The entire Mills Concert Hall holds its breath when Viktoria Mullova turns a page. No one coughs or clears a throat. It’s a travesty when someone sneezes. (That was me. I’m sorry. I have allergies.)
The first thing you notice about Mullova are her arms. They’re bare and well-toned, the arms of a swimmer or a dancer. You wonder if it’s from all the violin-playing. She studied at the Central Music School of Moscow and at the Moscow Conservatoire; she won first prize at the 1980 International Jean Sibelius Violin Competition in Helsinki and the Gold Medal at the International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1982. Mullova has performed all over the world, including with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. She’s played enough violin to have achieved nice arms.
She performed three pieces Feb. 12, all of which were composed by Johann Sebastian Bach. The first one, the “Partita in E Major,” was light and airy, with the occasional repeating motif; something that might have been played at a dance. The second was the “Sonata in A Minor;” it began deep and grave, shifted into something lighter, then slowed into something dreamy. It ended on an exuberant note, an Allegro, which in Italian means “cheerful.” The third, a “Partita in D Minor,” was not dissimilar to the first in tone, but the final movement was amazing: Mullova rocked her bow back and forth and side to side on the strings, and it seemed like there were three violins on stage.
It’s like the violin is just another arm to her. If I played a Stradivarius-which she does, the “Jules Falk” Stradivarius-I would probably never take it out in public; actually, I’d be so afraid of something happening to it. Stradivarius violins can fetch millions of dollars. Sometimes, Mullova needed to turn the page using both hands because the pages were stuck together. The violin was left cradled between her chin and her shoulder. She appeared unconcerned. She and the violin are one; she plays with fluid ease, sometimes rocking back on her heels, the toes of her right foot pointing into the air.
After that stunning final movement, Mullova bowed and left the stage. The audience applauded and did not stop; then, the audience stood. Mullova came back on stage twice more. The final time, she wore a grin that made her seem ten years younger. When she’s cradling her violin under her chin she wears a serious, intent expression, her brows drawn low over her eyes.
Musically, there are certainly few things more blissful than sitting back, closing your eyes and letting Mullova’s violin wash over you. There’s something transformative about it.