Major artists of myriad nationalities and backgrounds perform each season with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. But Israeli violinist Vadim Gluzman is different in at least one notable respect. Rather than traveling from some faraway place like Moscow or Berlin, he’ll just have to drive from his home in Northbrook when he joins the CSO for concerts Dec. 8-10. “How often does that happen?” he asked bemusedly during a recent interview at a coffeehouse nearby Symphony Center.
Over his career, Gluzman had often visited Chicago, and in 2002, when he received a teaching position at Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts, he and his wife, pianist Angela Yoffe, decided to move to the city. “Chicago has always been important for some reason,” he said. “Many close friends always lived here — refreshingly, not musicians. My oldest friend, with whom I grew up since I was born basically, lives here. We found ourselves in Chicago for this or that reason many, many times in a given year. So basically, teaching at Roosevelt was an excuse to move.”
Although he soon had to relinquish his position because of his heavy touring schedule, the two have remained in Northbrook, and Yoffe now teaches collaborative piano at Roosevelt.
In 2011, the couple founded the North Shore Chamber Music Festival, a top-flight, three-day event that continues to operate a little under the radar. They invite some of their many musical friends and colleagues to join them each June for concerts at the Village Presbyterian Church in Northbrook. “We’d been talking about it for years,” Gluzman said, “and it never got beyond saying, ‘Oh, it would be wonderful.’ From my side, if you look at my schedule, you see it’s mostly orchestra dates. And I adore chamber music. I think without chamber music, you’d basically have no right to call yourself a musician. So I just don’t have enough of it.”
One day, Gluzman and Yoffe were running errands near their home. They noticed the Village Presbyterian Church and immediately realized it would be ideal for a festival. They stopped and went inside, and as chance would have it, the first person they ran into was Donald Chen, who had retired from teaching at Roosevelt and now serves as the church’s director of music. “It was if someone picked us up and placed us there,” Gluzman said. “Eight months later we had the first festival.”
Scheduled for June 7, 9 and 10, the seventh installment of the North Shore Chamber Music Festival will feature the Escher Quartet and ProMusica Chamber Orchestra from Columbus, Ohio. Gluzman is in his third year as creative partner and principal guest artist of the latter ensemble, which puts an emphasis on new music and adventurous repertoire. Among the offerings will be Igor Stravinsky’s L’histoire du soldat (The Soldier’s Tale), as well as a program titled “Brahms — The Philosopher, The Gypsy,” which will include his Piano Quartet in G Minor, Op. 25, and the world premiere of Homage to Brahms by pianist and composer Adam Neiman.
Gluzman was born in 1973 in the Ukraine, which was then part of the Soviet Union, in the city of Zhitomir, which holds the distinction of also being the birthplace of famed pianist Sviatoslav Richter. He left in 1990, soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall. “It was exactly at the moment,” Gluzman said, “when Reagan and Thatcher convinced Gorbachev that it was just about enough with the Soviet Union. ‘You’ve played the game long enough.’ And the first thing they did was let Jews go.”
He was part of an exodus of more than 1 million Jewish immigrants to Israel, where he continued the violin studies he had begun at age 7. Three years later, he came to the United States for more studies with Arkady Fomin in Dallas and at the Juilliard School in New York with Dorothy DeLay and Masao Kawasaki. “Ever since, it has been back and forth between the States and Israel,” he said. In 1994, he received the Henryk Szeryng Foundation Career Award, which led to his first professional engagements. “But I was never one of those skyrocketing wunderkinds,” he said. “Somehow, my career has been extremely steady. Looking back, I’m very pleased with the way it has progressed.”
Though Gluzman may not have the name recognition of some of his better-known peers, he is highly respected in the field and regularly performs on the world’s top concert stages. In 2016-17, for example, he will perform with the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra Hamburg under Christoph von Dohnányi, the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin under Tugan Sokhiev and the Orchestre de Paris under Juraj Valčuha. He also is scheduled to join the conductorless Orpheus Chamber Orchestra for a U.S. tour that will include a stop Feb. 4 at Carnegie Hall.
