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Influences: Violinist Leila Josefowicz

April 4, 2012 | 10:12 am

Leila Josefowicz has played a large number of works over her 34 years, but the violinist has a special relationship to John Adams’ Violin Concerto, to which she returns this weekend. “It was really the piece that started me on what I do now, which is play new music," she says. "I’ve probably played it more than any other piece. The slow movement is one of the most beautiful slow movements in the violin repertory: It’s haunting the way John’s music can be.”

Born in Ontario, Canada, Josefowicz spent most of her childhood in Los Angeles, beginning the violin at age 3 and studying at the Colburn School before leaving with her family for the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. 

She has performed with orchestras around the world, recorded war-horse violin concertos by Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and others before committing much of her energy to new compositions by Adams, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Oliver Knussen, Thomas Adès and others. 

“Classical music has been based on works people love and come back to for aural comfort,” she says. “There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s gotten out of proportion.” New works ask for “different listening skills. It can make premieres very exciting and experimental. It’s an exploration.”

In her efforts performing and helping to commission new pieces, she says, “You feel like you’ve really contributed something.” 

The violinist, who is expecting her second baby at the end of May and who performs with the Los Angeles Philharmonic this weekend as part of a concert dubbed “Adams Conducts Adams and Glass,” speaks about her influences.

Violinist Gidon Kremer: What a brilliant player he is. And what he’s done for new music: bringing pieces by composers like [Alfred] Schnittke and Sofia Gubaidulina, from the Soviet Union, over the ocean. This is someone who for years I’ve been looking up to –- so much imagination and daring. And he can play anything –- older and newer. 

Led Zeppelin: Why them? There’s a sound in them that’s so electric –- there’s something that happens to me when I hear them that makes me want to play with the same abandon.

Esa-Pekka Salonen: He was an amazing inspiration for me, with that premiere that we did of his violin concerto, in his last few weeks as music director. A memory that I could only associate with L.A. It was the most unbelievable experience, to work with him on such an important piece. And the timing of the piece was so amazing, with everyone about to say goodbye the following week. It was the orchestra I grew up with –- watching him all those years. 

Will Ferrell: He makes me laugh so much. I think humor is important for all of us, and a great comedian is a great treasure.

Ian McEwan: He has an amazing sense of fate and destiny in his writing –- and irony. I’ve read most of his books, and had the pleasure of spending an evening with him and his wife in Oxford. He was so intriguing. I met him around the time of “On Chesil Beach,” and I couldn’t ignore the fact that [one of the novella’s main characters] is a violinist.

-- Scott Timberg

Leila Josefowicz with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Thursday through Saturday, Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 850-2000,

Photo: Leila Josefowicz. Credit: Deborah O'Grady