Now Pat Kop performs Pierrot Lunaire

Now Pat Kop performs Pierrot Lunaire


norman lebrecht

June 08, 2018

The irrepressible violinist has become a singer/actor in Schoenberg’s masterpiece with musicians of the St Paul Chamber Orchestra.

You won’t catch Anne-Sophie doing this. Nor Anna Netrebko playing the Berg concerto.


  • Caravaggio says:

    But you may Barbara Hannigan, jack of all trades at once, she.

  • John Borstlap says:

    She is doing it really well…. although one of the critics who wrote that she had ‘….. turned Schoenberg into fun’ must have been a real [redacted]. The piece is tragedy, not fun.

    And where Pat Kop is not touching the written pitch in her part, that does not matter much since also the instruments exercise ‘Sprechgesang’, an approximate circulating around the ‘right’ pitches, to express the alienation and lost inner coherence. It is the work of a genius, extreme but true to human experience.

  • HSY says:

    Every time I hear her, she has one single mode of expression – hysteria, no matter what she is performing. She does it well, but I wish she could show some other aspects of herself.

    • John Borstlap says:

      That’s why she is good for Pierrot Lunaire.

      • Hilary says:

        0:55 seems completely misjudged though. There needs to me more poise here.
        Against all my expectations PL works very well as a ballet ( by Glen Tetley)

        • John Borstlap says:

          About the misjudgment: maybe you are right, but in such idiom notions of right and wrong have a meaning rather different from more normal music.

        • X.Y. says:

          You say that 0:55 is misjudged and should have more poise.

          But did you actually look at the score? It says “sehr rasch”, meaning in English “very fast” (1/4=120). I happen to know that she worked for months to get the right tempo. Its not her fault if nobody else can do it. And I am again and again astonished how nodoubt well-meaning but pompous “experts” criticise her, e.g. for following the tempo indications in the Kreutzer sonata or Beethovens dynamics in the violin concerto.

        • X.Y. says:

          Did you actually have a look at the score? 0:55 is Nr.12 “Galgenlied”, inscribed “sehr schnell” (=”very fast” in English) 1/4=120. I happen to know that Kopatchinskaja worked for over a year to get to the required tempo. Its not her fault if you think that this is “completely misjudged” nor if nobody else is able to do it. Its the same with her Kreutzer or her Beethoven violin concerto where lots of undoubtedly well-meaning but uninformed critics denounce if she follows Beethovens tempi and dynamics.

  • Jonathan Grieves-Smith says:

    She’s a breath of fantastic air, a genie & genius. Lucky us

  • David Alper says:

    She’s a terrible violinist and as a woman someone I would describe as hysteric, as the video underlines. No idea why she gets invited by major orchestras and concert halls, probably, because “she’s bringing some fresh air into the dusty classic business”, like the much overrated Teodor Currentzis.

    Both’s credo is to make everything different than we are used to know/hear it (tempi, articulation, in Kopatchinskaja’s case even intonation…).

    Very important is also what they wear on stage. There’s no newspaper article about Kopatchinskaja that doesn’t mention that she’s performing barefoot, there’s no newspaper article about Currentzis that doesn’t mention his tight jeans and his boots.

    Marketing is for both of them way more important than depth of content and seriousness, I never had the impression that they even partially understand what they are presenting us, they’re just trying to find the best effects in the pieces.

    With Pat Kop I heard the by far worst Schumann and Beethoven concertos of my life (and Tchaikovksy!), with Currentzis my worst Beethoven 7.

    • Doug says:

      Thank you for that gust of fresh air; exposing the charlatans for who they really are.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Maybe it can be considered a type of Regietheater in the field of concert music. Audiences are supposed to no longer relate to music written a long time before they were born, the past being ‘a foreign country’. It is nonsense, of course, but marketing jumps upon the wrapping paper because it is easier to write about that than about artistic matters. I find the patronizing attitude which is behind it all, quite disturbing, as if classical music audiences are supposed to be morons who have to be waken-up from their comatoze slumber.

    • msc says:

      If she is a terrible violinist, how is it that her recordings of concertos by Tchaikovsky, Bartok, Eotvos, Ligeti, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, etc., show great technical skill and a probing interpretative mind. Her Schumann with Holliger is extremely good, and her Beethoven with Herreweghe is intensely, yet never willfully, original. I have heard her have the odd off night in concerts over the radio, but “terrible” is a grotesque overstatement. You don’t have to like her, but that doesn’t mean she cannot play.

