Wednesday, February 08, 2006
Nina Beilina Interview - Tamar Alexia Fleishman
Nina Beilina is the one of the last of the true Russian school preeminent violinists and the only woman-diva in a category that included the late Jascha Heifetz, Mischa Elman, Nathan Milstein and David Oistrahk. In fact, Beilina was a student of Oistrahk. She started violin at the age 4. Her mother was a professional pianist in Russian and taught Ms. Beilina piano until the age of 10.
Beilina has won prizes at most of the world's prestigious violin competitions: the Enescu, the Long-Thibaud and the Tchaikovsky. She maintains a demanding global solo schedule and is the head of Bachanalia, a musical group that performs in different small ensemble permutations. Beilina is the widow of the conductor Israel Chudnovsky; he died in 1971. Their son, Emil, is also a world-renowned violinist. Ms. Beilina emigrated with her son to the United States in 1977. Beilina, a resident of NYC, is also Professor of Music at the Mannes College of Music in New York.
Beilina is also featured in a series of books on the world's greatest musicians, "The Way They Play" (Paganiniana Publications, 1980). When I was in middle school, my mom and I had to run over to Carl Fisher & Sons to pick out some sheet music. While waiting at the counter, we saw the series of books. As the books were rather expensive, my mom said I could pick out one volume for myself. I wanted the one with the "lady violinist," as they were called. Beilina also has chapters in Peyser's book, "The Music of My Time," and "Great Masters of Violin," by Boris Schwartz. It was an honor to be able to interview Ms. Beilina for Pulitzer.com. More info about Nina may be found at www.bachanalia.org.
WHAT ARE YOUR LATEST PROJECTS?
Www.bachanalia.org. There are several things with that I have to achieve. We are celebrating our 18th year, it's amazing! It's hard to publicize the group. If I do the right thing, we can celebrate our 20th anniversary. We don't have a publicist. Emil sends press releases and we got a little mention in the New Yorker, in Time Out and the Russian newspapers.
I'm at the center of it all. I not only play, I must be the master of everything. We performed a new work which was dedicated to me.
TELL ME ABOUT THE EDUCATIONAL WORK THAT BACHANALIA DOES? HOW DID YOU DECIDE TO GET INVOLVED IN PUBLIC EDUCATION?
It's my #1. I feel this is a missing part for the music. I recently played at a school, I played 1/3 of Chaconne. I talked about Bach and the meaning of "Chaconne". I also brought the Urtext [the original edition of Bach]. They were listening! I got up and talked to them. It was so successful. In Russia, we were obliged to go to villages to teach and entertain people. We were not paid for it. We had to obey!
YOU'VE TAKEN STEPS, SUCH AS MEETING WITH THE AUDIENCE AFTER CONCERTS TO MAKE CLASSICAL MUSIC MORE ACCESSIBLE. HOW IS THAT GOING?
It's not that entertaining if you just play. If you just play, then you get like a marionette. By the way, I don't like when musicians make faces on stage, it's phony. You should "show with sound," that's what I always learned. Music is not the body language.
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN A MUSICIAN IS RIGHT FOR YOUR SMALLER ENSEMBLE?
I listen to them, to see if a person "talks" with the music, not just a player. There are tests with chamber music that can be done. Even after I've picked them, sometimes I'm very upset -- I have to [make a] change. This conductor, Von Karajan, used to require 10 rehearsals. When he started with the Berlin Philharmonic, he had that put in his contract. With just 3 or 4 rehearsals, that's not serious. And symphonies, with 1 or 2 rehearsals, they're just playing notes. This is why music is dying.
HOW OFTEN ARE YOU TOURING THESE DAYS?
Every couple of months. I was in Italy in the summer. I am going to Germany in the Spring.
WHAT PERCENTAGE OF YOUR WORK IS SOLO VS ENSEMBLE?
Mainly solo. Of course, I teach too.
WHAT MUSIC DO YOU LISTEN TO WHEN YOU'RE NOT PLAYING?
I love big symphonies, big pieces. I love the old conductors: Hans Rosbaud conducting Mahler with the Chicago Symphony, Bruno Walter conducting Brahms, Toscanini.
WHAT NEW TECHNOLOGY DO YOU USE IN PRACTICE AND IN CONCERTS?
I have my old tricks! Mainly, you have to use your ear. Paganini played guitar -- using picks enlarged the muscles.
HAVE YOU PERFORMED FOR ANY OTHER SOCIAL CAUSES OR CHARITIES?
Jewish organizations. Though they usually pay people, I played without pay. Charity must be charity. I'm open to other charities!