Name: David Nebel
Current Release: Philip Glass / Igor Stravinsky: Violin Concertos on Sony Classical.
Recommendations: I would like to recommend the book “The Double Bass” by Patrick Süsskind and the cantata “L’enfant prodigue” by Claude Debussy which I recently played in an opera production.
If you enjoyed this interview with the David Nebel, visit his website or facebook profile for more information, music and current updates.
When did you start playing your instrument, and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started to play the violin at the age of five. My mother used to play the violin and I've been hearing the sound of the violin since I was a small child. I also like the higher registers of the violin which have a very singing character. It is truly my favourite instrument.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I believe it is essential to find the right teacher. In the beginning, it is normal to listen, watch and also to copy music idols. This is important to find musical ideas and inspirations. But later, searching for my own voice or sound became more important, and this is going to be a lifelong journey.
In fact, every musician should change their voices in different times, different moods and different stages. My sound or voice is evolving in the very moment, depending on many circumstances such as type of music and environment.
What were some of your main artistic challenges when starting out as an artist and in which way have they changed over the years?
As a young musician, you may not be aware of the transition from a music student to an artist. This depends obviously on your technical ability, musicianship and many other features. So, frankly, when I look back, I do not know when this transition took place. I believe this was rather a gradual process which was certainly accelerated by many opportunities to perform as a violinist.
Being an artist is in many ways different to most other professions. There is a lot of self-discipline required and you have to make compromises and organise your time. It was always important for me to keep my motivation and the passion for music going. Practising takes a lot of responsibility and I was most of the time on my own in my room playing the violin.
Tell us about your studio/work space, please. What were criteria when setting it up and how does this environment influence the creative process? How important, relatively speaking, are factors like mood, ergonomics, haptics and technology for you?
I usually do not care about work place or environment I am practising in. Okay, it could be challenging if you need to practise in a hotel when you should not disturb other guests. It is good to practise in a room which isn’t too loud so I can carefully listen to my own playing and it is also easier to spot mistakes. I’m of course not always in the same mood but this is not a real issue because you find new musical ideas by expressing it in different state of minds.
Tell me about your instrument, please. What was your first instrument like and how did you progress to your current one? How would you describe the relationship with it? What are its most important qualities and how do they influence the musical results, including your own performance?
As a child, I learnt playing on a small violin the basic features and rules. Once I got to the point of performing in concert halls with orchestras, it was important for me to find the violin which fits to my playing. I had the opportunity to play regularly on a golden period Stradivari violin and currently on a Carlo Bergonzi violin which both have an incredibly beautiful and strong sound.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
Musicians rarely have a usual daily routine. Every day, I spend a few hours practising the violin. But it totally depends on where I am. If I am on a concert tour, travelling or studying for university. It is important for me to separate music from other activities even though it’s not always easy. Music demands full focus and concentration. Once I do something else, it is good to regain energy and to come back to the music with a clear mind.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
When I start a new piece, the process is very simple: you need to make yourself familiar with the score and structure of the piece. This is the basic craftsmanship of every violinist. Once you have reached the level of playing the piece without score, then the creative process can start. Here, you may have a variety of influences which could guide you how to interpret the piece.
Of course, my teacher plays a critical role with regards to how to structure and for example to phrase the music. But I am also inspired by other recordings. And sometimes I have my own ideas to perform a particular phrase or the colour of the music, just from my own inspiration which – frankly – I do not know where it is coming from – it’s just there.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I am not sure whether a planned strategy or state of mind is a good precondition for being creative. A creative process probably evolves best if you are playing very concentrated and focused and once you feel a certain flow of the music, it suddenly enables you to bring in your own personality and style, hence being creative.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
Playing the violin is something which in my opinion doesn’t necessarily demand a lot of technological influence. We had incredible music written long time ago when there was no existing technology, and even the instruments were not yet very developed. This means that technology is not and should not be at the core of music making.
But it is also true that modern technologies are part of music making and have a tremendous impact on the music business. As a young musician, you have to cope and use these technologies to their optimum potential.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through playing together or just talking about ideas?
I enjoy working together with musicians. It is such fun and inspiring work. I always find new ideas and new approaches to music when working together with other musicians. We are here to motivate each other and discuss and discover different musical ideas. There is a special energy and excitement when performing together.
How is preparing music, playing it live and recording it for an album connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
To perform or record a piece is very different. When recording, I try to reach some sort of perfection and I know that I can re-record it over and over again until I (and also others) are happy with the result. But this brings also disadvantages. Concerts always have a very special mood and you have this kind of tension and excitement from the audience which you can’t have during recordings. Preparing a piece should be still always the same process. The learning of a music piece is independent of whether I am going to play it for 20 people, 2000 people or recording it.
Improvising is challenging. It takes courage to improvise live on stage but it brings a different character to the performance. Improvising a cadenza for a Mozart Concerto for example is very difficult but it can be very exciting. There are many rules one needs to pay attention to.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' and 'performance' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre?
It is a combination which works only together. For every composition, I try to find an individual sound and character. There is no general scheme how to use and create sound in a piece of music. I always try to find an individual character and cope my imagination of sound to the music I’m playing. Every piece is a masterwork on its own and deserves an independent musical approach.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
Consumption of music can be aural and visual. The best is to have both in combination. We perceive music very differently by only listening or by also watching it visually. If we only listen to music, we are much more focused on our hearing senses and we only pay attention to the sound. Audio and visual music enables us to combine the character of music, the passion of the individual players and combine it with the sounds we hear. It is for me easier to perceive music this way.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
Music has been often used as a political message. Under such circumstances, concerts have been taking place in special ceremonies or to foster certain political movements. Personally, I do not like it if music is instrumentalised for purposes which are not connected to the music itself. But it is true that music has a very strong message for people and can create emotions. Many music works have been composed against a particular political background, for example the Russian compositions during the revolution, and also many classic pieces from composers like Beethoven have a clear political message to deliver. The symbol of music is a universal language which everyone can understand. In this regard, music can achieve that people listen to each other and create a mutual understanding.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music and performance still intact. Do you have a vision of music and performance, an idea of what they could be beyond their current form?
In my opinion, classical music will continue to live on. Nowadays, artists try to find new ways of presenting their performances. The emergence of social media changed the way of advertising classical music, especially to attract a younger audience. Thus, every new form of profession has been created. Known as “Influencing” so called “influencers” are trying to advertise their product (in this case classical music) to a very high number of potential viewers.
I am afraid that classical music is becoming a commodity which everyone takes for granted. Thereby, it could lose its special artistic and individual feature. For the future, my vision is a revival of traditional forms of classical music performance, i.e. with live audience and not digital emission. Public music performance is such a strong cultural achievement which should attract people of all ages and origin.