On a recent spring afternoon in the WQXR Café, Arabella Steinbacher tore through Ysaye's Obsession. Then she turned her attention to Kreisler’s Recitative and Scherzo. While the works are not known for their calm sensibilities, Steinbacher capped off her virtuoso performance with an accidental whack of an overhanging lamp. Her bow was left with several horse hairs drooping. "It’s really annoying when that happens in the middle of a concert,” Steinbacher said, laughing. “It interferes with the performance.”
Nothing will interfere with Arabella Steinbacher’s April 29 Carnegie Hall debut, in concert with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (WQXR will broadcast that performance live at 8 pm). She will perform selected works by Mozart, Strauss and Haydn, as well as the funeral concerto by Karl Amadeus Hartmann.
When the 30-year-old German violinist made her New York debut at Town Hall in 2006, the New York Times took note of a new performer making an appearance in a series—the Free for All—that does not normally present newcomers. “Among her assets are a finely polished technique and a beautifully varied palette of timbres,” the Times' Allan Kozinn wrote.
The daughter of a Japanese singer mother and German pianist father, Steinbacher's parents met at the Musikhochschule in Munich. When Steinbacher’s mother noticed a newspaper article touting the teaching skills of a Suzuki method violin teacher just back from Japan, she signed her three-year-old daughter up. Steinbacher worked closely with teacher Helge Thelen. “[Thelen] gets along with children incredibly well,” Steinbacher said in an interview that appears on her Web site. “One didn’t have to be afraid at all of him.”
At nine, Steinbacher became the youngest violin student of Ana Chumachenko at the Munich Academy of Music. She received further musical guidance from the Israeli violinist Ivry Gitlis. She is the recipient of several important prizes, including the Joseph Joachim Violin Competition in Hannover and a 2001 grant by the Free State of Bavaria. She is also the recipient of a 2001 Anna Sophie Mutter’s “Circle of Friends” scholarship. But it was in 2004, when Steinbacher made an unexpected and hugely successful Paris debut with a performance of the Beethoven Violin Concerto with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France under Sir Neville Marriner, that her career reached new heights.
The 30-year-old Steinbacher has appeared on numerous albums that bear the stamp of an inquisitive sensibility, with the lesser-known concertos of Milhaud, Khachaturian, Szymanowski and Shostakovich, as well as more traditional repertoire. Her latest album, for Pentatone Classics, features Brahms's complete works for violin and piano with Robert Kulek.
In the coming months, Steinbacher will perform a series of concerts in London with Lorin Maazel, before appearing at the Solsberg Festival this June with cellist Sol Gabetta and pianist Bertrand Chamayou. But, for all her success, Steinbacher’s standards remain exacting. After insisting upon a second take of Kreisler during her WQXR Café Concert, she came to a close with a shake of her head, holding her 1716 Booth-Stradivarius at her side. “Yeah,” she said. “I don’t know if that was any better.”
Video: Amy Pearl; Sound: Edward Haber; Interview: Elliott Forrest; Text: Caroline Cooper