Interview Tabea Zimmermann

World renowned violist Tabea Zimmermann hardly needs an introduction. She has established herself firmly as an elite solo and chamber music artist. She is also one of the most sought-after viola pedagogues today. The DVS is immensely honoured to host her Masterclass this coming weekend in Utrecht, where she will work with four talented Dutch viola students. This same weekend, she will also perform Hindemith’s Der Schwanendreher twice with the Dutch Radio Philharmonic Orchestra. Amidst her busy teaching and performing schedule, she kindly found time to answer a few written questions for the DVS website.

by Kristofer G. Skaug

DVS: You started out on the viola at the unusually young age of 3. Was this a conscious choice of instrument, instead of the more usual violin or anything else?

My choice was to play music like my older siblings. Otherwise my parents would not have introduced me to the violin teacher of my sister. It was his suggestion to avoid both playing the same instruments and to make chamber music possible from the start. I joined my first string quartet at age 4 :-))

tabea-zimmermann_03_marco-borggreveDVS: Which teachers or role models inspired you most in your development as a musician?

My first teacher, the late Dietmar Mantel, influenced me most. But it took a long time until I realized that. My second teacher, Ulrich Koch in Freiburg, tried very hard to give me more stability (less flexibility) and to make me follow his rules of equal bow speed throughout a phrase, same speed vibrato etc.

When I studied with Sandor Vegh later, I understood that all the fantasy, flexibility etc were actually wonderful qualities!

DVS: Do you feel a belonging or affinity to a particular ‘school’ of viola playing (and teaching), and if so, which school would that be?

No particular school is big enough or wide enough for all styles. I like to look out for a maximum freedom in a very strict text. Technique according to musical context, not according to school.

DVS: Which traits or capabilities do you seek to nurture most in your students?

The capability to come to an individual judgement, based on knowledge, skills, taste, and abilities.

DVS: The viola is often described as a particularly ‘sensuous’ instrument.
This would imply that development of the senses and imagination play an important role. How do you go about consciously cultivating these capabilities?

It helps to imagine before playing. Singing, clapping or speaking the rhythm, imagining bow movement or left hand activity, there are many ways to ‘unsettle’ old habits.

DVS: Is there such a thing as a healthy balance between compulsive practice and complacency for a would-be musician?

I try to show ways to enjoy the practicing part. This is the most precious time we have to explore, develop, learn etc.

If it feels like a compulsion, you are on the wrong way…..

DVS: On this visit, you will be performing the Schwanendreher. Why do violists never seem to tire of Hindemith, where so many other musicians seem to hold a noncommittal opinion of him? Is Hindemith’s viola legacy somehow musically stronger than his other compositions?

I can only speak for myself. I find Hindemith a great composer and I would like to see more of his music on the big programs, but the truth is also that if I had concerti by Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, Glazunov, Berg, and Stravinsky to choose from, I would probably play a bit less of the Hindemith…

DVS: There seems to be a very strong “viola culture” in Germany, compared to other European countries. Would you agree, and if so, how would you explain this?

Unfortunately I cannot agree! I would love to see many more young German Violists…..

DVS: Which dreams are still on your ‘bucket list’, and (how) are you planning to pursue them?

I would love to know a lot more about music!!!

But apart from that, my secret probably was so far that I did not plan far ahead but took the opportunities as they came along and tried to make the best out of it.

Many wonderful crossings in my life just ‘happened’.

Stay open, do the best you can in any given situation and share your experience with others…

Information about the DVS Masterclass on March 21st can be found here. Information about the performances of the Schwanendreher can be found here (March 20th, Utrecht) and here (March 22nd, Amsterdam).