Slavic songs

Violinist and conductor Kolja Blacher leads the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra.

Violinist and conductor Kolja Blacher leads the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra (photo credit: Courtesy)
Violinist and conductor Kolja Blacher leads the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Leading German violinist Kolja Blacher is in Israel for two concerts with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, and in both he will be conducting and playing solo.
While the first concert – Mozart and Friends – had already taken place last week, the second concert this Wednesday is The Slavic Nations, part of the orchestra’s Popular Series program, features music by Glinka, Dvorák, Mussorgsky and Tchaikovsky.
Yet the violinist, who is already familiar to Israeli music lovers from his performances at the Jerusalem and Eilat Chamber Music Festivals, does not see himself as a “real” full time conductor.
“I am not doing much conducting and this time I will lead the orchestra from the concert master’s chair,” he says. “I enjoy doing it immensely. Since there’s no conductor’s hand showing them, every player and every section has to take more responsibility in how and when to play and because people are more involved it becomes more lively. In the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century this was a common practice, there were no conductors.”
“But now there are plenty, so why not to play under their baton?” he says. “I like playing with conductors, and in some monumental pieces, like those by Mahler, it’s impossible to get along without them, so I know the limitations of the project. I even don’t say it’s better – but it is for sure different. I do it more and more and orchestras seem to enjoy it. It’s like giant chamber music.”
Asked about his preferable repertoire as a soloists Blacher says that “it is difficult to define.”
“Because I do so many different things, and I like most of what I am currently playing, which is a necessity of working,” he adds.
“Among the concerti I prefer are those by Schumann, Beethoven, Brahms, Berg, Stravinsky, but I also play Weil and Magnus Lindberg concerti but what I really like is the concerto by Schoenberg, which comes out on disk in the fall. Another preference is Bach solo sonatas – but who does not like them? – and also Sibelius Sequenza, but again, I do so many things.”
Speaking about his approach to performing, Blacher says that it includes two aspects: “It has to be very personal, and at the same time performers have very strong responsibilities towards the composer.”

How do you strike a balance between these two – perhaps opposing – demands?
If you really deal with the score with what you know about the composer and the style you will automatically make personal decisions, which will be different from those of other violinists. So I do not see here a contradiction, it goes together.

Nowadays, classical music is losing its popularity, less people are going to concerts. Do you have any explanation for this phenomenon?
That’s true, and I think the programming is to blame: Generally, programs are too conventional. People are afraid of new things, but they usually like them. Often, these pieces are not announced on the program, otherwise nobody is going to come. But then, when I perform a contemporary piece as an encore, people really like them. I think we should take more risks. Also, I think that programs have to be not too thematic – a concert has to include works from different composers with music for different tastes.
Wednesday at the Jerusalem Theater at 8 p.m., for reservations call 1-700-70-4000.