A Music@Menlo Meet the Artist interview
Music@Menlo Chamber Music Festival & Institute
July 12 – August 3
Under the artistic direction of David Finckel and Wu Han, Music@Menlo is based in Atherton, California. Each year a carefully-chosen theme forms the basis of the summer festival, comprising concerts, artist-curated recitals, lectures, a training institute, and free public events. “Incredible Decades” is the theme for 2019, tracing 300 years of musical evolution from Bach to the new millennium. For more info, visit: www.musicatmenlo.org
Who or what inspired you to take up [your chosen instrument], and pursue a career in music?
Neither of my parents are musicians but they both love classical music and they thought it would be good for my sisters and for me to learn an instrument growing up. I started on the piano when I was 5 years old and switched to the violin at the age of 7. As far as pursuing a career in music, I feel fortunate that I never really had to make that decision – from the moment I picked up the violin, there was no doubt in my mind that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
First, I have to mention my teacher and mentor back in France, Boris Garlitsky. I studied with him from the age of 13 to 17 and I am so thankful to this man for everything he taught me. He himself is an incredible violinist, from the great Russian school of violin playing, and a fantastic pedagogue. To this day, I still talk to him regularly and play for him whenever possible (online or when I visit Paris).
Itzhak Perlman is another hugely important person in my musical life. I was fortunate to study with him at The Juilliard School in New York City from 2001 to 2007. I grew up idolizing his recordings and his sound in particular. It was quite surreal to play for him on a weekly basis for 6 years!
Finally, David Finckel and Wu Han have been the two most important people in my musical life since I met them in 2005. As Artistic Directors of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and Music@Menlo, they truly have been mentors and leaders to me and countless other young musicians.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
The most challenging thing for me so far has been to find the right balance in life between the violin/music and everything else! There definitely was a time years ago when my obsession with the violin and practicing became almost unhealthy.
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
To be honest, I am never really satisfied with my concerts/recordings. There is always room to improve. It’s actually one of the most beautiful thing about what we do as artists/musicians – the never ending quest to strive for better. Of course, there are some performances that I remember fondly. For example, I recently played a chamber music concert with violinist Pamela Frank and violist Paul Neubauer for Music@Menlo’s new Focus series. Both of them are incredible musicians and we had a very special contact on stage that concert.
As for a recording, I’m proud of the latest CD that I just released – it is called Arnaud Sussmann Live from Music@Menlo and is made up of various recordings I chose from my favorite appearances at the festival spanning over the last 10 years.
Which particular works do you think you play best?
I feel a strong connection to Czech composers/music, in particular Dvorak, Suk, Janacek. Their music to me is raw and honest and it suits my musical temperament.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
As a chamber musician, and in particular with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the repertoire is assigned to the musicians by the Artistic Directors. For recitals, I create my own programs and I have to think about a lot of different factors: creating a balanced program, having a good flow throughout the concert, making sure there is plenty of variety in all the works that are played, etc…
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
I recently played again at the Wigmore Hall in London. What a wonderful venue, full of history – the green room is packed with photos of all the musical legends that have performed there – and the sound on stage is warm and round.
Who are your favourite musicians?
Not in any particular order, and very incomplete: Leonidas Kavakos, Pamela Frank, Jascha Heifetz, David Oistrakh, Leonard Bernstein, Sergei Rachmaninov, Arthur Rubinstein, Grigory Sokolov, Itzhak Perlman, Fritz Kreisler, Joseph Hassid, and many others…
What is your most memorable concert experience?
There are many memorable experiences – here is one of them:
Back in 2007, I played Schoenberg’s Verklaerte Nacht with the Chamber Music Society for a Live From Lincoln Center broadcast on PBS. It was nerve-wracking and exhilarating and every emotion in between!
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
To know your strengths and weaknesses, and to find your true voice as a musician.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Put in the work and practice diligently, there are no secrets or shortcuts.
Be a good/nice colleague – it’s not enough to just play well.
Respect the composers and what’s written on the page. And make sure to study the score, not just your individual part.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
To have the right balance between your professional and personal life!
(Artist photo: Matt Dine)