The WSO Associate Concertmaster is nominated for his debut album of Ysaye's Six Sonatas for Violin.
This weekend the Canadian music industry is gathered in Hamilton, Ontario for the 2015 JUNO Awards. Manitoba is well represented in many categories including, of course, classical music. Stobbe's CD is up against Brandon's James Ehnes for Classical Recording of the Year: Solo or Chamber Ensemble.
Sara Krahn had the opportunity to sit down with Karl to talk about his album and his first nomination.
Karl Stobbe, Winnipeg's own celebrated violin virtuoso, would rather not be referred to as a "master of his craft." "Yeea, I'm not sure we can go that far," he said to me over coffee at a local joint. I had met with Stobbe to discuss his Juno-nominated recording of the 19th century Belgian violinist Eugene Ysaye's Six Sonatas for Solo Violin, and one of the first things I tried to do was flatter him with compliments about his "violin mastery" on the album. This is not Stobbe's style. "I've had people come up to me on occasion and tell me that I make it look so easy and, to be honest, I'm thinking "Man I hate you, do you have any idea how hard I've worked? I'd rather have my performance sound really difficult!""
There is a refreshingly honest comment. Most of us tend to assume that the aim of a virtuoso is to overwhelm audiences with their effortless ability. Stobbe happens to be a really great violinist, but that is not the point. The point is that, for him, music is a constant process of learning, reworking and interpreting. Terms like "master" and "effortless performing" can work to shortchange this process. Of course, most of us make these comments in an effort to bestow the highest praise on a musician. But Stobbe is tired of these kinds of words.
"I like the word gravitas," he said. "The performances I like best are the ones where you can feel the musician putting the world on their shoulders, and then throwing it at you - they have gravitas."
Gravitas, in this context, refers to a dignified or profound quality of playing. I think it is fair to say that Stobbe's recording of Ysaye's Six Sonatas has some of this gravitas, in addition to a great story.
When someone had initially suggested to Stobbe that he record all six of Eugene Ysaye's monumental sonatas, his response to them was, "You're nuts." According to Stobbe, it is rare for a violinist to play them all - only one other Canadian violinist has performed the full six in concert.
Eugene Ysaye takes up a mighty place in the history of violin performance. Famously hailed as "The King of the Violin," Ysaye demonstrated a profound understanding of the violin's technical and artistic potential in both his performance and composition.
To say that his Six Sonatas for Solo Violin, Op. 27 are merely showpieces undermines the extent of their violin wizardry.
"Ysaye imagines things on the violin that have never been thought of before, and applies a highly imaginative compositional creativity to it."
Each of the Six Sonatas is dedicated to a violinist colleague of Ysaye's, and composed in their corresponding styles. The Sonatas are a tour de force of the large, flexible tone and elegant virtuosity that characterizes Ysaye's work.
It is not difficult to understand why Stobbe is drawn to a composer/violinist like Ysaye. Ysaye's motto was "Nothing which wouldn't have a goal emotion, poetry, heart." Sounds a bit like Stobbe's gravitas.
Stobbe started playing the Six Sonatas when he was eighteen, and "fell in love with them." His initial plan was to perform one every summer as part of the concert series at the Winnipeg Millenium Library.
This plan took a different turn in 2013 after his mom - Linda Stobbe - passed away of breast cancer. Stobbe began using his mornings to practice the Sonatas as a form of therapy.
Linda Stobbe was a skilled pianist, and in the past had made a recording of some of Schumann's sonatas. Unfortunately there had been only one copy of the recording, and it was now lost.
Consequently, Stobbe began to wonder, "If I'm a performer, what is my legacy? What are my kids going to remember of me? Every morning i'm playing Ysaye, thinking about my kids, thinking about my mom, and I was like that's it."
The recording process took a total of six days spread out over three months. The resulting album is a spectacular feat, capturing both the stylistic detail and the overall enigma that characterizes Ysaye's work. Despite the album's success - it's up for a JUNO in the category of Classical Album of the Year: Solo or Chamber Ensemble - Stobbe says that it is unlikely he'll ever do another solo recording. "In the studio you can be a little riskier than you can on stage, but in many ways it's worse than the pressure of a performance - there are a lot more people involved in a recording process."
Too bad. But, c'est la vie, so be it. One recording chock full of gravitas is better than none.
The 44th annual JUNO awards will be hosted in Hamilton, Ontario this weekend over two nights. The live broadcast happenes Sunday night. Some of the other nominees for Classical Album of the Year: Solo or Chamber Ensemble include James Ehnes for Bartok: Chamber Works for Violin No. 3, and Angele Dubeau & La Pieta for Blanc.
Sara Krahn is a freelance contributor for Classic 107. She is a full time music student at Canadian Mennonite Calendar.