Celebrated violinist Gidon Kremer has built a reputation for his remarkable commitment to contemporary classical music. Indeed, as his own website boasts: “No other soloist of his international stature has done as much for contemporary composers in the past 30 years.”
But, while the Latvian virtuoso showcased the ultra-modern during last year's visit to Abu Dhabi Classics, performing Philip Glass's 2009 Violin Concert No. 2, The American Four Seasons, for his return tonight, the 69-year-old will focus on the old masters, leading his Kremerata Baltica chamber orchestra through a familiar programme of works by Mendelssohn and Mozart.
This week’s concerts were initially advertised featuring Martha Argerich as second soloist, but Khatia Buniatishvili has stepped in on piano. What happened?
Regretfully Martha had to cancel – I don’t know the exact reasons. We’re happy and lucky to have found a young pianist, Khatia. She has already performed with Kremerata at the start of her career, five years ago, and now she herself has become a celebrity, so this will be a nice collaboration again.
It’s nearly 20 years since you founded the ensemble. What were your goals setting out?
My main goal is that Kremerata would outlive me. I’m still committed to the ensemble and touring a lot with them, but I’m trying to make the ensemble play with many other soloists and conductors so it gets, like all children, a life of its own.
In your All About Gidon documentary, you say "for over 50 years, the stage has been my home, the violin my partner".
That’s true – I cannot imagine another that you would give so much energy to and get so much in return. With any human being, the chances are that the return will not be the same. With an instrument, as much as you invest, you get out of it.
How have you seen the audience’s attitudes change over those 50 years?
I have always seen and experienced very loyal audiences in all parts of the world. I would just say recently there’s a tendency, which was not so clear in the past, where the weight of the market outweighs many artistic goals. Promoters are more interested in the names than in the music, the price of a concert becomes more important than the quality, and so on.
So, a better or worse place?
Let’s say music will always have its own place – there’s just more fighting taking place nowadays for the right values. I think musicians partly participate on the wrong side – they want to please audiences and they want to become famous rather than become the remaining defendants of the core of music. Musicians are themselves guilty of participating in crossover projects, for being too accommodating to audiences. They gain a lot of success but I’m not sure they will leave a trace in the history of music.
Do you perhaps have more faith in contemporary composition than your colleagues?
Maybe – but you see, I consider contemporary music as just a part of classical music, because classical music itself is contemporary – only about 300 to 400 years old, and this is pretty young compared with the Egyptian pyramids, for example. I would not want to live only in a world of contemporary; I’m not trying to build a club that only serves living authors. Composers such as Bach and Mozart and Schubert and Mendelssohn and so on are equally important to me, but I’m trying to build bridges between the past and yesterday.
You’ve recorded extensively across these eras. How do you decide which project to embrace next?
I want to expand the imagination and knowledge of the audience, and not just leave them with what they already know. I want to give them always something to digest, to argue about or to enjoy. I want, to a certain extent, to provoke them, to push them forward and not let them remain where they are.
Does a soloist have an obligation to be visually entertaining, too?
I have enough humour to understand the occasion where you have to entertain people, too, with a joke or a musical piece, but it should not become an emphasis of the performance. Performers should go into the depths of music and not just be entertaining. I feel sorry for those who want just to entertain audiences and consider art to be only a leisure matter. Art is able to reach out and reach much deeper. People who are only gifted can charm you and excite you, but their lifetime on stage will be short. You have to forget success and allow yourself to serve music – and not use music for your own needs.
Gidon Kremer performs with Khatia Buniatishvili and Kremerata Baltica at Emirates Palace tonight and Al Ain Municipality Theatre tomorrow, both at 8pm. Tickets cost from Dh80 (students pay Dh30). Visit abudhabiclassics.ae