Israeli musician Vadim Gluzman is one of the most popular violinists in the world. Nearly a quarter of a century plays the Stradivari violin, which music history calls only “Auer-Stradivari”, because it was also used by the legendary music teacher Lipót Auer from the Hungarian town, Veszprém. In our exclusive interview with Gluzman we talked about Auer’s undeservedly forgotten legacy and the artist’s family origins as well.
You have been using Auer’s Stradivari violin for many years, courtesy of a music company. What does it take to give back a violin like that?
It is very individual. There are several rules for the use of the violin managed by the Stradivari Society, but basically the owner of each instrument can decide on the final issues. In my case, the violin owner is a selfless lady who really just wants to do a good service.
For the past nearly 25 years, since I have had the violin, my experience has been that the owner has no interest other than to have his violin in use by someone who dedicates it to music.
For me, I feel like it’s simply about the owner feeling satisfied with the way I use this awesome instrument. I must add that we sign a new contract for use every year.
Can’t this be bought, as your colleague, Joshua Bell did it for millions of dollars?
I don’t think I would ever be able to make this release.
How much would it be?
I am aware of it, but by contract I am not in a position to comment on it. I can tell you that
the pieces, which are more than 300-year-old models made by Antonio Stradivari, currently have a market value of between $ 5 million and $ 18 million.
Do you who may have the privilege of playing such an old instrument know how many of you are active with a Stradivari in the music life? Is it at all possible to know how many Stradivaris are still exist today?
Exact data cannot be known, it is certain that a huge amount of instruments were made by Master Stradivari, who lived for more than ninety years. It was an inconceivable life expectancy at the time, 300 years ago, because the average life expectancy could have been 45 years. Its performance is also dazzling.
Music statisticians say at least 600 violins he has made have survived the centuries, of which about 400 suggest that they can still be played on them.
How would you present this violin to an average person? Is it in the top 10 masterpieces in the world? You once stated, “Words cannot describe how wonderful this instrument is. It makes me run 15 times faster, dive 15 times deeper. When I first picked up this violin and notes emanated from my bow, I realized that my life had changed. ”
I reply to this in the words of Isaac Stern: once after a concert, a lady came up to him and told that he was the best violinist in the world. To this he thanked for the compliments and replied that he was second. Then the woman asked how that would be possible, and then who was the first? And Stern said, there are many of them… Our art is not a sport that can be measured by results. There is no such thing as the top 10 or the top 20 in this genre. It is often a matter of my taste against your taste. I think it would also be such a pointless suggestion whether Van Gogh or Rubens? Maybe Michelangelo’s work is worth more?
Do you know how the violin ended up at Lipot Auer’s?
Not much is known about who used this violin before Auer, but it is likely that he got it in Russia when he came to play and later was employed by the tsar. It may be worth watching a film made by violinist Péter Kováts about Auer’s life years ago, in which perhaps you can get more answers to that. Although there is no guarantee that this will be the case.
Regardless of his prestigious role in the history of international music, we still know very little about Auer in Hungary. What do you think might be the reason for this?
Of course, I can only make assumptions about this. Quoting the New Testament, “you cannot be a prophet in your own country”. But there may be a much simpler reason for this: it may also be that Auer’s activities are very intertwined with his life in Russia, as he spent many years there, gaining Russian citizenship, and to this day in music history and music circles he is regarded as a Russian music teacher, which is, of course, nonsense. But this is just an opinion based on the long meaningful years in Russia.
The fact that he himself was indeed the number one initiator of that Russian violin school, or at least of what we think today is a Russian violin school, is obviously partly a reflection of that historical time as well.
But this story is like Joseph Joachim’s, who was born not so far from Veszprém and who is at least as Hungarian Jewish as Auer. And Joachim is thought by many to be a German violin teacher, which is nonsense again. He was otherwise one of the best violinists of his time, and Brahms could not be imagined without his influence. Joachim also taught Auer, gave concerts, composed his own masterpieces, unfortunately few now know his work.
If you had the opportunity to talk about Auer in front of Hungarians, how would you introduce him?
In particular, I would highlight Auer’s historical significance. He laid the foundations for the importance of prominent violinists. It has left behind a legacy that is still recognized by scholars and music history. There are various records of what kind of teacher or violinist he was.
I would be very happy if the Hungarians were proud of Auer and if they would consider his achievements as part of the Hungarian heritage. Even if he has accepted the citizenship of another country.
He probably needed this to advance in his artistic career. At the St. Petersburg Academy of Music, his name is engraved in golden letters on the palette of glories, the room where he taught is called the Auer Hall, with a large portrait of him in the hall, his authority is held in high esteem. Since I have already attended the festival named after him in Veszprém, I know exactly that a lot of people in this city already know about it. Tamás Kovács, the leader of the festival, does real value-creating work, the quality of his festival was one of the most outstanding, very tastefully selected programs last year.
How would you formulate the essence of the Auer method mentioned in the literature? You – along with Vadim Repin and Maxim Vengerov – are also assigned to this school.
