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A Brahms Masterpiece, with Vadim Gluzman

Vadim Gluzman
Marco Borggreve
Vadim Gluzman

Saturday, September 18, 2021
8:00 PM

In a 2018 concert at Symphony Hall, Vadim Gluzman is the soloist in the Violin Concerto by Brahms, and Tugan Sokhiev conducts Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony.

Tugan Sokhiev, conductor
Vadim Gluzman, violin

BRAHMS Violin Concerto
PROKOFIEV Symphony No. 5

Encore broadcast from Saturday, April 28, 2018

Hear Vadim Gluzman previewing Brahms's Violin Concerto in the audio player above.

Tugan Sokhiev previews Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5:


Transcript of Gluzman interview:

Brian McCreath [00:00:00] I'm Brian McCreath from WCRB with Vadim Gluzman, who's here with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, I think maybe for the first time at Symphony Hall. Am I correct about this, Vadim?

Vadim Gluzman [00:00:08] That's right. We've played a couple of years ago at Tanglewood, and this is first time here.

Brian McCreath [00:00:13] Well, welcome to Boston. It's great to have a little bit of your time today. I thank you for that. You have a background that has taken you in many places, born in Ukraine and spent a lot of time in Latvia, ending up in Israel, I guess, eventually. And I wonder if your work as a violinist, how that was affected by that much moving from one place to another and maybe even whether you encountered different ways of looking at playing the violin in those different places?

Vadim Gluzman [00:00:41] Most certainly. Every experience that we come across in our life affects us in the most profound way, I think. And having had the privilege, I guess I could say, of living in so many places, I've absorbed quite, quite a bit. And when it comes down to music making, of course, I started my education back in what used to be Soviet Union and then coming to Israel when I was just about 16 years old. And suddenly I realized that there is such a thing as oxygen. I didn't know it existed. And to feel the freedom suddenly and to have a freedom of choice is really a remarkable achievement, which we were not exposed to back in the Soviet Union. And then, of course, every country I visited, every musician I come across, every teacher that taught me, and etc., etc., it all leaves its mark. So at the end of the day, it's a huge mishmash of cultures, traditions, ideas, you name it.

Brian McCreath [00:01:57] Well, tell me a little bit more about that, though, when you say that you've "discovered oxygen," I think were your words. As a musician, does does that indicate that the way that you were being trained in the Soviet Union was very controlled and very regimented and that perhaps when you got to Israel there was more freedom in the way that you wanted to approach music? Is that accurate?

Vadim Gluzman [00:02:21] That's very, very fair. Yes. The education in Soviet Union was at the same time incredibly strict and authoritarian in its essence, which I today consider to be very, very negative. Yet at the same time, we were trained from day one on the absolutely professional level. There was no "Oh, honey, have you had fun today?" No one cared. We were told that we are musicians. In the first grade, in this special school for gifted children, we were seven out of over 200 applicants and we were six in the second grade. One didn't make. But then, we were trained to do what we're told. And that presented a lot of problems for me, just because I'm really [not an] obedient person. And when I'm told what to do, the very least I would like to know why. And I kept asking them questions, which did not go across very well with my teachers, with most of them. But still, I didn't know any better. I didn't know any different way of studying, teaching, making music. And then when I arrived in Israel, I discovered so many things. I certainly would not have been, would not be where I am and do what I do if not for that move.

Brian McCreath [00:04:08] And you also did some study in New York, I think after that, including with Dorothy DeLay, who trained it seems like almost everybody. But that must have further, that sense of discovery and openness when you came to a place like New York, even though it was still this highly professionalized training.

Vadim Gluzman [00:04:26] Of course. Well, Ms. DeLay definitely was the smartest person I've ever met in my life. Her wisdom was really stunning. I had luck to be with her for four last years of my studies. And it was already beginning of my touring life. And I really could not have had a better adviser, a better kind of guardian angel to warn me about the underwater stones that I did not see at the time. And she did save me from quite a few embarrassments. But she was truly a grand, wonderful musician with very sophisticated taste, which she never imposed on us. Her way of teaching was, "Honey, what do you think about it?" She was always asking us to think, asking us to offer our ideas and develop our own sense, and then she, of course, would comment and give us her opinion, and when things were not good, physically speaking, technically, we would get hell, of course. There was no shortage of that. But there was an enormous respect for the student in front of her. And that is essentially, is the difference between the, so to speak, Soviet manner of teaching and Western, I'd say.

