Yuri Liberzon, guitarist

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

My teachers: My first teacher in Israel – Yossi Fogel who got me excited about guitar, then Yaron Hasson who had a huge impact on me. He would always say that there is nothing better than Bach or that Bach is the best we have for guitar. Manuel Barrueco’s interpretations had a big impact on my playing. To me his interpretations are pure in intention and are always about the music and not about the performer himself. It is especially important in performing Bach’s music. Having studied with Maestro Barrueco for 5 years during my formative years made a big impact on my playing on both technique and musicality. Barrueco is known for his phenomenally pristine and accurate technique even in the most complex music. Lutenist Hopkinson Smith had a big impact on my playing as well. While Barrueco’s influence was instrument specific (guitar), Hopkinson Smith had an impact on me in a musical way. His use of rubatos and sense of time are comparable to no one. Every time I would listen to his playing I would mentally go to a very special state of mind. Time would simply disappear and his musical ideas were so clear that even small errors would not matter. The intention is always clearly heard. Many violinists had an impact on me: Maxim Vengerov (I have a side story to tell, I played Bach for him when I was 16 years old back in Israel). His energy and passion are amazingly powerful. Itzhak Perlman’s tone and vibrato as well as his recordings of Bach’s violin sonatas. Pianist Mikhail Pletnev keeps reaffirming me that music is more about the sound and less about the visuals. His playing is very reserved visually yet all the energy is focused on the music.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

To be able to make a living by working in the music business. I am fortunate to love teaching and to be able to have many wonderful students in the Bay Area [of San Francisco].

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

There were some performances where the audience was so quiet that I could hear my own heartbeat. Those moments were magical. In those moments, I experience that it’s really not about me, the performer, but about something much bigger and I am just a messenger allowing music to flow through me.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I think I understand music of J.S. Bach and other baroque composers.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

There is no particular ritual that I follow. I try to play quiet and slow to save energy for later and make sure that I am focused on singing while playing. This always helps me calm down my nerves.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I try to challenge myself. I like to choose projects that are unique and that are interesting to me. Also, I like to keep my programmes varied, making sure that they are interesting to listen to. Each programme needs to make both logical and emotional sense.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I like relatively intimate venues, around 500 people. Acoustic properties of the concert hall are important to me as it adds to my own inspiration while performing. Of course, venues that are more visually pleasing are more enjoyable to perform at.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?

In my experience, keeping programs varied, alternating between moods is a good idea. Tastefully contrasting programming is the key.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There were many memorable moments. Once my worst fear became a reality – I started coughing while performing on stage. A quick rush of thoughts went through my mind. Do I stop the performance and go backstage to wait until it passes or continue with the performance ignoring tears rolling down my face? Somehow, I powered through the discomfort and it finally let go. Thinking about it later, I don’t know how it is possible to keep playing all the right notes while having my mind somewhere focused on something else. Humans are amazing multi-taskers.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

To be able to dedicate one’s life to playing music, have appreciative audience that is supportive and to have health to keep on practicing!

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

I think if a musician has an ultimate goal, he/she stops improving. It’s a lifelong process of exploration, learning what works and what doesn’t. Process of developing and refining one’s taste. It’s more about love of music and enjoyment of the process for me. Above all, I enjoy participating in making music that is as beautiful as possible.

My goal is to learn about the world and about myself. Music has literally changed my life. It has brought me to a new country, thanks to it I was able to have incredible experiences that I never imagined even in my wildest dreams. I have met wonderful people along the way. I only wish to continue making more music and have the ability to share it. It brings immense joy to me.

Where would you like to be in 10 years?

If someone was asked this question even last year, no one knew that we would be in the middle of a pandemic, mostly staying at home. I don’t like to make plans that are very far reaching, but I hope to continue getting better at my playing and do more and more projects. Also, I want my students to keep getting better and to continue inspiring me with their progress.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being healthy, improving even a little bit every day and having a supportive group of family and friends.

What is your most treasured possession?

People that I love… and of course my guitar.

What is your present state of mind?

Optimistic.

Yuri Liberzon’s ‘3 Violin Sonatas’, featuring Bach transcriptions by Manuel Barrueco, is available now. More information

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