exceptional and wonderfully photogenic violinist, Philippe Quint's recording
of William Schumann's Violin Concerto (Naxos) received both a Grammy
nomination for "Best Soloist with an Orchestra" and a Gramophone
Editor's Choice. Gramophone also gave an Editor's Choice to Quint's
Naxos recording of Bernstein's Serenade, released toward the end of
An American citizen who left
the Soviet Union in 1991, Quint is especially known for championing works of
20th century and
contemporary American and immigrant composers, including Rorem, Corigliano,
Foss, Auerbach, Korngold, and Rosza. Now exploring his longtime penchant for
acting, he's preparing to undertake the role of a violinist in "Russian
Blue," an upcoming feature film directed by Emmy Award-winner David Grubin
and produced by Michael Hausman, whose credits include "Brokeback Mountain,"
"Gangs of New York," and "Amadeus."
This interview was conducted
several months before Quint performed the Glazunov Violin Concerto with the
Waterbury Symphony under the adventurous Leif Bjaland. Bjaland describes the
work as "an unusual, amazing piece filled with color, rich melodic
invention, incredible romantic temperament, and rhapsodic feel.
"The music seems to bring out
the most attractive aspects of Russian violinism. You get the whole
powerhouse violin technique, an extremely beautiful, voluptuous sound, and a
real sense of the romantic style. Philippe has all the equipment to perform
the Glazunov as well as you would ever want to hear it. He's great."
Quint started playing violin in
St. Petersburg when he was 4 and made his debut at age 9. Although he became
fascinated with Glazunov's music at an early age, he did not begin
performing the unusual violin concerto until five or so years ago.
I caught up with Quint during a
short break in rehearsal for a different concert.
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Jason Victor Serinus:
What challenges does the Glazunov present? What does the music do for you?
Philippe Quint: This
music very familiar to me. I grew up with the music of Tchaikovsky and
Glazunov in St. Petersburg where I was born. In fact, my first experience
with Glazunov was when my grandparents took my to Glazunov's ballet
Raimonda. I was fascinated by both the music and the ballet.
I first heard the concerto when
I heard David Oistrakh play it. It was an amazing experience, and I
immediately started learning it. But I performed it only recently.
It's a difficult concerto, and
makes a lot of technical demands on the soloist and orchestra. It's written
in one long movement, which means you pretty much have no time to rest.
It's also a very Russian
concerto. Glazunov was continuing the tradition of the Mighty Handful: five
composers Borodin, Balakariev, Rimsky-Korsakov, Cui, and someone else.
They started the nationalist movement in Russian music, and Glazunov
continued the tradition.
But the Glazunov Violin
Concerto also reflects a lot of influences from the West, most from Strauss.
The harmonies started to change slightly, and it wasn't pure Russian music
anymore. Glazunov during his lifetime was considered sort of a bridge
between Russia and Western Europe. I'm actually extremely excited to do the
concerto again, because I haven't done it as many times as I have
Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn, or Bruch the concertos you have to play once a
Oistrakh is one of the major
influences in my life. His approach toward interpretation is so incredibly
Six years ago, I played the
Beethoven Eighth Sonata for Isaac Stern. When I finished, besides giving me
the usual comments, he said something that made me think for a very long
time. He said, "Philip, you have to realize that there is a meaning behind
At the time, the statement was
a little vague for me. How do you find a meaning behind every note? But
later I realized that he was absolutely right. That is exactly what I find
in David Oistrakh's playing, which is why he's such a major influence.
Of course, I can also talk
about his sound. An incredible technique. But I think he was one of the most
intellectual players of our time.
JVS: The greatest vocal
singers have a sense of concentration that suggests that nothing exists
besides what they are singing at the moment. In that sense, each one of
their notes has such meaning to me, because each encapsulates the entire
PQ: That is correct.
There is a major parallel between music and theater, where the actor must be
very much in the moment to pull off a great performance. Nothing else must
go through your mind. It's extremely difficult. But those who can accomplish
it are on top of the world.
JVS: I've read that
people did not consider Tchaikovsky a typical Russian composer. When you
talk about a characteristic Russian sound, what does that mean?
PQ: People associate the
Russian sound with something that is very passionate and exciting
something that really touches you. If you go to a performance, it leaves
with you something special.
If we talk about violinists, we
start with the particular Russian school and Russian sound of Jascha Heifetz.
Then the tradition was carried on by David Oistrakh and others.
