Maxim Vengerov interview November 2016

Maxim Vengerov Interview 24th November 2016 

Olaf:  One of the things that I am doing is to interview artists like you to support the local string community.  I think having people of your level of playing here is so inspiring and can help musicians move forward.

Maxim:  I am happy to be here for the artist in residency.  It is a joy to work with the orchestra and also being a soloist and giving a recital. There are a lot of lovely activities.

The Journey

Olaf: What inspired you to take up the violin in the first place?

Maxim:  I was growing up in Siberia and my life was basically music.  My mother was a choir conductor and my father worked as an oboist in the philharmonic orchestra, so I was shifted from one rehearsal to the other.  I was thrown from two musical fronts, and for me I knew nothing better than music, which is great and I was very lucky. So, I watched the orchestra, watched the conductor, and basically my future was predestined.

My first violin was very tiny, 32 size, which is the smallest you can find… I was exactly 4 years and 8 month.

At this early stage, just one month makes a big difference. By by the age of 5 I was already
playing concerts, so in four or five months I learnt quite a lot and worked quite hard, compared to the way kids learn today… you know.

I’m not like Mozart….a child prodigy… So in my family the standards were raised already very high, and they supported me all throughout, they worked with me.

I am very very lucky because I have most fantastic teachers.  My first one a Russian lady, the second was professor Bron, both from Novosibirsk.  I also went to study with her in Lubeck, Germany her for another couple of years.

After that I took one year alone with no teachers… at the time I was 16.  I did that because I wanted to find my own voice in music. It was so important for me.  By that time, I was playing a lot and had already won two competitions. I needed to find my distinct voice.

When I was 17 I had the great fortune to meet two conductors, Rostropovich who became
my mentor over the years and I recorded 7 CD’s with him, and also Bareneboim.  Those two were like two different planets, almost not crossing with one another.


Olaf: I was just going to do talk about instruments, because it’s what interests me as a violin maker as well as for players… What do you think a player should look for in a good violin?

Maxim: Player should firstly always look inside him or herself, what type of sound one expects.

Only then, they should look at an instrument and says “ok – what can I do with this instrument.  Does it allow me to produce the colours that I want? Or does it teach me new colours?”

So, in the beginning you start with a less good violin, that will stimulate their inner imagination about the sound and then comes an instrument, as a healthy partnership.

Don’t start with the violin: It sounds great, so now I just need to learn how to move my hands.

Kreutzer Stradivarius

That is the wrong approach.  It has to be the reverse!

The instrument can teach you a great deal about colours, for instance, they told me that the later period of Strads produce a much deeper sound, like a cello…

That is my instrument the Kreuzer Stradivarius. I love it so much because it has brilliance and it also had the depth.  When I play with the orchestra I can connect and create the illusion: “Who is playing what?  Who is playing this instrumental part”. It is unlike any other violin.


Olaf: What strings do you use and why?

Maxim:  At the moment Pirastro Pirazzi.  But I’m always curious and trying other things, always open to new things

Olaf: What kind of bow are you using, and why?

Maxim:  Ah at the moment it is a Martin Bow, however I have about 40 bows… I like to juggle.

Olaf: Why do you think you ended up being so successful? I mean, what did you do?

Maxim:  I never thought about the success…

Of course, I played for the audience and success was part of the reassurance that I’m needed… let’s face it nobody likes to play for themselves…

I feel you have to educate the audience and you have to be clever about it. But we are servants… I’m not serving people; I’m serving music and people come to observe…


My Playing

Olaf: I saw you play the Bach Chaconne last year, when you were here and it was like you closed your eyes and you connected with the piece and the audience… and for me it was a really amazing experience… I don’t think I ever experienced the Chaconne like that, it was really touching

I was wondering what you do to get into that kind of space, what do you do to connect with the audience and with the do you focus on when you play… how do you get into that space?

Maxim:  Concentration is the key for above anything if we are concentrated we are in the right realm we are in the right dimension and obviously when one plays the Bach Chaconne it’s another dimension altogether.

Olaf: What are you looking forward to in next week’s concert

Maxim:  Tchaikovsky’s program is a very dramatic program that we have. First of all the violin concerto has been written in a time when he had a dramatic divorce and a difficult time in his life… it’s a very light work in some sense… it’s a liberating piece that is almost outer and not inner.. but this was more for Tchaikovsky of course.

Tchaikovsky is not always an extravert but here he comes out of his shell sometime he tells his heart to himself and the Pathetique is or course the opposite… it’s introverted it is of course very dramatic

Tchaikovsky mainly wrote it for himself… his own requiem. so of course, you play it for Tchaikovsky he mostly wrote it for himself. It purifies our souls even if we play just for ourselves, but when the audience is there we are soul we are so much more this process becomes more united and we embrace that with other people…


Things I learned

Olaf: What advice would you give young musicians about posture?

Maxim:  People saying that you have to be relaxed… this is important… But, I mean if we are completely relaxed we will flop down.

Playing instrument, well doing just about anything, you have to be conscious and feel natural. You have to know what muscles are tense, and which muscles have to be relaxed, and the times. That’s why we need to practice, we learn about our bodies in conjunction with music and what music needs.  The same thing what you have with music is the rhythm, the creating tension and releasing it and we only release then the music is relaxed, and if we are only tense, it’s like a tightened string which will break sooner or later

Olaf: the audience will be stressed out

Exactly… It’s pretty much a balance, like nature

Olaf: What advice would you give on making a beautiful sound on an instrument?

Maxim:  It’s about the connection. The sound is about connection first of all, each violinist, like each person, has to have his or her own distinct voice different from any others … like their speaking voice.

Then it’s the ultimate connection with the instrument… a unification, that’s most important, like one of these greatest creations of Chagall the painter did, where he paints the violinist with the violin flying in the air… being one, you can’t separate one from the other…

Olaf: With so many injuries that a lot of string players have, what do you do to stay healthy? 

Maxim: What we just talked about, we have to just be connected with nature so we know when to tense and when to relax…

Injuries happen because there is too much tension, and once there is too much tension the body reacts. It’s easy to say, but a lot more difficult to do. You know… it takes a lifetime to get to know your body.

Suffering an injury, it is not necessarily a bad thing, it can be a sign that you have to work on yourself…  Spiritually, maybe it is not just something from your instrument playing… Maybe you need to work on your character or maybe you are too stressed and have to find harmony in life.

And that will affect you instrumental playing.

Olaf: That is something I believe in too



Olaf: What do you think are the greatest challenges facing young musicians today?

Maxim: Todays world is a more hectic, faster and more impulsive place and one has to be on one side in tune with it, you cannot detach yourself from it. You shouldn’t, because you can protect yourself from it, but then you are just not alive.

You should take these risks, a good combination of sensitivity while still protecting yourself… but be in touch with other people and the world.

Listen more, that’s why music is the greatest tool… because when we learn to play an instrument we have to listen to ourselves and to others. This often makes musicians more sensitive in conversations, because they can hear the subtle vibrations, they can really hear the voice and know if somebody is genuine.

When everyone makes music, it brings people more together, that’s why music today is should be part of our daily lives.

It’s a spiritual practice.

Olaf: What advice would you give young musicians that want to become soloists like musicians like you?

Maxim: Music is the greatest tool to open you up, to make yourself more aware of the
world. It opens great doors of wonder

You have to understand that being a musician is a mission.

Don’t become a musician because this is going to be your job.

It is… well I wouldn’t say this is a religion, but it’s a way of life… like the way you are breathing the air right now.

So being a musician implies a lot of things… anything we play for people will have an effect on them.

It brings you closer to humanity…