Interview with Ada Pesch

Damn the Busses, Full Speed Ahead

American-born Ada Pesch is Artistic Director of the Baroque festival at Musikdorf Ernen, which she founded here in 2004. Musical ambition might well be Ada Pesch’s middle name, but you wouldn’t know it to speak to her. She arrived in a Federer baseball cap and bold «Valencia» T-shirt to talk to me between rehearsals. Conversing under the big tree in the middle of Ernen’s Dorfplatz, she was entirely non-plussed by the sound of departing busses and the hurried conversations of several passers-by.

Ada explained that she knew as early as from the time she began violin lessons at six years old that she wanted to be a concert violinist. In this short interview, however, our focus was more on the Ernen experience and the Baroque concerts pending.

This year, Ada, you’re sharing the directorship of the Baroque weeks with violist Deirdre Dowling. Why the change?
It came about because the number of baroque concerts changed from 3 to 5, which meant that much more work would be needed. And we’ve have worked together for some time, starting with the Bartoli tour and our work with Marc Minkowski. Deirdre has a lot of contacts in the baroque musicians world. She’s also very good at organization and has better computer skills than mine, so the partnership serves us all well.

Have improvements been made in the church since you started here at the Musikdorf 33 years ago?
Oh yes, there have been very good changes in the lighting. A lot of the clutter and cables on stage have disappeared. And, thankfully, the bathrooms have also been added, which was a big improvement.

You were only 22 when you took your first European appointment. Is that right?
Yes, and Hof was in Germany, but very close to the East German and Czech border. It was thought of as the end of the Western world. So coming to Zurich was really a switch.

How, today, is a post in a baroque configuration with period instruments different than having a permanent post in a city orchestra? You actually manage both.
In the baroque musicians’ world, there are no fixed jobs. Everybody is a freelancer, which means that players are always on the lookout for jobs. What’s more, the number of baroque musicians is smaller, so the audition process is simpler and less stringent than for the larger orchestras. Many baroque jobs are, in fact, still acquired through networking and word of mouth.

What do you treasure about the Baroque weeks here in Ernen?
Well, they make for an intense period every year, but by coming back again and again, I meet new people and continue learning.

And what are your criteria for selection of any concert’s repertoire?
The criteria? I would say a degree of diversity, a mix of well known and lesser known composers, a variety of colors among the works, and pieces that give us a chance to feature the talents of the individual players. Last night’s concert was a good example: the concert featured works highlighting solo recorder, violoncello, and a soprano, and works by Antonio Vivaldi were played alongside four far lesser-known Italian composers.

I seem always to see you here and in Zurich with a violin case on your back. How many violins do you actually own?
I guess six, but I use each for different purposes, depending on what music I’m playing.

What can you tell us about the instrument you’re playing here?
Not too much, really. It’s probably an 18h century make, but it’s hard to assign it to any one maker. I bought it from a player in Germany. As for the baroque bow, being as delicate as bows are, not many early ones have survived in good condition. So like me, most baroque players use high-quality reproductions.

Is it okay to drop in later this week to hear the group rehearse?
Sure. Come in anytime. The church door’s open, and we welcome listeners of all ages.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016, by Sarah Batschelet


American-born violinist Ada Pesch studied at the University of Indiana with Josef Gingold before taking master classes that György Sebök offered in the Swiss alpine town of Ernen. At an unprecedented 22 years, she landed the post of First Concertmaster of the Hof (Germany) Symphony Orchestra, and moved to Zurich in 1990 to join the Zurich Opera House orchestra in that same position. In 1996, and with select members of the opera’s orchestra, she was a founding member of the Baroque Orchestra La Scintilla, (“The Spark”) whose focus − in keeping with work she did with conductors Nikolaus Harnoncourt, William Christie and Marc Minkowski − is with period instruments. From the fall of 2005, she has led «La Scintilla» on numerous North American and European tours with mezzosoprano Cecilia Bartoli.  Earlier this year, she took the job of concertmaster of the «Les Musiciens du Prince baroque orchestra» that Cecilia Bartoli founded with her in Monte Carlo.