Photo: Per B.Adolphson, 1973

With these three CDs I would like to commemorate the three countries that in different ways have meant everything in my career: Sweden, Belgium and Hungary. Lille Bror Söderlundh was my first teacher, and I am very happy to play the slow movement in his violin concerto. In my youth I toured Sweden from north to south as a soloist with both amateur and professional orchestras. My very first orchestra concert took place in my native village Hofors – at the age of 12, no prodigy as yet. I did not start playing the violin until I was 8, but at the age of 14, I made my debut with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. The same year I received the King Gustaf VI Adolf’s “King’s Scholarship”, as the only musician among writers and scientists etc. In my youth I also played duo with both Lars Roos and Kerstin Hindart. But my happiest years in Stockholm were the two years as a pupil of Otto Kyndel in chamber music. I had a string quartet with Gunnar Crantz, presently head of the Music Conservatory in Falun, also featuring Lars-Gunnar Bodin on viola, later to become member of the Fresk Quartet. During these years Sven Karpe was my violin teacher.

In the summer of 1965 Herbert Blomstedt asked me if I would like to join the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra on their three week tour by boat from Trondheim up to the Russian border. Öyvind Fjeldstad also conducted the orchestra, which was in itself an experience for me. In “Ackis”, the Royal Music Academy, I was the concert master and Blom-stedt, the teacher of conducting, was a very stimulating musician for us youngsters. The last term in 1965 I got the most prestigious prize for a music student, the so called Wachtmeister scholarship of 10 000 Sw. crowns, a lot of money at the time.

After my diploma and debut I went to Lucerne in Switzerland to continue my studies. What I learnt there was the bases of the German lan-guage and also of slalom, which in itself was useful! I also profited by this stay being for two years a member and a soloist in the Festival Strings of Lucerne, where the conductor was Rudolf Baumgartner. During these three years in Lucerne I made my first recording, Peterson-Berger’s Violin Concerto and Romance, only 20 years old.

Two years later I won the The Norden Associations’ String Competition in Sweden, and was selected to represent my country in the final round in Aarhus, Denmark. There I played the Sibelius Violin Concerto and won the 1st prize. Magnus Enhörning, head of the Swedish Radio music department and member of the jury, offered me the post as Concert Master in the Radio Symphony Orchestra.

Unfortunately my bowing was so imperfect that I dared not accept this flattering offer. So, in the spring of 1970, at the age of 22, I arrived in Brussels and a whole new chapter in my life as a violinist began. Through the Walloon descendant Pierrou, the family was taken back to Belgium, after 350 years in Sweden.

The Gertler method: start from the beginning! To be 22 years old and start anew, with a new technique late in life, is very hard. Many painful memories of “how not to play” remain, and they will never disappear completely. I had to forget the old way of playing and learn the new, which is easier than to forget – very, very slowly new positive thoughts started appearing. In spite of everything, these studies with André Gertler at the Conservatory in Brussels were fantastic. He helped me to be born again. The first step was my diploma in March 1972 (conductor Silveer Van den Broeck), and that same year I won the ARD International Competition in Munich.

My first contact with Hungary came in the summer of 1970, when I studied my Kreutzer etudes for Gertler at his Bartók seminar and course. The other participants played Bartók’s wonderful music all day long. Meanwhile I practiced my etudes six hours per day. This summer rendered fantastic memories outside the violinistic: the incredibly beautiful Budapest.

This contact with Hungary lasted over 20 years. I won the Szigeti Competition in 1973, and later I was Gertler’s assistant in his yearly Bartók activities in Budapest and Szombathely. In 1989 I played L-E Larsson’s Violin Concerto with the Radio Orchestra in Budapest. In 1992, I and my Belgian duo partner Eugène De Canck gave a concert in Papa, Hungary – on the very day and with the same program as André Gertler and Béla Bartók had played 60 years earlier, with works of Beethoven and Bartók.

