Violinist Daniel Rowland talks about Vivaldi’s four seasons, Piazzolla’s tango music, violins
…and fish, with conductor Robin Browning

As a prelude to their performance together this October, són artistic director Robin Browning spoke with Daniel Rowland, charismatic soloist for “8 Seasons”, which features Vivaldi’s famous four seasons, coupled with Piazzolla’s tango-inspired quartet, so making up our fascinating “8”.

They chat about Vivaldi and Piazzolla, as well as Daniel’s inspirations, his love of tango music and a brief history of his beloved instrument.

Robin Browning: You’ve got quite a connection with these fascinating pieces in this brilliant, but unusual combination. Most are familiar with Vivaldi’s four… So tell us a little more about those by Piazzolla.

Daniel Rowland: I heard Piazzolla for the first time at the Oxford festival in 2008, so I came rather late to it, in fact. They were played by Marcelo Nisinman, who is an amazing bandoneon player. He was once the protegee of Piazzolla – he used to rehearse in his parent’s apartment, so this little boy got to know the master very well. I remember the first time I got to play them all was with players like Priya Mitchell and a bunch of other brilliant players. I remember after that, I went to my hotel room and I burst into tears – I found this music so touching and so beautiful. I had never heard this kind of music before, it was my first contact with the Piazzolla.

And, so, following that there are two interesting things: one being that I founded a quintet with Marcello as a partner, who was in the original Piazzolla line up. We play a combination of old tangos and contemporary compositions written by Marcello which are based on the tango style.

And then the second thing is, quite shortly after having had this first Piazzolla experience in an orchestra, I was asked to play something for the Stellenbosch festival in South Africa, with orchestra, so I suggested the Piazzolla-Vivaldi combination which I had then just come across, following this concert in Oxford. So I played it there, and it was a huge hit – the audience were very enamoured. They had never heard this combination before, and I felt like I was on fire – I think! – so I recorded it there in South Africa and it has become a staple of my repertoire. I do think it’s an incredibly powerful combination: this Vivaldi and Piazzolla.

Daniel Rowland
© Balazs Borocz / Pilvax Studio

RB: I think they’re brilliant, the skillful way they cross-reference each other, and how cleverly each thread is interspersed. How many times do you think you’ve played it in your career so far?

DR: Oh, my goodness… I’ve played Vivaldi more, of course, because one is more often asked to play that. But the combination of the eight… maybe fifteen or twenty times, something like that. But, as you say about the cross-referencing thing: It’s amazing to think that these pieces span just about the whole period – Venice around the 1720s and then Buenos Aires around 1960’s-1970’s. And, yet, the sheer vibrancy, and the imagination in the music is incredible.

Piazzolla might have been inspired by Vivaldi, but I think he writes in very much his own language, too. I mean, in the original quintet version of the [Piazzolla] seasons – which I have also played many times – there are no particular references to Vivaldi. But in these arrangements we are going to play with són, there are echoes of Vivaldi, sometimes nested within the Piazzolla. These are touches from Desyatnikov (the arranger) and not Piazzolla himself, yet of course they draw a connecting thread through the entire evening.

It’s not only the greatness of Piazzolla, or the way it echoes Vivaldi, but more how his language is so dynamic and direct, as is Vivaldi’s, that makes it all fit so wonderfully together.

RB: And so how do they work in order? I mean, you intermingle them in performance – we don’t have a Piazzolla first half and Vivaldi second half… What order do you like to perform them in?

DR: Well, yes, doing a Piazzolla first half and Vivaldi second half certainly has its merits, I think. But usually, almost always in fact, I like to perform these in the same order that Gidon Kremer suggested, which is great I think and works wonderfully. So, he starts with Vivaldi’s Spring, and then goes to Piazzolla’s “Verno” – ie, to the Argentinian Summer. And then you keep altering like that. Back to Summer in Italy, then forward to Buenos Aires in Autumn, and so on.

This works because it means that the last three that you do begin with Piazzolla’s Winter, which is the most emotional and most exceptional of all of them; then after that, Vivaldi’s Winter because it’s quite a knockout. And, following that, Piazzolla’s “Primavera” which is Spring. Then after that quite wild and virtuoso ending, you can play a little memory of Spring by Vivaldi, a little bit like Schnittke, in quite a skeletal way – so it turns around quite nicely.