The violinist has built strong relationships with several contemporary composers, none more important than Russian-American composer Lera Auerbach, whom he met at a summer festival in Dallas in 1992. “She knows me so well,” he said, “and in a way, she writes me, when she writes for the violin. It’s almost as though it’s written for my voice. It’s quite special.”
Gluzman and Yoffe presented Auerbach’s Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2, Op. 63, September 11, at this year’s North Shore festival. The composer was in New York on Sept. 11, 2001, and began work on this gut-wrenching and deeply moving work literally the next day. In addition, Gluzman was guest soloist in August at the BBC Proms for the British premiere of Auerbach’s The Infant Minstrel and His Peculiar Menagerie — his first collaboration with British conductor Edward Gardner. The work for orchestra, chorus, violin and five vocal soloists was co-commissioned by the BBC Symphony and two other orchestras with Gluzman in mind, and he also performed the world premiere in Bergen, Norway.
It was his connection to Auerbach that helped land a recording contract with the esteemed Swedish label BIS Records. More than a decade ago, the composer contacted Gluzman and Yoffe and surprised them with the news that she had written a set of 24 preludes in all the keys for the couple. “We were absolutely blown away,” he said. Wanting as many people as possible to hear this new work, the couple self-produced a recording, and Gluzman’s manager sent it around to major record labels. BIS liked what it heard and agreed to re-record the preludes (releasing them in 2003) as well as produce another album of works for violin and piano by such composers as Pēteris Vasks and Alfred Schnittke.
The relationship has continued since. “We have a gentleman’s agreement that I record what I want,” Gluzman said, “and I am required to only record for them. Within reason, it’s carte blanche. I’m really very fortunate.” Due out in a few months is a Brahms album that will feature the composer’s Violin Concerto, Op. 77, and Violin Sonata No. 1, Op. 78, and Gluzman is working on another recording that will pair Schnittke’s Violin Concerto No. 3 and Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with Schnittke’s cadenza.
Released earlier this year was his album featuring Sergei Prokofiev’s two violin concertos. “They are both very, very important,” Gluzman said. “And they are on a very special shelf in my repertoire.” The compact disc was recorded with the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra and 79-year-old Estonian conductor Neeme Järvi, with whom Gluzman frequently collaborates. “It’s like playing with my brother,” Gluzman said. “I don’t have a brother, but if I did, it would be Neeme. He’s still as much of a hooligan as I can imagine he was when was 20. Just with more wisdom and experience. He sparkles onstage. What can I say?”
It’s hardly a coincidence that Järvi will be on the podium Dec. 8-10 when Gluzman will perform Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major, Op. 19, the less frequently heard of the composer’s two works in the form. The program is part of the CSO’s seasonlong celebration of the 125th anniversary of this important Russian composer’s birth. Prokofiev began composing the concerto (it was first meant to be a concertino) in 1915 but set it aside before returning to it two years later. The work was eventually premiered in 1923 by the Paris Opera Orchestra, with its concertmaster Marcel Darrieux taking the solo part.
Just a few days later, Nathan Milstein debuted it in Russia, with pianist Vladimir Horowitz performing the orchestral part. Both of the subsequently celebrated musicians were just 19 at the time. Milstein famously wrote in his memoirs about the concert: “I feel that if you have a great pianist like Horowitz playing with you, you don’t need an orchestra.”
Gluzman described the work as a kind of “fragile fairy tale,” noting that the solo violin’s entrance in the first movement is marked pianissimo and sognando, which means “dreamy.” “This is one of the most French of Prokofiev’s works,” he said. “He wrote it mostly in Paris being under the influence of the French. It’s as colorful as anything he has ever written, and he is a colorist. The imagination that went into this concerto, the orchestration, even for him, it is extraordinary.”
Kyle MacMillan, former classical music critic of the Denver Post, is a Chicago-based arts journalist.