‘That was the highlight of my festival,” says violinist Julian Rachlin with a somewhat mischievous smile as he takes a rest in the lobby of Tel Aviv’s Hilton Hotel. Here (again) to perform the Brahms violin concerto with the Israel Philharmonic under Gianandrea Noseda, Rachlin is referring to his Julian Rachlin and Friends annual festival in Dubrovnik, particularly The Music Critic show.
“The idea belongs to my friend violinist Aleksey Igudesman, but I have contributed to it, too. John Malkovich, with his ‘evil incarnate’ looks, read the most scathing reviews written about what later turned out to be great music, and then excerpts of it were performed.
Luckily, at the last minute we found a terrible review about Malkovich himself in a Turkish newspaper, and Igudesman composed an Oriental style piece of music, and that was a hit!” Getting serious, he adds: “But it was not about making fun of critics but rather to show that we all are able to serve music in our own way.
And if we do it well, we may be remembered.”
Rachlin admits that although inside he feels the same as in his youth, he is not a boy anymore.
“Look, I’m 37 with 24 years on the professional concert stage behind me, and this is a great age. Because when you’re young, you’re nothing’ You have to work hard to prove that you’re worth something. And now you don’t need to prove anything.
You can just perform a Brahms or Beethoven concerto in the evening, exercise a bit to keep yourself in good shape, and enjoy your life the rest of the time. But that is not for me!” he laughs.
“I conduct orchestras – but not too many. I think I should limit myself so I don’t lose the quality of the music making, adding only two new pieces every year to my repertoire. And I collaborate with composers, such as Israeli Avner Dorman or American Lera Auerbach. I am so happy and proud that composers always send me their music, and Penderecky has dedicated his new double concerto to me, which I am about to premiere in Vienna. I make it a point to commission music to composers, and I have found financial support for these projects. So I hope that under these conditions, there is a good chance that great concerti and chamber pieces can be born.
Cooperation with composers is very engaging, but we need to suit one another; the music has to be the kind that allows me to pour my soul out.
For me, the pyramid is quite obvious, with the composer at the top. But composers often say, ‘No, our music is dead without you. We would love you to share your ideas and suggestions with us,’” he says.
“Above all, there is a lot of meticulous work behind the preparation of new pieces before you start breathing the composer’s language and style. But again, when you return to the traditional repertoire after performing contemporary music, you reveal new aspects of it.”
He sums up: “This is all a question of philosophy – how much of your life you are prepared to dedicate to music. Look, should I brag that I played with the Cleveland Symphony for the first time? This is a fantastic orchestra, but for me what really matters are the new things that I do.”
Rachlin stresses that he dedicates part of his time trying “to give a chance for a better life to the kids throughout the planet who, unlike us, were not born on the sunny side of the world,” as he defines his position as UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador – an occupation that really suits this attentive, warmhearted man.
Then the conversation returns to the essence of his life, which is music.
So what maturity is about for Rachlin? “Many things. When somebody tells me that I am a wonderful violinist, this compliment, considering my age, does not make any sense for me.
What is important is to become a better musician, which includes many things and not especially what particular instrument I am playing because as a child I wanted to play the cello. It is about serving the music in the best possible way, about a better understanding of music, about passing your accumulated knowledge on to the younger generation (I often take my students on tour with me to show them the real life of a soloist) and my voluntary work. With so many interests in your life, you have to constantly redefine your limitations to not make yourself ridiculous!”
Julian Rachlin performs the Brahms concerto with the IPO under Gianandrea Noseda on February 3 and 4 in Tel Aviv and February 5 in Haifa. He will return for an extensive chamber music program at The Buchmann Mehta School of Music in March.