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Julia Fischer: Virtuosissima!!!

No one could have entered the new year with more gusto than violinist Julia Fischer. Arno Widmann gives a breathless account of the birth of new piano virtuoso.

No one could have entered the new year with more gusto than violinist Julia Fischer, born 1983 in Munich and since 2006 teacher at the Frankfurt Music Conservatory. Before the intermission at the packed New Year's concert in the Great Hall of Frankfurt's Old Opera House, she played one of the most dazzling and famous pieces of the violin repertoire, Camille Saint-Saëns' Third Violin Concerto, Op. 61, dating from 1880; following the intermission she sat herself down at the concert grand and launched into the probably even more difficult Piano Concerto in A-minor, Op. 16, by Edvard Grieg (1868).

One cannot of course state it with certainty, but it is highly improbable that such a thing has ever happened before. But one thing is certain, no-one who has ever played both instruments in a concert, can ever have done so as freely, as inspiringly, with such poise and confidence as Julia Fischer. Otherwise we would have heard about it.

Matthias Pintscher
, known primarily as a composer, conducted the Young Philharmonic Orchestra of Germany. He did so with obvious joy at the ever fascinating combination of mathematical precision and emotional élan that typifies the music of Richard Strauss – an emotion which clearly transmitted itself to the fresh-faced musicians and the mostly grey-haired audience alike. One element in Pintcher's faithfulness to the work was that, in the "Don Juan," one had the feeling for a few beats that nothing was happening.

Pintscher and orchestra could have been the best in the word; all eyes and ears would still have been glued to Julia Fischer. In the Great Hall, the audience's excitement was palpable. It was patently clear to all that they were either about to witness the disgrace of one of the greatest living violinists, or that they would be present at the triumphant birth of a new piano virtuoso By no later than the beginning of the Adagio in the Grieg, it was evident to everyone in the hall that they were witnessing Julia Fischer's overwhelming triumph.

First there were the devilishly difficult runs at the end of the First Movement, which she handled so masterfully that some members of the audience had to restrain themselves from leaping to their feet and shouting "Brava, brava!" as if at the opera. And then, in the Adagio, the tranquil unfolding of each individual note – which, taken together, must form an arc – was so lovely one was reluctant to breathe.

But no fear: there were no casualties. There was only enthusiasm and, to borrow theatre parlance, five curtain calls for the virtuoso. If the programme had not continued – Pintscher conducted Richard Strauss' "Rosenkavalier Suite" (the most elegiac of Viennese waltzes) – and if the audience of elderly ladies and gentlemen had been able to do as they wished, they would have lifted Julia Fischer over their heads and borne her out of the concert hall in triumph.

January 1, 2008 at the Frankfurt Old Opera House may just possibly go down in music history as the day in which not only Julia Fischer was reborn, but also the kind of virtuosity which is not just about mastery of one instrument, but the ability to do anything. That sort of virtuosity was long frowned upon, then forgotten – and now it is back again. That too is a joy.

Anyone who saw Julia Fischer on that evening observed that, as perfectly as she may have played her own part, she always had the entire composition in her ear, in her body: the way that, violin tucked under her chin, she bent backwards as if to give a cue to the winds; and the way that, seated at the concert grand, she actually turned around as if to tell the string section: "Now it's your turn." No, she did not upstage Pintscher. But it is perfectly clear that she wants to do everything – and she can. And she wants to and can do it all not only with her head, but with her entire body. Not just the violin and the piano. Everything!


This article originally appeared in the Frankfurter Rundschau on 2 January, 2008.

Arno Widmann is feuilleton editor of the Frankfurter Rundschau.

Translation: Myron Gubitz - let's talk european