When Romanian violinist Maria Marica was young, the figure of George Enescu loomed large. “We all learn about Enescu in school,” she explains, “and everyone knows his name. Everyone especially knows his First Romanian Rhapsody, which I think annoyed Enescu a bit when he was alive! He didn’t think that his rhapsodies were very representative of his work.”

Maria Marica
© Alex Damian

So, there’s a sense of homecoming for Marica to win the 2022 Enescu Competition, which since its inception in 1958 has launched the careers of Radu Lupu, Elisabeth Leonskaja, and Silvia Marcovici. “Performing at home can feel like a lot of pressure, but I felt so loved and supported,” she says. “The audience was so warm, and I felt like they were there with me onstage and that I could take them on a journey with me every time I performed. To be able to come to Bucharest and play in the amazing Atheneum was an incredible experience, and I enjoyed it so much. Having the opportunity to play Enescu’s iconic Third Sonata in this hall, for me, was absolutely unbelievable.”

Enescu’s sonata, subtitled “dans le caractère populaire roumain”, has been a staple of the violin repertoire since its premiere in 1927. “Actually, it’s very new to my repertoire,” Marica admits. “I was scared of it for a long time, because it’s quite overwhelming when you see the score for the first time covered in notes and markings. But once you sit down and actually learn it, it plays itself. It comes very naturally to me, and maybe being Romanian helps, but Enescu’s details are there to help you play it as authentically as possible.”

This year, the Enescu Competition has had to change its format in light of the pandemic. “My very first thought when I saw that there was an online round was one of relief!” explains Marica. “The first round can be tricky sometimes, but then I realised how much harder it is to record all of this repertoire. Also, with the online round you don’t get to meet all of the other contestants, but when the twelve of us semi-finalists came to Bucharest together it was such a unique, lovely feeling – it was almost like a festival!”

The first live round was the semi-final, an hour-long recital with piano. “I started with Debussy’s Violin Sonata, which is a wonderful way to start a programme and pairs beautifully with Enescu,” Marica says. “Enescu lived in France for so long and had such an affinity to French culture, and Debussy’s world of fantasy paired really nicely with the purely Romanian character of Enescu’s Third Sonata. And after you finish playing the Enescu you’re completely exhausted – it’s so intense, deep, and strong. I was so tired by the end that for my final piece, Wieniawski’s Variations on an Original Theme, I simply treated it as an encore!”

Maria Marica
© Alex Damian

For the final round, Marica played Brahms’ iconic Violin Concerto with Wilson Hermanto conducting the George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra. “I love the piece so much,” she enthuses, “and it was my first time playing it with an orchestra! I had an incredible experience with my colleagues in the orchestra, some of whom I had known for a long time. They were so supportive, warm, and welcome, and I felt so comfortable onstage. I’ll never forget it!” I was struck by Marica’s interpretation of the concerto, radiant in tone without the usual heaviness. “It’s Brahms, but it’s a lighter, more Viennese Brahms,” she explains. “It’s not the heavy, life-and-death Brahms of the First Symphony, for instance. It has this lightness and serenity, and I like to bring out those aspects of the piece.”

What went through Marica’s head as she stepped offstage after performing the Brahms concerto? “I don’t think anything was going through my head! I was so out of it, and so tired. I was confident with the preparation I had done and I felt great on stage, so at that point, I felt that I had done what I could and that it was out of my hands at that point!” And the moment she was announced as the winner? “Overwhelmed! There were so many things going on, and so many people wanting to talk to me at the same time. I think it will still take me a little while longer to process everything that’s been going on, but it’s a huge joy.”

The Enescu Competition has kickstarted the careers of many of its laureates, a fact Marica knows well. “It’s all moved so fast!” she exclaims. “It was already announced onstage that I will be playing a concert in Vienna with cello section winner Benjamin Kruithof, which is an incredible opportunity. I’m sure more concerts will follow, and there’s so much exposure from a competition like this!”

As a Romanian violinist, how does Marica feel about her role as an ambassador for Enescu’s music? “When I was a teenager, I started performing more outside of Romania,” she explains, “and it was there that I started meeting so many people who told me how much they loved Enescu’s music. Beyond his music, so many people were also impressed by his personality and his warmth as a person, and also his talent as a violinist, pianist, composer, and conductor as well! He really did everything, and he did it all at the highest level possible. Sometimes I feel like he’s even more appreciated outside Romania than back at home!”

Hot off her competition success, Marica has a busy season ahead. “I’ll be headed back to Germany to finish my studies, but I’ll be travelling a lot this year. I have a lot of concerts in Romania this season, which I’m very thankful for. I’ll also be spending a lot of time in France, where I’ll be playing a lot of chamber music and orchestral music. I’m part of a very unique ensemble there, called Les Dissonances, which is always a breath of fresh air. I’m very lucky that I get to do all of these things!”

And what’s next? “There are so many things I want to play – it’s impossible to just pick one! Currently, I’m thinking a lot about projects I can put together, because I think that’s something my generation of artists needs to do. We need to be able to create our own projects, and to look around and see where we can help and find ways in which we can make ourselves useful beyond the concert hall. I’m blessed to have so many wonderful friends who are great artists and great people, and I’m sure together we can come up with many exciting things!”


This article was sponsored by the George Enescu International Competition.