Gluzman brings Shostakovich to life

Cancellations often bring unexpected rewards. For San Francisco Symphony attendees, this week’s replacement of violinist Vadim Repin by his former classmate Vadim Gluzman is anything but a case of second best.

In the past year, the 34-year-old Gluzman has debuted in Vienna’s Musikverein, soloed with Itzhak Perlman and the Israel Philharmonic, and played numerous recitals with his pianist wife, Angela Yoffe.

As a prelude to his London Philharmonic debut, he has just released a wonderful recording that pairs the Tchaikovsky and Glazunov Violin Concertos. To every performance, he brings virtuosic technique, heartfelt musicality and the soul-tugging sound of the famed 1690 “ex-Leopold Auer” Stradivarius violin.

Gluzman is the son of two musicians, a musicologist mother and conductor/clarinetist father. Although both taught at the Soviet Conservatory, they did not wish to foist a career in music on their son. But when young Vadim grew jealous because his parents were teaching everyone but him, they caved in. He received his first violin when he was 7; they soon became inseparable.

“I’m afraid that if you took the violin away from me, I wouldn’t be able to breathe,” Gluzman explained in an extended phone interview.

Thursday through Saturday, Gluzman joins SFS associate conductor James Gaffigan to perform Shostakovich’s great Violin Concerto No. 1. Shostakovich began the work as he was being stabbed in the back by many he considered friends. He completed it in 1948, soon after he was condemned for “formalist tendencies” by the Central Committee of the Communist Party.

Although he dedicated the concerto to violinist David Oistrakh, public performance was delayed until 1955, two years after the death of Joseph Stalin offered Shostakovich hope for a successful Soviet premiere.

“Many people point fingers at Oistrakh, saying that he didn’t dare play it,” Gluzman says. “Yes, he didn’t dare to play because he would have been simply killed. And then, what would he be good for?”

As with all of Shostakovich’s music, playing the concerto always leaves Gluzman sleepless.

“It’s one of the darkest, most painful pieces of music I have ever played,” he says. “It’s music written by someone who is in a great deal of pain — pain for himself, and for a country that he loved very much despite all the horror that was going on at the time. He was writing it, as it is called in Russian, ‘into the desk,’ knowing that it was not going to be performed.

“There is no happy moment in this concerto. Yet, it’s one of the most uplifting pieces of music. It tears your heart apart, your guts, all your insides. And then you come out of it feeling full of light. How to explain this, I’m lost.”

IF YOU GO

Vadim Gluzman

Presented by: San Francisco Symphony; James Gaffigan, conductor

Where: Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., S.F.

When: 2 p.m. Thursday and 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday

Tickets: $25 to $120

Contact: (415) 864-6000 or www.sfsymphony.org

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