Brazilian brilliance

Viktoria Mullova found inspiration and improvisation on a recent tour to Brazil

- 3 April 2014

Viktoria Mullova will give Brazil a miss during the World Cup, but one suspects it will not be long after that she returns to the country.

‘I have always admired the music from Brazil and the more I got to know it, the more it fascinated me, and I discovered how much incredible music there is there and how many amazing musicians there are there. It is so rich, even the language – it is Portuguese, but not really. I just love to listen to it. It is one of my favourite places to go now.’

Viktoria Mullova/ © Sophie Simnett

Viktoria Mullova/ © Sophie Simnett

The Russian-born violinist’s passion for the country and its culture is delivered to the world with her latest album for Onyx, Stradivarius in Rio, offering 13 intoxicating tracks from composers such as Caetano Veloso, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Marisa Monte.

Although Mullova’s recorded repertoire has ranged from Bach to jazz and Gipsy music, performing with Brazilian musicians on tour aroused a particular enthusiasm for the music of that country. She struggles to explain the richness of its music. ‘I don’t know, maybe it’s the way they play football, the way they talk, the way they move … The country itself is just so beautiful.’

Not that all her encounters with the exotic landscape over 20 years of visits to Brazil have been ideal. One trip to the Amazonian rainforest, swimming in a river left her with an infectious disease that took months to clear. ‘We were not very well prepared. Even Brazilians who live in the cities do not take trips to that area lightly.’

The extreme humidity also poses musical problems. For most performances there she rents a violin rather than risk her own Strad, and on one occasion when she and her husband, cellist Matthew Barley, were playing, the peg on his rented instrument broke because of the climate.

Stradivarius in Rio was recorded in an air-conditioned studio, so she was able to bring her own instrument, as was Barley – but there were other risks. ‘I had to learn improvising, to make the songs more interesting, because a singer can repeat a melody with different words but for an instrument improvisation is essential. We had two fantastic local percussionists, Luiz Guello and Paul Clarvis, and a guitarist – called Carioca, which means someone from Rio. We improvised on the spot for two-and-a-half days for the recording. We did not know how it would come out and when we heard the tape it was a pleasant surprise.’

The result is, as she describes it, very happy music. ‘People who hear the music say they cannot stop smiling afterwards.’

Stradivarius in Rio




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