Interview with PARMA Violinist Yuriy Bekker

Yuriy Bekker

This Friday (June 10th) marks the official release of eight albums across our four record label imprints, including the debut release from Charleston, SC violinist, Yuriy Bekker.  On his release, TWENTIETH CENTURY DUOS, Bekker is joined by award winning and acclaimed pianist Andrew Armstrong as they perform pieces rarely heard today by the twentieth century Jewish composers Erich Korngold and Aaron Copland.

Yuriy has worn many hats over the past few years and we caught up with him in advance of his release to talk about the recording, his time in Charleston, and his inspiration as a musician. Check out our full interview with Bekker below! 

A. The program of TWENTIETH CENTURY DUOS is self-explanatory, but what attracted you to these compositions?

Y. I want to record music that I feel very close to and that has not been recorded very much. I really love each of these pieces and feel that I have something unique to say about them. 

My hope is that what I said musically has not been said before. I have been a fan of Korngold’s music for a while now and I especially love his use of harmony. It is truly one of a kind. It is amazing to think that Korngold wrote these works in the 1920’s while living in Vienna, knowing that to our modern ears, we hear traces of his future career in Hollywood. I fell in love with Copland’s music more recently and really enjoy his parallel harmonies. The works I chose are either exquisitely beautiful or simply a lot of fun to play.

A. How did you come to work with pianist Andrew Armstrong for these recordings and what was it like to work with him?

Y. Andrew Armstrong was a soloist with the Charleston Symphony for my very first concert as the new concertmaster in 2006. He was playing Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and when I had a little solo we connected. We subsequently became friends and I invited him to play a recital with me for Piccolo Spoleto Festival’s “A World of Jewish Culture” in the summer of 2007.

Since then, we started playing together as often as we both could. We enjoy playing together because we are very compatible musically. We usually agree on musical decisions and we interpret the music similarly. In fact, a lot of decisions are made non-verbally, just by listening to each other and feeding off of each other. It is rare to find a musical partner who understands music in the same way that you do.

Andy is an amazing musician and I have learned so much from him.  He was invaluable during the recording process because he has much more experience with recording. While this album was my first, it was his tenth. He made me become very picky and detailed on every part of the recording process. He helped me realize that once you record the music and it is released, it is out there forever.

We wanted to release something that was of very high quality, accurate to what the composers intended, and also true to our artistic and musical vision. This project forced me to improve as an artist and Andy played a tremendous role in that process.

A. Korngold’s “Much Ado About Nothing” was banned in Nazi Germany. What sort of emotions were you experiencing while performing the piece?

Y. All Jewish composers’ music was banned in Nazi Germany. It is a very sad period in our history. However, it reminds me of the power of music. It heals, it says what words cannot say. Actually Korngold’s life was saved through his music when he was called to Hollywood to compose a film score only weeks before Austria was annexed by the Nazis.

So, while it is sad to reflect upon the reality of that time, and important to never forget, music always leaves me with a sense of hope and renewal.

A. You used a very rare and unique instrument (Ex-Nachez Stradivarius) on TWENTIETH CENTURY DUOS.  How did you come across this instrument and do you think the recording benefited from the instrument?

Y. This instrument belongs to John and Winifred Constable. Back in 2011, they were following the news of the Charleston Symphony and our efforts to resurrect it. They contacted us to offer the use of their violin for fundraising efforts or a special concert.

After that, I visited them at their home in Philadelphia and got to know them. They had a chance to hear me play and offered me the use of their violin for fundraising efforts. The first time I played this violin in public was in February 2012 for a premiere of Edward Hart’s Violin Concerto. We sold out the old Gaillard hall and, at that time, it was the highest grossing concert in the CSO’s history. Since then, I have played this special instrument on many different occasions and have been able to raise funds not only for the CSO, but also other organizations in Charleston community. 

The recording would not have been the same without this violin. The works by Copland have many intricate and open harmonies that really benefited from the extraordinary overtones and colors that are accessible on this instrument. I think the Korngold works benefit most from its sweet and nuanced sound. The more I play this instrument, the more colors I find and can draw from it, and with such ease.

A. What sort of challenges did you face with using an instrument from the late 17th century?

Y. When instruments are so old, they are more sensitive and temperamental to variations in the weather. When we recorded this album, it was a very hot South Carolina August.

Fortunately, we allowed the violin time to acclimate to the weather and I did not experience any problems during the actual recording. But, I have learned to always treat the Strad like a lady.

A. Being the first artist to record with this violin what did you want to showcase?

Y. I think that I may be the first artist to record on this violin. However, it is possible that Fred Fradkin, a previous owner and former concertmaster of the Boston Symphony, may have recorded on the violin in the 1920’s – that information is uncertain.

Most of all, I wanted to showcase the violin’s vast color palate. The works of Korngold and Copland that we recorded were the perfect selections to highlight the variety of shades, as well as the exquisite overtones and characters that can be achieved.   

A. You’ve been credited with spearheading the resurgence of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra. How did your position in Charleston come about and have you been able to grow in your position in South Carolina?

Y. I was part of a great team of musicians, board members, and staff and we really achieved success through team work. It is truly amazing to see how our organization has grown.

When the orchestra was in trouble in 2010 and the music director passed away, many musicians and staff left the organization. When the board reorganized and presented a new business model, I was asked to be Acting Artistic Director because of my connections in the community and leadership. The new business model allowed me to program works that are very marketable in the Charleston community and that helped build the audience.

We reached out to collaborate more with other local organizations and that also contributed a lot to our success. Due to our small staff at the time, I also became involved in many different areas outside of artistic, from marketing to fundraising. Jumping into this special and unusual role forced me to learn and grow in so many ways. As a result, I have a tremendous understanding of what it takes to run an orchestra.

Of course, making music for me is a top priority, but I really enjoy fundraising and being involved behind the scenes. Being in that role for four years was a tremendous honor for which I am extremely grateful. During this period of growth with the symphony, I still continued to practice very hard and also started studying scores. The College of Charleston offered me a part-time position to conduct the C of C orchestra and that led to my improvement as a conductor. Now, I have another role in the Charleston Symphony as the new Principal Pops conductor. This will be a great opportunity for me to continue to improve and to build our Pops into a thriving series.

A. What have you learned as a conductor that has helped you with your violin playing, and what have you learned as a violinist that has helped with your conducting?

Y. At this moment I feel that the two feed off of each other. As I continue to develop and improve my conducting, I feel that my violin playing is also improving. In fact, I may have grown more as a violinist since I started conducting than at any other point in my career.

As a conductor, I study the score, I analyze it. I think about its historical and cultural context. I look at the whole picture from both a broad and detailed perspective. That skill helps me tremendously as a violinist because I feel that I can understand the musical ideas and harmonies better. I also have a better understanding of what the composers wanted to achieve in their music.

On the other side, my experience as a violinist and as concertmaster for the last decade helps me tremendously on the podium. Being a violinist conductor, I am very effective with the strings and can achieve the right sound from the orchestra. I also have insight into the way that individual instruments and sections interact and an understanding of the functioning within an orchestra. I like to approach conducting on equal footing with my colleagues, working with and shaping the orchestra in a respectful way to achieve a common goal.


TWENTIETH CENTURY DUOS is available for preorder on Amazon now and will be released worldwide on June 10th!  You can hear previews and learn more at the following link:

One thought on “Interview with PARMA Violinist Yuriy Bekker

  1. I was simply amazed at the architecture of this absolutely beautiful venue!! The environment was unbelievable. I was fortunate enough to visit Chicago event venues like these, we found awesome things one after another after another.

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