Alina Ibragimova: 'The more I feel, the more I can express'

The violinist Alina Ibragimova doesn't do things the easy way. As a result, her playing possesses both terrifying rawness and electrifying energy.

There are some performers who don't so much interpret music as become it, as if it possesses them so completely that there is no difference in the moment of performance between the player, the music, the composer and their audience. And of all the brilliant young violinists around today, it's 27-year-old Alina Ibragimova who embodies this most completely. Her performances of repertoire from Bach – her radical, incendiary recordings of the solo sonatas and partitas were hailed as a classic – to Huw Watkins, from Beethoven to Karl Amadeus Hartmann, have an intensity and a commitment that makes her an utterly compelling musician.

I ask her where it comes from. "I've no idea," she says, "but I do think it's important that music should speak as directly as possible. We should always be trying to achieve something further in the music, something that's almost impossible."

Despite spending most of her life in the UK, Ibragimova still speaks with a heavy Russian accent. She weighs each word carefully, deliberately, as if language itself is somehow foreign for her, which all adds to the otherworldly impression that it's really in her music-making that she is most articulate, as if she requires her violin to communicate with the world. I ask her if she ever gets nervous when she plays. "No, never." For her, playing is as natural as breathing. "If I don't play for a while then I start to feel that something's wrong."
Her childhood, in Russia and the UK, was saturated with music. Her father, Rinat Ibragimov, is principal double-bass with the London Symphony Orchestra; he moved his family to Britain when he got the job. Alina was 10 at the time. Her mother is a violinist and teaches at the Yehudi Menuhin School, the super-musical hothouse in Surrey, alma mater of Nigel Kennedy and hundreds of others, where Alina herself studied. Was there a kind of violinist she wanted to be as a child, someone she wanted to emulate? "My mum, of course! And she made me listen to a lot of violinists. I remember listening to Menuhin's recording of the Beethoven concerto on a cassette, and Jascha Heifetz, and Vadim Repin, all of those. And I guess being a girl, I wanted to be Anne-Sophie Mutter." Mutter may have been an important role model, but Ibragimova's trademark wildly imaginative playing, with its combination of unleashed energy and historical awareness, is now in a different universe from the steely German superstar. ...

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Tom Service © 2012


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