Sunday, February 19, 2017

Talking to violinist and teacher Grigory Kalinovsky at the 2017 Eilat Chamber Music Festival

Photo: Anna Kari

On February 4th 2017 I spoke to violinist Russian-born Grigory Kalinovsky at the Dan Eilat Hotel, where he was performing at the Eilat Chamber Music Festival and also tutoring some young outstanding violinists taking part in master classes. Hailed by the Vancouver Sun as a “superior poet” and by Gramophone for his “heart and indominable will”, Grigory Kalinovsky studied at the Manhattan School of Music, becoming a member of faculty there on graduation and prior to his move to Indiana. A devoted educator, he is professor of violin at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, teaches at international summer festivals and holds master classes across the USA, Europe and Asia. Performing as a soloist and chamber musician, he collaborates with such artists as Pinchas Zuckerman, Shmuel Ashkenasi, Ralph Kirshbaum, Miriam Fried, Dora Schwarzberg and Paul Coletti. He has recorded with pianist Tatiana Goncharova. Their Shostakovich CD for Centaur Records was hailed by Maxim Shostakovich as a “must-have for any Shostakovich connoisseur.”

PH: Grigory Kalinovsky, is it your first time playing at the Eilat Chamber Music Festival?

Grigory Kalinovsky: Yes, it is my first appearance at the Eilat Festival, but certainly not my first visit to Israel. For several years now I have been giving master classes at the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music and the Israel Conservatory of Music as well as at the Jerusalem Music Centre.

PH: What was your earliest musical experience?

GK: My father was an opera singer in Leningrad and, from age four, I had a teacher come to teach me music at home…not any specific instrument – solfege and ear-training and a little piano. When I was five I started violin lessons. I went to a neighbourhood music school, where I had a wonderful teacher – Tatiana Liberova- with whom I studied till I left Russia in 1989, emigrating to New York.

PH: Did you study in New York?

GK: Yes, I did conservatory studies with Pinchas Zuckerman and Patinka Kopec at the Manhattan School of Music, finishing my bachelor’s degree as well as my master’s with them.

PH: I understand you started teaching quite early on.

GK: Yes. I have always loved teaching. I first started teaching privately, then joined the Manhattan School of Music’s pre-college program and then taught in the college program, teaching there till about three and a half years ago, when I left for Indiana.

PH: Let’s talk about your performing. Are you currently soloing more or playing chamber music?

GK: Recitals and chamber music. I haven’t played solo with orchestra in a while. It takes too much time and effort (with three kids and 22 students!)

PH: Here, at the Eilat Festival, you figured prominently in chamber music concerts. Would you like to talk about your chamber music involvement?

GK: I got most of my chamber music training after graduating, basically playing with other teachers at chamber music festivals. In Russia, there was not much training in chamber music. So, I was lacking the skills, but picked them up pretty quickly and I love playing chamber music more than anything else. Now I play chamber music at the school and at festivals I am invited to attend.

PH: Do you have permanent groups with which you play?

GK: I did have a permanent group in New York. We had a clarinet quartet (clarinet, violin, ‘cello, piano). Over the years, we played in different combinations – clarinet trios, violin trios, etc.

PH: Playing here at the festival, how well did you know these other musicians?

GK: I met all for the first time here.

PH: How much rehearsing did you do?

GK: The standard number of rehearsals for a festival: there were two (with Amir Katz) for the Schumann A-minor Sonata op.105 and three for the Tchaikovsky Piano Trio in A-minor op.50 (Amir Katz - piano, Hillel Zori - ‘cello) we had three…well, two rehearsals and one run-through. But the artists do know the pieces. It works if people are experienced chamber music players, know the works and can “read” each other.  Of course, there are pieces you can’t put together like that. But, in the case of the Tchaikovsky Trio, for example, if you know what you are doing it “plays itself”. I have to say that the colleagues were amazing! Amir Katz is a superb pianist and how inspiring it was to play next to Hillel Zori’s ‘cello sound.

PH: Would you like to talk about your current work as a recitalist?

