Interview with violinist Tatiana Chulochnikova, the 2016 Jeffrey Thomas Award recipient

Jeffrey Thomas and Tatiana Chulochnikova

Jeffrey Thomas and Tatiana Chulochnikova. Photo: Gas Lamp Productions

American Bach Soloists created the Jeffrey Thomas Award in 2013 to honor, recognize, and encourage exceptionally gifted emerging professionals in the field of early music. In tandem with a cash prize, recipients are invited to perform with American Bach Soloists and ABS audiences have enjoyed the opportunity to hear previous recipients tenor Guy Cutting in Bach’s Magnificat and violoncellist Gretchen Claassen in a concerto by Leonardo Leo. This month the 2016 recipient of the award, violinist Tatiana Chulochnikova, will hold the spotlight in two thrilling showcases for her dazzling technique and bravura style: Bach’s beloved Violin Concerto in E Major and her own violin transcription of the famous “Toccata & Fugue in D Minor.” We asked Chulochnikova about her violin, her love of playing the music of Bach, and the upcoming program, “Bach Favorites.”

You were a participant in the inaugural ABS Academy in 2010. What impact did that experience have on your career?

“It was, without exaggeration, a life-changing experience for me. Not only did I learn a lot during that inspiring workshop, but I also met Maestro Jeffrey Thomas and other ABS musicians for the first time; it also turned out to be the beginning of my collaboration with this renowned ensemble which I consider one of my top career achievements so far.”

What was your reaction upon learning that you would be the recipient of the 2016 Jeffrey Thomas Award

“I felt privileged but also surprised and flattered, especially knowing how many exceptional young musicians attend the ABS Academy every year. It is a real honor to be acknowledged among them, and moreover, to be remembered after 5 years!”

Tell us a little about the works you will be performing with ABS at the “Bach Favorites” concerts, January 22-25.

“I will be performing two works by J.S. Bach: the Violin Concerto in E major and my transcription of the famous “Toccata & Fugue in D Minor” for organ. The violin concerto is a delightful piece with a very special 2nd movement. I remember hearing this particular movement performed at a lesson by one of my classmates back in Moscow many years ago. The music was so unbearably beautiful I could not stop the tears. Since then it has been my dream to play it one day. Well, dreams come true.”

Tatiana Chulochnikova

Tatiana Chulochnikova. Photo: Gas Lamp Productions

As a composer and performer, you are engaged with music representing many different styles and eras. What attracts you to the works of the Baroque?

“I think music history of the 20th century shows us that modern and contemporary composers are very much interested in the Baroque style and its aesthetics. There are hundreds of pieces by Modernist and Postmodernist composers that are inspired by the Baroque genres and forms, such as passacaglias, chaconnes, and fugues. It is, of course, a different musical language and treatment of harmony but in my opinion, the expression is similar in many ways. In fact, that was exactly the concept which gave me the idea for a solo recital program I am putting together where works from Baroque and contemporary eras will be juxtaposed to demonstrate the arc between the styles, which seem so far apart and yet have so much in common.”

What about the works of J.S. Bach? Is there anything different about your preparation or enthusiasm for performing his music?

“I believe J.S. Bach is one of the most difficult composers to play for a violinist. In sonatas and partitas his writing for violin is extremely complex and polyphonic. That’s why I think it’s impossible to understand everything in these pieces at the first exposure to them. But that is the fun part; every time one revisits this repertoire there is always something new and exciting to hear and to learn!”

Are there any areas of Bach’s music that you feel deserve greater attention? Any specific works you would like to perform more?

“It may seem that Bach’s music is regularly performed and recorded, but there is still room for discovery. Recently, I led the Washington Bach Consort in a performance of Bach’s Latin church music from his Leipzig period. We performed two of his “Short Masses” (in G and A major). Both are stunning works which are not performed often enough. Also, I must confess that I simply cannot resist programming the Chaconne [from Partita No. 2, BWV 1004] whenever possible. I think it’s impossible to get tired of this piece, …ever.

What Bay Area activities do you enjoy when you have free time between rehearsals and performances?

“I love exploring the city and its vibe, often with my camera—taking pictures is my hobby. San Francisco is a lovely place to be. I particularly enjoy running by the Bay while listening to Philip Glass who by the way, recently composed a Partita for Solo Violin which is clearly modeled after Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas, and even has a Chaconne. Pure Neo-Baroque!”

After your January performances with ABS, what is next for Tatiana Chulochnikova in 2016 and beyond?

“I am looking forward to a very busy spring. I am excited to be back for two more projects with ABS [Alexander’s Feast,” February 26-29; Easter & Ascension Oratorios,” April 22-25]. Also the Four Nations Ensemble, of which I am a member, will be presenting three concerts at the NYC’s Merkin Hall. This group is famous for its innovative programing, and this season will not be an exception! I will also be leading the Washington Bach Consort on several occasions for our “Bach Cantatas” and “Chamber Series” in downtown D.C., as well as other projects. Also, I am beyond excited to share the news that I have just finished recording my debut solo album. It will be the first recording of violin works by a very special, late 19th-century composer who happens to be from my hometown in Ukraine. Happy to share more details soon!”

The ABS audience loves The Musicians page in our programs because they also list the musicians’ instruments. Would you say a little bit about your violin?

“Interestingly, all my instruments and bows come to me when I’m not looking very actively, …and it’s always love at first sight. My Baroque violin was made in the 18th century by the German builder Joseph Hollmayr. It was converted back to its Baroque set-up by the previous owner. The violin I use for modern repertoire is a Stradivari model made by an anonymous builder from the early 20th-century.”

Hear Tatiana Chulochnikova perform at Bach Favorites, from January 22-25 in Belvedere, Berkeley, San Francisco, and Davis. After each performance you will have the opportunity to meet the violinist in the lobby of each venue. To purchase tickets for “Bach Favorites,” please visit or call (415) 621-7900.