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Arabella Steinbacher makes NSO debut

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Entertainment,Music,Emily Cary

German violinist Arabella Steinbacher performs Beethoven's magnificent Concerto in D major for her Washington debut with the National Symphony Orchestra. Marek Janowski will conduct the melodious program, which also features Boris Blacher's Orchestra-Variations on a Theme of Paganini and Richard Strauss's "Death and Transfiguration."

Although this is her first visit to the Kennedy Center, the virtuoso violinist played with the NSO conducted by Christoph Eschenbach during its recent European tour and looks forward to working again with the musicians.

"I played Mozart's Concerto No. 5 at five concerts with the orchestra in Spain and Germany and was amazed how delicately they played in the true European style," she said. "And of course Maestro Eschenbach is a wonderful person and musician and a pleasure to know.

"The first time I played the Beethoven Concerto, I was 17 years old, but I do not recommend that young people play it so early. After that, I wanted to take my time learning it and making it my own. It's one of the most beautiful concertos ever written and a great challenge. Everything is so open and you're completely alone so that everyone can hear each note. You have to play free, and it's tricky to balance because it's a very long concerto.

If you go
National Symphony Orchestra
» Where: Kennedy Center Concert Hall, 2700 F St. NW
» When: 7 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
» Info: $10 to $85; 202-467-4600, 800-444-1324; kennedy-center.org

"The violinist sits for quite a while before the part begins. In the winter, you have cold hands and wait so long that your hands are cold again. There is a long wait at the beginning of the Brahms concerto, but then you jump in. Beethoven is such a contrast. He can be very delicate, and yet there is so much anger in his music. His style developed over a very long time so that he can express elegance followed by fury."

The Beethoven concerto will always occupy a soft spot in Steinbacher's heart because it boosted her career. The occasion in 2004 was one of those wonderful, unexpected moments when the telephone rings. The call was from Neville Marriner, who thought of her immediately when a scheduled soloist had to cancel because of illness. With only two days to warm up, she jumped into the challenge. That debut with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France in Paris attracted so much attention that she has been an international favorite ever since.

Raised in a home of professional musicians, Steinbacher was studying at the Munich Academy of Music by the age of 9, the youngest student there. Her honors include the sponsorship prize of the Free State of Bavaria and a scholarship from the Anne-Sophie Mutter Foundation.

Today she performs throughout the world on the Booth Stradivari (1716), provided by the Nippon Music Foundation. Her concerts range from Europe to Sao Paulo, Sydney and Seoul, South Korea, with such influential conductors as Riccardo Chailly, Colin Davis, Christoph von Dohnanyi, Zubin Mehta and Lorin Maazel. Steinbacher's repertoire includes more than 30 concertos for violin, among them all the major concertos of the Classical and Romantic periods, as well as later works by Barber, Berg, Khachaturian, Shostakovich and Szymanowski. Her latest CD released in 2012 by PentaTone Classics features Prokofiev's Concertos No. 1 and 2.

"I find something new each time I play a concerto," she said. "When you first study a work, you listen to other recordings, but eventually you must free yourself from other interpretations and make it your own. Although I have my own ideas, I am flexible and like to hear other opinions from conductors. In the end, though, I have to be brave and listen to my own voice."

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