Young violinist disarms, impresses

Jackiw, 17, practices as other sightsee

Bso In Japan

October 02, 2002|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

HIROSHIMA, Japan - There is no escaping the history of this place, especially for visitors, like the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, staying in a hotel just about at the epicenter of the blast that began the atomic age with such ferocity. But there's also no mistaking the city's vitality and openness today.

The BSO musicians, midway through their third tour of Japan since 1994, have been taking in that past and present with equal appreciation. They had a free day on Monday and much of yesterday on their own.

During this break from the musical action, many of the players visited the Peace Memorial Park, where the history of the bomb that forever changed the world is preserved in sobering detail. And on Monday morning, a sizable contingent headed off by tram and then ferry to explore the serenity of the verdant, just-off-shore Miyajima Island, a magical place of temples, shops and free-roaming deer.

While those island hikers were enjoying the hot, sunny weather, BSO guest soloist Stefan Jackiw was back at the hotel in his room, guarded by a "Do Not Disturb" sign as he practiced. The 17-year-old violinist did make time for non-musical activity later, but that morning was about staying focused on this important step in a just-starting career - his first tour with an orchestra.

The Boston-born Jackiw (pronounced jah-KEEVE) is a disarming fellow. His still-boyish, Eurasian looks (a product of German and Korean heritage) and totally unaffected manner make him seem like just a normal American high-schooler. But he makes music and talks about it with startling maturity.

His BSO performances in Tama, Tokyo and, last night, Tokuyama have been the kind that make you sit up and take notice. As a last-minute replacement for an established artist, Pamela Frank (a hand injury has sidetracked her for a year), this newcomer has risen to the unexpected occasion with an aplomb that has quickly earned him a friendly welcome from the orchestra.

"My parents are both physicists who love classical music," Jackiw says. "When I was 4, we visited a friend's house where they had a miniature toy violin. I had so much fun playing around with it that they gave it to me as a gift. My parents figured, why not start me on lessons."

Jackiw, who made his Boston Pops debut at 12, clearly got a solid foundation early on, both technically and musically.

"I was lucky that I was never told I had to play a certain way," he says. "I had more freedom."

And more taste than many a kid taking music lessons these days. Jackiw lists Arthur Grumiaux and Nathan Milstein among his inspirations - past violin masters usually listed only by folks a certain, decidedly post-teen age.

"But my favorite is Heifetz," he says. "His technique was perfect, but what's so amazing was what he used that technique for. Some people say he was a cold musician, and he was a statue onstage. But his playing was so passionate and fiery. Sometimes I'll hear a Heifetz recording and think I wouldn't do that- I couldn't do that - but he makes it so convincing."

Jackiw's account of Bruch's G minor Concerto on this tour exudes personality and technical assurance, not to mention a big, juicy tone.

"It's a wonderful sound," says BSO music director Yuri Temirkanov, who has been enthusiastically leading the applause after each concert with Jackiw. "The most important thing is that he is musical. This concerto is dangerous; it can be played too sweetly and emotionally. He has good taste; he doesn't cry."

But Jackiw's interpretation certainly communicates deep-set feelings. For all the sheer volume and intensity in his playing, nothing sounds forced or labored.

"It's really not true that the harder you press, the bigger the sound you get," he says. "If you impose yourself too much, you just choke the sound. The most important thing is to relax. The audience wants to see me enjoy myself onstage, and I want to enjoy myself, so there really isn't anything to be tense about."

Jackiw is approaching the rest of life with a common sense attitude, too.

"All my life I've gone to regular schools and had friends who know nothing about classical music," he says, "and that's fine with me. I plan on going to regular college, probably Harvard or Columbia, instead of a music school. My thing is humanities. I'm fluent in French and interested in French literature."

Jackiw will still keep studying violin on the side as well, adding to his repertoire, which includes 16 concertos, and to his list of performance credits. Having already received a coveted Avery Fisher career grant and management by a major firm, the violinist ought to have a steady rise on the career path. This season alone, he's to make his Chicago and Boston symphony debuts.

"I definitely want to be a violinist," Jackiw says. "It's pretty cool."

Violinist Stefan Jackiw will take part in a live Web chat from 10 a.m.-11 a.m. today at

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