Pavel Šporcl - Not your everyday violin virtuoso

Pavel Šporcl, photo: archive of Pavel Šporcl

In the Czech Republic and increasingly even abroad, violinist Pavel Šporcl enjoys the kind of name recognition that aspiring rock stars dream of. A natural talent, he became the enfant terrible of the classical music world when first he arrived on the scene, forgoing a tuxedo for a bandana and taking an interactive approach to his concerts. Having toured the world over and recorded roughly a dozen albums, 39-year-old Pavel Šporcl is not only a dominant but a defining force in classical music. I met Pavel as he was preparing for a concert, and asked him to describe what it is that has made him and his career so distinct.

Well first of all I’ve always tied to play as best I could, but I thought of doing the violin concert business in a little bit different way than usual, so I decided not to play in tails, I played in just a shirt and trousers and wore a bandana around my head. And I tried to be as close to the young public as possible. I wanted to show them that a young person can also play classical music, and that they don’t have to be apprehensive about going to the concerts or about listening to classical music. And I think that’s what made the difference. Now I don’t play in a bandana any more, but I have a blue violin. Again, it’s a thing with which I try to change the classical scene a little bit in my own way. And I think that’s the thing that makes me different, that’s what I want to do.

You started at a very young age, can you tell me a bit about how your relationship towards music developed over so many years?

Well I always loved classical music actually; we listened to it at home. We also listened to some pop music like The Beatles and Abba. But the major thing in my family was classical music, and I started listening to it when I was 5, and I loved it, and I still love it.

Of course it deepened. Like any other child I loved very fast compositions, you know. Nowadays I even like the slower ones. So of course it developed and I listened to more recordings and more compositions, when I was little I knew only Tchaikovsky and Dvořák, now of course I know many more composers. I play a lot of new music, 20th century music, and of course it developed as I developed myself.

You’ve done a lot of work with children and you’ve received a lot of praise for what you’ve done with young listeners. Can you tell me about how you got involved in that and give me some examples of your method of teaching?

I have no method! I always try to show young people that classical music is really nice and that they don’t have to be apprehensive about listening to it. I do a lot of, let’s say, educational concerts. When I was in school I went to these educational concerts and I hated them, even though I was a violinist and was supposed to be very quiet and listen to the concert. I was the worst from my school. Because I hated it because they just came and played some music and explained nothing and it was so boring. So I thought of changing this, I try to talk to the students I ask them a few questions about the music, I try to get them involved in the concert so that it’s not really just boring listening for them. Plus sometimes I bring in another violin, I ask them if anyone wants to try to play it and, you know, somebody always does. So he comes to the stage and we play a duo, with him just playing the open strings and I play some melody. And this student who’s played the violin he’s like a hero in the school then for two weeks and everybody adores him! So that’s an other way of just getting the attention of the students and showing them that it can even be fun to play or listen to classical music

I’m not sure, but I think you have a special relationship with Dvořák’s music in particular, am I right?

I do. I’ve actually recorded all of his compositions for the solo violin. So I've recorded his concerto, and all of the compositions for violin and piano. But of course as a Czech musician I'm sort of forced to have a nice relationship with Czech composers, I try to play them as much as possible because, well, who could play them better than a Czech musician? It’s not only me: every Czech musician has a feeling for how to best play Czech composers. It’s not the only way, but it’s the Czech way.

Dvořák had an incredible sense for melody-making. If you listen to Dvořák for 10 or 15 seconds you immediately know it’s his music. It was very hard for him to compose. He would be walking around the room for many hours and maybe many days before he knew that the melody he had just made was the right one. So it was a really a hard business for him - to make his compositions. But with that in mind, his compositions are very, say, simple. It’s very wonderful and easy to listen to, but it’s not simple in a bad way. Anyone in the world really can easily sit down and listen to his beautiful melodies. It’s hard to explain in words. You have to listen and you fall in love with it.

You recognize Dvořák immediately after the first few strains but can you distinguish who’s playing?

Nowadays because you can listen to all of your colleagues immediately, personality somehow doesn’t exist in the big way it did before, so it’s much harder today to recognise who is playing. But if you listen very carefully you can. 50 years ago, Jascha Heifetz was an incredible violinist, and you could listen to two notes and know immediately that it was Jascha Heifetz. But today it’s hard to say in two notes who’s playing.

Antonín Dvořák
It’s the dream of every American musician to study in the Old World. You studied in the New World; you studied in America for four years I believe. Can you compare and contrast a bit the experiences of studying in old Europe and in America?

It was the dream of every East European musician to go and study in America. Before WWII a lot of Jews went to the States, they fled. So all of the best teachers were there, and they made a unique way of teaching. The teacher is the most important person. And every teacher is different, whether you talk about American or European teachers. There is no European way of teaching and there is no American way. It’s the teacher’s way. You can of course find great teachers in Europe and in America as well. I think in America you simply want a big sound more than in Europe. In Europe you want more detail, musicality. In America it’s more like a... I don’t know... trumpet way of playing. In a good way, of course, not in a bad way. It’s simply because you have big halls and everybody in the hall wants to hear your sound. That’s the main difference as I see it.

We play a song at the end of this programme, and as I was sifting through your work trying to find a piece that would really be exemplary of your talent and taste, I realised that’s a question best left to you. Is there one piece that really speaks to you, touches you really more than anything else, or is there something that you’ve had a close relationship to since childhood?

There’s one piece by Dvořák that I’ve been listening to since I was really very little, and it’s on one of my Dvořák CDs - it’s called “Mazurek”. It runs at five minutes, so if you can squeeze it in, play “Mazurek”.

The episode featured today was first broadcast on March 27, 2009.