Kindred Spirits

Classic Arts Features   Kindred Spirits
Karissa Krenz talks to violinist Gidon Kremer, who joins the New York Philharmonic starting November 3 for Schnittke's Concerto grosso No. 5.

Violinist Gidon Kremer has long been revered as one of music's most impassioned players, championing an extensive classic and contemporary repertoire. His distinguished career includes more than 100 recordings, the founding of a chamber ensemble (Kremerata Baltica) and a festival (Lockenhaus, in Austria), and countless prizes and appearances with major institutions across the globe.

Mr. Kremer's upbringing in the former Soviet Union (he was born in Riga, Latvia) gave him a stylistic and emotional foundation that is fundamental to his character. He and his peers struggled under a totalitarian regime that tried to restrict them, but that also made them realize the importance of their work from an ethical and spiritual standpoint.

Mr.Kremer's performances this month with the Philharmonic, conducted by Mikko Franck, feature a work by a longtime friend and kindred spirit, the late Alfred Schnittke, who was also raised in the Soviet Union. Mr. Kremer premiered this concerto in 1991, and he invites us to recognize the complex influences that lie beneath the surface of the music.

"We are both of Jewish-German origin, but lived for years in Moscow," says Mr. Kremer. "Both of us‹as many others did‹struggled against the political impositions of the Soviet system. I was happy to be able to feel in Alfred an artist on the same wavelength, and tried my best to 'defend' his music." Of the offstage piano employed in the work, Mr. Kremer says: "These days it strikes me, when I hear the invisible piano in this piece, it seems that he himself is playing it, speaking to us from a different world."

With the performance of the Schnittke, Kremer continues an association with the Philharmonic that began 25 years ago, in 1980. He has taken part in premieres and has developed a relationship with the institution that he especially cherishes: "I remember the great conductors (like my favorite‹Lenny Bernstein) and wonderful performances of new pieces (like Sofia Gubaidulina's Offertorium with Zubin Mehta). I am glad to meet this excellent orchestra and its loyal audience once again."

Karissa Krenz is an arts and entertainment writer and a frequent contributor to Playbill.

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