Mar 27, 2014

Interview: Cecilia Bernardini in conversation with William Littler

Cecilia Bernardini in conversation with William Littler
March 2014
Featured violin soloist Cecilia Bernardini guest directs the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra from March 27-30 for A Night in Paris: Le Concert Spirituel.
Ms. Bernardini will also be directing a violin masterclass on Saturday March 29 at Trinity-St. Paul's Centre, Jeanne Lamon Hall.
How did music enter your life?
I've had music around me since I was born. My mother was a baroque violinist who turned into being a mother and my father was a baroque oboist who is still active. He even performed with Tafelmusik.
When did you start to play the violin and was it your idea?
It was definitely my idea. I fell in love with the sound itself. I thought it was the most beautiful sound in the world. It must have been a shock when I actually started to play.
Although your parents played on baroque instruments how did you start?
I started with the modern violin. My teacher introduced me to the playing of Milstein and Heifetz, those big romantic voices. A general education on modern violin allows you to build a secure technique anyway. And there may also have been a bit of rebelliousness involved in my decision, a bit of puberty kicking in.
So what made you subsequently turn to the baroque violin?
Even on the modern violin you play a lot of Bach and I always felt the modern school was taking the wrong approach. So the seeds of change were being sown. Then an emergency happened. My father's group in Italy was going to record Mozart Divertimenti for Sony Classical. The first violinist dropped out and my father asked me at the last minute to replace him. Ironically it was the same violinist (Stefano Montanari) I am replacing in Toronto.
I practiced like a mad woman for a couple of days--I was about 20 at the time--and realized how close I felt to this way of making music.
That was obviously a professional engagement. How early did you decide to become a professional violinist?
I decided fairly early. I was probably around twelve. I had a great teacher on the modern violin, a very refined musician of the Russian school, and after three years at the Amsterdam Conservatory I took my master's degree at the Guildhall School in London, where I had the same teacher as (Canada's) Lara St. John.
And then your career was launched?
When I came back to Amsterdam (although my father is Italian my mother is Dutch and I've lived most of my life in Holland) I auditioned for the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. It was a wonderful experience. Most of the people knew my dad and I had to show that I wasn't just the daughter of Alfredo Bernardini.
I started to get invitations to play with ensembles such as La Serenissima in London. But I felt I was doing everything by intuition and had to learn more about baroque practice, so I went back for an extra year at the Conservatory with Lucy van Dael.
And then you became a freelancer?
Yes, although I have a regular position as leader of the Dunedin Consort in Edinburgh, which is directed by John Butt. I'm very happy about our work. We've recorded the St. John Passion and before that a best-selling album of the Brandenburg Concertos.
Have you ever wanted to have an ensemble of your own?
I've toyed with the idea. The main reason for having such a group is to be inspired by people you would like to play with. I like the idea of having more freedom in music-making.
Have you enjoyed working with Tafelmusik?
I've known their name since I was a child and I know my father enjoyed working with them. I've worked with many groups before and I found them incredibly responsive. They have a wonderful discipline and work in a very collaborative atmosphere. There is a collective sense of responsibility.
You are here in Toronto as a replacement for Stefano Montanari. Have you been able to contribute your own ideas to the program?
The theme for the program was already set--Le Concert Spirituel. They suggested the Telemann Suite to me and I suggested the Leclair Concerto. I think it's a wonderful program.
You are also coming to Tafelmusik's home, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre, after its extensive renovation. What do you think of it as a working environment?
I had heard about the renovation. It is essential for an orchestra to have a good working space. I think this one has a beautiful acoustic.
A hall is an orchestra's instrument, of course, but what of your own instrument?
It is by a Mantuan maker, a Camillo Camilli of 1743. It is not mine, unfortunately. It has been loaned to me by an international foundation for a maximum of nine years. I've had it for about three years now. I have just put in an offer on a house (laughing) and when I have to replace my violin I may have to sell it.
What are the special qualities of such an instrument?
I'm not an evangelist for baroque music. Everyone is entitled to play the way he feels. But I like the grittier sound of the baroque violin. I really enjoy digging into gut strings. You can't get the same sounds on a modern instrument.
A period instrument suits the music of the baroque period better?
I feel baroque music is very much connected to language. You can hear a lot of consonants and the rhetorical gestures are clearer with such an instrument. In the Romantic Period, broadly speaking, longer phrases became more important, but I feel that even in Wagner there is a huge difference if you can hear the text.
Do you feel  the interpretation of baroque music has changed much over the years?
People like Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Gustav Leonhardt were pioneers. When you listen to their early recordings they may sound a little dated now, but they were the ones who started asking questions about how to play the music (authentically) and opened the way for the rest of us.
Do you enjoy doing primary research yourself?
I am more of a performer but I do like to learn more about the music I play. I never feel I have learned enough. 


A Night in Paris
baroque violin
Cecilia Bernardini
guest director