Ada Witczyk
Ada Witczyk

When Ada Witczyk was 3 years old, she saw violinist Vanessa-Mae on TV. After that, Witczyk started, in her words, “nagging” her parents for a violin. She got one when she was 6 and went to a state-sponsored music school in Poland. Her parents weren’t musicians, so she didn’t grow up with music at home, but she always loved it.

“I always just liked the sound of music, and especially if it’s not something that people around you do, it’s like your own thing,” Witczyk said. “Then you have a new group of friends who do the same thing with you.”

Witczyk says she doesn’t like to be bored. This aversion seems to have kept her motivated creatively, from taking up the Baroque violin to making short classical music videos on YouTube, sponsoring a composition contest during the pandemic, and recording an album, New Baroque, coming out Jan. 26.

CD cover

After finishing high school in Poland, Witczyk went to London, drawn by the historical performance scene. She studied at the Royal College of Music before completing a master’s at the Royal Academy of Music. One day, she saw a friend playing with a funny-looking bow and asked him to give her lessons. She felt this instrument was completely different than her previous experience of the violin and liked how expressive the Baroque setup seemed.

“The instrument is built differently. It’s stripped of all the modern parts, so it’s very simple, like a prototype of a modern violin, [without] the chin rest and the shoulder rest,” she said. “But because the strings are made of guts, and the tension of the string is lower, and the instrument inside is also supported differently, when you put the violin on your body, you literally feel the tension, how it reacts, and it just has a completely different sound.”

That appealed to her. Witczyk says she’s never wanted to do what everyone else is doing, and after having played the core classical canon for 20 years, she wanted to go a different way.

That’s why when the pandemic hit and Witczyk and her partner, Nick Hardisty, were in London, basically “sitting on the sofa,” they decided to have a composition competition (now named the Růžičková Composition Competition after harpsichordist Zuzana Růžičková) to inspire new music. They asked for compositions for Baroque violin and harpsichord, and they’re now holding the competition annually, receiving applications from all over the world. Witczyk used social media to get the word out — as well as YouTube videos made by a friend, Simon Helbling, to promote the competition and present performances of each year’s winning pieces.

Witczyk says she wants the videos to act as a bridge to classical music for people who find the tradition intimidating and think they need training to understand it.

“If you go to my YouTube, where we uploaded the competition videos, there’s hundreds and hundreds of comments that say, ‘You know what, normally I don’t listen to classical music, or it’s not something that I know how to approach, but I really liked this piece of music,’” she said.

For her album, Witczyk has commissioned some of the competition winners to write new pieces. She says she’s excited but also a little scared to see her recording out in the world, the way she thinks an expectant parent might feel.

“I can’t imagine because I don’t have children,” she said. “But when you have a baby, you spend so much time taking care of them and thinking how to best help them. Then, of course, you love your project, and you love what you’ve created, but you don’t know what people will think about it.”