      • Anon says:

        No matter how much you like her interpretations, it’s a stretch to say she has “great technical skill” when her intonation is off as frequently as it is, even in official recordings.

        • msc says:

          Different ears, I guess. Her tone can sometimes be raw, but I would not say that her intonation (which I take to be the accuracy of her pitch) is “off” except rarely. And do all the reviewers that find her playing impressive also not know what they’re talking about?

      • David Alper says:

        I’m sure you can find some positive aspects about her playing, but these definitely have nothing to do with technical skills or intonation!

    • X.Y. says:

      No amount of marketing would have brought Peter Eötvös to invite her for his 70th Birthday concert with Berlin Phil, Sir Simon Rattle to invite her with Ligeti with Berlin Phil, Kirill Petrenko to invite her for his debut as chief conductor with the same, or Heinz Holliger for his 80th birthday concerts in Switzerland.

  • william osborne says:

    To hear her use her voice and the violin at the same time see her perform Heinz Holliger’s “Das Kleine Irgendwas” at 5:10 on this video:

    The video was made by the West German (State) Radio. Programming such avant-garde works is common among the EU public stations. It represents a level and sophistication in programming generally unimaginable in the States.

    • David Alper says:

      I heard perform her that piece live as an encore.

      Of course it makes her kind of special that she performs these pieces and doesn’t care to make a fool of herself in a certain way (many other violinists like Anne-Sophie Mutter would never dare that, as Norman states).

      But to me it seems like the absolute desire to be different from anyone and anything. And performing a funny Holliger piece after a bad Beethoven concerto makes the audience talk about how extraordinary and different she is and distracts them from the fact that interpretation and technique are far below the standard of most other soloists.

      • John Borstlap says:

        ‘…………… and distracts them from the fact that interpretation and technique are far below the standard of most other soloists.’ One could see it in a more positive light: performers who don’t have the true capacities for ‘classical music’ find in the modernist repertoire a welcome outlet for their ambitions. It is a territory where not musical understanding and musical technique, but very different qualities are required. Here, modernism comes to the rescue of otherwise flopped careers.

        • Anne says:

          Wow, harsh but true in many cases.

        • David R Osborne says:

          Funny that we’re calling a piece written 108 years ago ‘modernist’ but then again, that says something doesn’t it? I’d just like to point out that ‘Pierrot Lunaire’, love it or not, is one of the most important works of art of the 20th century. Taken in isolation, it is a moment of sheer genius, albeit in a more general artistic sense rather than a musical one. It’s just a shame that so many have spent the next century-and-a-bit trying to replicate , a shock impact that could only really ever happen once.

          As for this particular rendition I’d just like to say that she is, like Ms Hannigan, really very good at what she does, and I don’t see why anyone should have a problem with that.

          • David Alper says:

            Dear David,

            My comments were more on Pat Kop in general than on her performance of Pierrot Lunaire.

            For me Barabara Hannigan is a wonderful artist and I feel that she deeply believes in what she does (last time I saw her was in Ligetis “Mysteries of the Macabre” and it was fantastic). When I see Pat Kop play or perform, I always have my doubts whether it’s a honest performance or if she’s just pretends to be herself and tries to underline her image.

            And, as already said, she’s not a good violinist (believe me, I can judge that) but for reasons we already discussed, attractive to parts of the audiences.

          • John Borstlap says:


      • X.Y. says:

        Kopatchinskaja never played Holliger’s “Das kleine Irgendwas” as an encore after Beethoven’s violin concerto. If you pretend otherwise its witch hunt, whose motives must have more to do with the observer than with the observed. .

        • HSY says:

          I don’t mean to be rude, but a quick Google search proved you are wrong.

          Kopatchinskaja played Holliger’s “Das kleine Irgendwas” as an encore after Beethoven’s violin concerto with Norrington and Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra on January 16, 2015.

          I don’t know if this is the concert that poster heard, but what you said is simply false.

          • X.Y. says:

            oK one point for you. But normally she does not play this after Beethoven. Mayby the quirky nature of Norrington provoked her to do that. Incidentally he is another conductor who repeatedly invited her with Beethoven, Bartok and other concertos.

