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Violin virtuoso

Leonidas Kavakos performs at the Mariinsky Concert Hall on Saturday.

Published: June 20, 2008 (Issue # 1383)



  • The Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos brings his 1692 Stradivarius to the city this weekend to perform Henri Dutilleux’s 1985 violin concerto L'Arbre des Songes at the Mariinsky Concert Hall.
    Photo: For The St. Petersburg Times

His first violin may have been nothing more than a token Christmas gift from his father but today Greece’s Leonidas Kavakos is one of the world’s most distinguished and versatile virtuoso violinists with a packed concert diary.

A regular at renowned international festivals, including the Salzburg Festival, the BBC Proms and the Ravenna Festival, Kavakos comes to town this week to perform at Valery Gergiev’s Stars of the White Nights Festival. Saturday sees Kavakos performing Henri Dutilleux’s 1985 violin concerto L’Arbre des Songes at the Mariinsky Concert Hall.

The winner of the 1991 Gramophone Award for the first-ever recording of the original version of Sibelius’ violin concerto, Kavakos performs a stunningly diverse repertoire spanning centuries of classical music. His programs feature works by Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Stravinsky, Schubert, Ravel, Sibelius, Debussy and George Enescu as well as cutting edge contemporary composers such as Dutilleux — all played on a Stradivarius made in 1692.

The violinist regards L’Arbre des Songes as one of the most fascinating concertos of the 20th century.

“Dutilleux has a unique sense of orchestration and color and a wonderful ability of designing these colors,” he said.

Kavakos initially came across the Dutilleux concerto after a friend’s recommendation, and was immediately enchanted by the piece. Learning the work turned out as somewhat of an adventure for the 41-year old musician, however, as he was drafted to the Greek army in 1996. Kavakos was already engaged to perform the concerto in Minneapolis, Minnesota — after completing his service — so the need to practice was essential.

The military authorities granted the musician 90 minutes in the evening (during dinner time) for rehearsals and assigned him a humble room with a small window and no electric light for the purpose. The violinist did not complain about the spartan conditions as long as he had the time with his musical instrument.

“My love for this concerto was so great that I would have learned it in any circumstances, and in this sense, although Dutilleux’s was a very complex score, I did not mind the darkness,” Kavakos remembers.

He talks about this part of his service fondly, recalling the light coming into the room from the street, the beauty of the concerto and the chance of artistic escape from a military environment in which he felt lonely and alienated.

Born to a family of musicians — both his parents and his grandfather played Greek folk music — Kavakos grew up in an artistic atmosphere in the house with music all around.

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