elina vähälä tackles 10 questions

*please note, elina vähälä is a rockstar in the classical music world, plain and simple.  i could list her awards and professional accomplishments (i.e. performing on five continents, playing for the 2008 nobel peace prize ceremony), but let’s just say, when you buy a ticket for the concert, her name is on it, and when you walk up to the schnitzer this weekend, it’s gonna be her name up in lights.  needless to say, all of us at the classical beaver are extremely happy and proud to present this last musician interview of the season.  thanks elina!  -cb

you’ll be playing benjamin britten’s violin concerto with the oregon symphony – how would you describe this piece to someone who doesn’t know much about classical music?

Britten’s music is incredibly strong, in different colors – lights and shadows – in a very unique way.  It really goes under the skin.  This violin concerto is one of his earlier works and even if it has something in common with the form of Prokofiev’s first violin concerto, it has all those personal elements so typical to Britten.  This concerto is fun, absolutely beautiful, unbelievably virtuosic, and the descent to the end is almost sensually religious!

why is the violin so awesome?

I love the possibilities of expression on the violin sound; the legato, the vibrato, or lack of vibrato, the depth and the brightness, the colors… but the violin, like any other instrument, is only an instrument.  It needs someone to make all those things happen.  When someone has a story to tell, I don’t care what instrument it is, it is always great.

what does one need to be aware of when playing a 332-year-old instrument?

Every instrument is an individual and one has to find the right way to play them.  It doesn’t really matter if they are old or new, they can be so different anyway.  The one I’ve got is a diva, and it took a while to find my way with it when I first got it.  Of course I’m aware that the instrument is old and that it is a part of history, and I’m very proud of belonging to that chain of musicians who give their souls and vibration to this gorgeous piece of wood so beautifully carved.

what’s so great about experiencing classical music live?

I love the fact that every performance is different and cannot be repeated ever again.  The audience should be more aware of the fact that the musicians are performing these masterpieces, making that black ink on paper alive, exclusively for them in that very special moment.  I think that’s so cool.

if you weren’t a musician, what profession would you choose?

Probably an architect or designer, something to do with esthetics, form and rhythm!  Goethe said that architecture is frozen music. 

how do you feel at the end of a concert? 

Depending how the performance was, energized, tired, happy, relieved, empty… usually just grateful for having the life in music.

if i were to buy you a drink, what would you order?

If in Portland, I’d probably like to try a nice refreshing Pinot Gris from Oregon! If not available, champagne always works for me.

what composer really rocks your world?

Beethoven, Beethoven, Beethoven!

are you stoked by any non-classical music?

I don’t listen to music much when not working because my ears are overloaded with sound anyway, but I’ve come across some incredible performances in the ethnic genre; Arabic music, flamenco, South African a cappella singing, Chinese folk music.  I love the Chinese violin, erhu, and I have one of those myself. The problem is that when I got it, I was able to mess up the setting for the instrument in about five minutes, and now I should have to take it to a real erhu-master.

what sets the oregon symphony apart from other orchestras?

There definitely are a couple of things.  When I played with the orchestra before, I was so happy about the communication with the musicians on the stage and the way they involved themselves in the performance.  There was a lot energy in the playing, and this isn’t always the case.  I’ve had experiences with some orchestras where there was a vacuum of energy, and then things get difficult.  With the Oregon Symphony there is no danger of something like this happening!  And then there is Carlos.  He’s the man.  I’m so happy I’ll get to make music with him again, and that we have other performances coming up after this collaboration.

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1 Response to “elina vähälä tackles 10 questions”


  1. 1 Austin May 20, 2010 at 7:10 pm

    It’s heartwarming to know that extraordinary musicians are at such ease with their Beethoven love.

    You are perhaps the most unpretentious and to-the-point interviewer. Makes for a great read.

    (I always thought prefacing was lame. I.e. “So, you blah, de blah, with your background of blah de bloo, how do you blah de poo with such blah blink in these blah blah bleck times?)


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