To pass through the entrance of the Liszt Academy, and to feel the traditions from the old masters, such inspiration! My teacher, André Gertler had himself as a little boy been a pupil there of József Bloch, later of Hubay, and in composition for Kodály and in chamber music for Leo Weiner. For me, this is where the bonds Sweden–Belgium–Hungary are woven together. Gertler’s teacher Hubay was professor in Brussels 1882 to 1886. The Hungarian state donated a statue of Hubay to the Conservatoire Royal de Musique in Brussels in 1976. To celebrate the occasion Gertler organized a concert with three of his students (Rudolf Werthen, Joshua Epstein and myself) in violin concertos by Vieuxtemps, Joachim and Hubay. In this box is immortalized my part of the concert in Hubay’s beautiful Violin Concerto (particularly the third movement). Also present were my dear parents.

Willem Kersters and I became colleagues at Conservatorium Maastricht, and we usually stayed at the same cozy little Hotel Limburgia, three kms outside town. We dined there superbly, also. One evening after a long workday I timidly asked if he would consider writing a violin concerto. The answer is recorded here! Technically the first version was not so advanced, so luckily Gertler helped us to elaborate on the violin part. Sadly he was already blind; he sang the part and I wrote down the notes as best I could and sent the result to Kersters who generously accepted most of our suggestions. The result is, I think, a fantastic violin concerto, beautiful and brilliant. What more can you ask? I’m happy it has been preserved here. Curiously enough the conductor in Hubays concerto, René Defossez, was the teacher of Silveer Van den Broeck, conductor in the Kerster concerto.

Between 1980 and 1983 I was fortunate enough to play in a string quartet again – and not any quartet! Gertler had had a famous quartet 1931–1951, and in London 1945 they did among other pieces the first European performance of Bartók’s sixth string quartet. Now Gertler wanted to play quartet again and invited three young musicians, Erwin Schiffer (viola), Roel Dieltiens (cello), and myself (violin 2). These three years were to be Gertler’s last years as performing violinist. His eyesight was getting worse and he played with very much enlarged notes. But to me these years were the peak of my life as a musician! The year of 1982 celebrated Kodály’s 100 year anniversary, and together Dieltiens and I performed in Brussels the great duo for violin and cello. And Gertler, once a pupil of Kodály (who advised his pupil to become a composer instead), helped us to find the right style of the tradition.

The connection Sweden–Belgium–Hungary is also evident by the fact that Gertler (now a Belgian citizen) was invited to instruct the strings of the newly founded  Radio Orchestra in Stockholm, where he spent two three-months periods. Here was born the idea with L-E Larsson’s Violin Concerto. Gertler gave its first performance and recorded it in 1952. He also gave Larsson technical advices in the shaping of the violin part, and the cadence was written by Gertler. He told me that he as a young boy first came into contact with Swedish music via Tor Aulin’s Gavott, which he liked very much.

After moving to Belgium in 1928 Gertler became a pupil of Ysaÿe in Brussels. One evening he visited his master after a certain Yehudi Menuhin had been there. Ysaÿe said that he had told him and his father that it would be best for the son not to give any concerts for two years but to go on studying. Ysaÿe saw the defects in the young Yehudi’s bowing. But the father refused to listen. For the rest of his life Menuhin had terrible problems with his bow arm.

I am grateful that I came to Gertler and his method, which saved me to a happy life with my violin and my music. It has enabled me to play these marvelous pieces by Bartók, Kodály, Gertler, Hubay, Ysaÿe, Bloch, Legley, Söderlundh, Kersters and Aulin – all of them in direct or indirect contact with each other and with me.

Gertler got the idea to the title From the history of the sonatas, when he thought that I practiced too little! Furthermore, a fifteen year cooperation with Eugène De Canck ought to be celebrated. Off we went: from October 1984 till March 1985 we gave one concert per month, all in all 19 different works, from Bach to Schönberg and Webern. First a full rehearsal in Maastricht at the conservatory, where we both worked and where Eugène was pianist in my class. (How fortunate for my students to have a pianist who knew everything after having spent 25 years with Gertler and in his class!). The concerts then took place in Brussels, in the studio of the famous artist Marcel Hastir (1906–2007), on the fourth floor. The audience got a bit of exercise as well.

Nilla Pierrou, Rättvik 2011