Topnotch tutorial

Renowned violinist Ilya Gringolts shares his expertise in the Keshet Eilon Master Course.

Ilya Gringolts (photo credit: Courtesy)
Ilya Gringolts
(photo credit: Courtesy)
‘The musical piece I love the most is the one I am currently working on,” says violinist Ilya Gringolts. “I try not to limit myself to any particular repertoire. I play pieces from the classical period but also Baroque and contemporary music. It is impossible to play a piece without loving it, even if it is not top-level music.”
Gringolts will be coming to Israel later this month as a faculty member of the Keshet Eilon International Master Course.
Described by critics as “one of the most inspirational violinists today,” Gringolts studied violin and composition in Saint Petersburg and then continued to the Juilliard School in New York, where Itzhak Perlman was his tutor. He won several prestigious competitions, performs worldwide and records extensively. He is also a professor of violin at the Basel Hochschule.
“For me as a performer, what counts is to understand the composer’s message and to convey it. The rest is just about technical details,” he says. “I also believe that the composer’s personality is far more significant than the external factors of his epoch.”
Gringolts says that, judging from recordings, violinists of the past played differently from what we hear in concert halls and recordings of today. “That said, people who heard Heifetz live admit that the recordings do not really convey his true sound. And in the past, violinists used catgut strings, which produced a much warmer sound than the steel strings of today.”
The violist admits that at a certain period of his life he was rather skeptical about the great masters of the past. “Granted, they were great musicians, but they did not live in the present time; they almost never played contemporary music. I believe that the current crisis in classical music – i.e., that people are less interested in it – comes from the artists who did not want to perform music related to their time. Perhaps nowadays we do not have stars of the caliber of Heifetz or Isaac Stern, but the overall level is very high, and these musicians live in the here and now,” he says.
“Besides that, while now there is a clear understanding that Vivaldi, Schubert and Richard Strauss are to be played differently, the masters of the past performed everything in a similar manner. Of course, they cannot be blamed for it – the movement for authentic performance or, more correctly, the historically informed performance, came later, and now we can enjoy the fruits of various musicological research and choose our way to perform music of this or that period, something that simply did not exist in the past,” he says.
Gringolts, too, plays a lot of contemporary music and collaborates with several composers of the younger generation.
“When the preparation period is over, playing these pieces is a thrilling experience,” he says. “You simply realize that this is a piece that has never been played or heard before. More often than not, the piece is usually identified with the musician who was the first to play it because he did not just learn and play it, but he also participated in its creation, so the names of the composer and the performer stay together, even though their contributions are incomparable. Yet again, this is not about vanity but rather about this pioneering feeling.”
Gringolts, who appeared in Israel as a soloist with the Israel Philharmonic and at the Levontin 7 club in Tel Aviv, comes this time as a teacher of violin.
“As a teacher, I myself keep learning,” he says. “I’ve been teaching in Basel for two years now. My class is a very small one, and I have to admit that teaching the violin is even more difficult than playing it,” he laughs. “It is always possible to teach playing an instrument and to develop curiosity and love of music. But my top priority as a teacher is to help my students to open up, to explain that this is, first and foremost, about musical interpretation and not about solving technical problems. The latter is quite characteristic of violinists because the violin is a very difficult instrument, and they do not have enough time to look around.”
The Keshet Eilon International Master Course takes place July 22 – August 9, with the gala concert at TAPAC on August 1. For more information: For reservations: (04) 985-8191/131