Kristof Barati: Trust your values


January 2015


A few hours before his Carnegie Hall debut, I met with Kristof Barati. I felt very privileged to have this warm and stimulating conversation with the Hungarian violinist. Amazingly, as he was about to make his Carnegie Hall debut he seemed particularly confident, even nonchalant. “You see”, he explained to me. "I think a musician should be motivated by such an event but at the same time must keep a cool mind and humble approach to every concert.” From a preparation point of view it doesn't make any difference to play at Carnegie Hall or anywhere else. It should be exactly the same. The biggest reward for the musician is the great masterpieces he deals with every time he walks on stage. “There is no more rewarding job in the world than to keep a contact with the great masters”, assures the violinist. “The primary reward for a musician is always the music itself.”


Barati’s playing is flawless. He never “assaults” his instrument and treats music with the greatest respect. In fact knowing his instrument very well is essential for him. It’s after his competitions in Paris and Brussels that he started to be really conscious of the importance of perfect control of his instrument. “If you know your instrument you don't have to deal with it so much. You don't have to fight. I think that is the primary step to be able to give yourself as much freedom as you would want.” Nevertheless, one must not abuse that freedom, rather use it to serve the music. Unfortunately the notion of stepping back to let the music shine is not a general idea in today’s music world. “I would like to hear more “great composers’ performances” instead of “great players’ performances,” says Barati. “You need to know and understand as much as you can about the composer’s works so from that moment on you can start to build your idea about the pieces. It’s a very creative process! I think in today's individualistic and self-projecting world it's a very rewarding thing for the musicians as well as for the audience.”


The ideal moment is when you are not concerned anymore about anything else than the music. You can’t let yourself be distracted. You have to remain devoted to your art and hopefully the world will follow you. “One of the most important and exciting part of being a musician is to work with the great musicians, orchestras and conductors. For that matter you have to be quite successful otherwise you don’t get to the forefront of the field. Obviously you have to spend a little bit of energy in focusing on how to arrive there, but not as a main desperate quest. You have to trust your values, your way of doing things and then life will decide.”


Classical music is not easy to focus on – especially today. We can’t expect people to come to it as they would to a sports event; we have to go to them. Musicians have to be able to talk about the music. The listening of the audience will be totally different if they can connect some ideas to the music and the composer. “You can really make them believe that the composer is a real person, not just a name. The audience is very thankful for that. A classical musician today should be open-minded and a good communicator. A classical musician should just be a normal human being so the audience doesn’t get scared by an old chap coming with a very dark strict face to perform some Beethoven.”


As for so many other musicians, Barati began the violin at the age of 5 years old. He remembers how natural it was for him. “I wouldn’t even practice. I would really play. In many languages you “play” an instrument, and to use that world is so right, so beautiful. For children the most important thing is to learn to play. And that was exactly the feeling I had when I started learning the violin. I would leave any cartoons on TV or soccer game to go play my violin. I never really felt like questioning if I should or not play the violin.”


Besides music, Barati loves airplanes. He even has his pilot’s license.  Somehow the love of flying is very common among violinists. Indeed, there are several similarities between flying a small plane and playing the violin. You are there alone, above everyone, in control of something that can crash at any moment. It requires a monstrous amount of concentration. You develop a very strong relation to your instrument. “The fact that you control and are fully responsible is a wonderful thing. But obviously this is not why you like it. The reason why you like it is because you see the world from a completely different angle. You see the big picture. It’s really a unique thing to see the world from that perspective. Landing the plane is also a wonderful moment. You want to make every landing so beautiful and so smooth”, says the violinist. “Flying is a wonderful thing for a musician who probably has always some kind of music spinning in his head. During your flight you are definitely not thinking of any symphonies, any violin concerto – at least it would not be a good idea I think.”


For his Carnegie Hall debut, Barati presented a whole program of works for solo violin: Ysaÿe’s Solo Violin Sonata No. 2 and 3, Bach’s Partita for Solo Violin No. 2 and Bartok’s Solo Violin Sonata. The least we can say is that he did not choose the easy way. What he did was brave, humble, different, I would say spectacular. He and I might have agreed that it’s the music and the composer that come first, but that evening, Kristof Barati offered nothing less than the most beautiful tribute to the violin itself.


Published on on February 2015: