interview by Victoria Cușnir

Alexandra Tîrșu is a Moldovan leading world class violinists . Born into the family of the famous trumpeter Simion Târșu, Alexandra turned to classical music. She studied at the “S. Rahmaninov” Republican High School of Music in Chișinău, then at the University of Music and Arts in Vienna with Professor Pavel Vernikov, and then at the Lausanne School of Music with Janine Jansen. Today she lives in Vienna and performs on big stages with major orchestras. She arrived in Chișinău in 2022, at the end of the summer, for the Moldocrescendo project, having a demanding August, with several important concerts through European cities and suitcases changed on the go. An important moment in planning the trip, was a short stop in Vienna before flying to Chișinău, necessary because she feared to bring her Stradivarius along, after the situation Alexandra Conunova, another violinist of calibre went through: her Guadagnini violin was seized by customs.

Victoria Cușnir: What instrument will you play on this time?

Alexandra Tîrșu: I came this time with an old French Vion, a very good violin that is over 150 years old. I would have liked to play on the Stradivarius, but the company entrusting it to me kindly asked me not to risk it. I hope that next time I can get in and out with it without any risk whatsoever. Moldova has become a risky place for owners of good and expensive instruments. That situation at the customs has kind of damaged our country’s image. I will play the Vion, the violin I played before I got the Stradivarius. I have it from a good, elderly violinist who once gave it to me to play on a good instrument.

Alexandra Tîrșu

Photo: Menschlich

Victoria Cușnir: And what have you done with your personal violin?

Alexandra Tîrșu: Back in Chișinău I played on a violin made in China or on factory violins. At best I had a Czechoslovakian violin. When I went to Italy when I was 17, as a concertmaster of the Youth Orchestra, I played Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, where the first violin has many solos. The soloist of the orchestra was the famous Uto Ughi. He had two violins with him: one was Paganini’s Il Cannone Guarnerius, an extremely well-guarded violin. When he heard me play my Chinese instrument, he was struck: “Young lady, you play so well, but what a terrible instrument you have!” And he gave me his second violin, a Stradivarius, to play on, while he was soloing on Paganini’s violin. You don’t know what a shock it was to me when I went from my chinoiserie to that exceptional instrument. With every extra minute I played, I was transforming more and more. When I got home, our family friends in America made a copy of Paganini’s instrument for me, which I subsequently played until I arrived in Vienna. Then I switched to several old Italian violins until I ended up with this 1699 Stradivarius.

Victoria Cușnir: But a violin, no matter how well preserved it is, if you don’t play it, doesn’t it lose its sound?

Alexandra Tîrșu: Yes. That’s why every first prize winner of the Niccolo Paganini International Competition is allowed to play this violin for one year.

Victoria Cușnir: In the meantime, have you been playing your old violin? What did your ear say at that time?

Alexandra Tîrșu: Do you know what it’s like when you travel through rich– culturally rich– beautiful countries, rich by nature rich by centuries-old culture and architecture, and then return to Moldova? Fascinating as those places may be, Moldova is dear to you anyway because it’s your home. And you’re overwhelmed by the kind of emotions that you can only experience at home. I have exactly the same feelings about my old violin.

Victoria Cușnir: These extremely expensive and valuable collector’s violins are fewer than the very gifted violinists. What do you do, how do you have to be, to be entrusted with such an instrument?

Alexandra Tîrșu: Hard to explain. I know quite a few extremely talented violinists, but they don’t get to hold these rare instruments, true pieces of history. I think one needs luck,  talent and luck. I am grateful to all those who have guided me towards good instruments. I was playing a concert also on my Chinese violin and a very strange old man came to the concert in a certain way. After the concert he came up to me and asked me what violin I played. After I answered he said he had three good violins at home and invited me to try them. I was somewhat reluctant and thought that there was no way this strange old man had good violins. They would be rather broken instruments that he thought were old and valuable. He was a doctor, and because he insisted, I went to see them. But he had super-good violins! Old, Italian, 200 to 300 years old. Because he liked my playing so much, he gave me to play on, without any cost. From five years from that day, I played his violins.

Victoria Cușnir: How did you get to the other instruments?

Alexandra Tîrșu: I won several international competitions. After each competition, I was invited to several concerts. That’s how I became known in important circles. The music world is not as big as it seems. And a remarkable success is quickly noticed

Victoria Cușnir: Now it’s also time to talk about how a Moldovan artist manages an international career on the classical music scene. Are the steps you take different, or are they still common paths for everyone?

Alexandra Tîrșu: Every path is different. Luck counts a lot. My cocktail looks like this: Work, dedication and, of course, hope. And the conviction that everything is possible. Just the other day I met a colleague from Moldova in Switzerland– I helped him to reach Pavel Vernikov. I asked him why he doesn’t go to a certain competition. He told me that he’s not good enough, that he doesn’t belong there. With that attitude it’s impossible to get anywhere. I don’t know why we often think we’re not as good as others, we don’t have the courage to step forward, even though we have all the qualities. The field of classical music today is quite difficult. There are a lot of competition and most of them are very good. If you act like a fighter, you don’t have a chance to succeed. Let’s not mix up arrogance and courage. But we have an obligation to go to competitions, to concerts. Let’s follow the master classes of the great teachers.

Alexandra Tîrșu &  Marcel Lazăr

Photo: Nelli Wallner

Victoria Cușnir: How much does it matter where you study? How big are the chances of getting somewhere by doing the Conservatory in Chișinău and then entering big international competitions?

Alexandra Tîrșu: Honestly, I think one’s teacher is most important, more than the school you attend. When I came to Vienna, I saw it all in pink and I thought everything here was quality. But it’s not. After the first half year of studying here, my teacher retired and, without being consulted, I was assigned to a teacher I didn’t like at all. We tried for a year to find a common language, but we didn’t succeed. As a result, I was regressing, growing was not even thinkable. All this killed my appetite for playing, so much that I gave up and the only goal I was left with was to get my diploma. That brilliant musician I had no chance of becoming. So I “killed” exactly 5 years with this teacher. Because I have a great passion for Japan, I entered a competition there without telling him. I intended to prepare on my own, without his guidance. I was going to test myself to see if I could play the way I felt, but not the way he taught me. I went to Japan,  and I got the first place. This gave me some kind of wings. Or rather the hope that I’m not a hopeless case. And I then went to Korea for another competition. There I met Pavel Vernikov, also a professor in Vienna. I became his student. Since then, things have changed a lot. My next teacher became Janine Jansen, whom I admired as a child. I never dreamed she could teach me. But it happened and I was one of her first three students. We still have a very warm relation. And for my biggest and most important projects I return to study guided by her. I recently recorded my first album with the London Symphony Orchestra at Abbey Road Studios, for which she helped me a lot.

Victoria Cușnir: How did you end up recording with this orchestra and at this studio?

Alexandra Tîrșu: After the ARD Competition in Munich I received an email, which I admit remained unopened at first. I discovered it later in the flood of messages:  an invitation to collaborate with an Austrian composer who had written a concerto that  I was asked to record together the London Simphony Orchestra at Abbey Road Studios. You can’t turn down offers like that. They come as a blessing and an enormous honour. When the composer Paul Lorenz came to a concert of mine, after which we were going to work out the details of the recording, he said that he was giving up recording that concert he had already written and that he would write a special one for me, based on his perception of me after that concert. I did the Paul Lorenz concerto first, then we did a Tchaikovsky concerto and Beethoven’s romances.

Victoria Cușnir: The teacher matters. Festivals, too, a lot. What do you consider to have been your launching point?

Alexandra Tîrșu: The first and most important was the right teacher. When I got to Pavel Vernikov, the desire to play came back, the passion took wings, and when you have those, you take the right steps. I participated in bigger and smaller competitions. I played at several festivals and had a steady route. I’ve had a few easy take-offs, but the ARD competition in Munich seems to have been the biggest turning point.

Victoria Cușnir: Speaking of competition, competitors, I notice an “invasion” of Asian musicians, who come with incredible technical training. Only child-phenomena from that part of the world. Not to be overlooked is the competition from European talent. I find the battle for a place on the big stage quite fierce.

Alexandra Tîrșu: Yes, yes. It’s very interesting. Although it’s believed that Asians have only a good technical background, I don’t really agree with this. For about ten years, maybe even more, Asians, beyond technical execution, have been putting a lot of soul into their music. This stereotype needs to be overcome. Competition is fierce. Everything counts. Talent, passion, technical execution. The real musicians, the real artists, are the ones who have something to say. And this is where you ask yourself: what do you make music for? Many are pushed by their parents and achieve results, but it is possible to be on stage, no matter how good you are, but not to have your say. Personal life experience also matters a lot: when you share your sorrows, your joys, your dreams with people through music, you open up the world to them, you share energy through sound. And you feel it.

Victoria Cușnir: How does the instrument help you? It’s believed that a good musician can make a good sound even when playing a Chinese violin…

Alexandra Tîrșu: Yes, a good musician will be able to get sound and emotion out of a weaker instrument, if it’s not a simple piece of wood. The cheapest good violins start at a few thousand euros. I know a very, very good and very refined musician. He also played often with Janine. So Boris Brovtsyn is the man who can afford to play the best violins in the world, but no, he keeps his violin. A new one. I don’t think is the best, but he plays it like a god. It’s as if he’s deliberately defying this rush for old, collectible, quality instruments. But not everyone in the artistic world shares this view. A good violin opens you up differently. You are somehow transformed. I now play the violin that the famous Ida Handel played. I’m all wings when I hold it in my hands and music flows from it.

Alexandra Tîrșu

Photo: @dariakorotkova

* The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the position of the Romanian Cultural Institute, but exclusively the opinions of the author.