Brian McCreath [00:06:10] It's a terrific image. I think I'll have to put this one back and remember it for future use, "the underwater stones." That is a great image. And yet here you are, you're with the BSO playing, you know, the very core of the violin repertoire. So this is clearly, I can't imagine this isn't a piece that you haven't known for decades, going back to when you were a very young violinist. So to help me out with that transition from the way that you had grown up into these more open ways and discovering ways of learning, how did that affect your look at the Brahms concerto, which is something you kind of grew up with in a certain way, and then were asked to say what's your idea about the Brahms concerto?

Vadim Gluzman [00:06:53] That was then probably the most difficult transition. I did learn Brahms already when I was in the West. And so my luggage of Brahms was rather traditional recordings that we were exposed to. And they're still my favorites, David Oistrakh and Henryk Szeryng and Yehudi Menuhin and Isaac Stern. But finding your own voice in the piece that bears such an enormous weight of decades of great interpretations, that is the biggest challenge, of course, not to give in to what we call tradition, for better or worse, but to actually try to find yourself in this score. And it is the most challenging, yet, with time as I grow older, I find this to be the most exhilarating process. To try to find what I want to say and why do I play this music. For every piece that comes to my repertoire, the answer is very different, of course.

Brian McCreath [00:08:12] And for the Brahms, it's such a symphonic concerto, that it must have a continual input from other orchestras and other conductors that you're working with because you have this collaboration going on with this concerto that's not the same, when you're talking about earlier classical concertos or anything. So the second movement is maybe the best example, right, the oboe solo. And I wonder as a soloist, how much do you hear that oboe solo in any given orchestra and respond to it with something that maybe you hadn't done with the previous time that you played it?

Vadim Gluzman [00:08:42] Each and every time. There is no other way, at least for me. Not only for Brahms Concerto, we react to what we hear, and the interpretation morphs from one encounter with an orchestra to an encounter with another orchestra. And needless to say, today I played Brahms with Boston Symphony, I react to what I hear that comes onto me from from the stage and I get inspiration from it. Next week it will be a different story with a different orchestra. It will be a different concerto. Otherwise, why don't we just play recording? This is, I think, the the biggest joy of live performance. It is never the same twice. Never, ever.

Brian McCreath [00:09:36] Is there any particular reason that you chose the Brahms for this week? I mean obviously in conversation with the BSO and with Tugan. But was there something about it that you wanted to bring to Boston for this particular week of concerts?

Vadim Gluzman [00:09:46] Well, it was, I guess, a natural progression from Beethoven Concerto that I played the last time with the BSO. Choosing repertoire is always such a complex undertaking between wishes of the orchestra, considerations, what has been played, what hasn't been played recently or for a long time, my preferences, my season. What pieces are being in the active repertoire? Which pieces are not so much? And then of course the conductor. And not necessarily in this order, of course. So it crystallized into Brahms and I don't think I will be ever upset about being asked to play Brahms Concerto.

Brian McCreath [00:10:35] That's a good way to put it. You're right. And as it turns out, you just released a recording of it not very long ago, also includes the Brahms First Violin Sonata, which is just one of my favorite pieces. And tell me about playing Brahms in a chamber music setting like that versus playing in an orchestral setting. Is it really the same Brahms? Or maybe the better way to put it is, what side of Brahms do we hear in the orchestral concerto versus what Brahms do we hear in the sonata, the chamber music setting?

Vadim Gluzman [00:11:06] I think there is one side of Brahms that is ever-present, and that is the chamber music side. If we look through his oeuvre, we will never find a piece where one voice completely dominates all others. It simply does not exist. Look at his concerti, look at the double concerto, both piano concertos, Violin Concerto. It is never an accompaniment, proper accompaniment situation, it is always a collaboration. Sarasate called this concerto "against the violin," that this is a war with the orchestra and violin wins, which I would doubt. And he also said, why would he play this piece where the only good melody is given to the oboe? It shows you that Brahms, while, of course, violin is featured, clearly it is the solo voice, but take away the orchestra, this music becomes unrecognizable, meaningless. Of course, it is still a beautiful line, but you lose more than half of it. Take Paganini Concerto. You can easily play without the accompaniment. You have just as much fun. So that collaborative angle of writing is ever present in Brahms. And I think this is, to me, what is the most dear: that it is never a monologue. And I somehow enjoy dialogues much more.

Brian McCreath [00:12:50] Understandable. Vadim Gluzman, thanks so much for your time and welcome to Boston.

Vadim Gluzman [00:12:54] Thank you. Pleasure.

