«It is through art that society expresses freedom» (Levante, 13.12.2015)

A 16 year old violinist. Acclaimed for his extraordinary musical sensitivity, this young violinist from Valencia will present his first CD today in the Valencia Ateneo at 19:00, performing pieces by Massenet, Tchaikovsky, Sarasate and Kreisler. He held his first violin when he was two and half years old and began playing in public when he was five. He has been the laureate of prestigious international competitions and has performed in the United States, Switzerland and Denmark.

Jacobo Christensen (Valencia, 1999) picked up his first violin when he was two and a half and by five was already playing in public. At age 16, after winning various prestigious international competitions, and performing in the United States, Switzerland and Denmark, he is presenting his first CD this evening in Valencia’s Ateneo at 19:00. The record includes pieces by Kreisler, Tchaikovsky, Sarasate and Massenet, performed with pianist Carlos Apellániz. With this recording, this young maestro, who acknowledges being “in love with his violin”, pays tribute to some of his favourite composers.

Question: Today you are presenting your first record in your hometown, Valencia, at the Ateneo. What does it feel like?

Answer: It feels good. It’s my first record and, for me, it’s very intimate. I don’t feel much pressure about the concert for the presentation, since I will be playing more for the general public than for music critics.

Question: What was it like to make a record?

Answer: We recorded during three or four very intense days. From morning to night, and it was hard. But it was an extraordinary experience and we enjoyed it very much. There was an exceptional feeling of all of us being in it together and all pulling together. It was lots of fun and I know I’ll do it again.

Question: What will your listeners be getting from this record?

Answer: It’s a record to be enjoyed, made by someone who really enjoyed recording it. There is a lot of variety; it is meant for a broad audience.  I want to reach everyone. This time I wanted to concentrate of a repertoire revolving around the Romantic and Post-Romantic periods. That was a period of musical virtuosity. It was a real revolution that broke down old ways of thinking. It was a time of heightened emotions and the language of music was very direct and exciting. It’s a magic, and highly expressive repertoire where the composer gives his own feelings away. In the record, listeners will find moments for peace, ecstasy, sadness and joy in pieces by Sarasate, Kreisler, Tchaikovsky and Massenet. All of these pieces are close to my heart. I’ve played them many times, and every time that I do, I feel them maturing.

Question: Your violin was made by a craftsman in 1920, and came to you from Cremona, Italy. What is your relationship with your violin?

Answer: I’d say it was a question of love at first sight. It was made by Gaetano Sgarabotto and is 95 years old. I knew it was special from the very first moment, but it was when I started to play it that I discovered its exceptional sound. I’ve had it for two years, and since then, it hasn’t left my side. We’ve travelled together, we’ve gotten excited and even exhausted together. Its sound has improved immensely, and I can say I really am in love with my violin. It’s never let me down. Every violin is unique. When you pick one up, you can get a feel for it and say “this one’s mine”. It’s a connection. It’s magic.

Question: You’ve been playing since you were two and half and have performed for audiences since you were five. How do you handle the pressure?

Answer: It’s complicated. Pressure is definitely the Achilles heal of musicians, because people expect so much from you, the bar is high. Music is an art and even musicians sometimes forget that. You have to innovate and create, and in music that’s doubly difficult because we are dealing with pieces that have been written down and we work with versions of them. This puts you in a corset and this restriction can mean the death of the artist, because it is through art that society expresses freedom. I am concerned that the art world is full of gratuitous criticism, and that pushes us to strive only for perfection. For me art is like yoga, and I’m not speaking only of music, but things like movies and literature too. These are the things that keep us alive and full of hope. Art is our lifeline and it is being taken over by a commercial and simplistic view of it.

Question: Has the path that you have chosen made you mature more rapidly than is normal for your age?

Answer: Whenever you travel, whatever you see, everything you encounter teaches you important lessons about life. In that sense, yes, I have matured. I have learned how to adapt to change.

Question: How do you deal with the fact that you have been hailed as a “virtuoso” or “more than a prodigy”?

Answer: When it comes to what critics say, I don’t really believe it. I think these things are, to a certain extent, limiting. If I haven’t played “Carmen” by age 15, I can’t be a virtuoso? I don’t really understand what criteria the critics follow. I’m not a prodigy. I’m a normal kid, who lives his life and who enjoys what he does.

Question: That’s how you see yourself…but how do you think people your age see you?

Answer: My friends are all normal people. They treat me like anyone else. They come to my concerts. I’m not special in the least. I have very good friends. As far as I’m concerned, what they do is really important: they go to high school every day to study, learn, improve. Everyone at my high school understands me very well. It’s great to feel support there too.

Question: What are your dreams, on a musical and personal level?

Answer: I have lots of dreams. I want to go wherever life takes me. I want to go my own way, and I know that is not easy. What is clear to me is that music will always be part of my life. In terms of what piece I would like to pay some day, well, it would be Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major.

Question: The philosopher Nietzsche said, “Without music life would be a mistake”…

Answer: I agree. What happens is that most people go through life without really getting to know music, the music that can move you, that can change you. Society is more and more superficial because we don’t have the means to really get to know a piece, analyse it, really enjoy it. Understanding music can help you find inner peace and enjoy life more. That’s why without music, life would be a mistake.

Question: To finish…If you could, what would you say to someone who is starting to play the violin?

Answer: I would tell them that music will help them grow; and if they become a professional musician, that they should enjoy it; it should make them happy. They should learn everything they can, and above all, create their own style. I would tell them, “Bring on your magic”.


Question: Complete the sentence: “If I didn’t play the violin…”

Answer:  If I didn’t play the violin, I would not be who I am, and I probably wouldn’t know what to do with my life. In and of itself, the violin is nothing more than an instrument, a tool to reach a higher goal. It’s precisely the magic you do with it that takes you to other places.

Question: Have you ever had a moment when you said, “That’s it! I’m walking away”?

Answer: Of course. Plenty.

Question: What kept you going?

Answer: You can’t get something for nothing. You achieve something because you’ve fought for it. This is something I’ve learned through music. To keep going in spite of the problems that come up along the way. And…well, it’s also been helpful to listen to Queen, and Freddie Mercury, one of my heroes.

Question: What does music give you on a human level?

Answer: It’s helped me know myself better and keep the fire of curiosity going. It’s shown me how to work for what I want, how to enjoy working, how to feel useful.

By Óscar Bornay | PDF