6 years ago

Volume 12 - Issue 7 - April 2007

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Recently in town Gidon

Recently in town Gidon Kremer IN coNvERSATION wnH PAMELA MARGLEsIt's November of last year, and a small groupis gathered upstairs at a Toronto music shop fora remarkable event. Violinist Gidon Kremer isrehearsing his trio for a concert at the PerimeterInstitute in Waterloo the next evening,and we have been invited to sit in. Kremer isreturning to Toronto with his chamber orchestra,Kremerata Baltica, for a concert on April18, and the presenter, Svetlana Dvoretskaia,has arranged this open rehearsal at Remenyi's.Squeezed into the small space is a concertgrand and a vibraphone. Kremer slips into theroom with no formalities. He addresses usdirectly, and introduces his colleagues, pianistAndrius Zlabys and percussionist Andrei Pushkarev.They are all dressed casually. Kremerexplains that they will likely speak Russian toeach other while they are rehearsing. 'Despitethe fact that we come from three differentcountries - Andrei is from Ukraine, Andrius isfrom Lithuania, and I myself am from Latvia -our common language is Russian because weare all children of the former Soviet Union.''Before a tour we need to refresh. So weare here to work, and you are very welcometo attend. We will play some pieces through,and with some we will stop in the middle towork on details. Afterwards, we will behappy to answer your questions. We can havesome nice conversation, I hope - not just amonologue, but a dialogue.'As the three musicians play through theirprogram, Kremer introduces each piece. Kremer'sgeniality offsets his intensity . His senseof humour is unexpected, and we are thoroughlycharmed. He is tall and lanky, and he moveswith elegance, like a dancer. After a recentconcert in London's Wigmore Hall, a Britishreviewer called him 'the greatest fiddleralive ' , though the writer did add the qualifier'arguably', before going on to also call Kremera 'genius'. A New York Times reviewerwas more sober, if also more cryptic, callinghim 'perhaps music's most original violinist' .I was unable to find a bad review of his playing.He seems not to care much about suchmatters, in any case .But audiences are clearly another matter forhim altogether, and his unmistakable desire tocommunicate draws us in immediately. He isgenerous, witty and passionate. He talks aboutthe unorthodox combination of instruments inthis trio. 'This ensemble just happened. We arenot a permanent trio. Andrius and Andrei playwith Kremerata Baltica, and Andrei will beinvolved when I come back here with my orchestrain April. I had played recitals with eachof them separately, and we play often togetherin different combinations, so I got this idea for atour of South America two years ago. This isthe start of our second tour. Maybe we will gettogether like this some day again, but now weexist just for these next two weeks.''It's not the sounds of the instruments thatdrew us together. I would explain it as asimilar approach to the music. We have similar12interests - we share the ideas, the curiosity.'Kremer's programs are invariably unusual.Sometimes he will concentrate on the music ofone composer in depth, like his recent recital ofthe three Brahms Sonatas for violin and piano.'It's like walking into one composer's house, 'he tells me when we talk later.On the other hand , his programs can beeclectic, like this one, called After Bach. Allthe works centre around Bach, either in arrangementsof original works by Bach, orcontemporary works influenced by Bach.Kremer, with Zlabys on piano, plays one ofhis signature pieces, Arvo Part's iconic Fratres,which the composer dedicated to Kremerin 1980. Then, with both Zlabys and Pushkarev,there are works by a composer Kremerhas long championed, Astor Piazzola, 'acomposer for whom Bach was God, althoughhe himself composed only tangos. 'Zlabys plays his transcription of a Bachchorale. Then Pushkarev plays some of hisown arrangements for vibraphone of BachInventions, prepared in the styles of variousjazz pianists. 'I always adored all the greatjazz pianists,' says Kremer. 'I have a weaknessfor this type of music. I did try to playjazz on a couple of occasions. I am not agreat improvisor, but it inspires me because Ifind the freedom of jazz musicans amazing.'To end the rehearsal, Kremer plays a movementfrom Bart6k' s Sonata for Solo Violin . Heis a remarkably natural player. When he plays,it's as though he is talking. Or singing. I thoughtof how Stanislavsky apparently told actorsthat their bodies were their instruments, andhow Kremer shows that the converse is alsotrue: his violin seems to be part of his body.It's apparent right from the way he picks uphis instrument from its case. He can fill a hallwith a subdued whisper of the sweetest soundimaginable, then roughly attack a phrase. TheWWW.THEWHOLENOTE.COMexpressive momentum he creates is thrilling.He tells us about his violin, which he hashad for less than a year. 'I was playing aGuarneri del Jesu, and then this instrumentcame into my hands . I played it for a coupleof hours, and I couldn't part from it anymore. It's a Niccolo Amati from 1641. Iknew that Amati violins had a rich sound, butI never could imagine that an Amati couldhave such a big sound. It's the oldest instrumentI ever have played. Now I understandwhy Amati was not only a good violin makerbut a good teacher, because the violin makerswhose names are most familiar were pupilsof Amati - he was the father of them all.'Kremer comes out of the great Russianschool of virtuoso violin-playing. When hewas eighteen, in 1965, he left Riga and wentto Moscow to study with the legendary DavidOistrakh. But Kremer is very much a modernvirtuoso, at a time when it's just not enoughfor a musician to dazzle audiences withsplendid performances. So Kremer runs hisown music festival in Lockenhaus, Austria,he leads his own orchestra, the KremerataBaltica, he commissions and premieresimportant new works, records prodigiously,wins numerous awards, and performs chambermusic with dynamic soloists like MarthaArgerich and Krystian Zimerman. Kremerhas even written several books, for the mostpart autobiographical. Unfortunately theyhaven't been translated in to English yet.When someone from the audience asks himhow he started playing the violin, he says,'This is a simple story, because it startedbefore I was born. Everybody in my familywas a violinist - my grandfather, my mother,my father - so I had to take up the violin.Actually, they say I wanted to play. I havemy doubts. But I wanted to be loved, and itseemed that when I was practising well I wasloved more - it's as simple as that. Later Ihad to make a conscious decision to become aprofessional violinist. When I was aboutsixteen, I wanted to be involved with film andtheatre. But I questioned myself about doingthese other things , and decided first I shouldconcentrate on what I already could do. 'He is asked about the upcoming concert heis giving in Toronto this month with KremerataBaltica, the chamber orchestra he started in1997 as a present to himself for his fiftiethbirthday. The twenty-seven young musicians allcome from the formerly Soviet Baltic states,Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.Most of the works they will be performing,like Beethoven's Grosse Fuge, and Schumann'sCello Concerto, are arrangements, partly becausethe existing repertoire for chamber orchestrais limited, and partly because Kremer isalways seeking to extend his own repertoire andtry new things. In the case of the Schumann, heexplains, the solo violin part was authorized bySchumann himself. 'This was a piece thatwas very much welcomed among us. I alwaysA PR IL 1 - M AY 7 2007

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