High BSO standards bring violinist Vadim Gluzman back to Poole

Vadim Gluzman, the Israeli virtuoso violinist, recently visited Poole for two performances of Glazunov’s Violin Concerto with Kirill Karabits conducting the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Between concerts he met Paul Jordan, the FTR’s Classical Music reviewer.

Vadim Gluzman Photo: Marco BorggreveVADIM Gluzman is firmly up there amongst the elite group of international violinists. Now in his early forties, he is in his prime. He has already performed with most of the world’s leading orchestras, and is about the add the Berlin Philharmonic to the list. Now “finding out how to dance”, as he put it, with the BSO’s principal conductor Kirill Karabits has proved to be a stimulating new experience. And collaborating with a conductor younger than himself is no longer the shock it was on his very first visit to Poole, years ago.

What brings him back to Poole time after time is his faith in the standards achieved by the orchestra. He believes that orchestras which record as regularly as the BSO maintain reliably high standards of playing. And in Poole he “doesn’t have to get acquainted with the first oboe, with the concert master” because he already knows them.

I asked Vadim whether he thought Glazunov, a Russian composer whose life straddled the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, had been rather unfairly neglected. He thought not: his best pieces are still in the repertoire. But the problem is possibly Glazunov’s failure to develop. “He had the misfortune to write what he wrote too late – he became stuck in the nineteenth century, and the Violin Concerto, for all its rather unsuccessful structural experiments, remains a thoroughly nineteenth century piece despite being composed in 1904-05”. Even in 1918, as the Russian Revolution raged around him, Glazunov remained in a sort of time capsule. Vadim compared him to Bruch, another musical conservative who outlived his era and produced a gorgeous and accessible concerto for the violin.

Vadim is cheerful and upbeat about the future of classical music. He accepts that the audience is drawn largely from older people – “It was always like that” – and recounts that friends who would never have come to his concerts ten years ago are now firm enthusiasts. Rather than dwelling on the one third of the Lighthouse that was unoccupied for his concert, he celebrated the two thirds that contained an enthusiastic and attentive audience – and that for a concert with no obvious crowd-pullers in the programme. And he detected the vital “electricity” that is the audience’s contribution to a great performance. He felt “anticipation in the air. Although the Glazunov is appealing and lovable from the first note, most of the audience didn’t know what to expect”. He thought the house was better than for the popular Bruch concerto he had such fun playing last year with his old friend Andrew Litton conducting. But once the performance begins, he’s less aware of the audience – “I’m busy”, he says, with masterly understatement.

Vadim is a firm believer in getting into schools and enthusing children about classical music. But this activity is to be seen as sowing seeds: “We can’t expect a tree to appear the next morning, but maybe in twenty years…”. Vadim is a parent himself. His ten-year old daughter Orli is learning the violin, but somewhat to his relief she does not at this stage see herself as a professional musician. Vadim is content to see her as a future audience member. Already at six she was shushing people who mistakenly applauded between the movements at one of her parents’ concerts.

The conversation moved on to Vadim’s violin.Vadim Gluzman Photo: Marco Borggreve

He plays the Auer Stradivarius, an instrument which was made in 1689 and is on loan from the Stradivari Society of Chicago. He has had the violin for 17years, and is clearly totally attached to it, despite having had to patiently adapt to its idiosyncrasies over a period of a few years “until we were one”. Remarkably, the instrument was used by the Hungarian maestro Leopold Auer in the very first performance of Glazunov’s Violin Concerto in 1905. Vadim firmly believes that violins of this quality almost have minds of their own: he told of a remarkable experience with another Stradivarius, the one used by Itzhak Perlman. When he played it “it was not me. It was as if it was playing itself. I know when I apply the bow to the strings what should come out but what came out was something I was not intending.” He compared the experience to “putting your hand into a puppet and then it comes alive.” He speculated that something of Perlman’s sound was still there – “some kind of memory, vibrations”. No wonder that on his walks on and off stage he holds his own precious violin high above his head to prevent any chance of accidents.

A great champion of new music, Vadim believes that it is the duty of musicians to play contemporary compositions: “If we don’t try, we won’t find”. I asked him if he had a particular recommendation from the many new compositions he has premièred. After a moments’ thought he said “Michael Daugherty’s Fire and Blood concerto – it’s fantastic, really fantastic – gorgeous, exciting and very audience-friendly”. BSO programmers, please note. He also mentioned that Lera Auerbach, a Russian composer who is a friend and contemporary, is working on a “typically Russian megalomaniac project”: a concerto for violin, orchestra and chorus. “The BSO has a chorus I think…”, he says.

We ended our conversation with Vadim about to take a call from an Arizona radio station for another interview. The life of an international soloist has its downsides as well as its triumphs: Vadim is acutely aware of missing important events in Orli’s childhood due to the nomadic lifestyle of a virtuoso, with concerts in Seoul, Moscow, St Petersburg, Tucson, Berlin and Santa Fe, all before the new year.

But as he says: “There’s nothing else I can do, this is who I am.”

And for a man who was born in Ukraine, grew up in Latvia, moved to Israel as a teenager, had further periods living in Siberia, Texas and New York, and now has homes in Chicago and Israel (which is ‘home’) that must be a valuable discovery.

Paul Jordan