It would not be entirely fair for me to have to define the Auer method precisely, because I myself have never been a real part of it. It is true that many of his methods were taken over by the Russian violin school from which I also come, but almost a hundred years before my operation there was already a reinterpreted version. To be sure, the role of the teacher was not only an unquestionable authority, but often much more. All of this includes elements that also put serious psychological pressure on students. Maybe beyond the limits of humiliation. In my personal opinion and experience, this has never been productive, and I am sure that this overly rigorous discipline has killed a lot of talent in a metaphysical sense. At the same time, it is an indisputable fact that huge stars of modern music were created from this Russian school. As a Russian saying goes: we do not criticize winners. I’ve been able to learn violin from a lot of teachers and a lot of schools, so I feel like a musical compote.
You stated that the audience is also important for you to make the concert a success. What have been the Hungarian performances so far?
In general, I can say that the Hungarian audience is one of the most involved audiences. Very good music listeners. It might also have to do with how people relate to their traditions.
Musical traditions in Hungary are very, very deep, dating back hundreds of years. I feel a special connection between the Hungarians and their music. Hungarian music listeners interpret Hungarian music as a part of their lives and culture.
This is a very special phenomenon that is not common everywhere. A lot of times I give concerts in a place where I’m in the gorgeous auditorium and I see that the audience is there too, but still no connection develops between us. The connection is immediately there on the Hungarian stage, the audience always feels the music, in fact, on some level they become part of the performance. This is not something that could be measured, but I have clearly found that some kind of energy flow and energy exchange takes place during performances.
You performed at countless festivals. What was the Auer Festival in Veszprém like?
It is interesting that he asks this, because I was recently at a festival in Munich, where I was talking to a colleague about Veszprém, because we performed there last year. We talked about what an incredibly well-organized festival it was in Hungary. The event went as smoothly as we can imagine at, say, a Swiss festival. Everything and everyone was perfectly prepared for the production to be presented to the audience in its most successful form. Everything from the driver of the car transporting us to the band’s preparedness was world class. It was a very immersive experience.
You also created your own music festival, in the first year of which you wanted to show your own Jewish roots in a temple. How well do you know the origins of your own family? How much of this is part of your everyday life?
It’s been 10 years since we founded the North Shore Chamber Music Festival in Chicago. Of course, my own background is important, but
I think we can develop as human beings if we share with each other where we came from and who we are.
When I represent my own culture or at a festival, a Korean artist represents her own culture with this we just learn from each other and with that we start to connect with each other’s culture. As for the history of my family: we can trace the ancestors in Ukraine back to the second half of the 19th century. But for one of my grandfathers, whose name was Radnick, may have come from one of the stetls in the region, we were able to establish that he was the only one who was presumably not a descendant of Ashkenazi ancestors but a descendant of emigration from the Sephardic Spanish expulsion from somewhere. If I have more time one day, I would be curious and I will try this genetic test to see if we can find some more specifics about family history.
You spent your childhood in the Soviet Union, in a region which is today Latvia. Did you know of any Jewish identity back home?
In my childhood, it was not possible to practice the Jewish religion at all in the Soviet Union. The public experience of Judaism was also absolutely punishable.
There was no traditional Jewish education. I remember my great-grandmother, who sometimes didn’t eat for a day around September. I had no idea it could be because of Yom Kippur. I recall my father occasionally brought home some matzo, wrapped it in newspaper. Apparently he could have gotten it from some illegal bakery. So, of course, my parents knew about this and could talk about it at home, but they thought it could be dangerous to involve the kids in this as well. So although we ate matzo and I knew it was a Jewish food, I thought it was somehow secret and shouldn’t be talked about to anyone.
After that, when they were adjourned to Israel as teenagers, there may have been some cultural shock for you.
I can’t say it would have been. Look, I’m convinced we all carry genetic memories within ourselves. To me, it seemed the most natural thing in the world to have the customs waiting for us in that country. We felt completely at home right away. I loved the food, I loved the people, and I noticed that many of them are like me, and at last they don’t beat me for what I am, like they did in the Soviet Union.
Would you explain that a little bit?
Simply thinking you were a Jew was enough to beat you. I always tried to hit back. This was primarily dictated by my instinctive desire to survive.
As a young man, you met in a random situation with the legendary violin master and teacher Isaac Stern, who, based on your recollections, radically changed your attitude towards music. You teach too. Do you feel any kind of obligatory humility, do you exercise any extra devotion, patience with your own students after how much of an impact you encountered meeting Stern?
I would not say that it is the question of patience. Rather the question of openness and acceptance. Stern was one of the greatest caliber artists I could ever learn from. I was lucky to meet him at a good time, when I was young. But there were many others who had a big impact on me. One thing I will definitely carry on: with what I got, it is only natural for me to give back from it. This is an attitude that will not get the attention paid back from that particular student, but by teaching him that he will also have a duty to pass on this creed to future generations.