Young violinist Daniel Matejča: “There was never a moment when I wanted to quit”

Daniel Matejča

Daniel Matejča is one of the most promising Czech violinists of his generation. At the age of 17, he is studying at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague and has already won a number of prestigious competitions, including the National Arts Primary School Competition and, most recently, the Eurovision Young Musicians 2022. I spoke to Daniel Matejča just two days after his appearance at the Dvořák’s Prague festival and I started by asking him what it was like to perform on stage of the Rudolfinum:

“I actually performed there two years ago when I participated in the Concertino Praga competition and it felt really good to be back. And as before, it was a beautiful experience.

“I had a chance to perform the Tchaikovsky concerto, which is one of the greatest pieces for the violin ever written, and I really enjoyed it. I think I will remember that probably for the rest of my life.”

Monument of P. І. Tchaikovsky | Photo: Lavrent1954,  Wikipedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 3.0

Was it your own choice to perform the Tchaikovsky concerto?

I was actually choosing between two concertos. I was choosing between Shostakovich, which is my favourite one, and the Tchaikovsky, which suits better the programme of the Dvořák Prague festival. So the choice was pretty clear.”

At the age of 17 you have already won a number of prestigious music competitions, most recently the Eurovision Young Musicians this August, where you performed Shostakovich violin concerto number 1. Why have you chosen such a difficult piece of music?

“Because I knew that no-one would choose such a piece in this type of competition. Eurovision is a mainstream event. It is broadcast on television and everyone is going for the safe choice, such as Wieniawski or Carmen Fantasy or something like that.

“I wanted to show the public something that I feel comfortable in. So I chose the Shostakovich with the aim to confront the audience with something else than they are used to.”

How did you prepare for the competition?

“I played this concerto for about a year before the competition. It was just a matter of choice, because the concerto was pretty much prepared, so I just went for it and it worked out.”

As you said the Eurovision Young Musicians Contest is a mainstream event. In what ways was it different from the previous competitions you took part in?

“Basically the only difference were the cameras. They can make a person a little but uncomfortable. But when I was on stage, I didn’t really mind, because when you are performing, you don’t really notice what is going on around you. So it was not really that different.

“What was different was the Virtuosos V4+ competition. That was a completely different thing than I was used to, because there was no audience, just five judges expressing their opinion.

“So that was true mainstream, something like the Superstar competition in Czechia. So that was much more different than the Eurovision, which still had the vibe of a classical competition.”

Violin | Photo: niekverlaan,  v,  CC0 1.0 DEED

Why is it important for you to take part in musical competition and is there a lot of stress involved?

“Music competitions are really important for a musician to develop himself and to show his art to a larger audience.”

“Yes, there is always lot of stress involved. Musical competitions are really important for a musician to develop himself and to show his art to a larger audience. So that’s the target that I am going for in the competitions.”

Both of you parents are musicians, based in the town of Liberec in the north of the country and you yourself have been playing the violin since the age of four. Did you always know you wanted to follow in your parent’s footsteps?

“I don’t really remember what was back then, but my mom always says that I was amazed by their playing in the orchestra, because I was visiting the opera and other concerts.

“So I just took the violin and step by step I started holding it in my hands and learning to play. And here I am!”

Illustration photo: PublicDomainArchive,  Pixabay,  Pixabay License

As far as I know, you also play the piano and percussion. What makes the violin special?

“I always saw the piano and the drums as a part of my musical development. Thanks to piano, I was able to think more harmonically, to understand the harmony clearly. And thanks to drums I was able to feel the rhythm much better. So they were always side instruments for me. That’s how I feel.”

Was there ever a moment in your life that you thought about quitting?

“People ask me this question a lot. And I know a lot of people get this feeling that maybe it wasn’t the right thing for them to do. But somehow I never got to this point. Even when I have a bad day or mess up a concert, I always want to move further and push my limits. So I never had a moment when I wanted to quit playing the violin.”

At the age of 17, you are already a student of the Academy of Performing Arts under Professor Ivan Štraus and at the same time, you are still completing your high-school studies. How do you manage?

The Faculty of Music of the Academy of Arts in Prague | Photo: Jklamo,  Wikipedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 2.5

“Somehow I manage. The first idea of me trying to get to the Academy came from my mom, who said that maybe I should try. So I did and they told me that if I pass the exams and I study fully, just like any other student, they will give me the opportunity. So I was accepted, I go to the school, I have no individual programme and everything works out. So it is doable.”

And has you relationship to music changed over the past couple of years?

“Of course, it has changed a lot. When I was a kid, I was just playing some music. It was just notes and melodies that I liked. But over the years, I started to understand what music was really is about.

“There are always new things to discover in music. That is something I didn’t know when I was little. I just played and now I am exploring.”

“It is art and there is a lot to explore and I will never understand a piece it fully. There are always new things to discover. And that is something I didn’t know when I was little. I just played. Now I am exploring. I understand music as art, not just as a melody.”

What helps you most in exploring and understanding the pieces you perform?

“That would be definitely my professor. He always explains the piece and then, when I know the basics, I start exploring it myself and developing my own opinion on the piece. It is a long process. It can take a year. And the main source of knowledge is my professor.”

You have already mentioned Shostakovich as one of your most favourite composers. Are there any others that you would like to play in the future?

“I have a dream. I always wanted to perform the second concerto of Szymanowski. It’s a beautiful and not a really well-known concerto. These are the things that I am really interested in, these not really well-known compositions. That’s what I like.”

Diplomas | Photo: Anna Kottová,  Czech Radio

What are your plans for the near future?

“My near future will be probably constructed of finishing my studies, because that’s the most important thing right now. I have also got some concerts abroad, in Japan and Singapore.

“And then I will be finishing an album of Eugène Ysaÿe sonatas with the Supraphon, which will be released in the beginning of the year 2023. It was a huge project which took me years to complete.

“It is actually impossible to say what will come in the near future, because I plan something and then it always turns out to be different!”

Daniel Matejča | Photo: Ondřej Tomšů,  Radio Prague International