Saturday, January 8, 2011

Talking to violinist Boris Begelman

Boris Begelman is one of today’s most promising Baroque violinists. As a soloist or ensemble member, he participates in ensembles all over Europe, has recorded on Russian- and Italian television and for radio stations in the Netherlands, the Vatican, in Finland and Norway. Boris also does much performing in Israel. I had the pleasure of talking to him on December 30th, 2010.

PH: Boris, where were you born? Do you come from a musical family?

BB; I was born in 1983 in an outer suburb of Moscow. My parents are not musicians. My mother played the violin as a child but my father has never played an instrument, nor has he sung or composed. My mom’s violin career did not last long, but apparently she wanted someone in the family to play the violin. My maternal grandfather was a self-taught violinist. He had a day job but loved to play the violin in his spare time. He died two years before I was born. His name was Boris, I was called after him, and my mother wanted me to make her father’s dream come true.

PH: When did you begin your music studies?

BB: I started with violin lessons when I was almost seven, perhaps a little earlier…I don’t really remember. I was sent to a simple music school; there are thousands of those kinds of schools in Russia. However, a year later, my parents sent me to the school of the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory.

PH: And more advanced studies?

BB: Continuing at the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory, I studied with Dmitry Sinkovsky from 2002 to 2007, taking postgraduate studies with Alexei Lubimov. From 2007 to 2010, I completed the groundwork for a third degree. I am currently doing postgraduate studies at the V.Bellini Conservatory in Palermo (Italy) under the supervision of Enrico Onofri (violin) and Ricardo Minasi (chamber music).

PH: When did you begin performing?

BB: I can’t remember exactly when I started playing concerts. Performing is included in the curriculum in the Moscow Conservatory, right from first grade. I was always preparing for some performance – public exams, term concerts for grades, my teacher’s students’ concerts, and so on. My professional concerts began in my first year of undergraduate school.

Today I am one of the concertmasters of Il Complesso Barocco and Ensemble Antonio Il Verso (both in Italy.) I have soloed with orchestras under the baton of Antonini, Onofri and others. I was appointed concertmaster of the Academia Montis Regalis Youth Orchestra (2009) and to be concertmaster of the Baroque Orchestra of the d’Aix-en-Provence Festival (2011). And I play with the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra.

PH: What inspired you to take up Baroque violin?

BB: It was purely by accident. My studies obliged me to play some Baroque violin but I had no intention of taking it up seriously. My diploma from the Moscow Conservatory is in both Baroque- and modern violin. However, I fell in love with early music, especially early 17th century music. At the moment I am playing only Baroque violin although I do not wish to limit myself to this or any other style. That is how it has worked out but I hope to get back to other repertoire some time later on.

PH: Would you like to talk about the violins you have?

BB: Yes. I have a modern violin made by the Ukrainian luthier called Vladimir Solodzhuk. Then I have two Baroque violins. One is an instrument made by the Klotz family of violin makers; it was made at the end of the 18th century. The other, on which I play most of the time now, is a violin I acquired just over a year ago, thanks to my friend Dmitry Sinkovsky. It had not been kept in good condition, but I was aware of its potential. It has undergone a lot of hard work with different luthiers, but I am now really happy with the result. Its origins are somewhat of an enigma. It is probably Italian, possibly an 18th century instrument from northern Italy. It is a very “different” instrument and difficult to categorize. I sometimes play on other instruments. Some time ago I spent three weeks playing on a violin made by Antonio Graniani that I had borrowed from Riccardo Minasi.

PH: How do you see the development of Baroque music in Israel?

BB: I have not been here for long enough to be able to judge but it seems to be on the up, from what I can tell

PH: Are you now a permanent player with the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra?

BB: I am not sure that the definition “permanent player” is applicable to instrumentalists in the 21st century. Nowadays, in the field of early music, everyone plays in many locations and there are no permanent players in any one ensemble. However, I have played in three of the JBO’s programs this season and will play another in March. I would be happy to play in all the JBO’s concerts, but, unfortunately, there are only 365 days in a year! And, of course, I do also play in other groups.

PH: What about solo recitals in Israel?

BB: I played a solo recital in Tel Aviv two weeks ago at the Felicja Blumenthal Music Center. It was titled “Baroque Violin Virtuoso”. David Shemer played continuo. The first half consisted of all Italian music – Castello, Veracini and Montanari (the latter probably never performed previously in Israel); our aim was to show Italian music from different points of view. The second half of the program was dedicated to German and Austrian music – Schmelzer, Handel, Bach.

I have some chamber music concerts coming up in March with David Shemer, Drora Bruck and J.S.Bach’s “Musical Offering” with Myrna Herzog.

PH: And when it is not music, what interests and hobbies do you have?

BB: I have a lot of interests. I am a very keen chess-player and have even played in tournaments. I adore playing billiards, especially Russian billiards; I have been in Russia very little over the last five years and really miss this game; one can not find it anywhere else. And, like most people, I like watching movies, reading, walking and sports. I also love good food! As a musician, I travel a lot, so eating well fits in with my lifestyle. However, as my career gets busier, my other hobbies and interests suffer.

PH: Boris, it has been most enjoyable talking to you. I wish you much joy and continued success in your career.