Interview with Cosima Soulez-Larivière, 1st prize winner at the Bartók World Competition

21. September 2017

Joie de vivre, professional accuracy and a wide range of interests – these are the traits of the portrait of Cosima Soulez-Larivière, the winner of the Bartók Competition and Festival. Here is an interview with the extraordinarily talented young musician:

How did music become the centre of your life?

I don’t come from a professional musical family, but all my family members are fervent music lovers. My mother used to play the piano for ten years and she would often take us, my brother and me, to classical concerts. We started to play the violin with the Suzuki method, which taught us to greatly enjoy music-making. I was eight when I was admitted to the Yehudi Menuhin School of Music, so I stayed in Britain for a long time. During my time there, I was exposed to a lot of chamber music and orchestral playing, and I could as well of course, build on my own solo violin playing. I currently live in Germany and am studying with Krzysztof Węgrzyn, at the Hanover University of Music, Drama and Media. 

Why did you decide to apply to take part in the Bartók World Competition?

I had never heard of a competition labelled with Bartók’s name. I looked at the programme, which encouraged the competitors to actually play Bartók’s works, and I liked it very much. Having been at the Menuhin School, Yehudi Menuhin is of course close to me and he in turn had a close collaboration with Bartok; one of his greatest achievements is the commissioning and performing of the Sonata for Solo Violin by Bela Bartók. Menuhin found in him a deep emotion and pathos that mimicked his own. I started studying folk music and folk dance, I listened to earlier interpretations of Bartók’s works, and I made up my mind: even as a Western-European musician, I would try to get in tune with the „Eastern-European soul” as much as I could.  

And you did manage…

Yes, I did in fact come closer to this culture. I used to know a Bulgarian violinist who conveyed a lot from her folk culture to me. I can see the connection between that and Bartók’s music, which I would like to study even deeper to put it across as genuinely as possible. I have not yet played his Sonata for Solo Violin, but it is definitely a big wish of mine.   


Photo: Liszt Academy / László Mudra


To what extent is folk music cultivated in your home-country, France?

I cannot say I know very much about French folk music but rather a little more about the British folk tradition. I also have an Irish friend who has taught me a lot about the Irish folk violin techniques and traditions. But no matter which culture we are talking about, the main task for a musician is to get in tune with the soul, the spirit of the  composer and the countries’ culture and traditions.  

What is your perception of Bartók’s music?

He is a source of inspiration to me. Although at first, his music is difficult to grasp, it is highly complex, yet step by step, you can get closer to him. Even the way he looked reflects the beauty of his soul. Unfortunately, Bartók is no longer alive, but through his music, much of his personality is disclosed, for example that he was introverted and extraordinarily sensitive.

How long did it take you to prepare for the Competition?

I played Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D major last year and Mozart’s Violin Concerto in G major some years ago, so I could concentrate more on Bartók’s Rhapsody No. 2 and his Sonata for Violin and Piano No.1 which were of course new and exciting challenges.


Photo: Liszt Academy / László Mudra


Do you think that the Bartók World Competition and competitions in general bring fame to musicians? 

Opinions vary on this question. I think there are so many competitions and competitors today, that even if you participate in one, it may be of little consequence, as two years later you may be already forgotten. What matters is what you then do with your new connections, challenges and talent.

And it is definitely important for musicians to have a good manager.

I definitely helps to have someone around, who motivates you, makes the necessary arrangements and resolves problems you don’t have to time for. Most of us would happily have someone like that! My mother helps me a lot; she knows what I’m in, what I go through. My brother too is very close to me; we often play together, share the same experiences. I am really lucky to have such a supportive family.

Did you have time to get to know the other contestants?

I would have loved to listen to them, but I needed to focus completely on myself. I talked a little with the finalists and some of the other contestants, but one is  basically very much in one’s own world. I will devote some time to the city, though, in the two days left before I leave. (Cosima Soulez-Larivière left Budapest on 20 September.).

What are your future plans?

I will be playing the Beethoven Violin Concerto in April. In his works, there are so many shades of emotions that it is highly challenging, and it is important to keep revisiting it. I have two more years left of the BA programme, and the term starts after my return to Germany. I plan to continue with a Master’s Degree, but I don’t yet know what the future has in store for me. 


Photo: Liszt Academy / László Mudra