20 Jun 2019

The different notes of Carolin Widmann

From Upbeat, 1:03 pm on 20 June 2019
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Violinist Carolin Widmann is a bit of a character. Her exuberance will shine through when she performs with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra this week and next. She chats about Stravinsky, the Marina Abramovic Method and her secret obsession with perfumes.

Carolin Widmann

Carolin Widmann Photo: Supplied

The German-born violinist is performing Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto with the NZSO in Wellington, Auckland, Dunedin and Christchurch as part of the Winter Daydreams tour.

It’s been said the first chord of the concerto, the only one Stravinsky wrote for violin, was unplayable. But Carolin disagrees; she’s up for the challenge. “I think that’s totally the wrong approach, let’s make it possible,” she says. “It’s one of my favourite pieces, along with the Berg concerto.”

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra 2016

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra 2016 Photo: Stephen A'Court

Carolin first performed the concerto at the 2008 BBC Proms, a ‘landmark’ for any musician. She most recently performed it in Scotland, and now in New Zealand.

For her, it’s about the poetry of music. “Everything is so focused around perfection. There’s so much pressure to be correct, we completely forget what does it mean? Why did Stravinsky write this?” she asks. “[For me] I really love music. It’s manifesting itself every day… this is why I’m doing what I’m doing. I feel so fulfilled and happy.”

She’s a musician who looks life square in the face, looking at new ways to embrace everything life, and music has to offer.

Recently she spent 11 hours in total silence with 2300 other people, counting rice grains, before performing for five hours on stage. It was part of the Marina Abramovic Method – a method that explores time and space.

She was starved of sound, her phone and watch taken away, but she found it makes the poetry of music more intense. “It’s all about slowing down and perception. How does it change?” she says. “Counting rice; the symbolism and vanity, the finiteness of life. Counting the rice is so symbolic of what we are doing of our lives.

“Eleven hours of silence and concentration then making music. It was stunning how I felt I was able to create time, to stretch it, to condense it. To be a master over time was unbelievable.”

Hitting different notes in music and life is important to Carolin.

Her love of notes, and poetry extend not only into music, but also into perfume. She’s “obsessed” and says music and perfume have a lot in common. “A good perfume tells a story and goes through several stages,” she says. “Tiny nuances; if you smell something your entire brain is stimulated. Memories, images, colours, texture. I love that connection of the sensual sense of smell. It’s a poetic art.”

Carolin Widmann performs with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra tonight in Wellington, with her performance being broadcast live on RNZ Concert from 7.30pm. Then she travels to Auckland on June 21, Christchurch June 27 and Dunedin on June 28.