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Profile: Violinist Isabelle Faust

This adventurous player conjures forgotten violin works


ISABELLE FAUST, one of the most prominent of a leading edge of young European violinists who are starting to make their presence felt in North America, has a refreshingly, devil-may-care attitude that even Mephistopheles would admire. Instead of relying on conventional marketing strategies, she revels in the "pure process of producing what [she thinks] the composer wants to hear. When it's music by dead composers, of course, we have do this research. But with a live composer," she points out with excitement in her voice, "all we have to do is ask."

Faust has had ample opportunities to ask. She has given numerous notable and first performances, including concertos by Werner Egk and Thierry Lancino, Richard Danielpour's A Child's Reliquary, Olivier Messiaen's Fantaisie, and works by Jorg Widmann (including a solo etude in which she has to sing and play at the same time. "A terrible thing," she says). She regularly programs Morton Feldman, Gyorgy Ligeti, Luigi Nono, and Giacinto Scelsi. This year, she will premiere violin concertos dedicated to her by the Swiss composer Michael Jarrell, one of the stars of the 2008 Ojai Music Festival, and the Austrian composer Thomas Larcher.

For Faust, making music started out as a family affair. Born in Esslingen, Germany, ten miles southeast of Stuttgart, she started playing the violin at age five, two years after her father started learning as an amateur. "He asked me if I would like to do the same thing," Faust recalls. "I said yes, and went with him to one of his lessons." Her older brother also started playing the violin, and soon the two were playing in a children's string quartet. "Until I was 15, we did mostly string quartet playing on the weekends," she says. "It was a fun thing that we knew already from home, because our parents met once a week with friends to play for fun."

After studying with Dénes Zsigmondy and Christoph Poppen, Faust began entering major international competitions. In 1987, she won the International Leopold Mozart Competition in Augsburg. In 1993, she became the first German violinist to take First Prize at the Paganini Competition in Genoa.

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