Twenty-two year old, violinist Leila Josefowicz believes that the survival of classical music depends on its ability and willingness to break out of its traditions.
"I think the most important thing, in whatever you do, whether you're in some other business than music or not, is always to be true to yourself... always," Josefowicz said, "because I grew up sort of in a very 'traditional' classical environment, where you're taught that the important things that you have to aim for are the Carnegie Hall performances, etc. and to go to this school and study with these people. In the end the most exciting thing about music making for me, is to listen to jazz and rock and to learn from those different elements of music and kind of bring it all together. To me, music should be without so many boundaries and without so many borders."
Josefowicz first came to national attention when she made her Carnegie Hall debut performing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in 1994, and shortly later recorded it with them. Since then, she has been touring the world non-stop. This season sees her debut at Chicago's Ravinia Festival and with the Indianapolis and Seattle Symphonies, as well as recitals from Washington, D.C. to Berlin. On her sixth CD, Americana, which was released on October, she tackles American works by Gershwin, Scott Joplin and even Charlie Chaplin's theme for the movie "Modern Times."
Josefowicz maintains that classical music's future will depend on its ability to take in influences from other genres.
"My husband has this group called Absolute Ensemble and through that ensemble I'm meeting completely new composers every month at least; meeting new people who can bring new energy and life into classical music," Josefowicz said. "Their influences are just compounding the classical scene — world music, rock, jazz, R&B, hip-hop — everyone is listening to this stuff now. There's basically no way you can lock yourself in a room with candlelight only and not hear the sirens outside. It's a part of life now. Our technology is a part of our lives and everything that comes with that is a big influence."
One of Josefowicz's recordings, "Violin for Anne Rice," includes renditions of Saint-Saen's Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso as well as Sting's "Moon Over Bourbon Street." She says that she is also influenced by Miles Davis and dreams of working someday with electronica producer William Orbit, or doing an album with Icelandic singer Bjork.
"What I'm so excited about is that I'm fully convinced I can carry my listeners to the next step," she said. "[We] can't be waiting around for anyone's go ahead. The people out there who really made waves in any field were the ones who were going ahead and doing totally what they wanted to do.
"Even Beethoven in his time was considered pretty much as a rock star, but also pretty weird. People thought he was pretty far-out and wrote pretty strange music, compared to what else was written at that time. I mean, holy cow! When you listen to [Beethoven's] late string quartets they sound like they could have been written now. It's really psychotic — in the best sense."
Josefowicz sees herself as part of a movement that is setting the stage for the next generation of classical music audiences and believes "we're kind of ready for a changeover [of generations] and it's going to cycle around." Recently, she has begun to conduct master classes and showcases at universities.
"That's probably one of the most inspiring things I've done," Josefowicz said. "I'm talking to people my age and telling them ideas. Music is expression through sound — we can't forget that — it's about reaching our emotions and touching other people with expression, with emotion. In this business people tend to forget about that. And to see the wheels turning, to be talking and seeing their faces and see what I'm telling them is making a huge difference. Whether I reach one person that way or 30, I don't obsess about it. What makes me so happy is to know that I'm making a difference."
She also said that the next classical generation will come from new composers who believe, like herself, that the traditional boundaries of musical genres are irrelevant.
"The music that's being written now, to me, is so incredibly exciting because it's without boundaries, without limitations, without traditions and rules, and I find that incredibly exciting," she said. "I think music is going in one of the most exciting directions now. People can't really predict [it], and that's what makes the traditionalists kind of scared, but I see that as very exciting. Because I see myself as one of the big torch holders for the next generation... I see that as sort of my duty — without sounding too militant.
"The key to the survival of classical music is to have an open mind. Unleash yourself from what you think you're supposed to like, what you thought you've liked and open your ears up. Buckle your seat belts; we're in for a whole new journey now which must happen. We've had these little growing pains, but I would never say that anything is nearing its end. This is the birth."