The maverick in autumn
Violin virtuoso Kremer returns to Jordan Hall
“Being a violinist can be a little boring — especially for me,’’ Gidon Kremer told a reporter some 30 years ago. It was likely a comment about conventional musical careers. Not that he would know.
The Latvian soloist, who returns to Boston this fall, was just exploding onto the scene at that time, a kind of rebel genius of the violin. He had studied with the great Soviet master David Oistrakh and had absorbed the insights of the storied Russian violin school but from the outset his musical personality exuded a restless iconoclasm. His 1980 solo Bach recording was a searing document of violinistic expressionism, as much Kremer as Bach. In his recording of Beethoven’s Violin Concertos from the same period he grafted onto the work’s pristine classical lines the dark, sneeringly dissonant cadenzas of Alfred Schnittke.
It was not so much actual rebellion as the early expression of a powerful independent streak and a questing musical spirit that, coupled with a superb technique and a gift for highly personal and spontaneous interpretations, has made him one of the most important violinists before the public today. Over the years, even as his fame grew, Kremer, now 63, has retained a refreshingly unconventional musical perspective. He has also led something of an interpretive double life, recording nearly all of the standard violin literature and even returning to some keystone works on multiple occasions. All the while he has been a forceful advocate for the composers of his time, including, in addition to Schnittke, the works of Sofia Gubaidulina, Giya Kancheli, and Arvo Pärt, among many others.
One of the more notable developments of the last decade for Kremer has been the growth of Kremerata Baltica, a chamber orchestra of young players from the Baltic states that he founded in 1997 and has led since then, recording and performing widely with the group. Their latest disc, to be released this week on the Nonesuch label, is an album called “De Profundis,’’ a kind of personal playlist of a few of Kremer’s favorite short pieces from canonical voices (Schubert, Sibelius, Shostakovich) and emerging ones (Raminta Serksnyte, Lera Auerbach), united more by a mood of introspection and by the musicians’ hypersensitive delivery than by any one compositional style.
The ensemble and its leader will be touring behind the new album this fall, visiting seven US cities. The tour will conclude here in Jordan Hall on Nov. 12 with a Celebrity Series performance devoted to works by Bartok and Schumann as well as selections from “De Profundis.’’ Kremer, who also has a second disc coming out this fall on the ECM label with performances from his Lockenhaus festival in Austria, recently spoke with the Globe by phone from Sveti Stefan, Montenegro, reflecting back on his years of musical wandering as well as on some of his more recent projects. He sounded as spread-thin as ever but happily so.
“Here I am, dealing with young musicians, with records and with theatrical shows, writing here and there essays, and still being alive despite my gray hair, which I realize every morning is growing,’’ he summarized. “In my soul I still feel young and enthusiastic about music. That always gave me a lot of energy, which I try to give in return to my audiences.’’
Somewhat unusually for Kremer, his newest disc has a political shading. “De Profundis’’ is dedicated to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Russian oligarch currently imprisoned in Siberia whose case has been viewed by some as symbolizing the current Russian government’s disregard for the rule of law. (Pärt’s newly released Fourth Symphony is also dedicated to Khodorkovsky.)
“Great musicians in the past like Casals or Menuhin or Rostropovich raised their voices for different causes and made it clear that artists should try to raise public awareness of injustice — at least by means of music, not by becoming politicians,’’ Kremer said. “In modern Russia, there are so many processes going on that remind me of the times of the Soviet Union, a country in which I myself lived. Khodorkovsky has become a symbol of injustice to me, and I feel that I can’t be indifferent to all this, or to be preoccupied just with my rehearsals and concertizing.’’
Kremer does not typically refer in interviews to his life in the former Soviet Union, so his comments eventually prompted a question about his relationship to its musical legacy. His artistic journey has taken him quite far afield, but does Kremer still at core feel defined by the heady Soviet musical world in which he came of age? His response hinted at a tension — a twinned rootedness and freedom — that is part of what make him such a distinctive artist.
“I am very grateful I’ve had such a rich life and have had such great teachers and personalities around me, like Oistrakh, Shostakovich, Richter, and Rostropovich. Certainly it helped me to become what I am. But, as Einstein said about science, I did so not thanks to a school but rather against a school. It gave me the basis from which I could later start to explore and search for my own voice.
“I’m trying to be what my profession calls me: an interpreter. I’m not trying to imitate my teachers. I’m trying to search for my interpretation of things, to tell the story which I discover in the scores with my own words. Here and there I find them, here and there I fail. My violin, a wonderful instrument by Amati these days, is my best companion. I’m just trying with Kremerata Baltica, with my violin, with my colleagues, to say something that I feel is important to me and to the people around me. Of course I’m grateful if on occasion my voice resonates.’’
Jeremy Eichler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.