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ABISC ARTIST OF THE MONTH
KINGA AUGUSTYN

You have been described as a violinist for whom “nothing seems too difficult.” With such accolades coming relatively early in your career, does this create any special performance pressure for you, and if so, how?

These complimentary and quite powerful words do not add any further pressure to what I already put on myself—the kind of pressure that keeps me motivated to perform better every time. I am happy that my long-term efforts to become as solid as possible technically are being recognized. In fact, I have always thought that technical security allows turning one’s attention to more significant aspects of music making, such as the element of personal expression. Also, a limitless technique will allow an artist to learn and absorb more music in a shorter period of time, which will give them an opportunity to experience more styles, as well as to fully live in the world of music, almost breathing it.

No matter how talented a violinist, it is said that an artist is only as good as his instrument. Tell us your opinion on this, and then describe for us the characteristics of your own perfect instrument.

A good, high quality instrument can definitely help an artist. Aiming to play a musical instrument at possibly the highest level is indeed quite similar to developing a great professional relationship with another person. When both capably work well from each other’s potentials, the outcome is always better.

A moderate violin will certainly allow a skilled violinist to play all the right notes, as well as to even phrase music in the way they wish or intend. (The latter is especially significant). However, if the goal is to ensure an expressive performance that will be a most satisfying experience for a listener, there is simply much more to consider; there are different timbres to explore, and there are different kinds of expression, just to name a couple. The first thing that an ear captures, though, is the sound itself. And significantly, a great quality of the sound requires both the ability of the performer and the quality of the instrument itself. Accordingly, despite the fact that a great percentage of the actual music made by an artist reflects how they hear and interpret it, I do recognize that the sound quality of a great violin factors in, intangibly in a manner of speaking, to create a distinct expressive sound.

A perfect violin for me will have a most beautiful, pure, and rich tone. It will possibly be most responsive, and will therefore be a ticket to an ultimate expression.

With there being so much violin literature written for soloist and orchestra, along with a great body of chamber music, when learning repertoire and rehearsing alone, what special techniques do you feel you need in order to anticipate performance with other musicians, and how do you calculate any potential adjustments you have to make until you are able to make them in an actual rehearsal?

When preparing to perform a violin concerto with an orchestra as a soloist, I have to do much more than just to learn the solo part. I always find it helpful to know the history of a work, its inspiration etc. Expectedly, in the beginning stages of a new work, one must study the full score to gain a sufficient understanding of the entire piece; and significantly, a deep study of the score provides one the idea of the composer’s intentions. Just like the conductor, I have to know what, when and approximately how all the different parts of the orchestra are played; knowing when and how to react for the perfect musical flow. And obviously, the better my knowledge is in this regard, the better connection I make with the orchestra and the conductor. Consequently, a more powerful communication is achieved with the audience.

Coming to a rehearsal with either an orchestra or a chamber music ensemble, I have learned to be quite flexible, especially in the aspects of tempi; as those could vary, depending on different musical temperaments, preference or ability. Especially in chamber music, I am also open to different interpretation ideas. It is a learning process, which helps to grow as a musician.

Singers are often taught that it is the body that is their instrument, and not just the voice. How much do you feel the physical make up of a violinist contributes to the overall sound of the artist?

I don’t particularly pay too much attention in anticipation of how my body moves and behaves physically when performing for a piece. The important thing is to have a good solid foundation as far as posture, violin position and stance go, and spatial orientation when performing. During performance, I want to believe that I become one with the instrument, as a vessel through which the music flows. I believe, in my field, the subsequent bodily movements are more of an outcome of the kind of piece that is played. And one can indeed appreciate how a musician is moved by music, through the body language they exhibit.

What advice would you give a violinist working to improve technique in terms of acquiring repertoire? Which composers naturally allow a gradual increase in flexibility and overall musicality, before taking on the more virtuosic literature?

What has greatly helped me is studying the music of Nicolo Paganini, especially the 24 Caprices for Solo Violin. In my younger years, the daily scales were my water, and the 24 Caprices were my bread. As technically challenging pieces, the Caprices require not just basic abilities to play the violin, but a focused work on making the best use of both arms. Aspects to address in these pieces are: hand position, shifting, optimal holding of both the bow and the violin, and picking most useful fingerings that will not disturb the flow of the usually simple phrases Paganini wrote. The latter should especially encourage using the technique to serve the needs of the music of other composers of the violin literature.

Besides Paganini, I think that the study of music by J. S. Bach, especially the Three Partitas and Three Sonatas for Solo Violin, is quite crucial. Playing these wonderful works requires an utmost purity of sound, understanding more complicated structures as in case of the fugues, and deep consideration of the harmony, which should be treated as an important guideline for phrasing, timbre, the level of intensity of the sound, among other aspects. Subsequently, this knowledge and these abilities should be further used and explored when fundamentally learning works of other composers.