A man for all seasons

Baroque violinist Boris Begelman performs Vivaldi’s ‘The Four Seasons’ around the country.

Violinist Boris Begelman 390 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Violinist Boris Begelman 390
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Russian-born Baroque violinist Boris Begelman, who spends most of his time in Italy, returns to Israel to perform Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons with the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra around the country between February 11 – 15.
In a phone interview on the eve of his tour, the Moscow Conservatoire graduate, who has been continuing his education at the Conservatorio di Palermo with Enrico Onofri, talks about his attraction to the Baroque violin.
“It all started at the Moscow Conservatoire, where we had to play both modern and Baroque violin, and I liked it.
I think that what we do, playing on period instruments, is closer to how the composer intended his music to sound, although the disputes on the subject are endless,” says the 28-year-old musician.
Speaking about the classical and the Baroque violin, Begelman explains that the differences between the two are not only technical but above all “in the way you think of it. For me, the historically informed performance is a quest for music, a quest for simple truths. Because the contemporary violin is overgrown with stereotypes – well, regrettably, we see the similar process in the old music performance, too, since this movement has existed for decades already. But still, there is a lot of amazingly beautiful music, written some 200 to 300 years ago, that has never been performed.”
Begelman tries not to limit himself to this or that repertoire and not abandon completely the modern violin, but on the whole he plays music starting with the 17th century to the classical period.
“I lately recorded a disk of Telemann, who is one of the composers I love dearly, with several sonatas that have never been recorded and am not sure if they have ever been performed at all!” The violinist goes on to say that he discovered a few pieces by Telemann that have never been published even in the 18th century, and working with the ancient and not-so-well-preserved manuscripts was a difficult but very rewarding task.
“It took me several days to decipher them, since the manuscripts are between 250 to 300 years old. I worked with my violin in my hands, trying to realize what the composer meant. I cannot say that I am 100 percent sure that I got it, but I follow the laws of music; I try to choose what sounds best to me. On the other level, how do we know that we have got the composer’s ideas correctly? Well, this is the major question of the historically informed performance. We read a lot, and we try to approach this music not from the point of view of the 21st century person but from that of the composer’s contemporaries. Because what was written at that time was regarded an innovation. For example, I try to imagine how the music sounded written by the same composer 10 years before that or who were the composers that created around him. For example, there is an immense difference between the music written in 1670 and 1720. Not that it is better, but in terms of the development of the style. So a musician who was active at that period was going this way together with the music,” he explains.
Begelman lived in Israel for a while and has close family living in the country. “I came to Israel from Italy, and I liked it here a lot, but regrettably it is too complicated,” he says. “I wish I could have lived in Israel, but my work involves a lot of travel, which is far too difficult when you live in Israel. Europe is great, but I would like to live in a place that is more dear to me, like Moscow or Israel. I still have not decided what should I do about it,” he admits.
Begelman performs the solo in four Vivaldi concerti, under the title The Four Seasons, with the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra under David Shemmer. The program also features Lamento sopra la morte di Ferdinando III by Johann Heinrich Schmelzer and Bach’s Coffee Cantata.
Saturday at noon at St. John the Baptist Church in Haifa (04) 836-3804; February 15 at 8:30 p.m. at Ganei Tikva (03) 737-5777; February 19 at 9 p.m. at the Einav Cultural Center in Tel Aviv (03) 546-6228; and February 21 at 8 p.m. at the Jerusalem Theater (02) 560-5755.