CELEBRATING MUSICA VIVA’S 70TH BIRTHDAY with special guest Maxim Vengerov

Maxim Vengerov (C) Rikimaru Hotta

with special guest Maxim Vengerov

Russian violinist Maxim Vengerov has been hailed as a modern day virtuoso. A violinist, conductor, educator, and UNICEF goodwill ambassador, he grew up in Siberia and commenced violin lessons at the age of four and a half. A child prodigy, he started touring at ten years of age. In 1990 he won the International Carl Flesch Competition in London, reinforcing his international reputation. Citing Daniel Barenboim and Mstislav Rostropovich as mentors, Vengerov regularly performs around the world performing numerous concerti and chamber recitals with the world’s leading orchestras, conductors and ensembles.

A recital of great tradition…

Now, for the first time in 15 years, Vengerov is returning to Australia to perform a special recital program for Musica Viva’s 70th Birthday Gala celebrations. It also marks his comeback to international concert touring.

“This is my third visit to Australia. The last time was very significant, personally, because it was during the 2000 Olympic Games, it was really wonderful to play in Australia.

“I have been to Sydney and Melbourne, both beautiful cities with wonderful audiences, I really love the country, I am enormously looking forward to my trip,” says Vengerov.

Musica Viva’s Artistic Director, Carl Vine has described Vengerov’s program as “one in the great tradition of violin recitals”.

“In the beginning of the 20th century it was very common for many of the great violinists to play long recitals, we are talking about three sonatas, and after this, the recital would start, this would just be a warm up,” he explained.

Included in Vengerov’s program are sonatas by Beethoven and Ravel alongside works by Paganini and Ernst. He likes to think of his recitals as similar to hosting a dinner party: “I tend to like the idea of recitals. I really love it because I can build my rapport with audiences. This is like being at home and hosting an audience for dinner. You start with the lovely appetisers, then the main course and so forth, and then you finish with dessert. The audience should feel embraced by the beauty of this music and I hope to create a very special atmosphere”.

The recital will commence with Bach’s famous Chaconne in D minor. Vengerov performed this beautifully haunting work in the BBC production, Holocaust: A Musical Memorial Film The program marked the 60th anniversary, on 27 January 2005, of the liberation of Auschwitz. It’s a truly emotional experience to watch Vengerov perform this work in the film.

Bach’s Chaconne in D minor is a work that is said to express the whole cycle of a life. “The Chaconne is probably one of the greatest testaments of music, written for violin solo,” says Vengerov. “There has been a lot of research being done that Bach has actually encrypted all of the names of his family into his works (including members who have passed away) it’s a very tragic work for himself, it’s very dear, one can hear that. It is a very strong beginning to the concert,” he said.

Also included in the program is a work that Vengerov particularly enjoys: Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Piano. “Ravel is the great ‘classical’ composer of the 20th century in the Parisian School. His works, whether orchestral, chamber or solo , always display his mastery of colour – he was a visionary in this way,” says Vengerov, adding that he has a particular approach to the famous ‘blues’ movement of the sonata.

“There is a tradition of playing this ‘blues’ movement in a slightly faster tempo. I disagree with this faster approach as it takes away the greatest movement of the blues. You can imagine how Ravel envisioned the black people singing. The violin has to become a voice here,” he explains.

Joining forces with acclaimed Russian pianist, Roustem Saitkoulov, Vengerov says, “When we meet it is a great collaboration. As you might know, most of the great sonatas are written for piano and violin, not the opposite.

“Very often the piano commands and starts the character… For me, it’s very important to have a leading partner, as well as a wonderful accompanist. Saitkoulov’s way of “colouring the keyboard” is quite unique, according to Vengerov.

Vengerov’s life partner

Vengerov describes his instrument, a 1727 ‘Ex-Kreutzer’ Stradivarius, which he purchased in 1998 at a Christies auction in London as “a life partner in music”. He describes the Stradivarius as “a very beautiful and special instrument, for its sound”.

The ‘golden period’ of Stradivarius instruments was from around 1700-1723, “but, the later period, which starts in about 1725 when Stradivarius was already an older man… changed the model to build a stronger violin both in voice and colouring”, according to Vengerov.

“My violin has a very deep colouring. In one word, this instrument is a Chameleon, it is just about able to create any colour that music needs,” he said.

A few years ago Vengerov took a short break from the violin for artistic reasons; an event that he says has made him a better musician.

“I’m not an exception in the history of a soloist’s career to take a break. Paganini, for example took five years to build his technique and his views to reinforce his knowledge in music,” he explains.

“As artists, we need some time to reinvent ourselves to reinforce our knowledge of the music and reinforce our love for what we do. After each concert we need time to rethink, recharge to go again with the same passion.

“The break that I took was necessary for me and was one of the greatest things that I have attained, along with conducting and teaching experiences.

“This language that I have spoken since I was four and a half has a renewed energy and I now love the violin more than I did before, that’s for sure,” says Vengerov.

In 2007, following in the footsteps of his mentor, the late Mstislav Rostropovich, Vengerov turned his attention to conducting. In 2010 he was appointed the first chief conductor of the Gstaad Festival Orchestra and in June 2014 he ‘officially’ graduated as a conductor with a diploma of excellence from the Moscow Institute of Ippolitov-Ivanov with professor Maestro Simonov.

Being in the role of a conductor offers Vengerov a different perspective from that of a performer and actually enhances his understanding as a musician.

“When I play concertos now with an orchestra I have a different experience working with conductors as it gives me an understanding of the challenges faced by orchestras and conductors.

“It becomes a much richer experience, as compared to before when I didn’t know about the challenges of accompanying a soloist,” he says, adding that knowing how it feels from “the other side” makes it easier to find a “common language”.


Music for the World

In 1997 Vengerov was made UNICEF’s Goodwill Ambassador. In fact, he is the first classical musician in history to be bestowed this position. The role forms an important part of Vengerov’s life and allows him to follow his firm belief in education, particularly music education, and perform for many disadvantaged children around the world.

“In today’s world there a number of children who suffer malnutrition, a basic need. Also, in many parts of the world children’s rights have been violated. First of all UNICEF stands to support these children,” said Vengerov.

“But above those elementary things (food and rights) there is education. Education is the key to success to build healthy societies in the world.”

Vengerov believes in the importance of music as a universal language and how it can break down barriers.

“It can melt the biggest ice caps in the world,” he says. “I learned from my mother who was a children’s choir conductor. She built a beautiful school inside the orphanage and rescued many kids from the street, she offered them hope by giving them the opportunity to sing and play musical instruments.

“That is why I am very lucky when I play for children all over the world. I was able to travel to remote islands of Thailand and East Harlem, for instance. Working with these kids in this way is very inspiring, and has helped me shape who I am as an artist,” said Vengerov.

“Music is an art that is very compassionate, and it can be very healing to people to ease and heal their emotional wounds.”
– Samuel Cottell

Concert Hall Musica Viva celebrates its 70th birthday with a gala recital tour by superstar violinist Maxim Vengerov and Roustem Saitkoulov on piano.

When: Thu 10 Dec, 7pm
Where: Sydney Opera House
Web: musicaviva.com.au

This artice was the cover story from Fine Music Magazine October edition. To read the complete magazine click here

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