal the night before had gone.
In this video, Natasha and Jung-Ho discuss the Bruch concerto:
Bruch is known primarily for his first violin concerto, but he did write other music, including two other concertos and a fantasy. Natasha loves the second concerto and wondered, “Why is only the first being played?”
In her travels in Mexico and South America (she has performed in Chile, Argentina and Brazil, and always returns to Mexico on a tour because she won a competition there in 1997), she finds that classical musical audiences are considerably younger than they are in the US and in Europe. Audience members in Latin America often range in age from 18 to 25.
She credits school programs in Latin America for educating children about classical music. “There is lots being done,” she said.
Natasha visits schools and colleges while on tour, and finds that “kids are really interested in music appreciation.” In Tupelo, she was scheduled to speak for an hour, but the class was extended for another hour because the students were so involved. “They didn’t let me go!” she said.
Pak asked about her busy touring schedule, and the languages that she speaks:
After the luncheon, Natasha was headed off to teach a violin master class at the Cape Cod Conservatory in Barnstable. Later on, she would rehearse with the orchestra before performing the Bruch concerto the next evening, and the following day.
It is a busy schedule, but Natasha Korsakova seems to thrive on the joys and challenges of touring, learning, meeting new people, and, of course, on the beautiful music she creates.
My review of the concert appears in today’s print version of the Barnstable Enterprise.
NOTE: If you missed the concert, you can hear Natasha Korsakova by searching for her on Youtube. Here is a clip of her playing a movement from the the Shostakovich violin concert.