Young violinist returns

Stefan Jackiw to open Shriver Hall Concert Series 4 years after debut with the BSO

September 14, 2006|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,sun music critic

Four years ago this month, an affable 17-year-old high school student from Boston stepped in front of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for the first time, an unexpected sub for an indisposed big-name violinist. He left a decidedly favorable impression.

This weekend, Stefan Jackiw, now all of 21, returns to Baltimore to open the Shriver Hall Concert Series. He's likely to find a very friendly crowd. Since his BSO debut in 2002, he has developed a good fan base around here, including members of the orchestra.

"Stefan is not just a technical wiz, but a serious musician," says BSO concertmaster Jonathan Carney. "He can be considered in the forefront of today's young crop of violinists. He's got everything it takes."

That "everything" includes a luscious tone, seemingly effortless articulation and a richly expressive approach to phrasing.

Carney and his BSO colleagues had a chance to measure those talents when Jackiw joined the orchestra on its tour of Japan in 2002, filling in for Pamela Frank. "We had a great time on that trip," Carney says.

Jackiw agrees. "The musicians are so nice," he says. "I got to know many of them so well on the tour. I love coming back to the Baltimore Symphony. It's always a wonderful feeling."

Since the Japan engagement, the young violinist has been re-engaged by the BSO for both its regular and summer seasons, most recently in 2005.

"One of my fondest memories is that last time in Baltimore, working with Maestro [Yuri] Temirkanov on Saint-Saens' Third Concerto," Jackiw says. "I've always enjoyed working with him, but especially on that occasion. When you perform with him, he gives you so much freedom, he makes you feel at ease."

Next month, Jackiw will collaborate with conductor Gunther Herbig in another BSO gig, this time playing Samuel Barber's lush Violin Concerto, a piece Jackiw played on a just-completed, multi-country Asian tour.

Sunday's Shriver Hall appearance marks his Baltimore recital debut. Joined by the fine pianist Max Levinson, Jackiw will perform Beethoven's bold and beautiful C minor Sonata, the colorful Suite Italienne by Stravinsky and the grandly soaring E-flat major Sonata by Strauss.

"That Beethoven sonata is one of the greatest ever written for violin and piano," Jackiw says. "It can be terrifying to listen to. The music is furious one minute, tender the next. And I've really fallen in love with the Strauss sonata. [Violinist] Jascha Heifetz owned that piece. I'm not sure why it is not played very often."

Born in Boston, Jackiw is the son of a Korean mother and German father. "But the name Jackiw is Ukrainian, so someone must have crossed over way back when," says the violinist. (His full name is pronounced steh-FAHN jah-KEEVE.)

"I didn't come from a family of musicians - my parents are physicists, which is just as bad," he adds with a laugh.

Some of that scientific bent rubbed off. At Harvard University, where he is a senior finishing up a music degree, Jackiw's elective courses have included astrophysics. His big nonacademic interest: "I'm a very avid and serious runner."

It was a visit to friends of his parents, when Jackiw was not yet 4, that he discovered the violin - at least a reduced version, one made for children. "I picked it up and had so much fun playing it that I didn't want to leave it when it was time to go, so they gave it to me as a gift," he says. Today he plays a 1721 Stradivarius on loan.

That initial attraction to the violin persuaded Jackiw's parents to start him on the Suzuki method.

He soon moved on to private teachers. One of them was Zinaida Gilels, niece of eminent Russian pianist Emil Gilels. "She was steeped in the Russian tradition," Jackiw says of his early teacher. "I think that influenced me tremendously."

The Russian style, as much about firmness of technique as about warmth of sound and style, is a product of 19th-century romanticism, which doesn't necessarily sit well with all contemporary tastes.

"I've had people say to me, `Are you sure you want to play in this style? Do you really want to use this much bow here?' " Jackiw says. "It's important to think about all the arguments that get thrown at you, and, of course, to try to honor a composer's intentions. But you should still keep your own unique interpretation. "

That's one thing Jackiw doesn't seem to have any trouble doing, which helps explain why audiences respond so enthusiastically to him, and why he has already performed with the top-ranked Boston and Chicago symphonies, among many others.

"I do about 30 concerts a year, which, coupled with school, keeps me very busy," Jackiw says. "But I love it."

Violinist Stefan Jackiw gives a recital at 5:30 p.m. Sunday at Shriver Hall, Johns Hopkins University, 3400 N. Charles St. Tickets are $17 to $33. Call 410-516-7164 or visit

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