Ahead of her Australian dates, the German violinist talks music, Mendelssohn and staying up late with Ivry Gitlis.

You are the daughter of musical parents (a singer and a pianist). What did you learn growing up in a house full of music?

Music was always around as long as I remember in my childhood. My father used to coach singers and very often friends came to our house to play chamber music. It was completely natural to be surrounded by music and luckily I never had the feeling that it was hard work to learn playing the violin – even though, of course, there were also times when I did not want to practice so much.

For Sydney you are playing Mendelssohn – how do you approach a work that has been so often played and recorded?

I think, as a musician, it is most important to stay authentic and honest about what one feels inside and to express these emotions through the music. Even when I sometimes play the same piece every night on a long tour, it is every time something different. I can prepare as much as I can but in the end, when I am on stage, I never know what will happen. It depends on the energy of the public, the orchestra and conductor. That makes it every time exciting again.

You have recorded a great deal of Eastern European works (Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Bartók, Szymanowski). What draws you to this repertoire?

With my first teacher Helge Thelen (who actually lives in Melbourne now), and later with Ana Chumachenco, I mainly studied the classical repertoire and played a lot of Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven, which is the most difficult for every musician as it really educates the musicality and taste. When I was 11 I heard for the first time Bartók‘s Rhapsody and the Khachaturian Concerto, which completely set me on fire. After that I was so excited to be able to study more 20th-century music. However, most of the time I still play the classical repertoire in concerts.

You have an enviable reputation for exploring less frequently performed repertoire (Milhaud, Schnittke, Hindemith, Hartmann etc). Is there a work that you would particularly like to record?

Fortunately there is a big repertoire for the violin. It will never become boring to find new interesting pieces for future recordings.

You became a student of Ana Chumachenko at the age of nine – was that a scary apprenticeship and what in particular did you learn from her?

I remember very well when I first played the audition for her and after the first movement of Mozart’s G major concerto she said: “Well, all little children can play fast pieces…but I want to hear the second movement because musicality can not be learned, it is either there or not”. After I played the Adagio of this concerto she decided to take me as her student. For her it was always the highest priority to develop the musicality and to forget the fear of making technical mistakes. As well as being an amazing teacher she is also a wonderful person who took care of her students like a mother and friend.

Your mother is Japanese – did the musical tradition of her home country influence your own musical education in any way?

On the musical side I am maybe not so much influenced by Japanese culture but Japan is definitely an important part in my life as I’ve spent almost every summer in Tokyo with my grandparents since the age of two. Every time I am in Japan I have many memories from my childhood. I also see both sides in my character, the German and Japanese.

You studied with Ivry Gitlis – was he a great influence?

About ten years ago I first met Ivry in Paris. He was always a great inspiration for me, not only as a musician but also because of his unique character. I did not really study with him as it was almost impossible to schedule times, he lives a bit like a gipsy. Sometimes we would take out our violins when I did not expect it at all and play until two o’clock in the morning.

Arabella Steinbacher performs with the Sydney Symphony, June 13-15 and at the Melbourne Recital Centre, June 18.