No fiddling around

David Garrett is no ordinary classical musician.

Violin player (illustrative photo) (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Violin player (illustrative photo)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
David Garrett is no ordinary classical musician. The 37-year-old violinist, better known as the “Beckham” of the classical world, took his Israeli mentor Itzhak Perlman’s sage advice – “be your own musical person” – to heart, and crafted unique performances that blend pop and rock hits with a mixture of ballads and classical material that pay homage to his well-regimented roots. Imagine Huberman meets Hendrix, Jascha Heifetz meets Michael Jackson, Stephane Grappelli meets Metallica.
Garrett received his first Stradivarius violin at the age of 11, courtesy of German president Richard von Weizsacker, after having performed for him. At the age of 13, as the youngest soloist ever, Garrett signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon. In 1997, age 16, he played with the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Zubin Mehta in Delhi and Mumbai in concerts marking the 50th anniversary of India’s Independence.
In 1999 he moved to New York to attend the Juilliard School, where he studied under Perlman, and graduated in 2004.
Garrett received international acclaim for his original songs and arrangements, many of which make up his most recent album Explosive, and as he sets out on his world tour, Garrett promises an unpredictable line-up that will keep every listener on his or her toes, whether in Santiago, Chile, his home country of Germany, or at Tel Aviv’s Menora Mivtachim Arena on November 6.
The Jerusalem Post asked the German crossover artist about his exceptional arrangements, explosive album and wonderful global adventures.
How old were you when you first picked up a violin?
I was very young, four or five years old. While I can’t really remember picking the violin up for the first time, it was certainly something intriguing and interesting to me.
What is it about the instrument’s sound that enchants you?
Well, I have a certain sound in my imagination, which translates to the violin in real life. And the connection between my brain and what’s possible with my instrument in reality is really very fascinating.
You’re known for your ability to compose and arrange pieces that tap into a wide range of styles, both classical and contemporary. What is your favorite popular song to ‘make your own’ and why?
Oh, that is impossible to answer because my musical tastes always depend on my mood at any given moment. So I might love a certain piece in the next two minutes, then 10 minutes later I would probably pick something else.
How do you first approach a song during the arranging process? First [and foremost], I try it out on the violin... with a very simple piano part underneath to see if the potential I thought it had was really there.
So you clearly cross musical genres, but have you ever incorporated other artistic mediums into your music for an added layer of ‘crossover’?
I like collaborating with dancers, which I’ve been doing on my tours for many years in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. But I also pay very close attention to the inclusion of the video screens and the lights into the concept, so there’s always a connection between the music and the installations at our shows.
Can you speak to the origins of the album’s title, ‘Explosive’?
The titles of my albums are always very personal. When we worked on this one I felt there was so much creativity in my life at the time, that’s why I called it Explosive – it was like an emotional explosion.
You are quite the world traveler. Does it ever get tough living out of a suitcase for such extended periods?
Well, I just don’t know it any other way; it’s very normal for me to live out of the suitcase. I don’t miss anything really, everything I need I usually take with me.
You’ve studied under Israeli violinist and pedagogue Itzhak Perlman. What was the most valuable thing you learned under his tutelage?
To be your own musical person. I think I’ve learned that from every teacher I had – to find your own sound, your own fingerings, your own bowings. But at the same time, of course, to be respectful to what is written on the score.
I’ve snuck a peek at the set list and noticed that you transition from Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstition’ to Tchaikovsky, and end the first set with Prince’s ‘Purple Rain.’ Are there any challenges in shifting so suddenly from one genre to another and back?
If there are challenges I don’t notice them because it’s ingrained in my system to be quick in musical changes.
On that note, what prompted you to choose Armin van Buuren’s ‘This is What it Feels Like’ as an opening song?
I feel that it is very symphonic and lifts up the spirit. And I always try to have a very positive and energetic start to a show.
What musicians will be accompanying you for this show? I’ll be touring with my core band: Franck Van der Heijden as the musical director, John Haywood on the piano, Jeff Lipstein on the drums, Jeff Allen on the bass, and Marcus Wolf on the guitar alongside Franck.
How would you prepare someone who has never seen or heard you perform before for your upcoming show? [My show] is like a great Disney movie: it relates to life, it relates to every generation, it’s high quality, and it’s accessible.
Do you play multiple violins or do you have one special one that you play every show?
I have two violins that I use very often: one is the Stradivarius, which I use for core classical material; the other is a French violin, which I use for crossover shows.
Have you ever broken a violin before, particularly one near and dear to your heart?
Not broken, but I once slipped and fell on my violin, which was very devastating for me at the time. You know, things can always happen. Usually you just become more careful afterwards.
If you could reincarnate one virtuoso to play a recital with who would it be and why?
Probably Rachmaninoff. He was an amazing pianist and a great composer.
To play beside him would be amazing.
And a current musician?
Bruno Mars is terrific, I’d definitely want to work with him.
I’m sure that’s a possibility in the future. What else is next for David Garrett?
I don’t know. I like to go with the flow. I just released a new album so I’m about to do a TV show right now and I have to do some makeup and hair for that. Apart from that, I’ll be starting my “Explosive – Live” world tour later this month and plan to stop by Tel Aviv for a great show.
David Garrett will be performing at the Menora Mivtachim Arena on November 6 at 9 p.m. Concert tickets can be purchased at