Playing with History: Vadim Gluzman returns to perform with his legendary instrument

When Vadim Gluzman was a young music student, he didn’t like playing the violin. Instead of practicing for hours on end, he wanted to play ice hockey with his friends.

But eventually, after hours of rigorous study, Gluzman fully embraced his future as a violinist.

“I just realized I couldn’t live without it,” he said.

Today, the Israeli-American virtuoso performs with renowned orchestras across the globe, receiving widespread praise for his old-world lyricism and technical brilliance.

Gluzman returns for his second performance with the West Michigan Symphony Orchestra on May 18. In this final concert of the 2017-2018 season, Gluzman performs Brahms’ iconic Violin Concerto alongside the orchestra. The Romantic-period work is featured on Gluzman’s latest CD for the BIS label.

“(This piece) is unarguably one of the greatest pieces for violin ever written,” Gluzman said. “It’s one of those Mount Everest concertos that encompasses every human emotion and everything the violin has to offer: romance, virtuosity and great passion. You live an entire lifetime while performing it.”

Scott Speck, music director of the West Michigan Symphony Orchestra, has worked with Gluzman many times and looks forward to the violinist’s return to the region.

“Musicians like Vadim inspire our members and our community with their consummate artistry,” Speck said. “All of us aspire to an unattainable ideal, and to have one of today’s great violinists in our midst gives us a vision of the greatness that is possible.”

The book Great Violinists of the Twentieth Century, Volume 2 by Jean-Michel Molkhou features Gluzman and highlights his “penchant for bringing the glorious violinist tradition of the 19th and 20th centuries back to life.” One particular tradition that often follows Gluzman’s name is the Russian school of violin playing, a pedagogy that produced many legendary “Golden Age” violinists, such as Jascha Heifetz.

However, Gluzman has made efforts to distance himself from the Russian violin school. “I can be categorized that way only partially,” he explained.

Considering his rich educational background, one would have to agree. A graduate of the Juilliard School in New York City, Gluzman’s violin journey began in Riga, Latvia. He then studied in Russia under the tutelage of Zakhar Bron, one of the best violin teachers alive today. After his family moved to Israel in 1990, he met the famed American violinist and conductor Isaac Stern and enjoyed his encouragement and mentorship for many years.

“(He taught me that) nothing is ever good enough. That was his approach and perception of the people around himself, and it was his expectation,” Gluzman said of Stern. “Perfection can never be reached — we only follow that path.”

One vital element connects Gluzman back to the Russian tradition: his extraordinary instrument. For nearly 20 years, Gluzman has been playing a Stradivarius violin that once belonged to Leopold Auer, founder of the Russian violin school. Tchaikovsky composed many of his most beloved violin works for Auer and his violin. This includes Tchaikovsky’s sole Violin Concerto, which Auer initially deemed unplayable (he later came around). Gluzman performed the work during his last appearance with the West Michigan Symphony Orchestra in April 2008.

Gluzman has drawn inspiration from his instrument since the Stradivari Society of Chicago selected him as steward of the fascinating musical artifact.

“All of this great music was written for this violin,” Gluzman said. “It is really moving to hold this piece of history in my hands.”

Masterpieces: Masterworks 5
Frauenthal Theater
425 W. Western Ave. #200, Muskegon
May 18, 7:30 p.m., $22-$54, (231) 726-3231