Fresh from winning one of the most prestigious awards in classical music, the Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos, along with famed pianist Yuja Wang, will come to Seattle bearing a program including works by works by Schubert, Debussy, Janacek and Bartok.
Forget about art for art’s sake.
The virtuoso violinist Leonidas Kavakos staunchly believes that artistic creativity is vital for a fully human life — and even for our survival.
“The arts are not just about hearing a good concert or going to a nice museum,” he says during a phone interview from his home in Athens, Greece. “The creations we admire embody an enormous amount of cosmic information that certain people have had the charisma to conceive in their lifetime and to shape for the rest of us.”
In Recital: Leonidas Kavakos & Yuja Wang
8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 10, Benaroya Hall, Seattle; tickets from $25 (206-215-4747 or seattletimes.com).
Reports of the Trump administration’s intentions to eliminate federal funding for the arts elicited a characteristically passionate response from Kavakos: “Unfortunately this is happening everywhere. I personally feel very insulted — not so much as an artist myself, but as a human being — when governments around the world look at the arts as some form of luxury.”
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Kavakos had just returned from a whirlwind week of performing as well as being feted in Copenhagen, where he was awarded the prestigious Léonie Sonning Music Prize for 2017. Previous winners have included such greats as Leonard Bernstein, Mstislav Rostropovich and Miles Davis.
“His strong personality, virtuosity and the honest, direct nature of his playing mark him out as an artist of rare caliber,” reads the Sonning citation — an assessment shared by many music lovers ever since Kavakos, now 49, burst on the international scene in the mid-1980s.
The Greek violinist maintains a formidable schedule that also carves out room for his increasing interest in conducting: last fall he made his debut on the New York Philharmonic podium, where he is serving as artist-in-residence this season.
His current European-North American tour with the pianist Yuja Wang, which brings the pair to Benaroya on Friday (Feb. 10), is not only extensive — 13 stops in two weeks — but ambitious in scope. Their program of works by Schubert, Debussy, Janáček and Bartók underscores Kavakos’ interest in teasing out connections as well as contrasts.
“Even though the works themselves are quite contrasting, I find a very strong element of melancholy in Janácek and Schubert, and also an amazing quality of melody,” he explains.
Janácek and Bartók shared an interest in the folk music of Central and Eastern Europe, but the latter’s First Violin Sonata, according to Kavakos, also betrays Bartók’s early fascination with Impressionism. Hence the link to Debussy, whose sole Violin Sonata — the French composer’s final major work, from 1917 — is also on the program.
Bartók, who pursued a dual career as a virtuoso pianist, himself juxtaposed his own music with the Debussy sonata in a legendary recording with the violinist Joseph Szigeti.
Kavakos will have a similarly high-caliber partner at the keyboard in Wang, 29. He first performed with his younger colleague a few years ago at the Verbier Festival in Switzerland. They went on to make an acclaimed recording of the Brahms violin sonatas on Decca. This is their most extensive tour to date.
How do two musicians known to be intense, strong personalities find the right balance in performance? “Any collaboration is a question of chemistry,” Kavakos replies. “And if the chemistry is good, it requires much less effort than one would imagine to get a satisfying result. Of course we talk about places here and there, but it’s such a joy to rehearse and to play together.”
The need for having the right chemistry in place from the outset applies as well, he adds, to his instrument — in Kavakos’ case, the Abergavenny Stradivarius from 1724.
“Each string instrument is a creation, and the difference between one and another is much bigger than that between one Steinway and another. The issue is not the piano matching with the violin sound but the violinist having the right instrument in his hands.”