Janine Jansen: “My violin is my voice, I always take it with me on board”
Janine Jansen (39) is an internationally acclaimed Dutch violinist who has gained renown as a soloist. She often travels long-distance. And when doing so her violin, a Stradivarius dating from 1707, is always within reach. KLM flew Janine and her beloved violin to China where she performed with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, conducted by Daniele Gatti.
I spoke with Janine shortly before she met with the conductor for her first rehearsal of the violin concerto “Dem Andenken eines Engels” by composer Alban Berg, which is one of her favourites. As we drank rose tea together on the couch, we discussed humidifiers, massages, tuning keys, boundlessness, connection, the power of classical music, and, of course, KLM.
What’s on Janine Jansen’s packing list?
“My violin, two bows, about thirty spare strings, rosin and lots of sheet music.”
KLM Cargo will be handling the orchestra’s instruments for the trip to China. Will your violin be among them?
“No, I always take my violin and accessories along on board. My violin means everything to me. It’s my ‘voice’. That’s why I never take any risks. I have a special violin case for transport, which is lightweight, waterproof and very durable. You can drive a car over it, they say, without damaging the violin! That thought puts my mind at ease when I’m travelling.”
How do you ensure that your instrument is always close by when you travel?
“I always try to get on board early. That way I can ensure the violin is never out of my sight and always within reach. Fortunately, my violin meets all the rules for hand-luggage, which means it usually isn’t a problem.”
Why is it so important that your instrument isn’t transported in the baggage hold?
“Apart from the risk – however small it maybe – of losing the violin and not being able to perform, the aircraft hold is much too cold. Places that are too cold or too dry are disastrous for the instrument. They affect the sound and quality of the violin, which really needs to be kept in stable humidity. That’s why I always keep humidifiers at home and in my hotel rooms. There are also humidifiers you can put in your violin case while travelling, but I find them a bit risky. What if it leaks?”
Truth or nightmare: you arrive at your destination and your violin is damaged or, worse still, breaks while you’re there…
“A true nightmare. I’ve experienced this. I once was tuning my violin before a concert in Japan and one of the tuning keys broke off. Not just a bit, so that you can improvise repairs, but completely. We fortunately found a violinmaker that managed to get the remains of the old tuning key out of my violin and had an identical key to replace it. You can imagine how relieved I was that we found the perfect violinmaker and my show saver!”
You’ve been playing violin since you were six. Have you always used the same instrument and is it now set to your hand?
“An instrument definitely adjusts to its player. This may sound strange, but you get to know one another. It’s a mutual thing. The more you play, the better you recognise certain sounds. I’ve had my current violin, which is named after its former owner Rivaz Baron Gutmann, for a year and half, on loan from Dextra Musica. Before that, I spent 15 years playing the Barrere Stradivarius dating from 1727.”
You have your instrument on loan from Dextra Musica. How does that work?
“Dextra Musica is a Norwegian fund that buys musical instruments and then loans them to musicians. They were looking for an international face to be their ambassador. That’s me. A wonderful honour and a great opportunity, because in return for my beloved instrument, I run various coaching and chamber music projects with talented young Norwegians.”
You’ve played all over the world as a violinist and soloist. How do you ensure that your personal strings don’t snap?
“Two words: planning and rest. In the past, I regularly flew from Amsterdam to San Francisco and then on to Asia via Boston. That way of living eventually catches up with you and you really hit the wall, as I discovered. Nowadays, I make sure there’s enough time to rest between concerts. I live in Utrecht as well as Stockholm, so I really need to plan my travel and rest as best I can!”
You often travel long-distance and prefer to fly KLM. What does KLM mean to you?
“I feel at ease when I fly KLM. Wherever I am in the world, I always feel a lot closer to home when I board a KLM flight. The blue, the stewards and stewardesses, it all feels very familiar. In most instances, KLM is also the most practical option, because I can almost always catch a connecting flight immediately. And the fact that I don’t have to worry about my instrument definitely adds to the appeal.”
How do you relax after a long journey so that you are mentally and physically capable of playing strong solos?
“I’ll be arriving in China the day before the concert, because I know the jetlag usually hits me on the second night, not the first. I try to get as much sleep as I can and I eat and drink properly. If the hotel has a sauna or swimming pool, I’ll sometimes make use of it.”
When you arrive in China, do you go straight to a good massage parlour to get your muscles loosened up?
“Certainly not! There are a number of masseurs I trust. They know my body and I can be sure I won’t have any aches and pains the next day or the day after. When I play the violin, I adopt an unnatural pose. If the wrong muscle is affected during a massage, it will hamper my performance.”
This will be your second time performing with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in China. What are you looking forward to?
“When I first performed with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in China in 2012, classical music seemed to be a relatively new experience for the audience. People were messing around with their phones, taking calls and sometimes walking out to phone. It will be very interesting to see if those things have changed in recent years.”
Have you noticed differences in the way people experience classical music in different countries or on different continents?
“What I’ve noticed is that people respond differently to the music from place to place. That goes for the Netherlands too. Audiences in The Hague respond differently than those in the province of Brabant. That’s what I love about classical music, it connects all sorts of people. I often hear people saying that classical music should be less complex or more accessible, but really it already is! Classical music is boundless, uncut emotion. You don’t have to understand it; you just feel it!”
photo: Marco Borggreve