  • MacroV says:

    I must admit that while I like Schonberg in principle (and love his earlier work), the charms of Pierrot have generally eluded me. That said, I don’t have any problem with PatKop branching out and doing creative presentations. Music can be theatre, and its presentation matters.

    And in my experience she’s struck me as a great violinist; nobody who regularly gets major gigs is a bad violinist (ok, Isaac Stern was, but other than that…)

    • David Alper says:

      And in my experience she’s struck me as a great violinist; nobody who regularly gets major gigs is a bad violinist (ok, Isaac Stern was, but other than that…)

      You’re wrong!

      1. Patricia Kopatchinskaja
      2. Michael Barenboim
      3. Yehudi Menuhin

      4. Christian Tetzlaff
      5. Renaud Capuçon

      (but I must admit that Tetzlaff and Capuçon are still way better than the first three. And probably it’s not really fair to name Stern and Menuhin because it was more their aura one wanted to experience than their technical skills).

      • David R Osborne says:

        Menuhin had serious problems with his hands. Really should have stopped playing a lot earlier. Two recordings that prove he was great- The 1932 recording with Elgar of his concerto (I think Menuhin was 16),
        and a recording of the Chausson Poeme from around the same time.

      • MacroV says:

        I’ll give you Menuhin (although he was great but then developed physical problems). But as with Stern, once you have a reputation you can coast on it for a while. Don’t know about Barenboim fils.

        But Tetzlaff and Capaucon? Chaq’un a son gout, but seriously?

        • David Alper says:

          Barenboim junior has two violin concertos on offer (felt): Schoenberg and Berg. Of course I know that his repertoire is bigger, but these are the two pieces you can hear him with regularly. I suppose without his big name and Daddy’s helping hand he’d have problems to win an audition for a major orchestra.

          I heard Tetzlaff on many occasions, Twenty years ago he was really good, but since a couple of years he uses some tricks to hide that his (best) time is over: Playing as fast as possble, stamping up expressively when he’s having technical problems and … the best trick: throwing the music sheets off his music stand when he’s on his way to get lost.

          And Capuçon is a really very average player. Absolutely nothing special about him, technique no more than solid and musically very uninteresting. If you ever happen to hear him: His encore will definitely be Gluck’s “Reigen seliger Geister”.

          • M2N2K says:

            Never heard Barenboim Junior, so don’t know about him. Heard PatKop so far in recordings and videos only, and she seems to me very strong technically but admittedly her interpretations are wildly uneven indeed. In 1950s and early 1960s Stern was still a formidable violinist but unfortunately that did not last long. In his teens and twenties Menuhin was unquestionably great, but sadly his skills went downhill soon after that. As for Capuçon, he is, as you say, “solid” and in a certain way “average”, but that is still not the same as being “bad”. Finally, Tetzlaff was very good when I heard him several times until about 2010 and it is hard for me to believe that he could suddenly become much worse since then.

  • barry guerrero says:

    ? . . .

    . . . but getting back to “Pierrot Lunaire”: I consider it to be as revolutionary or ‘ground breaking’ as “The Rite of Spring” or Milhaud’s “La Creation du Monde”. It’s certainly not easy listening, but I find it both intense and fascinating – a milestone in my book.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Agreed. It is music at the edge of insanity but still hanging together, in a dreamy atmosphere.

      The best rendering, in my opinion, is the one with Jan DiGaetano and the Contemporary Chamber Ensemble, recorded in 1970:

      The ‘Sprechstimme’ part is extremely difficult to get right, not too much singing and not too much speaking, and in the same time not interfering with the instruments. This lady got it just right, between the two things, her timbre is light and transparant.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Considering the composer’s sadistically helpful instructions on how the singer/recitant is not to follow the score, like not to speak while not singing, a ‘too grotesque performance’ of Pierrot Lunaire is an oxymoron. In the short excerpts, Patricia Kopatchinskaja gives a particularly provocative, nearly scatological impression that would surely be approved by the composer. I would like to listen to the whole performance.

    My favourite recording, and the most ‘hysterical’ performance that I know, is that with Erika Stiedry-Wagner conducted by Schönberg himself in 1941 (in a sense, the ‘historical’ sound enhances the ‘hysterical’ atmosphere – historically hysterical).

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Tank you – you describe precisely why I appreciate that recording so much.

    By the way, I’m waiting for Jonas Kaufmann’s performance (somebody has to suggest him the idea to transcend the barriers also in PL). 🙂