In turbulent times, says the violinist touring Australia, compassion becomes the stock in trade of composers and musicians.

The first music that I played by Bartók was the Divertimento for Strings. It would have been my first piece with orchestra when I was at school and I would have been 12 years old. At the time I thought it was quite difficult, but since then I have loved Bartók’s music very much. I learned the Solo Sonata after the Divertimento, and I wanted to learn the Second Violin Concerto for a very long time before I finally managed it last year. I played it a few times last year, so I guess I’m relatively new to it, but I’m really enjoying it.

Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto was composed during a fairly turbulent period in Europe. Like every composer, we musicians deal with compassion, so turbulent times in the world always come across in music. I think composers – and really anyone who’s creative – has to be sensitive to what happens around them. That means there is maybe more pain in the music. But maybe there is hope or some kind of celebration for people when there isn’t enough happiness in the world. I think Bartók’s Second is very sensitive to that.

Alina IbragimovaAlina Ibragimova. Photo © Eva Vermandel

I love the colours and the complexity you get with Bartók, and I love how he uses the orchestra in the Second Concerto – it’s so fiery and yet so gentle in the second movement. Even though Bartók’s writing can be very complex, at the same time it’s always accessible, even when you listen to it for the first time. And there is always something different for you to find out each visit.

Bartók’s Second Violin Concerto is probably one of the harder concertos, technically. It’s complex to put together with an orchestra just because there are so many different things happening at the same time. You have to be very quick because there are many tempo markings and lots of little changes that Bartók writes – always with metronome marks – that are very specific. My usual preparation means I look at the piece again some weeks before and study it with the score to see what else I can bring out from it this time. It can be a little tricky to put it all together, but I think I’ve got lots of rehearsal time with everyone in Tasmania [and Sydney] so I’m sure it will all be fine. We always find a language through the music somehow!

Every piece I play with any orchestra is always different. I don’t like feeling that an orchestra accompanies me, and for Bartók especially my line is only a small part of the whole thing. Of course it’s going to be totally dependent on who the other players are and what they feel about the piece, as well as what the conductor thinks. It’s something that we create for the first time at every concert.

I’m also playing Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto in Adelaide [and Melbourne], which is very different to the Bartók. Prokofiev’s concerto is really unusual because it’s got so many textures. It’s really subtle and hard to hold – it’s not earthy at all. It’s quite a short work, and the way Prokofiev uses the orchestra is totally different to Bartók in his concerto. To me it’s like a fairy tale really. The melodies, the textures – and somehow the musical metaphors in it – mean that I really hear pictures in the piece.

The emotions in the Prokofiev and the Bartók are also totally different. With Prokofiev, it’s a very youthful concerto. The second movement is the scherzo, fast and quite exuberant, but somehow there is something very magical about it. It’s a smaller orchestra than the one that Bartók asks for, and it’s more subtle – the way Prokofiev uses the winds, especially the flutes, is really beautiful. It’s almost in a French-style, so that makes it sound a little bit like Debussy.

I wanted to play Prokofiev quite a lot on this tour, and I haven’t actually played it in a few years, so I’ve been missing it a little bit. And I guess having more than one concerto during a tour will help to keep me busy.

Once my Australian tour is over, I have plans with my quartet for something completely different, and then I’m going to learn the Jörg Widmann Violin Concerto and tour Japan with Cédric Tiberghien.

Alina Ibragimova plays Bartók with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, July 13 – 15  and with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra on August 4. She plays Prokofiev with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra on July 29, and with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra from August 10 – 12.