May 11, 2012

On the Beatles, being married to your instrument, and the Moscow Soloists – Exclusive interview with Maestro Yuri Bashmet!

On the Beatles, being married to your instrument, and the Moscow Soloists – Exclusive interview with Maestro Yuri Bashmet!

The great violist Yuri Bashmet comes to Singapore as part of a 20th anniversary World Tour with the Moscow Soloist. Plink, Plonk, Plunk catches up with him in an exclusive email interview before his concert on the 25th of May at the Esplanade Concert Hall.

Hello Maestro Bashmet, and thank you ever so much for agreeing to this e-mail interview! This year is very special for you and your ensemble as you will be celebrating your 20th anniversary. Warmest congratulations! I hear you have planned a big world tour – UK, USA, and every continent.  

How did the idea of a world tour come about and how do you cope with being on tour for the whole year? 

Being in a concert and playing to a live audience allows me to communicate with audiences around the world – one of the most important things in my profession. 
The emotions shared during the performance is valuable and important – to me as an individual and as a musician.  

Have you been playing the same programme, or changing it from one continent to another?  

It really depends on the place that I am performing at. The taste is different for every country. Also, there aren’t many pieces around in the viola repertoire and not all of them are well-known. This is one of the main reasons why the Moscow Soloists was formed – so that we can offer more variety in terms of the pieces we can play to the audience. 

Tell us more about the Moscow Soloists. Have they all been with you for 20 years?  

One of the reasons why I formed the Moscow soloists was because of the lack of viola repertoire to perform. I was touring a lot around the world and I gradually found myself repeating a lot of pieces. So it happened and I decided to form the The Moscow Soloists. The ensemble brings together the finest talents of the renowned Moscow Conservatory. We made our debut in May 1992 with a concert at the big hall of the Salle Pleyel in Paris and the rest became history. In the last 20 years, we have performed more than 1,500 times in more than 60 countries across the world. 

Most of the musicians joined twenty years ago, and the orchestra has become a really big family during this time. 

You started out as a violinist, so how did you end up playing the viola? 

I played the violin in music school because of my mum and I turned out to be the best violinist in school. However, it was during the time when The Beatles was really popular and I actually preferred playing the guitar! 

In the end, I changed to the viola as I had a friend who told me: “You would make a talented viola player – you would need much less time to practise, because if you continue with your violin you will need five, six, seven hours of practice a day; with the viola you will need much less time, and then you will have more time for your guitar!” 

This is how I started playing the viola. 

You’ve had your viola since the 1970s, any reason for not changing instruments?  

No, it has been more than 20 years since I bought it but somehow I got on very well with it. It’s like being married. I’ve used it so much now that I can’t imagine looking for any other instrument to replace it. We have built a mutual understanding with each other.  

What were your fondest musical memories while growing up?  

I had a few strong musical impressions in my life which really impressed me. Surprisingly, the first musical experience was not associated with classical music at all. When I was a child, I was very impressed with Beatles. However, there were two classical works that changed me and led me to fall in love with classical music with all my heart. It was the Second Piano Concerto by Sergei Rachmaninoff and the Sixth Symphony by Tchaikovsky.  

I became interested with classical music after that, and have lived for it since then. This does not mean that I do not listen to music from other genres. I am, as a matter of fact, interested in all that is real and informative. But classical music remains my core profession and my life.  

How did you get into conducting, and do you prefer conducting, playing solo (with an orchestra), or playing chamber works?  

I like them all. When I conduct, I get pleasure from conducting and when I play, I tell myself “No, I like to play more than I do for conducting”. If I mix up these feelings and start choosing, I would not play or conduct as good as I possibly can.  

You will be overseeing the formation of an all-Russian youth orchestra for the 2014 Winter Olympics. How will that work out?  

I am actually the first ambassador of the Olympic Games in Sochi. When I was asked to become an ambassador, I wondered what was the responsibility of the Ambassador of the Olympics. The organizers of the Olympic Games, who are my close friends now, assured me that I had to do almost nothing. An ambassador represented by his own creativity and his work, already helps to promote the idea of the Olympic Games to the world. But it seemed to me that this is not so interesting. For 5 years now, I have spent the winter in Sochi International Arts Festival, which has hosted leading musicians, dramatic artists, movie actors from various countries.  

In these five years, the festival has become widely known both in Russia and abroad. And today, it is one of the biggest cultural forums in Russia. Even now, it continues to develop, with every year growing in diversity. It creates a different cultural environment in Sochi during the preparation for the Olympics.  

Finally, any advice for budding musicians?  

Work hard and with enthusiasm. It’s important to think when you’re practicing on the instrument. Not to spend the empty hours, but to play thinking. And it is very important to listen and absorb like a sponge, letting the music flow through you and your understanding of music and your instruments.

Watch this space for a chance to win a pair of tickets to catch Yuri Bashmet and the Moscow Soloists in a one-night-only concert! 

The Yuri Bashmet & the Moscow Soloists concert is proudly sponsored by global energy company, Gazprom group. For more information, visit

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