GK: Yes. Nowadays, I mostly give recitals in conjunction with master classes at Indiana University or at summer festivals. Next week I will be in Oklahoma to run a master class and to play a recital with my good friend Tatiana Goncharova – we played together for over twenty years while I was living in New York. On my way back to the USA, am flying through New York, will have a 6-hour layover there to have a rehearsal with Ms. Goncharova in Manhattan, then flying back home. (Have never tried rehearsing after a 12-hour flight!) Then we meet again in Oklahoma. Then I have another recital coming up with her at Indiana University.

PH: And I understand you have a recording with Ms. Goncharova coming out soon.

GK: Yes. It will come out in March on the Naxos label. It includes all the sonatas for violin and piano by Mieczysław Weinberg (1919-1996). Weinberg was a Polish Jew who fled to Russia, where he spent the rest of his life. He was a very close friend of Shostakovich and a protégé of his. Shostakovich considered him one of the most important composers of his generation. Many years ago, my father actually sang in one of his operas! I have a newspaper clipping of Shostakovich’s article on the premiere, in which he mentions my father’s name.

PH: Can you say a few words about the Weinberg sonata project?

GK: For various technical reasons, the CD is only coming out now, but we actually recorded it in 2010 It is very good music. Of course, when you take music written over a composer’s lifetime, there must be some unevenness of quality. We start with opus 12, the last work on the CD being written 10 years before Weinberg passed away. But it is all very interesting music, very diverse. The last piece – Sonata No.6 – was only discovered when I was already starting the project: I received a letter from the publishers to say they had just discovered a manuscript - Sonata No.6 -  in the archives. So, nobody had ever seen the music. In fact, when I started looking at it I saw things that were not actually playable. It was clear Weinberg had not worked on it with any performer. It was typeset for me and we figured out a few small changes to make it playable. I did not go for technically easy solutions, but, as I said before, there were just a few things that were simply not possible on the instrument. It is an absolutely incredible piece, written on the death of his mother – probably the most unique of the pieces, very short…under 10 minutes, very dark, very profound. It begins with a violin solo of a page and a half of running eighth notes (with different harmonies). It took me a while to realize what this was: one of those sensations when you lie awake at night and hear all the clocks in the house.  By the way, a lot of his sonatas have big piano solos – of several minutes – unusual for such sonatas.

PH: Was Weinberg a pianist?

GK: Yes. He studied as a pianist at the Warsaw Conservatory.   To write something that complex for piano he would have to be. Sonata No.4 starts with a three-minute-or-so piano solo. Sonata No.5, dedicated to Shostakovich, has a huge piano cadenza (Shostakovich’s Violin and Piano Sonata does, as well!)

PH: What else have you recorded with Tatiana Goncharova?

GK: The other CD we did a few years before that was the Shostakovich disc you mentioned above in the introduction. It includes Shostakovich’s Sonata for violin and piano and transcriptions of the opus 34 Piano Preludes. Nineteen were transcribed by violinist Tsyganov, who was a close friend of Shostakovich. I commissioned the remaining five from Lera Auerbach, who is one of today’s most prominent composers.

PH: Do you yourself play new music?

GK: Sometimes.  I have played some of Lera’s music, for example. Also, at Indiana University, I played two concerts of music of university composers – a work by Don Freund and another by Claude Baker, both wonderful pieces.

PH: What about Baroque music?

GK: Well, I teach it, obviously. No violinist can do without studying Bach. I haven’t performed Baroque music in a while. Before leaving New York, I did a Vivaldi concert in the Zankel Hall of Carnegie Hall. However, the older I get the more I appreciate the authentic style of playing…when it is done well. I feel like you have to know what you are doing in order to do it properly. I don’t have a Baroque violin, but I did buy three Baroque bows for my studio so my students to try them, see how it feels and get an idea of the Baroque idiom.

PH: What is your opinion of the standard of performance in the Eilat Chamber Music Festival?

GK: It is of a very high level. Wonderful concerts. What I heard was very inspiring. Really great musicians.

PH: You were also tutoring young players in Eilat. What age group were you teaching?

GK: The whole spread: one 10-year-old girl from St. Petersburg, then a 17-year-old Israeli boy (who is actually auditioning to study with me in Indiana), a university-age student of Hagai Shaham (Tel Aviv) and a girl of similar age from Malaga, Spain.

