Awarded a prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant in 2009, French violinist Arnaud Sussmann is a rising star. Trained at the Juilliard School, he performs at the Music@Menlo festival today and Tuesday. The program, called “Impassioned: Listeners on Fire,” includes works by Schumann, Dvorák and Fauré, and also features pianists Gilbert Kalish and Wu Han, violist Richard O’Neill, and cellists Dmitri Atapine and David Finckel.
What is your musical background?
I was born in Strasbourg and grew up in Nice. When I was 9 months old, I’d hear music and start conducting with a little hair comb. In France, I was part of a school system called classes à horaires aménagés. We’d go to school in the morning and conservatory in the afternoon. I met Itzhak Perlman later, and he got me to study with him at Juilliard. At every lesson, he would demand 150 percent from us, even in the classroom. This was a beautiful thing to learn from him.
There seems to be an increasing uniformity of sound with respect to interpretations and technique. To what do you attribute this?
I think recordings have created a sense of imitation amongst musicians. You hear something you like and you try to imitate it, without learning the proper steps to produce such a sound. I also think that technical perfection has appeared in music, and it’s so far removed from what music is about. Technical proficiency is one way to stand out, but it’s detrimental to somebody who is incredibly unique in their music-making, but cannot crawl up and down as quickly with as much precision. Some people say that with Jascha Heifetz, it was more about him and less about the composer, but I don’t mind that at all. I pick and choose the pieces that I want to hear from him. There’s a Strauss song arrangement that he plays, and it’s just incredible!
What does the future of classical music look like?
The most important thing is education. It’s been proven that music helps improve focus. It’s a form of entertainment, an art that you can enjoy your entire life. You might not create a musician every time, but you create a sort of ecosystem, where some will be professional musicians and others will be educated music lovers. This should be the basis. I know that in many places like New York, with David Finckel and Wu Han, they bring chamber music to the schools, and this is an excellent thing.
In your opinion, what is the purpose of performance art?
It is one way for us to share and connect with people, and this is important. I played the Bruch concerto in Long Island, and an 80-year-old man came to me crying after the concert, thanking me for it. I was incredibly moved by this sharing.
– Elijah Ho
IF YOU GO
Impassioned: Listeners on Fire
Presented by Music@Menlo
Where: Center for Performing Arts at Menlo-Atherton, 555 Middlefield Road, Atherton
When: 6 p.m. today
Tickets: $20 to $75
Contact: (650) 330-2030; www.musicatmenlo.org
Note: The program repeats at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Stent Family Hall, Menlo School, 50 Valparaiso Ave., Atherton.