Violinist's career has no strings attached

March 16, 1995|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

If Dmitry Sitkovetsky concentrated on solo appearances as more conventional violin virtuosos do, it probably wouldn't have taken him 11 years to return to play with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

Sitkovetsky, who will perform tonight, Friday and Saturday evenings with the BSO and conductor David Lockington, is acknowledged by most of his colleagues to be one of the masters of his instrument -- the equal (and perhaps the superior) of such better-known fiddlers as Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman.

"It's possible that if I had wanted it enough, I might have become more famous," Sitkovetsky, 40, says over the telephone from the Manhattan apartment of his mother, the well-known pianist Bella Davidovich. "But violinists are like singers, particularly tenors, in that they too frequently inhabit a world that is confined to that one line, the treble clef. Pretty early on, I decided that that one line wasn't enough for me."

This is not to say that the Russian-born violinist, who will perform the Brahms Violin Concerto, does not enjoy playing concertos. His recordings of the two Prokofievs, the five Mozarts, the two Shostakoviches and, particularly, the Beethoven and the Elgar number among the best in the catalog. He is also a favorite partner for conductors such as Claudio Abbado, Kurt Masur and Vladimir Ashkenazy. But he wanted a career that included conducting, directing his own music festival, playing chamber music, composing, and the liberty to learn and perform such undeservedly neglected pieces as the Violin Concerto of the American composer David Diamond.

Sitkovetsky, who lives in London with his American wife, soprano Susan Roberts, and their 5-year-old daughter, has already achieved many of his goals. He founded and for 10 years directed Finland's Korsholm Festival and is now artistic director of the Seattle International Music Festival; his first transcription of Bach's "Goldberg Variations" has already entered the string trio repertory, and his recording of his second transcription of the "Goldberg" -- this time for string orchestra -- is about to be released by Nonesuch Records.

It was not his mother, but his father, who died when Sitkovetsky was only a toddler, who is responsible for his unconventional violin career.

Now almost forgotten outside the former Soviet Union -- where he is still a legend -- Julian Sitkovetsky, who died of lung cancer at age 32 in 1958, may have been the greatest violinist of his generation. Julian Sitkovetsky turned to gold everything he touched.

"If my father had lived I still would have become a musician," Dmitry Sitkovetsky says. "The chances of my becoming a violinist, however, would have been very small. But while competing with a living great artist is hard, perhaps competing with a dead legend is harder still."

Sitkovetsky began to step out of his father's shadow in 1977, when the 22-year-old violinist, already a winner in several important international competitions, decided to leave Russia for the United States.

"I wanted the freedom to make my own choices," says Sitkovetsky, whose mother followed him two years later.

He had to start all over again. He enrolled at Juilliard in New York, where he became one of the last students of the great Ivan Galamian. Despite having a scholarship, the young violinist -- in order to pay rent and buy food -- played on street corners and in subway stations, for weddings and bar mitzvahs.

"You name it, I did it," Sitkovetsky says. "It was a great school of life."

Winning a prestigious first prize in Vienna's Fritz Kreisler Competition supplied the violinist with the credentials he needed for his new career in the West. He won the Kreisler with the Brahms Violin Concerto, which he had learned only a year before.

"The Brahms is special for me because it was the first concerto 5/8 5/8 TC learned in New York," he says.

His only performance of the Brahms before his departure for Vienna was with the National Orchestral Association, a training orchestra for talented students, in a concert conducted by the legendary violinist Oscar Shumsky. Just before the first rehearsal, the young violinist nervously confided to Shumsky that he had just learned the piece and had never played it before. "Shumsky leaned over and whispered, 'young man, I envy you!' " Sitkovetsky says.

"I hope I never forget that."

VIOLIN VIRTUOSITY

What: Dmitry Sitkovetsky performs with the BSO

Where: Meyerhoff Hall

When: 8:15 p.m. tonight, tomorrow and Saturday

Tickets: $17-$48

Call: (410) 783-8000

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