Some people have a special presence even on the phone. Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Vilde Frang is such a person, because the twenty two-year-old Norwegian violin virtuoso has spellbound audiences around the world with her charismatic stage-presence and musical exuberance. Vilde Frang is not only utterly brilliant in every technical aspect of being a violinist, at a young age she is also a distinct musical voice; an artist set on unwavering personal exploration of the universe of classical music and one refusing to be limited in any way.
-I don’t think of myself as a violinist, says Vilde, because I don’t feel bound by the instrument and its sound. In fact I learn a lot more from listening to other types of music than I do from listening to violin music. I prefer birdsong really, and expressions that I perceive as direct and unmediated. For me it is important to conceive of the instrument as an extension of the body. My goal is always to make the violin sound as a singing human voice.
We speak to Vilde on the phone from Denmark, where she is rehearsing with the pianist Marianna Shirinyan. Vilde plays more concerts in Denmark than she does in Norway.
-I’m not sure why it has turned out this way, but I guess it has to do with enthusiasm. The Danes have always given me a very warm welcome, right from the start in my early teens. I feel very much appreciated at home in Norway too, but there is still something special about Denmark. And of course I have a Danish booking- and management agency, Copenhagen Artists, so Denmark is a base for me in that respect.
However, her real base in Munich in Bavaria, where she moved about two and a half years ago.
-Munich is the ideal place for me to live, says Vilde. There I am right at the centre of the world of classical music, I experience that the entire area is saturated with music and the kind of artistic ideals that I believe in. But the most important reason is of course Anne-Sophie Mutter. She lives in Munich, and ever since I became sponsored by the Anne-Sophie Mutter Circle of Friends Foundation in 2003, it has been a natural desire for me to live in Munich in order to capitalize fully on our close relationship.
Mutter first discovered Vilde Frang at the Bergen International Festival around ten years ago. They kept in touch, and then, when Vilde was fifteen she was invited to play for Mutter.
-She encouraged me to move to Germany to develop musically. I made a quick decision to finish my studies at the Barratt Due Music Institute in Oslo, discontinue my regular schooling, and move to Germany. I felt that is was paradise for a student of music; it is where all the great and strict professors are, and Germany is where the spirit of classical music and classical education stands strong and magnificent. That is not to say that there is anything wrong with the musical education in Norway. Personally I feel that my musical intuition was formed in Norway, while I have perfected it Germany.
In 2003 Vilde moved to Hamburg to study with Kolja Blacher, but already from the start she also spent a lot of time in Munich where took lessons with Ana Chumachenco as well as with Mutter. Currently she is pursuing an advanced master program with Chumachenco at the Kronberg Academy. However, her education has been a bit more plastic than is the case for most students.
-Ever since I moved to Germany I have enjoyed a very flexible system in terms of studies. I have been excused from much of the rigour that students of music are normally made to endure. Instead I have been allowed to take private lessons, with different teachers, and thus I have been able to find my own balance between studying and performing. Having many different teachers has been all-important, because in my view it is very unfortunate to allow oneself to be moulded, and limited, by one sole teacher. I really need the dynamic between totally different guidance and feedback. Kolja’s lessons are sometimes like cold showers, while with Ana Chumachenco I feel like a little princess. These opposites have made me independent, with a sense of making my own choices and finding my own musical voice. Now I am in a position to take lessons when I need them, and to a certain degree with the teachers of my choice.
This freedom Vilde owes largely to the backing of Anne-Sophie Mutter, who has supported her financially, as a tutor and as a friend.
-Yes, we have become close friends says, Vilde. She has been, and still is, a key person in my life. I had financial backing from her from 2003 until recently, and as a member of her Circle of Friends I have also been allowed to borrow a splendid violin.
The idea behind the Anne-Sophie Mutter Circle of Friends foundation is to back young promising talents financially until they become self supported. The artistic and personal support, however, is of the life-long kind hopes Vilde.
-Even though I am now financially independent, I can always come to Anne-Sophie with questions or to play with her if I feel the need. Our relationship gives me a sense of anchorage and security, which is important in the otherwise very free and independent artistic life I enjoy.
Now firmly established as one of the most sought after young soloists around, Vilde’s livelihood is secured. However, the kind of instrument required for a violinist in her league is not something she can go and buy.
-The instrument I’m playing now is a Carlo Bergonzi from 1735, a superb violin previously owned by Fritz Kreisler. It is a loan from the Norwegian Dextra Musica Foundation, which was set up in 2006 in cooperation with the DNB NOR bank. The foundation has bought a number of great instruments, and I am in the fortunate position that I may barrow violins from them for as long as I like.
Another institution that has meant a lot for Vilde and her career is the Borletti-Buitoni Trust, who awarded Vilde its Fellowship in 2007. As a member of this musical family, she has received financial support, advice and musical tutoring.
-The best thing about the Borletti-Buitoni fellowship is the relationship I have with the one of the honorary trustees, the fantastic pianist Mitsuko Uchida. Coming to her home in Notting Hill; playing with her in her studio and just enjoying her warm personality and her delightful home -and not least her pancakes- is something I value greatly.
London is also the home of EMI classics. In March Vilde made a recording of Prokofiev and Sibelius for the label’s Debut Series, which gives young and exceptionally gifted artists the chance to make a one-off recording with a major international label. The session took place in Cologne Germany with the West-Deutsche Rundfunk Orchestra.
-I started talking to EMI back in 2007 when I played with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. We have been discussing a record since then. Now the music is on tape, but since the concept of the Debut Series has been changed, entailing that they will release only one CD per year, it has yet to be decided whether my debut will be released this year or in 2010.
Asked how she copes with constantly appropriating new pieces and expanding her repertoire, Vilde relates that she feels that the relentless practising and hard studying in her teens is paying off.
-When the technical mastery is in place it is a lot easier to learn new pieces, says Vilde, and I now I feel that I have foundation that allows me to really express myself when I start working with a new piece of music. This is the benefit of studying in strict the German system. When I was really young I guess I didn’t really reflect on the challenge of learning a new piece, and certainly not on the possibilities of disappointment. Later, when these aspects begin to announce themselves, it is something you have to conquer. There are some milestones you have to pass, some thresholds to cross. I think the most important milestones for me in this respect were Brahms’ violin concert, which I did when I was 18, and Bartok’s, when I was 20. Crossing those thresholds made me grow up. Now the challenge of learning new pieces is more about practical organizing, especially in terms of calculating how much time is available and structuring that time well.
Having reached many milestones already, Vilde still has a clear notion of new challenges; pieces and composers she wants, and needs, to play.
-I’d like to play Anton Berg, and Britten, and more Bach. There are always new pieces and new challenges to take on, says Vilde. It is impossible to know how my career will develop, but one thing I know for certain; I really want to have a life-long relationship with Bach, and Beethoven, and Brahms.
The future is wide open and platinum bright for the Norwegian Violin virtuoso. Her engagements are numerous and prestigious. This spring they include a return to London with the London Philharmonic and a special performance at the Bergen International festival as the winner of this year’s Norwegian soloist award.
Many years ago she predicted that hard work in her teens would make life easier when she became a little older. She was right. Her schedule is mind-boggling, the pressure and challenges can seem inhuman, but Vilde takes them on with apparent ease. She has evidently found a personal balance and reached a professional level where the hard work is empowering rather than draining. Enjoying close personal relations with several great musical mentors, she has established a context for herself in which her independent spirit can play out in the full breadth of her talent and manifest in sheer love of playing. For Vilde playing is living.