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Wednesday, March 24,2010

OMG, it’s in A minor

Violinist Schmidt is old-school, Web-savvy

by Lawrence Cosentino

 


In Giora Schmidt’s febrile brain, Mozart is bent over a BlackBerry, blogging about the latest hot young soprano, or bitching about how underappreciated Bach is. Beethoven is furiously texting his virtual salon: “I just finished my Opus 18 string quartets, the best yet IMHO.”


“All composers would have done it if they had the resources,” violinist Schmidt asserted. “They’re entrepreneurs.”


Schmidt, the 27-year-old violin soloist at the next Lansing Symphony concert, credits his laptop and Blackberry for keeping him sane on the road.


“I’m supposed to tell you I’m reading some deeply thick novel, but I’m on Facebook,” he said in a phone interview from a gig in Tel Aviv.


He’s pleased that his mentor, violin legend Itzhak Perlman, is starting to blog, too.


Last year, LSO maestro Tim Muffitt asked Perlman who would be the next great violinist. Perlman named Schmidt, whose creamy vibrato and grand sweep remind many listeners of his teacher.


When people ask Schmidt the inevitable “is classical music dying?” question — he brought it up, I didn’t — he points them to his Facebook page, with almost 9,000 fans.


“Look at Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, iTunes,” Schmidt said. “Music is changing, and we have to jump on that train.”


Schmidt’s posts run from philosophical musings to sexy advice to young violinists (something about “third position” and “G string”) to travelers’ tales of lost baggage in Madrid and tasty falafel in Tel Aviv.


It’s a digital life for a man with an analog soul. His parents played for the Philadelphia Opera Co., so he grew up in the Academy of Music’s Great Hall, home of the legendary Philadelphia Orchestra. The lush “Philadelphia sound,” nurtured by conductors Leopold Stokowski and Eugene Ormandy, pillowed his ears from youth. He raided his dad’s extensive vinyl collection for magisterial epics like Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2, still his default iPod choice.


Schmidt started playing violin at 4, but didn’t feel committed until about age 16 — fairly late in the classical world. There was the inevitable rough patch where he quit for a few months, but his parents were smart enough to let it play out.


“They said, ‘Fine, but if you really love it, you’ll be compelled to come back,’” Schmidt recalled. “I did, because I didn’t know how else to fill my day.”


“Music is a tremendous friend. People may disappoint you or surprise you, but with music, you get out what you put in.”



At 16, Schmidt came under the tutelage of Perlman and legendary violin teacher Dorothy DeLay at Juilliard. He sweated every lesson with them as if it were Carnegie Hall, but went from being “wishy-washy” to “eating the violin repertoire alive.”


Glassy, vibrato-less transparency is not Schmidt’s bag on violin. “I definitely connect myself to the romantic tradition of violin playing,” Schmidt said. “It’s not just a vibrantly rich, lush tone, but also an era where artists had their own thumbprint or DNA.”


The lyrical, mysterious violin concerto of American composer Samuel Barber, on Saturday’s bill in Lansing, has already given Schmidt two career highs: In 2004, he made his Carnegie Hall debut with it; last year, he played it with the Israel Philharmonic, with Perlman conducting. (Check it out on YouTube.)


Most American orchestras play a subscription program one to three times, but the Israel Philharmonic plays up to eight.


“I really had a chance to get into the depths of the music,” Schmidt said.


He called Muffitt his “co-pilot” on a ride of discovery Saturday. Together, he predicted, they would find satisfying ways to bank and swoop Barber’s big sound as emotion dictates.


“We’ll decide in rehearsal what detours we’ll take,” he said.


Lansing Symphony Orchestra with Giora Schmidt, violinist


8 p.m. Saturday, March 27 Wharton Center $12-$45 www.lansingsymphony.org (517) 487-5001


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