It’s fabulously intense music, so despite being only 8 little concertos (only!) it’s quite a compact programme length, yet because there’s so much going on, it feels like a nicely “packed” concert.

Daniel Rowland
© Balazs Borocz / Pilvax Studio

RB: Of course, all this flavour, intoxicating colour and contrast gives – to the audience – the illusion of greater length and density.

DR: It’s interesting, there’s certainly no lack of contrast, or virtuosity, or density in this programme! In many ways it’s a classic concert programme – both for those who love baroque music and also for those who love tango.

And also for people don’t know classical music that well and would love to give it a try. This programme really has everything you could possibly wish for in terms of direct appeal. There’s something for just about any taste.

RB: You mentioned Gidon Kremer, the famous violinist who originally commissioned the arrangements of Piazzolla by Desyatnikov (so as they would share the same scoring as the Vivaldi, as well as forming a beautifully coherent 8-concerto whole). Do you know Kremer, and have your paths crossed at all?

DR: No, I would very much like to have done, but I’ve never worked with Kremer. Having said that, he’s certainly one of my great inspirations. I love the way he always couples his violinistic abilities with such an inquisitive approach to all music. And, his whole openness about commissioning new works, plus I deeply love the way he plays tango music so instinctually.

RB: The two of us and són perform 8 Seasons in Southampton’s Turner Sims – such a fabulous hall, intimate and with fine acoustics. You must have been there in the past when touring with one of your quartets?

DR: Funny thing is, one of the concerts I did when I played with the Allegri Quartet (where I didn’t play very long, but for a little while) it could well be that one of the very first concerts I ever did with them was at Turner Sims, perhaps 2005 or something like that.

But, yes, I’ve played there many times. I particularly like the way the seating all stretches upwards, and I love the feeling of being in the “arena” with the audience.

Astor Piazzolla

RB: It’s a gorgeous hall – I never overlook the fact that són are lucky to perform there, especially as a part of their annual season. You’ve enjoyed a very successful and busy career chamber musician, but are you increasingly in demand as a soloist these days?

DR: I’ve always done a lot of solo work, enjoying a lot of diversity, but I have played a large amount of solo repertoire, contemporary works, chamber music and – like I said – a lot of tango music too. So it’s been an important thing for me. I would never say that I’m exclusively a chamber musician because I do too many different things, but of course in the United Kingdom, I am.

People know me maybe because of the Brodsky Quartet and that’s where a lot of people see or hear me, but I am very much at home playing solo works, recital repertoire and concertos – especially early 20th century concertos – and also slightly more unusual repertoire. I think I’m a bit of a centipede, you know, with many different limbs doing different things!

RB: Before you go, let’s talk violins and violinists a little more. Who did you study with, and who inspires you?

DR: I’ve been lucky enough to study with Igor Oistrakh, and also with Ruggiero Ricci. And with Ivry Gitlis, who I’m still very much in touch with. Earlier we both mentioned Kremer, who unfortunately I’ve never worked with but he’s a big inspiration to me.

RB: One last question – tell us a little bit about your instrument, and perhaps a little bit of it’s history.

DR: I play on a Storioni, which was made in 1794. He is considered the last of the great Cremonese makers. Mine is from his golden period, just as it drew to a close.

Incidentally, if you go to google images and search for “Storioni”, you’ll see: violin, violin, fish, fish, fish, violin, violin, fish… And this is because Storioni means “sturgeon (fish)” in Italian. A little known fact!

So I got this violin about ten years ago, and it used to belong to Gordan Nikolitch [previously leader of the London Symphony Orchestra] so the violin has quite nice history.

RB: Thank you Daniel for your time and your stories. I’m looking forward to hearing your Vivaldi and Piazzolla next month, and can’t wait to see you on stage at Turner Sims with són. Until then!

As you can tell, “8 Seasons” on October 22nd is going to be quite special, promising a diverse programme and a fantastic soloist. An evening of both well known classics and lesser known gems, it will take through four seasons on two sides of the planet, transporting you from Vivaldi’s Venice straight to Piazzolla’s Buenos Aires and back again. All from the comfort of Turner Sims! We look forward to seeing you there.

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