PARIS – Already a star on the European concert circuit, Siberian cellist Tatjana Vassiljeva is setting her sights on the United States. “I’m ready for new challenges,” she says. “I’m seeking engagements there now.”
Vassiljeva’s career has skyrocketed since she dazzled judges three years ago at Paris’ Rostropovich competition to win the prestigious grand prize. “My life changed almost overnight,” the 28-year-old says in an interview after a recent solo recital at Salle Gaveau here.
She’s released three albums in as many years on Universal’s Accord label, the most recent of which contains many of the most-challenging compositions for the cello. And her concert performance schedule is full, with a host of European engagements.
Underscoring her growing reputation, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton lent her a Stradivarius as part of its artistic patronage program. (She also plays a 1690 Hieronymus Amati.)
On stage, Vassiljeva has presence, filling auditoriums with a sound that is both delicate and powerful, romantic and reasoned. Fashion sense isn’t foreign to her either. At the Salle Gaveau, audience members were overheard admiring her fetching strapless black gown.
“It’s not easy to find the right dress,” she says. “It has to be flattering, and I have to be able to move. People forget how physically demanding the cello is.” Indeed, in her recital, she played some tricky compositions for the instrument, including works by Henri Dutilleux, Bach’s “1st Cello Suite” and Zoltan Kodaly’s “Op. 8 Sonata.”
“It’s the most difficult for cello,” says Vassiljeva of the last. “It pushes you to the limit. I like that. There are so many expressive thoughts. You feel the importance of expressing your emotions. You feel the magic.”
Born in Novosibirsk in Russia’s Siberia, Vassiljeva started playing at age six, pushed by her piano teacher mother. As her precocious talent emerged, she moved to Moscow and later Munich for more advanced studies.
She currently lives in Vienna with her boyfriend. “I still practice six hours a day, but it’s nothing close to how much I practiced before,” she explains. “Now I have more time to live.”
Music remains her obsession, though. Among her ambitions is to work with living composers on new music for the cello. “The repertoire for cello is not as rich as [that for] the violin or the piano. It’s important to play new music,” she argues.
She also would love to play with Alfred Brendel, the legendary pianist. “I like order and emotion,” says Vassiljeva. “I’m drawn to music that you can feel but that also makes you think.”