Get to know Isabelle Faust

This is your first time playing with the Philharmonia Orchestra – what are you most looking forward to about playing with a new orchestra?

I am always very curious to get to know an orchestra as each have their own musical expressivity. There are very different ways of communication and transportation of emotions. It can be very easy and direct to get through to an orchestra, but it can sometimes be complicated or even impossible. Of course, this depends enormously on the conductor and the level of trust they gets from the musicians. The Philharmonia is a very special group, and Philippe Herreweghe is one of the greatest musicians of today. I have no doubt that I will be able to witness and enjoy an extraordinary encounter between these wonderful musicians and Beethoven’s masterpiece.


You collaborate frequently with Philippe Herreweghe – how does your relationship influence your playing?

Philippe has influenced me enormously. With any piece we perform together, he is always able to approach it from a new angle, with fresh eyes. He often thinks in a very vocal way, which can be an eye-opener and can make you rethink the rhetorical aspects of the piece, as well as the phrasing, breathing, characterising. Philippe has an extraordinary sensitivity and a very unusual way of music making that is pure and intelligent, and never results in cliches or ‘tradition’. He is a real inspiration to me, and always surprising me. I cannot thank him enough for what he has given me over all these years.


What do you enjoy most about playing Beethoven’s Violin Concerto?

This concerto is one of those I can never get enough of. Besides it’s obvious historical importance, I experience it as a very celestial piece. I just love the way it takes off the ground and flies off to another world – I feel almost as I’m levitating throughout. I have played this work with some of the most incredible artists and each time I discover yet another aspect.


For the Violin Concerto, we will be using natural trumpets and a historic timpani – how does the historical context of a piece inform your approach to the performance?

Working on this piece with historically informed groups (when I started to get into the “gut string world”) has changed my perception quite a lot. The different possibilities of articulation and transparency, timbre and rhetorical possibilities with these instruments showed me other ways of exploring this score. The way period groups approach a piece always from the ‘historical left’, and never backwards, has helped me a lot. For example, it makes it so much easier, both technically and analytically, to understand the revolutionary or surprising, spectacular or outrageous moments of a score when you know that certain aspects had never been there beforehand.

I am very happy we are using natural trumpets and a historic timpani here. But the crucial element to get to a fresh, surprising, but absolutely natural and coherent way of interpreting this oeuvre is the way Philippe will communicate his lifetime of experience and outstanding understanding of Beethoven’s music in its musical context.


You are also well known for playing chamber music – what do you like most about in small ensemble and playing as a soloist with an orchestra?

Chamber music is the heart of music to me. It’s all about communication, understanding, reacting, inspiring. Playing with an orchestra involves a lot of more people, thus the contact can be less direct but in principle I always try to achieve the same level of musical exchange.


Isabelle Faust joins the Philharmonia Orchestra and conductor Philippe Herreweghe for Beethoven’s Violin Concerto at the Royal Festival Hall, London on Sunday 2 June.