A Music@Menlo Meet the Artist interview
Music@Menlo Chamber Music Festival & Institute, July 12 – August 3
Under the artistic direction of David Finckel and Wu Han, Music@Menlo is based in Atherton, California. Each year a carefully-chosen theme forms the basis of the summer festival, comprising concerts, artist-curated recitals, lectures, a training institute, and free public events. “Incredible Decades” is the theme for 2019, tracing 300 years of musical evolution from Bach to the new millennium. For more info, visit: www.musicatmenlo.org
Who or what inspired you to take up the violin and pursue a career in music?
As a young boy of 6, I recall a compulsion to stare at a violin we had in our home; it drew me in. I was inexplicably drawn to the instrument before I could even understand why or what it would mean to be to be a violinist. When I was 7 and through good grades earned the opportunity to join my school orchestra, my choice of the violin was a fait accompli.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
I have been unusually rich in inspiring influences, both musically and more generally in life. First, my wonderful parents; my mother is a music lover and a frustrated pianist whose love of music inspired my own (I have fond memories of going to concerts with her, and being elbowed awake after having been lulled to sleep by the beautiful music and comfortable chair. I recall even dozing off while Isaac Stern worked his way though the Beethoven Concerto… for shame!). My father was a constant source of positivity and tireless support, working multiple jobs at once to pay for his children’s studies. The voices of my teachers – Samuel LaRocca, Eugene Phillips, Sally Thomas, Harvey Shapiro, Paul Zukofsky, Philipp Naegele, Isidore Cohen, Daniel Phillips, ring daily in my head.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
I left school at 21 and presumed a career would just “happen” for me. I was extremely energetic and ambitious, but also arrogant. When the career did not “happen” as I expected, the years of searching for traction were bewildering and disillusioning. It took a lot of patient building to get where I am now; nothing ever came quickly or easily and in the end, I am grateful for that.
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
The night that I played, along with three other intrepid and dedicated colleagues, all of Milton Babbitt’s String Quartets in one sitting, will be a concert I always recall with pride. I wonder how on earth we did it…
Which particular works do you think you play best?
I wouldn’t presume to answer. I prefer to say that there are certain works that move me most deeply when I have the privilege to play them; Any of the Bach solo Sonatas and Partitas, Faure’s 2nd Violin Sonata, Bruckner’s Viola Quintet, Schubert’s G Major Quartet, Mozart’s G Minor Viola Quintet, Stravinsky’s Dithyrambe, and Bach’s Art of Fugue are particularly meaningful to me.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
It is far more often the case that the season’s invitations decide my repertoire. I am often hired to play a certain work, or program. This is good; it forces me to keep building my repertoire.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
I love and prefer the intimacy of house concerts to any big hall.
Who are your favourite musicians?
Pablo Casals, Fritz Kreisler, George Enescu, Sandor Vegh, Jaques Thibaud, Peter Serkin, Vladimir Horowitz, and the Orion Quartet playing Haydn!
What is your most memorable concert experience?
As a member of the Escher Quartet, I recall an unforgettable moment of transport in a performance of Schubert’s G Major Quartet. During the tremolandi in the 2nd movement I became absolutely overcome by the majesty and fearsome power of the music and wept as I played.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
I am living it; I have a beautiful, healthy and loving family, a beautiful violin, a challenging and fulfilling job, and great artists invite me play great music with them. I thank God every day for what I have.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
During a particularly difficult period of transition in my career I came across the following words in the violinist Alexander Schneider’s autobiography which changed me: discussing stage fright, Schneider wrote “…Personally, I am sure that there is no cure for those who have no discipline or the character to recognize that they can only do the best with what God has given them, respect it, and not try to show that they are better than they really are!”
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A great bottle of Burgundy, a great meal with my family and dear friends, and an evening of Haydn Quartets.