Violinist Leila Josefowicz Loves Modern Music: ‘I Just Wanted To Break Out Of This Cage’

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Photo: Violinist Leila Josefowicz
Violinist Leila Josefowicz

For Leila Josefowicz, debuting new music represents the ultimate chance to give listeners a fresh take on a piece.

The violinist won the $500,000 MacArthur Fellowship -- sometimes called a "genius grant" -- in 2008 for championing music by contemporary composers on her albums and concert programs.

She'll lean heavily on modern classical in her recital at the Newman Center in Denver this Sunday. The program includes a new piece by Erkki-Sven Tuur and "Road Movies" by John Adams, one of her frequent collaborators.

The violinist spoke to CPR Classical from Carnegie Hall in New York, where she first performed onstage at 17 and was preparing to play a recital this week. She discussed her passion for working with contemporary composers and how even though she started playing violin at age 3 she still feels nervous before some performances. Click the audio above to listen.

Interview highlights:

On realizing her passion for contemporary classical music

"I wanted to have more interaction with creators and composers. I wanted to just break this mold.

"I felt like there are just so many great violinists playing the same repertoire all over the world. And if they are comfortable with that, that’s all that matters. But for me, I just wanted to break out of this cage of expectation, just having things being so predictable."

On winning the MacArthur award -- and how it didn’t alter the course of her career

"It certainly was so nice to feel appreciated when you’re doing something you believe in. In some ways I feel like I had to fight for this from the beginning. … But it didn’t actually change anything. I would have kept on with my ideals if that hadn’t happened, of course. Which is kind of what makes the whole thing genuine, right? We have to do what we believe in."

On how she still feels nervous before performances

"It can happen any time. It has no relation to how long someone does this stuff. It’s a sign you care. If someone tells you they’re never nervous and they do live performance, they’re not telling you the truth."