Her Seattle Symphony debut drew blood. In April 2016, when Patricia Kopatchinskaja reached the final movement of Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto, her violin’s shoulder rest came loose. The screw that should have held it in place dug into her neck, breaking the skin. But the music wasn’t over yet.
“That was a first in my life, but I still managed to finish the concerto,” the violinist recalls. “More often, you have to deal with a broken string, which can ruin the performance but is easier to repair.”
That particular accident may have been a first time, but Kopatchinskaja’s refusal to let it faze her is typical of the fierce, risk-taking commitment to her music for which she has become a byword.
“There is simply no other artist like her in the world,” according to Elena Dubinets, the SSO’s former vice president of artistic planning and creative projects, who was responsible for bringing Kopatchinskaja to Seattle both in 2016 and this season. “Pat’s technical facility is amazing — she can play anything — but she wouldn’t just play what is popular or marketable. She does only what she believes in, and she does it in her own way, finding unexpected twists and turns in every phrase and in every musical gesture.”
With her return to Seattle for concerts on Jan. 29-30 and Feb. 1, audiences have a chance to experience Kopatchinskaja’s unique and spellbinding intensity in two very different contexts.
The violinist will be joined by soprano Ah Young Hong on Jan. 29 to perform Hungarian composer Gÿorgy Kurtág’s “Kafka Fragments” in the intimate setting of Octave 9 at Benaroya Hall.
On Jan. 30 and Feb. 1, she will then appear on the big stage with the Seattle Symphony and music director Thomas Dausgaard in another concerto from the 20th-century Russian repertoire — this time, the First Violin Concerto by Dmitri Shostakovich.
The Russian connection, Kopatchinskaja explains, relates to her childhood in Moldova, the tiny country nestled between Ukraine and Romania that was then still part of the USSR. Shostakovich’s concerto “is from the DNA of the old Soviet Union where I started from.”
“Pat Kop,” as she is fondly known, grew up in a family of musicians. Her father is a well-known cimbalom player (the hammered dulcimer of Eastern Europe), her mother a violinist. The three still occasionally play in a trio. The family relocated to Vienna when she was still a child, and Kopatchinskaja, now 43, also keeps a home in Switzerland.
This violinist’s remarkable versatility feeds into the passion and originality of her interpretations. You can hear echoes of her folk-music roots whether Kopatchinskaja plays on period instruments — she has a strong interest in historically informed performance — or applies herself to the wildly experimental sonorities György Kurtág extracts from the instrument in his “Kafka Fragments.” She refers to his late-life opera, a setting of Samuel Beckett’s “Endgame,” as a work that “clearly sums up our global situation.”
Establishing such connections between the music she plays and contemporary experience is essential for Kopatchinskaja. This drive leads to unpredictable but fascinating results when she approaches more standard fare. “It’s always dangerous for a piece to become part of the normal repertoire. When it becomes a monument, people just copy-paste it from one concert hall to another.”
Kopatchinskaja’s dramatic stage presence and tendency to move about — often performing barefoot — frequently crops up as a topic in reviews of her work. “You approach a piece as a whole person, with soul, spirit, but also with your body,” she says. “The physical movements are completely involuntary and they have nothing to do with staging. I find it totally unnatural when musicians don’t move at all or their faces remain like mummies during the whole concert while the music is so endlessly moving.”
Dubinets, who is now chief artistic officer for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, notes that Kopatchinskaja’s intensity can have a polarizing effect. “Some people love her music-making; others don’t. But nobody is left unaffected by it.”
The Seattle Symphony program will mark Kopatchinskaja’s first time collaborating with Dausgaard, with whom she shares a similar interpretive outlook: “He approaches the music as a composer, meaning from the inside, not from a polished surface. This is also my approach and that’s why I’ve wanted to work with him for years.”
Dausgaard says he first became aware of Kopatchinskaja’s style when he was driving and chanced upon her recording of the Tchaikovsky concerto on the radio. “I simply had to stop the car and just listen, as I felt completely overwhelmed. It was intensely gripping and original. I expect anything to happen in this great concerto by Shostakovich!”
Patricia Kopatchinskaja. In recital 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 29, at Octave 9 at Benaroya Hall; performances with Seattle Symphony at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 30, and 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 1; Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; $24-$134; 206-215-4747, seattlesymphony.org
This story has been updated with the correct name of soprano Ah Young Hong.