Nov 22, 2014
Interview: Pavlo Beznosiuk in conversation with Mr. William Littler
You were born in London, a very musical city, of Ukrainian and Irish parents, so it must have been easy for music to enter your life.
It is difficult to decide about the chicken and the egg. My mother was adamant that there would be a musician in the family. She was a literary person herself. My father was a chemical engineer who had studied the violin as a child and every now and then he’d take out the violin and play some Ukrainian melodies or Palm Court tunes. So there was music in the house.
And your siblings?
My elder sister started taking piano lessons. I was never really pushed to the violin but at my primary school one day the teacher asked “who wants to play the violin?” and I put up my hand. Although I was provided with an instrument I remember walking home wondering whether my parents would be annoyed. They weren’t. I was lucky to be in a school district with an enlightened music policy.
Bramwell Tovey (music director of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra) was in the same school. He played tuba in the youth orchestra and was already a great entertainer and a conductor. I played under him. Bram even started up a little orchestra, Concerti Allegri. He was really good. Sometimes he would play Tubby the Tuba.
How soon did you decide to take music really seriously?
I considered it my profession practically from day one. My main early teacher was very dedicated and wrote a letter to my parents saying that I had something and offered to teach me privately. My idea of life was simple. You eat, you sleep, you play the violin. I was interested in all kinds of music in my teen years. Rock and jazz are still part of my listening life. I was like a magpie at the local library.
And how about early music on period instruments?
My sister went to the Guildhall School to study flute and was taken with period instrument playing. She used to drag me to concerts. I was not impressed. All I could hear was out of tune playing. I was interested in faster, higher, and louder. Monica Huggett was the first person who convinced me that you could play this music in tune and sound ravishing. I’m still not a crusader for period instruments, but I do prefer playing the baroque violin in this repertory. Using a modern bow is like skating across glass by comparison.
I remember sitting next to Itzhak Perlman at lunch several years ago and talking violinists with him. I asked what he thought of Jascha Heifetz. He turned to me and said simply, “the king.’’
He was the king. He played D and A on gut strings for the character they gave the music, and his recording of the Beethoven Concerto was the first to approach the way we play it now. I listen to Heifetz almost every day.
Did your appetite for early music develop during your years at the Guildhall?
I started playing medieval music at the Guildhall. It appealed to my rock sensibilities. Then I was handed a baroque violin one day and through that I got to play with Monica Huggett.
An instant conversion?
For a while l moved back and forth, but after playing with groups such as the Academy of Ancient Music and then as an extra player in the London Symphony Orchestra for two weeks of Beethoven under Claudio Abbado, it got to the point where I could barely lift a modern bow. I finally got fed up with the modern orchestra world.
Your association with the Academy of Ancient Music as soloist/director has extended over several years. With so many period ensembles in London, often using the same players, is there a danger of homogenization?
In the 80s and 90s when there was a lot of work and fewer players so you did often see the same faces. But I find there is a great deal of exploration that keeps things sounding different. John Eliot Gardiner would do something different from Trevor Pinnock, and Roger Norrington would do something else. Instruments evolved to get rid of the eccentricities. I like angles and colours. I much prefer the fortepiano to the modern piano. You can’t hide on the fortepiano.
I’ve been working with the Academy in various roles since 1984. Chris [the late Christopher Hogwood] encouraged an easy, open approach to music-making. When I led for him I often used more vibrato than he would have liked – I’m a bit of a romantic – but the Academy has always had a reach that extended beyond the usual boundaries.
And Tafelmusik itself?
It is a true democracy. The players have been together for so long they know each other. They feel free to express their ideas and don’t get upset when the ideas aren’t taken up. This happens far less in England. It’s partly a question of [the shortage of] time. I have enjoyed working here.