Violinist Stefan Jackiw Talks with the Kansas City Symphony



Stefan JackiwEditor’s note: Guest artist and violinist Stefan Jackiw will perform the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto on Opening Weekend (Oct. 4-6) with the Kansas City Symphony. He talks with us about the upcoming performance and his thoughts on being a professional violinist.

KCS: Tell us about the Mendelssohn Concerto you will be playing with the Kansas City Symphony on Oct. 4- 6 in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. What about the piece moves you? How does it inspire you? What would you like the audience to know about the work?

SJ: The Mendelssohn is one of my favorite pieces of music to play and listen to. Like much of Mendelssohn’s music, the violin concerto is filled with a restless, searching quality, and also with a childlike sweetness and innocence. The violin concerto is also very innovative, from the entrance of the solo violin right at the start of the piece, with no orchestral introduction, to the layout of the three movements all running directly into one another with no pause. Each time I revisit the piece, I’m struck by how seamless and inevitable Mendelssohn’s writing is. Rather than complicating my interpretation each time I rethink it, I try to streamline and simplify my conception of the piece, to better bring out the fluidity and simplicity of Mendelssohn’s writing.

KCS: How do you feel about returning to perform with the Kansas City Symphony? What are looking forward to?

SJ: So excited! I had a great time playing with the Kansas City Symphony and Michael Stern during my last visit. I have many friends in the orchestra, and I’m looking forward to a fun week with them. Also, this will be my first time performing in Kansas City’s stunning new hall, so that is of course exciting. Actually, my previous visit with the Kansas City Symphony marked the orchestra’s final concert in their old hall. Everyone seemed very excited about the move…

KCS: Tell us about your practicing and preparation for concerts and recitals. How do you approach learning new works? What about keeping favorite works “performance ready?”

SJ: I basically spend as much time as it takes for me to feel that I have internalized a piece completely. This includes ironing out all technical details, but also, and even more importantly, having a clear idea of what I think the message of the piece is and what I want to bring across to the listener. Getting to this point can take a while — sometimes you just have to live with a piece of music for some time before it feels like your own. As for keeping favorite works fresh and “performance ready,” each time I revisit an old favorite, I try to imagine that I am encountering the piece for the first time, and I try to recapture that sense of discovery and wonder.

KCS: What do you love most about your career and why?

SJ: Playing great music with great musicians and sharing it with music lovers. It is the most rewarding, fulfilling, and exciting thing I have ever experienced.

KCS: What are your sources of motivation and inspiration?

SJ: I am inspired first and foremost by the composers whose music I play. Without them, we performers would be lost … and irrelevant. I also am often very inspired by the other musicians with whom I have the privilege of working. I learn a lot seeing how they think about music, how they put a piece together, and from where they derive inspiration.

KCS: How did you choose your instrument? When did you know you wanted to be a professional musician?

SJ: I started playing the violin by chance. On my fourth birthday, some family friends gave me a tiny violin that their children had outgrown. I remember realizing around age 8 that I loved playing music, and knew around age 12 that this is what I wanted to do with my life.

KCS: Do you have any words of advice for music students?

SJ: I think it’s important for young musicians (and old musicians!) to have a clear idea of why they are playing music, and what they are trying to say through their performances. Playing an instrument is so difficult that we often can get bogged down in the struggle to play well, and so we lose sight of the fact that our mission is to bring these great works of art to life and to move listeners. Without that in mind, all the daily practice and hard work can be pointless.

KCS: What do you like to do in your free time? Tell us about your other interests.

SJ: I enjoy running, reading, watching good movies, watching terrible movies and spending time with friends.

To purchase tickets, call the Symphony Box Office at (816) 471-0400 or purchase online here.


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