When German violinist Arabella Steinbacher joins the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for concerts Nov. 9-11, it will be anything but a routine return visit. The engagement will coincide with the 10th anniversary of the now well-established artist’s first appearance with the orchestra, and indeed, anywhere in the United States.
Those 2007 performances also marked her first collaboration with conductor Christoph von Dohnányi, a fellow German, widely acclaimed for his tenure as music director of the Cleveland Orchestra from 1984 through 2002. The two have gone on to perform together with the Boston Symphony and London’s Philharmonia Orchestra, as well as what is now known as the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester in Hamburg, where Dohnányi served as chief conductor from 2004 through 2010. Dohnányi was scheduled to be on the podium for the Nov. 9-11 concerts with Steinbacher, but had to withdraw. Manfred Honeck, music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, replaces him. Steinbacher will serve as soloist in Berg’s Violin Concerto, the composer’s last and most frequently performed work.
“It was so amazing when I had the invitation 10 years ago to play the Sibelius Concerto with Dohnányi,” Steinbacher said. “I had never played before with him and never played before in the States, so that was a wonderful entrance to start with them. Then, afterward, it really started my career in the United States. I played in Boston and Philadelphia, New York, Cleveland and Washington [D.C.]. So it’s wonderful to come back after all these years.”
Steinbacher took up the violin when she was 3 years old and studied in Munich from age 8 through 21 with Ana Chumachenco, whose father was a student of celebrated Hungarian violinist Leopold Auer. The budding violinist first traveled to the United States when she was 16, spending a summer at the famed Aspen Music Festival and School under the tutelage of Kurt Sassmannshaus. He is a protégé of famed violin teacher Dorothy DeLay, who led a master class at the festival in which Steinbacher participated.
“That’s from a different life,” said Steinbacher, who’s now 35. “It was a long time ago. It was the very first time I ever went to the United States, and it was very exciting and a completely new experience for me musically, but also in every way. It’s so different from Europe, from Germany. It was a great experience.”
In addition to two concerts in Orchestra Hall on Nov. 9 and 11, Steinbacher also will appear with the CSO on Nov. 10 as part of its annual series in Wheaton College’s 2,357-seat Edman Memorial Chapel. Once again, she will perform Berg’s Violin Concerto, which was inspired by Manon Gropius, the daughter of Alma Mahler (once Gustav Mahler’s wife) and architect Walter Gropius, who died of polio at age 18. It was finished before Berg’s death in December 1935 and premiered the following year.
Steinbacher describes the concerto as one of her favorite works in the form. “It’s very, very special and very mystical,” she said. “It’s a requiem. It’s not easy to play too often, because when you play it once, you are actually quite exhausted emotionally and physically as well.”
TOP: Arabella Steinbacher. | Photo: Sammy Hart