‘The violin came to me by chance’ … Vadim Repin. Photograph: Harald Hoffman
Vadim Repin, violinist – portrait of the artist
Violinist Vadim Repin talks about giving his first concert aged nine, how special things happen on stage – and why he’s promiscuous with his artistic affections
Interview by Laura Barnett The Guardian,
What got you started?
Asking my mother for music toys when I was three. She bought me a little accordion and a flute, and I concentrated on making as much noise as possible. But the violin came to me by chance: when I was five, she took me to a music school to study the accordion, but the only place left was on the violin course. So the violin became my favourite toy.
What was your big breakthrough?
The first concert I gave, aged nine. I’d started studying with my first teacher, Zakhar Bron (1), when I was seven. His method was to have his students perform on stage, in front of other people, as soon as possible. I was still a child, but I began to think of myself as a musician.
Is it important to get children interested in classical music from such a young age?
Absolutely. You don’t need to set them career goals: the experience of playing classical music is a broad one. Like anything beautiful, it should be in the arsenal of education.
Your wife (2) is a ballerina. Does watching her dance influence your understanding of your own art form?
I believe music and movement are very much connected. Last year, we performed together for the first time, at a festival in Switzerland. It was a very special experience to create a dialogue not with a musician, but with somebody telling a story through movement. Both music and dance are about storytelling, really.
Do you suffer for your art?
Yes – and it doesn’t get any easier. I’m constantly thinking about whatever piece of music I’m performing, day and night. I never switch off.
Which artists do you most admire?
I love everything, but am particularly interested in architecture. Classical music is founded, really, on creating an architectural structure with sound. Pieces are very logical, governed by strict rules.
What work of art would you like to own?
I don’t really believe in owning art: it’s like owning a person. But for me, the greatest work of art is the violin, so the fact I’m able to play one of the most beautiful Guarneri violins on the planet (3) is overwhelming. I don’t own it, but it’s enough to just have the chance to play it and look at it.
Is there an art form you don’t relate to?
I haven’t yet met an art form I wasn’t attracted to. I even consider chess an art form. I do play, though I’m not very good. One of my oldest friends, Vladimir Kramnik, is a world champion (4).
What piece of music would work as the soundtrack to your life?
Brahms’s first violin sonata. It’s as if it was dictated by God.
What’s the biggest myth about being a violinist?
That we have some kind of special, innate charisma. Special things do happen on stage, but that’s usually the product of a particular concert and a particular moment. Recently, I played a concert in Paris with Ashkenazy (5). It felt like time had stopped. For 35 minutes, it was as if nobody in the room dared to breathe.
Born: Novosibirsk, Siberia, 1971.
Career: Has performed with many of the world’s greatest orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic and the London Symphony Orchestra, and released several acclaimed recordings.
Low point: “The times when I haven’t felt right physically.”
High point: “Every time the stars are aligned and I give a successful concert.”