Daniel Kurganov, violinist

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?

I am always seeking inspiration from great artists, as I often learn by trying to understand what they do and then attempting to integrate it into my own voice. My first great influence was my mother, who sings and plays the piano. My subliminal musical education started with her singing to me and getting me started with piano at an early age. The catalyst that inspired me to consider music as a career was actually the 2001 film The Pianist. It simultaneously communicated and clarified to me both what the purpose of music and the content of music could be. I went on to switch from piano to guitar and finally, at the age of 16, to the violin. I am perpetually inspired by artists such Glenn Gould, Fritz Kreisler, Yehudi Menuhin, Christian Ferras, Jascha Heifetz, Daniil Shafran, Ervin Nyiregyházi, my teacher Rudolf Koelman, Billie Holiday, Bill Evans and many others.

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

Making up for lost time and recovering from school.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I try to always look towards the “next thing” and not get stuck on pride of past achievements (though not always with success). One can do that with some utility, but the utility is subject to a continuous and unavoidable entropy, such that taking pride in your accomplishments starts to become pathological and actually prevents you from reaching greater heights and greater meaning in the future. That said, I am excited about our new album where Constantine and I were able to truly connect with music of our own era. This is my first serious recording of 20th- and 21st-century music. I think the recording is good, but what would give me the most “pride” is knowing that it inspires others to play this music.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I gravitate towards the soundworld of Bach, Brahms, and characteristic miniatures that serve as a vehicle to engage with the violinistic traditions of the late 19th- and early 20th-centuries.

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

As I get older, I have a bit more success in bridging the gap between something like philosophy, fiction and life experiences and actual implementable musical ideas. It’s not obvious how to do this, and it’s very easy to make very superficial attempts. As always, however, discovering and re-discovering artists—whether classical, jazz, blues, folk or anything else—gives me ideas. All great art converges on truth.

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

Exploit strengths and avoid weaknesses. In private, I try to work on my weaknesses!

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

I don’t have a favourite venue in particular, but I prefer playing in a small room with 5-10 people rather than in a concert hall. A lot of nuance and intimacy disappears when the performer and audience are separated physically, emotionally and conceptually.

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

I believe that if and when classical music grows (let’s say, as a percentage of market share), it is an emergent phenomena that occurs for reasons too complex for us to comprehend. Maybe if classical music had the data-crunching power of Wall Street (which definitely prices in lunar asteroid impacts to efficiently price the Atlantic salmon futures market), we could more methodically sway hearts and minds. I don’t believe that any sustained growth of classical music is a direct result of our efforts. Maybe we should all focus on local growth in our smaller communities, which can be measured in no uncertain terms by the impact on individual people. In any case growth is downstream of access. Access has never been better with all possible music at our fingertips, online education as good as it’s ever been (for what that’s worth), and inclusion of previously excluded groups at record levels. But why is the market share of classical music not really growing? I think that music of high complexity and many layers requires patience, dedication and openness. I would bet there is a general distribution among a population that remains unchanged across time, and that gravitation towards classical music is more based on innate personality traits rather than effective promotional campaigns. So, when I myself promote classical music, what I’m trying to do is give someone access—a portal into another world—rather than changing their minds or judging what they’re interested in. I used to think we could band together and paint the town with art and culture and people would suddenly listen to Shostakovich instead of Justin Bieber. It’s an incorrect way of measuring success. I see that now.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Playing on a violin rescued from the Auschwitz Concentration Camp (2011, Sion, Switzerland as part of the Violins of Hope project).

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Being free and always growing/improving.

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

As with teaching, it’s hard to give advice that is applicable to all people. To some, I should say ‘1. become your own teacher and go on to lead other self-teachers. 2. Learn new skills that could combine favourably. 3. Do what works and get it from anywhere you can.’ To others, I should say ‘unless you’re ready to struggle and remain unfazed and uncompromised, consider keeping music as a hobby so you can actually enjoy it.’ But who wants to hear that? And who wants to say it??

What is your most treasured possession?

Seeing as how Barbara (my violin) owns me rather than the inverse, I would say a computer with internet access.

What is your present state of mind?

“I think I’m sort of keeping things together this week.”

Daniel Kurganov’s new album Rhythm and the Borrowed Past, with pianist Constantine Finehouse, is available now on the Orchid Classics label.

Violin Masterclass Series

Russian-American Violinist Daniel Kurganov has emerged as a unique musical voice synthesizing values of different artistic eras. He has already garnered praise from such musical giants as Sergej Krylov, Ivry Gitlis and Rudolf Koelman, as well as from publications in the United States, Europe and Japan. 2018 saw a new album release with pianist Constantine Finehouse on the Spice Classics label. The album, featuring masterworks of Brahms, Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky and others, was met with only positive reviews. Fanfare Magazine lauded Kurganov’s “smoldering intensity” and “ingratiatingly idiomatic violinistic personality. Kurganov’s and Finehouse’s recital brings together a wide variety of styles, rendered with an effervescence and panache that earn it its recommendation.” ArtsFuse journal wrote “Kurganov gives a tour de force performance, superbly impassioned.” Some highlights of past seasons include solo appearances with the New Hampshire Philharmonic and Canterbury Strings, performances at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Harvard Musical Association, and multiple concert tours of Japan with his chamber group “Kurofune Ensemble” and the Boston Chamber Orchestra. In Sion, Switzerland, Kurganov was invited to The Violins of Hope project, where he had the honor of performing on a violin rescued from Auschwitz. In Boston, Kurganov performs as a member of the Essex Chamber Players.

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