Budapest Festival Orchestra
September 28, 2017

"What makes art moving is authenticity" - interview with Alina Pogostkina

Her concert debut was at the age of 5, when she was 8 they had to leave Leningrad with her family and earn money as street musicians in Germany. However, this was one of the happiest periods of her life. Alina Pogostkina is now one of the most wanted violin players in the world bringing the musical piece to Budapest which brought a real break-through in her career. She is playing the one and only violin concert of Sibelius. Read our interview with her!

You were praised for your “deeply moving” performance when you won the Sibelius Competition in Helsinki in 2005. It must have been a very important step in your career as a violinist, because since that you are appreciated all over the world. What makes your playing so moving?

Alina Pogostkina: It is really difficult to answer this, I can only guess. In my opinion, what makes art moving is authenticity. If we only try to keep up with the expectations of the world, we never go inwards, never ask ourselves who we are and what we want to share with the world and the result will never be very touching. I have been a seeker throughout my whole life. I have asked many questions, I have spent a lot of time investigating my heart and soul, and the mystery of life. And I never want to stop doing that. I really want to encourage young people of today to stop running and competing, and allow themselves to be still, to be alone, to fall in love with the questions without answers. And to trust that there is a beauty in them that nobody else has, and it is only all about revealing that beauty to themselves so that they could go out to the world and share their uniqueness.

Your parents are both musicians. Does this mean that at home, back in St Petersburg (Leningrad at that time), when you started to play the violin at the age of four, there was no question about this choice?

A. P.: No, there was no question about this choice. Yes, I learned to play this instrument, and I could have learned another one. But it is not about that instrument or any other skill we learn and practice. It is about the richness of our own expression that makes that skill meaningful. I am not very attached to my violin. It is beautiful, but it is an instrument to something so much bigger. Sometimes I even like other instruments more. I love the cello and the piano, I had different phases in my life where I liked different instruments more. But again, in the end it does not matter what I play.

Do your parents still give you feedback about your playing?

A.P.: Yes, they do, and I ask them to do sometimes. And nobody knows more about my weaknesses than they do - so they are still an amazing reference for me.

When was the moment when you first felt that you are especially talented? I know that your debut was when you were 5.

A.P.: I didn’t discover it, my father always felt this way and I trusted him, I grew up with the understanding that I have a rare gift and a great responsibility coming with that. Sometimes it felt like a burden.

How do you think of the time when you and your parents had to move to Germany and lived on a very low living standard. I read that you earned money as street musicians when you were only 8 years old.

A.P.: I think of all my past with big gratefulness. Especially in this period of my life, where there was not much feeling of security and safety, we experienced so much kindness from people. They would take us home with them to give us a place to sleep and even to live for a while. Complete strangers. I learned to trust people in that time and that the human being is loving and kind of his nature. I always kept that trust and believe in my heart. It was not an easy period, but it was part of our path and our story as a family. I would not be this person I am today if any of that did not happen.

It must be wonderful that today the whole world admires you as a young violinist who plays with the greatest orchestras and the best conductors. Isn’t it sometime difficult to say no, when you are offered with more and more invitations to play?

A. P.: No, I have been in the music business for almost 30 years now, and you cannot tempt me with big names anymore. I know that in the end, it is another concert with another orchestra and another conductor. Sure, some experiences on stage are amazing, and the memory of those lasts forever in my heart. But I know that I can only live a fulfilled life and give my best on stage if I still have time to rest, to be there for my child at home, to have the time to recover my heart, body and mind. I got sick sometimes during my career, and got clear indications from my body that I needed to slow down. As a mother I try not to even go to that line anymore not to mention not to cross it.

The piece you are going to play in Budapest in October is the only Violin Concerto of Sibelius, who – as I know – you admire very much. What do you think and feel while playing this unique violin piece, which was resembled to a “polonaise for polar bears” by one of the music critiques.

A. P.: I find it very difficult to explain music, to talk about it at all. The music starts where words end, I really like this quote. But I will try to still find some words: I resonate deeply with this music. It is like the Nordic nature, raw and strong, still and mystical. There is nothing about pure technical skills, all that is happening in the violin part is there to serve this force of nature. There is something special about light and darkness in Finland. I can hear that in Sibelius.

Have you ever met Marin Alsop, the conductor of the concert before? How do you prepare for playing under her leadership?

I have never met her and I can’t really prepare playing with new people. I can only prepare my part as well as I can and meet them with an open heart, trusting that we will find a good way to connect.

You can listen to Alina Pogostkina on 4-5 October, Müpa Budapest.