The Russian sound also refers
to such technical elements as vibrato and tone production. It's also
something that comes out of your heart. It's a combination of things. I
don't think there are performers or composers about whom you can say, This
is distinctly Russian.' Everyone was always influenced by someone else. It's
very natural. What it comes down to is that we're all very individual in our
I'm frequently asked about the
difference between the Russian School and the American School. There's
really no difference; it's pretty much the same school. But after many years
of studying and learning and experiencing different types of music, I'm sort
of like a hybrid between different schools and different approaches. It
ultimately comes down to a very personal and individual style. It's not
something you look for. You have either have it or you don't.
JVS: I notice that
you're now switching violins to the Stradivarius "Ex-Keisewetter," built in
1723 during Stradivarius' "Golden Period." I just opportunity to hear both
Joshua Bell and Nicolaj Znaider play in the same week. There could not be a
greater difference between the sound of two men.
PQ: Yes, that's correct.
JVS: Bell has grown more
heartfelt, but it's a very intoxicatingly sweet sound. Znaider was darker,
more laid back, wonderfully expressive, and so technically assured that I
didn't even think about his technique. What has changed in your sound now
that you're playing a Stradivarius?
PQ: This is not the
first time I've played a Stradivarius. I was previously loaned a
Stradivarius from the Juilliard School. I've also tried all different stages
of Stradivarius violins: the long pattern between 1690 and 1700, the Golden
period, and one when Stradivarius was 16 years old and still a student of
Amati. You can see how they all change. He was experimenting. The current
one, from 1723 during the Golden Period, has an incredibly beautiful sound.
I would have to say that this particular violin expresses my feelings the
I think it was Jascha Heifetz
who said that a bad violin can destroy even a really good player, but a good
violin will help a good player become a great player.
I've noticed over the years
that people sound very much the same on different instruments. I heard
Pearlman play a Stradivari, and then I heard him play a $100 violin. It
sounded very similar, because it was Pearlman. But a violin like a
Stradivarius and a Guarneri del Jesu can bring out the best in someone.
You know the famous joke about
Heifetz? Someone comes up to him and says, Mr. Heifetz, your violin sounds
very beautiful. He puts the violin very close to his ear and says, "I don't
JVS: Before Heifetz's
Guarneri was loaned to the Concertmaster of the San Francisco Symphony,
Alexander Barantschnik, it was kept at the Palace of the Legion of Honor.
Once a year, students from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music got the
opportunity to play it in the Palace's Florence Gould Theater, a small jewel
box of a theater with excellent acoustics. I attended one of those recitals.
There were only two students in the entire group who could make that violin
But in your case, this violin
enables you to convey more of what you want to say with the music?
PQ: That is correct.
This particular violin really expresses my feelings about the music. It's
almost a scary experience, as though this violin is playing by itself with a
little support from me.
JVS: You see you'll be
recording the Miklos Rosza. Also, Lera Auerbach wrote a piece specifically
for you. Are other composers writing for you?
PQ: Not presently. Lera
of course wrote the violin concerto, and I've worked with a lot of
contemporary composers, including Lukas Foss and John Corigliano. I find the
process absolutely fascinating.
JVS: What are you most
looking forward to in the next year?
PQ: I'm actually scared
to think about what I have to do next year. In the next four months, I have
to do Glazunov, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, and others. I have to record
three Berio concertos. Lera's concerto is coming up, and I'm doing Glazunov
with Indianapolis Symphony as well as Waterbury. Also Bernstein's
Serenade. My hands are so full that I think I'm more scared than
Will I be able to pull it off?
It means a lot of practicing. But if I had to single out something, I'm
really excited about doing Shostakovich's first concerto for the first time.
I had the same excitement the first time I had to perform Beethoven's
concerto, which I'm doing next week in Colorado at Music in the Mountains in
JVS: What's with your
PQ: I've had interest in
acting since I was a kid, but never had a chance to explore. In 10 years, I
don't want to look back and say that I never tried. So I decided to see
where I can go. Theater and music have a lot of things in common. I was
fortunate enough to land the part in this big production that's going to be
directed by David Grubin It's a movie about music the Russian community in
New York. It's very exciting. And I'm working on it in the middle of this
JVS: I'm going to let
you go. With a schedule like yours, it sounds like you could use some space
to breathe before your rehearsal begins. I look forward to talking again.
- Jason Victor Serinus -