Artist Interview: Bella Hristova, violin

By Patrick Burke on January 22, 2014
Bella Hristova

Described by the New York Times as an artist with “impeccable sound and technique,” Bulgarian-born, Curtis-trained Bella Hristova performs on Friday, January 31 at the American Philosophical Society with fellow Curtis alumna Amy Yang. I spoke with Bella earlier this month about her upcoming performance, her newest CD and her recent performance with Jaime Laredo.

Patrick Burke:  Your performance on January 31 features two Beethoven sonatas bookended by Lutoslawski’s playful rondo Subito and Messiaen’s emotional Louange í  L’immortalité de Jésus from the Quartet for the End of Time. Could you discuss the importance of these works in the literature and why you chose to pair them for this recital?

Bella Hristova:  Beethoven has so many facets to his musical personality, but I felt like the Lutoslawski and the Messiaen really spoke to two of his most contrasting sides–the virtuosic and the spiritual. The Lutoslawski has the kind of charged energy that you hear in Beethoven's most virtuosic music, such as the Kreutzer Sonata, which is a true showcase of both instruments. The Messiaen speaks to some of the contemplative, inward-looking music you find especially in late Beethoven. I love the conversation that happens between these pieces and feel like they weave together very well in this program.

PB:  You have a close connection with the Marlboro Music Festival, having been a participant at the summer festival and having played on multiple tours. Could you describe the differences between the two experiences and how they have shaped you as an artist?

BH:  Being at Marlboro and being on tour with a Marlboro group are very different experiences, of course, because in one case you're living in the same place for seven weeks studying music intensively and in the other you're constantly traveling and waking up in a new city every day! But there is something in common between the two experiences, which is playing the music day after day–just in different settings. Marlboro lets you live with the music and explore it deeply, and that experience you can't trade for anything. Understanding the whole score and not just your part is something you can really focus on there in the process of spending a meaningful amount of time with great music. After that, though, the best way to really get to know a piece is to perform it night after night, and the Marlboro tours give you the opportunity to do just that.

PB:  Continuing the Marlboro theme, you will be performing with pianist Amy Yang. Could you discuss your relationship with Amy and how working with her strengthens your performances of these difficult, emotional works?

BH:  Amy and I went to Curtis together, so we've known each other for a long time. She's just so wonderful to work with–a great artist and beautiful person. She's very thoughtful about her work, and it's such a joy to collaborate with her. Every time we perform there is something new to be discovered and interpreted, and I think that makes room for all the challenging music we play together to speak.

PB:  In April of last year you released your album Bella Unaccompanied featuring works by Corigliano, Puts, Piazzolla, Milstein and Bach. Besides the obvious reason, why did you select these works and what was the process of recording them like?

BH:  I wanted to create a concert program revolving around a masterwork for unaccompanied violin–Bach's Chaconne–and pair it with other pieces that would complement the entire D Minor Partita. I wanted to have a selection of works that were all demanding and interesting to play, but that also had a great musical integrity too. Recording this program was a great deal of work, but it was truly a labor of love because each one of these pieces has such a strong identity and they all speak to me in a different way. I've now played the program in concert a few times, and it feels like a marathon. I always say after "how can I ever do this again?" But then something recharges and I get very excited to perform these works every time.

PB:  On Christmas Eve you played with the New York String Orchestra under the direction of your former teacher, Jaime Laredo. Could you describe your relationship with Mr. Laredo and how this has impacted your career?

BH:  My two teachers, Ida Kavafian and Jaime Laredo, have shaped me so much as a musician and really as a person. Both of them have been great models for what I want my playing to be. I can't thank them enough for their help and advice over the years, even well after I was their student. They feel like family to me, and I am very grateful for that!

Playing the Mendelssohn with Jaime and the New York String Orchestra at Carnegie Hall was definitely a high point in my career. There was so much buildup and anticipation for that concert, and it went by so fast! Jaime told me that it's really hard to conduct someone you care about, because you're with them on every note. But I felt like he was always supporting what I wanted to do with the piece, and I had a great deal of freedom to just play it. I will remember that concert forever.

PB:  Many of our patrons are interested in the history of the instruments artists play on. Could you share with us any stories pertaining to your instrument?

BH:  I am very fortunate to be using a 1655 Amati violin that was once owned by the great violinist Louis Krasner. Sometimes I think about the long life of the instrument and how many owners it's outlived...I mean, my violin was made 30 years before Bach was even born! I am reminded of "The Red Violin" and wonder what stories my instrument could tell, too!

Bella Hristova and Amy Yang appear on Friday, January 31, 2014 at the American Philosophical Society. For tickets and information visit the concert page.

For more information on Mr. Hristova, please visit her website.