When Leila Josefowicz came to the WQXR Café she had just flown in from St. Louis the night before on a delayed flight that landed well after 1 am. She had been rehearsing with the St. Louis Symphony in advance of their concert together at Carnegie Hall, in which she will perform the formidable Violin Concerto by British composer Thomas Adès.
Yet after a healthy warm-up session and a cup of hot herbal tea, she was ready to dive into the blazing twists and turns of the closing section from Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Lachen Verlernt ("Laughing Unlearned"). This is a frenzied rush of a piece, with scattering scales and obsessively repeated riffs that dazzle the senses. Afterwards, she sat down to talk about her interest in contemporary music.
“Usually I’m the one that’s going to bring the crazy music to people,” she said. “I love my role. I cherish that role.”
Josefowicz, 33, is not a violinist who gets pigeonholed as a new-music specialist and yet she has devoted a substantial portion of her activities lately to championing contemporary work, including pieces by John Adams, Oliver Knussen and Steven Mackey. In 2008, she won a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (the so-called "Genius" Grant) in part for her dedication to modern repertoire.
“It's somewhat of a rebellion from school,” she said, referring to her days as a teenage prodigy. “It’s my character maybe. I worked with these great teachers, some of whom aren’t alive any more – Galimir, Brodsky, Gingold – as well as those that are alive and well like Jaime Laredo. I learned all of the staple repertoire. I just felt somehow, despite the greatness of all of this music that exists for this past century, I really wanted to be more part of the process of creation rather than giving someone a great performance of something that they know a little too well.”
Last year, Josefowicz brought Salonen's Violin Concerto to New York, by performing in the pit at New York City Ballet. Peter Martins choreographed the work, which also featured a scenic design by the architect Santiago Calatrava. "It really gave a sense of real camaraderie with the dancers," she said of the experience. "Here we are making this sound – these different sonic reverberations that people are moving to."
Josefowicz doesn't know yet if she'll do more dance collaborations but she hopes to premiere a new piece every year. Next up is a concerto by the Italian composer Luca Francesconi. “I really wanted to really change the way some people listen to music – to take away the comfort zone, give it a spontaneity, a freshness and a sense of adventure. I think that is so important when listening to music."
Text: Brian Wise; Video: Amy Pearl; Sound: Edward Haber