PH: How many lessons did each student on the program receive?

GK: Officially, we were supposed to give each student three lessons, but I gave them four where I could. They came with works prepared. It was a kind of master class, which is all you can do in such a short time span.

PH: What violin do you play?

GK: My current instrument is a late-1690s (Italian) Gioffredo Cappa violin. I have had it for 12 or 13 years. I use a Sartory bow. I have also just commissioned a violin from Collin Gallahue (USA), a wonderful contemporary maker I just met this last summer. I was very impressed with his work.  He is a student of the great violin builder Zygmuntowicz. I have always wanted to have a great contemporary instrument I could loan to my students for when they have an important performance. And at some point, many years down the line, I will retire and want to sell my Cappa, so it would be great to have another inspiring instrument to play. There is a three-year waiting period for a Gallahue instrument and I am looking forward to seeing the result!

PH: Professor Kalinovsky, it has been wonderful hearing your concerts at the Eilat Chamber Music Festival and most interesting talking to you. Thank you for finding the time in your busy schedule here.



Sunday, February 12, 2017

Talking to New York-based Israeli pianist, composer and educator Guy Mintus

Photo: Maxim Reider

On February 2nd 2017, I met with Guy Mintus at the Dan Eilat Hotel, where he was one of the artists performing at the Eilat Chamber Music Festival. Born in Israel, the pianist, composer and educator today resides in New York, where he is active on the jazz-, world music- and contemporary music scenes. Guy Mintus has performed throughout Europe, North America and the Middle East. As a composer, he has won awards and commissions from such organizations as the American Society of Composers Authors and Publishers, Downbeat Magazine, the American Composers Orchestra and the Imani Winds Ensemble and has shared the stage with master musicians from Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan, Morocco, Spain, India, Cuba and Mali. His recordings include a debut album with the Offlines Project, a duo Guy leads with Israeli-Turkish percussionist/oud player Yinon Muallem (The Offlines Project performed at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage on International Jazz Day, April 30th 2016); also, a live solo album “The Mediterranean Piano”.

PH: You are a classical musician, a jazz pianist, you sing, play the melodica, you compose and you teach. How do you define yourself?

Guy Mintus: Thank you for the question. I first of all define myself as a human being and, only after that, as a musician. As a musician I am a pianist and composer and I also play some melodica and sing. You are right – I am active, but I don’t rush into defining myself as a “jazz musician” or a “classical musician”. What is jazz? What is classical? These are funny terms. I know they are necessary for marketing or categorizing and selling things to be “displayed on the shelf”.

PH: What are the main influences in your music-making?

GM: I draw inspiration from different worlds of music, not only classical, not only jazz; also from different types of world music – it could be from Turkey, Greece, Spain, Morocco, it could be Arabic music, Indian music, Israeli music. These are all sources of inspiration for me. In my own music, when I compose or improvise, these different facets come together to form something that is organic, that has been built over time. Sometimes I compose for symphony orchestras. You could say that this is more “classical music”, but within it you will hear many jazz influences, improvisations on world music - of Turkish music, Middle Eastern stuff…so I don’t know if it is classical. I guess it is in the eyes of the beholder. The defining factor of my music is not necessarily what we call “genre”.  It is the feeling one has when hearing it., being in touch with it. I believe there is a thread running through all the music I make and that is the feeling you get from the music. It’s not about the masses. It’s about reaching and touching people. That is as far as I can define it.

PH: How did you make contact with the different kinds of oriental music?

GM: First of all, I grew up in Israel. It is a Middle Eastern country surrounded by Arab countries. Israel has many Jewish people whose roots are from Arab countries and Arabic people from different backgrounds. So, it has always been around me. Also, I am half Iraqi, a quarter Moroccan and a quarter Polish. This culture is in my blood, you could say. But the fact that you asked about that shows that it is still somewhat exceptional for a classical- or jazz pianist to really be building into those styles.

PH: But isn’t it a bit unusual?

GM: The reason it is unusual is just because of the history of how things have happened institutionally. You go to a music academy of classical music; thankfully, more and more of them now teach jazz but very few teach other non-European styles. There are more paths of music than those we are taught.