Transcript of Sokhiev interview:

Brian McCreath [00:00:00] Your second program with the BSO is the Brahms Violin Concerto with Vadim Gluzman, and also Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony. You've recorded Prokofiev's symphonies, including the Fifth. And I guess, you know, I wonder, this must have been music with you for a long time, way back into your childhood, I'm guessing. You can correct me. But I also wonder, since you have worked in France and other Western countries for so long, has your approach or sort of consideration of Prokofiev changed as a result of being away? Not being based in Russia for quite a while?

Tugan Sokhiev [00:00:37] No, I think it's opposite, because I consider myself as a champion of music of Prokofiev, and I try to bring every time, wherever I can, and if orchestras do agree to do that, unusual and not very well-known repertoire of Prokofiev. For example, when I was working in Berlin, we did a whole series of Prokofiev unknown music because these days sometimes audiences a little bit and the orchestras are a little bit careful about programming something out of the box. Though everybody knows the composer, everybody knows Prokofiev. But for example, we did "Ivan the Terrible," which is movie music for the film, we did "Lieutenant Kijé," we did "Scythian Suite," so music which really depicts the whole portrait of Prokofiev as a composer. Prokofiev, for me, is a composer who has an incredible ability to speak with music. Sometimes I listen to his melodies and phrases or rhythmical structures or harmonies, and it's like a language. Of course, Mozart is also a language, Brahms is also a language, but it's a language which you have to decipher. You have to understand, find a code. To me, Prokofiev's music speaks like I speak that language. And I don't want this to sound, I don't want to sound arrogant when I say that. But I find so much pleasure in this music and that's what I try to convey to the orchestras and to the audience. So talking about the second program, I mean, it's a complete opposite to the first program, which when we said "simplicity and lightness," and there we are with very heavy Brahms Violin Concerto, long, powerful, dramatic, romantic, sometimes bordering on being sentimental. And then Prokofiev Symphony No. 5, which requires this huge symphonic orchestral machine to tell us the story. It's not really a symphony, when we talk about symphony, it's not in the way that Tchaikovsky symphony, where the certain theme or leitmotif would go through the movements. Every movement in this Fifth Symphony by Prokofiev has its own story, its own meaning. So we will try to get it out there.

Brian McCreath [00:03:01] Well, and so to return to what you initially said, all of those qualities have only sort of crystallized even more, as you spent time in France and in Germany and in the United States, that Prokofiev, your way of dealing with him, is even more solidified, I guess is the way to put it.

Tugan Sokhiev [00:03:23] Absolutely. Because, you know, Prokofiev is all about colors. It's all about colors. It's all about structure. It's all about landscaping. And being in France, working with fabulous French orchestra, one of the best French orchestras today, Orchestre National de Toulouse, I think I learned so many things about colors in the music and, you know, it's very important when you are conducting orchestras, people assume that you constantly train orchestras to play, but you also learn a lot. You learn from the orchestras. You learn from their culture, from their, especially when you come to the orchestra with a very rich history, with a very rich tradition. If you are a clever conductor, then you learn from it, you integrate it and then you build something on top of it. You never try to destroy something the orchestra already had. So you use that as your ammunition to go further. And that's what I did in Toulouse. And that's why the work we did in Toulouse is now paying us with a lovely result. Artistic results.

Brian McCreath [00:04:31] Yeah. And have you worked with Vadim Gluzman before?

Tugan Sokhiev [00:04:34] I worked so many times with Vadim. Vadim is one of my favorite, one of my almost preferred violinists. He's somebody who has this modesty, his incredible personality as a human being. He has so much kindness, he has so much passion and love for music. And when he plays violin, you can see that. You can hear all that. And he's so honest with music and he doesn't do any, you know, unusual sort of very strange stuff. He's just there to make music, to serve the composer. And he has a beautiful sound. My God. You want to cry when you hear him play some of the passages of this concerto.

Brian McCreath [00:05:25] Yeah. Well, and all those qualities are so good for the Brahms Violin Concerto, right?

Tugan Sokhiev [00:05:28] Absolutely. Absolutely. It's a very difficult, it's almost like a symphony concerto, I would say, because the orchestra has its own powerful and strong part in here. It plays, you know, the extremely difficult and very famous oboe solo in the second movement. I mean, you ask the oboe, is probably even more nervous on the day of this concert, then violinists themselves. So, yeah. So it's it's not simple. It's not simple, but it's a great partnership of the violin solo and the orchestra.