Russian Violinist Yevgeny Kutik interview
Yevgeny Kutik. Pictures: Corey Hayes

PETA STEWART

After his performance of the Wieniawski Concerto no 2 in D minor with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra two years ago, it was just a question of time until violinist Yevgeny Kutik was back. He will be the soloist in the concert on Thursday, November 8, at the Cape Town City Hall with the CPO under the direction of Daniel Boico.

Kutik was originally going to play Shostakovich Violin Concerto No. 2, but the orchestra’s current financial constraints put a stop to that (at least for now!). Fortunately he was happy to play the Brahms Violin Concerto, which is a crowd-pleaser as much as, as Rodney Trudgeon has written in the programme notes, “a musician’s concerto. Its difficulties are immense, both for soloist and orchestra … and stands or falls on the soloist’s grasp of the intellectual power within and of its overall architecture.”

According to Kutik, “the piece is an extraordinary work in terms of both architecure and music. It presents unique challenges to all on stage, and demands a degree of collaboration not always found in more traditional concerti.”

Kutik has always known he would be a musician. At the age of two, he toddled up to the piano when he was five he was having his first lessons on the violin. Coming from a musical family helped, for his mother was a violinist and his father a trumpeter in the Belarusian State Symphony. They remain his constant support.

The family was aware of rampant anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union and settled, via a few months in Italy, in the US in 1990 and now lives in Boston.

Kutik grew up outside of Boston, where he now lives, and although he studied in America, he was schooled in the Russian string traditions. His first teacher, his mother, was of course trained in the Soviet Union, and his next teacher was Zinaida Gilels, the niece of Emil, who used to teach at the Moscow Conservatoire. His studies with her in Boston were hard years, learning about the grand Russian tradition of violin playing – proper technique, sound production and interpretation.

Russian Violinist Yevgeny Kutik interview

Playing one of the great German composers

So while he is a master of the Russian technique, how does he adapt playing one of the great German composers?

“Every time I listen to Brahms I feel like I fall in love with his music over and over. I feel particularly fortunate to have studied this piece for a while with some great teachers and also grateful to have had the opportunity to keep returning to this piece. I feel it grows with me as an artist and I hope that will continue to be the case for years to come,” he says.

His brush with anti-Semitism has made him a great advocate of the Jewish Federations of North America, which did much to help the family settle. He continues to thank them by playing for their communities across America and the night after he arrived in Cape Town he performed for the Cape Town Jewish community at the South African Jewish Museum.

He embraces music written by composers who have seen dark time. One of his three CDs, Sounds of Defiance, features the music of Achron, Pärt, Schnittke, and Shostakovich.

Funded in large part by a Kickstarter campaign initiated by Kutik, the album focuses on music written during the darkest periods of the lives of these composers. His second album, Music from the Suitcase: A collection of Russian Miniatures, features music he found in his family’s suitcase after migrating from the Soviet Union and has music by Eshpai, Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, Stravinsky and more.

Yevgeny Kutik Meditations on Family

His third album, Words Fail, released two years ago, was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s adage, “where words fail, music speaks,” best encapsulated by Mendelssohn’s iconic Songs Without Words.

In this album, Kutik uses Mendelssohn’s songs as a starting point to expand upon the idea that music surpasses traditional language in its expressive capabilities through works by Mahler, Prokofiev, Messiaen and others, plus two works he commissioned for the album by composers Timo Andres and Michael Gandolfi.

He arrives in Cape Town from Boston, his home base after several weeks on the road in the States.

He has just completing a major new recording/commissioning project called, Meditations on Family, dedicated to building a living archive devoted to family and memory. The first collection of eight works will be released starting 18 January 2018 online, with future works to be added over the years.

“Meanwhile, I’ve mainly been adding on to a demanding schedule with lots of different performances and repertoire. Next April, I’ll be making my Kennedy Center recital debut in Washington, DC, for Washington Performing Arts,” he adds.

It will be good to hear Kutik again. On the City Hall programme will be the Overture to Prince Igor by Borodin and Tchaikovsky’s Suite in G.

Who: Violinist Yevgeny Kutik
What: CPO Spring Symphony Season
Where: Cape Town City Hall
When: 8 November 2018, 8pm
Info, book: 
www.cpo.org.za/ Artscape 021 421 7695, http://bit.ly/KutiksBrahms
WS