PH: So how did you study this music?

GM: I was very lucky to meet an incredible teacher – Harel Shachal. He got me into deep study of oriental music. He taught me the Turkish maqam (melodic system). That was my gateway. From then on I kept studying with him, I kept exploring and playing with musicians, I started travelling to Istanbul, performing and recording there. In New York, I met amazing Indian musicians playing classical Indian music and I have studied and performed with some of them. I am open to these things and would not avoid studying, say, Iranian music or that from Azerbaijan just because they are not taught at my school. And all these kinds of music are connected to each other. I enjoy experiencing and spreading that, also bringing these sounds here, to the Eilat Chamber Music Festival. They are also a part of what chamber music is.

PH: What was your early musical training?

GM: I started learning small keyboards when I was 10, playing all sorts of pop songs – Beatles, etc. But thanks to the Thelonious Monk’s piece “Round Midnight”, I started playing jazz. I only knew the piece from the printed music, but when I finally heard Monk’s version of it, it sparked the idea of trying to improvise myself. That was what got me onto the path of exploring jazz music, getting into the history of it and eventually going to New York, which is where I have been living for the last four and a half years. There I have colleagues with whom I have worked for a while. It is very nice to be a part of this kind of community.

PH: Did you take studies in New York?

GM: Yes. I was at the Manhattan School of Music for three years. Since my graduation, I have been very fortunate to be doing music full-time, earning my living performing concerts, whether in New York, around the USA or Canada, Europe, Israel or Turkey. I have been travelling a lot, of course, and also receiving some commissions from different ensembles that are more identified with the classical/chamber music sector; they have commissioned me to write because they want me to compose in my style, not in the style of Mozart or in the style of contemporary composers, whatever that is. 

PH: You also teach.

GM: Yes. I give workshops all around the world, mostly on improvisation. I also have a workshop I call “Meeting Points”; this is about opening people’s minds to different kinds of music.

PH: When you are performing, what are your thoughts? Do you feel you are in your own world or are you engaging with the audience?

GM: Both, I think. I am open to the audience. I listen to what energy I get from the audience; that is a kind of guide for me. It is give and take. You have to have something you want to express. It doesn’t always need to be something you can define in words. It’s an internal thing. You have to just feel it. I have to listen to what my purpose here is. You are there to give something, to pass it on. I try to do that every time I go on stage. The audience is effective. For example, the first time you heard me it was in Tel Aviv in front of many journalists. Journalists are naturally very impatient, but I picked up their energy. That makes me play in a certain way. And many of them came up to me later to say how much they enjoyed it. Then, in trumpeter Jens Lindemann’s concert here at the festival, people were surprised when I came up on stage; some were moved to tears when I played one little solo on the melodica. So it is different every time, even if you are playing the same repertoire, and that’s the fun of it.

PH: What are your future plans?

GM: To continue this way for the next years. I am very happy with what I am doing. I hope to compose more. There is something else I should talk about - I am in the process of starting my own music label – Mintus Music. That is because of the need artists have today to establish a “home” for our own works, especially with genres today not as clear-cut as they used to be. I am active on different scenes and I need this for my output as a whole to be put out there. It is mainly for recording my works, but it may mean at some later stage that I release someone else’s projects, this also relating to me as it will be my choice. But it is a personal label, my own venture.

PH: What is your latest recording?

GM: It’s called “A Home In-Between” and will come out this April on my new label. The pieces were performed by my trio – the Guy Mintus Trio - the other members being Israeli bassist Tamir Shmerling and Dutch drummer Philippe Lemm, both living in New York. We three have worked together for a while. So, when we went into the studio, the album just “happened”. It was magic.

PH: Do you come from a musical family?

GM: Not of professional musicians. Not my immediate family. Both my parents are very musical but they don’t play instruments. They are lawyers. I do have some distant relatives who play very well.

PH: When it is not music, what interests you?

GM: Life, food, meeting people, travelling the world, seeing places, my family.

PH: Guy Mintus, many thanks for your time. And I so enjoyed your performance.

Playing the melodica (photo: Maxim Reider)