I once played Brahms for a new teacher – never having even had a substantial conversation with her or knowing her – and afterwards she spent 10 minutes ripping open my guts and psychoanalyzing me. ‘You are this, this and that…sometimes you feel this way and your principle values are these.’ She didn’t know me from Adam, but it was accurate to the point of being unsettling and I am thinking, “Did I come to a violin teacher or a witch?” Of course, some will be more gifted than others at reading and discerning such things, but that she could read these things is not all that surprising. After all, what an artist is doing when he plays is baring his soul. This is no small thing.
The first time I heard Vadim play was about 10 years ago – I was playing with CSO at the time – and he played Bottesini’s Duo Concertante for Violin and Double Bass. I can still hear passages of it like it was yesterday. Some performances leave us with an indelible impression and memory. His was one of these. My first impression after hearing him (for lack of a better word) was “Whoa.” There was an immediate recognition that registered in every cell. Utter charm and elegance – and I knew he was telling the truth. What he was communicating musically was so authentic, so obviously coming from him in a very deep place internally. This is not something that can be taught. We know there is not a shortage of great musicians, great technicians, great performers; but for one to be a direct channel is not so common. When I first heard Evgeny Kissin play, he made a similar impression. You have a feeling and knowing that you are in the presence of something special. This is why I have remembered his performance all of these years and love hearing him play.
In an effort to come up with some kind of formula, or perhaps learn the unteachable, an awe-struck admirer once asked Bob Dylan “What process do you take to write ‘Just Like a Woman’? How did you possibly come up with the genius of ‘It’s Alright Ma I’m Only Bleeding’? His response was, “I didn’t write the songs, I just tuned into them.” He recognized himself as a vessel for transference when he could have replied in ego and arrogance. Who knows, maybe the songs may have stopped coming had he succumbed to ego worship. In order to prepare one’s self to be such a channel, of course, a few things need to already be in place and then some. One of the things that sets performers like Kissin and Gluzman apart is that their commitment to the music is of a higher order and they are able to communicate what they can because they bow in deep humility to the music and not their egos. Egoless playing is what opens the channel to provide for that VIP access and direct line to the Divine.
I have always felt writing about music makes no sense, though music critics may disagree with me. Music often succeeds where language fails. If everything that needed to be communicated could be said in words, we would have no need for music. Music reaches previously untouched depths of the more visceral and transcendent. So to write about it seems not only inadequate but wholly unnecessary. He already said it, so why write about what couldn’t be written in the first place? So the disclaimer is: anything subsequently written about his playing pales in comparison to what comes from him on stage. He is still in the Bay Area and playing Brahms one more night. Go hear him. Or check him out somewhere else along the way. As his career has taken off in the past several years my reaction has been, “Good, I’m glad everyone is catching up.”
People comment about Gluzman’s playing harkening back to the days of old bringing us the sensibilities of Milstein and Heifetz. I think what they really mean to say is that such authentic communication has been missing from the world stage. Many violinists dominating our stage are not necessarily reminiscent of this time. The dearly loved, late Yfrah Neaman speculated in an article that the preponderance of Jewish musicians during the golden age of violinists, of which his critics speak, seems to have been a bid to be treated as full citizens, because in the arts one was at least treated as a human being. Neaman spoke about a masterclass in particular he gave several years ago in Japan which consisted of 4 boys and 49 girls. He suggests that a similar striving for respect and independence may help to explain the predominance of female violinists in Japan. “Now there are far fewer young Jewish players and vast numbers of players from the Far East, all with great techniques and a completely different outlook – the production of a saleable product from the start.”
In a vain attempt to describe what people mean when they talk about Vadim’s sound from the past, it might be said in three words: He Means It. He is 300% all in when he performs, completely merged, not even slightly detached, out of his ego and in the service of something higher – and buoyant with joy, humility and a fiery temperament. The term, “volcanic communication” comes to mind. As he stands in the sea of musicians he is so present and in joy that he barely contains himself, and this is the way it should be when one is traversing the higher realms. There does not seem to be a cell in him that is faking it or factory-produced. I don’t think I would be mistaken to say that Vadim is not a performer you will ever see “dialling it in.” His sound is luminescent, ebullient and dynamic – an extraordinarily sensitive musician and keenly attuned to musical nuances. And while there is indeed something regal about his playing, you get the impression that it’s coming from a very magnanimous king who cares for and loves all of the people in the village and is driven not by the glory of his own rule, but by the higher attributes of wisdom, beauty and truth. This is not something that can be concealed when the soul-spilling is happening on stage – no matter how humble the performer. Though people may not be able to pinpoint why they resonate so strongly with his playing, it is likely that these are some of the reasons why. Go hear him and join him in flight. You will come out thanking him for existing.