Music as weapon against tyranny

Music as weapon against tyranny

Q&A with Yevgeny Kutik


A new CD celebrates composers who rebelled against Soviet oppression – Alfred Schnittke, Joseph Achron, Dmitri Shostakovich, and Arvo Part. The album “Sounds of Defiance,” released this week, features star-violinist-to-be Yevgeny Kutic, 26. The piano is played by Timothy Bozarth.

“It is their unyielding faith that provided these composers with a powerful weapon against tyranny – defiance,” Kutik has written.

Kutik’s family fled Soviet-controlled Belarus when he was five after experiencing pressures that impinged on their public, private, and religious lives.

“Although I have few memories of the Soviet Union,” Kutik has written, “I feel a profound connection with its history and culture.”

Of Kutik’s New York City orchestral debut with the Riverside Symphony, The New York Times wrote that his violin projected “an old-fashioned rhapsodic style, which was magnified by [his] rich, sweet tone.” He has also played in Tokyo, at Tanglewood, in Washington, D.C., in Chicago, in Germany, and in Switzerland.

Kutik is a member of the Jewish Federations of North America Speakers’ Bureau, and performs every year throughout the United States to promote the assistance of refugees around the world.

He has a B.A. degree (cum laude) from Boston University and from the New England Conservatory in Boston, where he lives now. He is unmarried.

What follows are excerpts from a recent interview with The Jewish Standard:

Q. Whose idea was it to make this recording of music by composers who had suffered in the Soviet Union?

Kutik: My idea. I’d been thinking about the disk for a while, and I was always intrigued by my family’s story of how we left the Soviet Union because of the way we were treated. And each of these composers has fascinated me for a long time. They’re all phenomenal composers, and we all had to deal with Soviet pressures, Soviet persecution, maybe to different degrees. So, for my first album, I wanted to look at this more in depth.

Q. Have you ever played in New Jersey?

Kutik: I don’t believe so, as far as I know.

Q. Do you have any role models among violinists of the past?

Kutik: Sure. I don’t try to model myself after them, but I try to gain inspiration from them. Like I think that the king of violinists is probably David Oistrakh. Every time I listen to him – there are no words. A lot are no longer with us – Henryk Szeryng, Arthur Grumiaux, [Jascha] Heifetz of course, [Leonid] Kogan.

And I have to say in fairness that so many current violinists inspire me – [Itzhak] Perlman is absolutely phenomenal, and Anne-Sophie Mutter, Maxim Vengerov, Gidon Kremer. I mean, I know a good thing when I see it. I truly respect so many artists out there.

Q. It’s been said that the smallest book in the world is the book of non-Jewish violinists. That may not be true anymore.

Kutik: In those days [when Jewish violinists seemed to dominate], families made the young son or daughter practice the violin. I don’t know why, but music is definitely part of Judaism.

Q. Are you active in Jewish affairs?

Kutik: I’m not particularly religious, I’m not very observant, but I respect it, and in one form or another I celebrate holidays – maybe I’m not so strict and formal, but I like to celebrate holidays in my own way. Religion is a very important part of my life. It has shaped my past, my present, and very likely my future.

Q. Have you ever performed in Israel?

Kutik: No, never. But we’re working on that right now.

Q. Thank you.

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