Baiba Talks Berg: An Interview with Baiba Skride
Baiba Skride is a violinist from Latvia (a small country in Eastern Europe between Lithuania, Estonia, and Belarus). Baiba is coming to Abravanel Hall this weekend to play Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto.
Alban Berg composed the Violin Concerto after the death of 18-year-old Manon Gropius, the daughter of Alma Mahler (once Gustav Mahler’s wife) and Walter Gropius. This concerto was dedicated by the composer “To the memory of an angel.”
Baiba offered the following thoughts on this composition:
It is a very touching, very deep, extremely intelligent and emotionally charged piece. Alban Berg wrote this piece to the memory of Manon Gropius, who was the daughter of Alma Mahler and died at an early age. There is a lot of sadness in the music, but there are many very important and interesting levels to this music. The most amazing part of this concerto for me is the end of the piece where Berg uses Bach’s Choral “Es ist Genug“ and slowly brings every instrument in an indescribable culmination. It’s just one of the most emotional moments in the whole violin repertoire.
For Berg’s Violin Concerto I think it is important to come with an open mind to hear this somewhat different music. It is relatively contemporary, but really, it is the most beautiful and most important concerto of the 20th century.
Like many of Berg’s pieces, this work is written in a twelve tone technique, which means that instead of using a chord (in a more classical sense of composition), Berg uses the twelve tones of the chromatic scale (or every key, including the black ones, on the piano between C major up to the B major) . The technique is frequently called serialism and often called “atonal” because of the different way it sounds (though composers who use the twelve tone technique don’t like calling it that).
Twelve tone technique is where our interview starts.
USUO: I have been studying twelve tone music for the last couple of weeks, and I’m writing an informative post about that. How do you feel about twelve tone music?
Baiba: Twelve tone music can sometimes be a bit complicated to hear for the first time, but Berg’s Violin Concerto is so well written that it is accessible to the audience right away. I think this violin concerto is extremely emotional, deep on so many levels and very fascinating in its musical language.
USUO: Have you played Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto before? What do you like about it?
Baiba: I have played it many times and while you play it, it doesn’t seem to be specifically twelve tone music, rather it gives you a very natural, very flowing feeling and it tells you a story.
I think writing in twelve tones for Berg was much more diverse and free than for example – Schönberg, he uses the method to get to the emotional level, and the music doesn’t focus on the means of how it’s achieved.
USUO: Are there other twelve tone compositions that you have played or like or want to play?
Baiba: I have played some Weber and some Schönberg music, but I do feel the most connected to Berg.
USUO: Does your heritage influence your music? In what ways?
Baiba: I think everyone’s roots somehow influence you and your work. And it should. I am very proud to come from the small, beautiful and very musical country Latvia, where people enjoy singing so much and have a very strong feeling of where they come from. As a small people, we are very aware of our heritage. Also because for most of our country’s history we were oppressed by one or another country. But by now almost half of my life I have lived in Germany and I have very much profited also from German culture and musical possibilities.
USUO: In all your travels, what is your favorite food? What is your favorite place to eat?
Baiba: Very often on my travels I end up eating in the hotel I am staying, just because it’s more convenient. But I love to find a good sushi place or especially in America, a great steak. I try, if possible, to find some local specialties if they are not too crazy.
USUO: What music do you listen to?
Baiba: A lot of time when I am traveling I am listening to pieces I need to learn or discover. At home, it varies very much from classical music to current hits which come on the radio.
USUO: What else do you enjoy doing besides violin? Do you play other instruments?
Baiba: I used to learn piano as a second instrument, but haven’t played one in maybe 13 years. Unfortunately, I don’t have much time for any other instrument or a hobby. I have 2 boys at home so when I am at home I spend my time with and for them. Occasionally, if on holiday, I love to do scuba diving, but that doesn’t happen more than once a year.
For more information about the concert, including the program, program notes, and artist biographies, please visit this page.
Fortunately for us, this is not the only time we will have the opportunity to hear Baiba play. She will also be playing Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, Feb. 20 and 21 here at Abravanel Hall.