When they first handed Soviet-born Israeli musician Vadim Gluzman the violin he plays today, he had the “distinct feeling” he was being watched. This is no ordinary violin, mind you, so it’s practical to think that a number of people were looking on. But this feeling was different, supernatural even.
Gluzman is responsible for one of the rarest violins in the world. It’s worth millions of dollars — literally more than its weight in gold — and has a price tag that is probably higher than any classical musician alive could manage.
It was crafted in 1690 by master Italian stringed instrument maker Antonio Stradivari — a man widely regarded as the best artisan ever in his field — and is a violin so unique it has a title known by connoisseurs the world over: “It’s named ‘Ex-Auer,’” says Gluzman. He explains that the violin bears the name of its former owner, Leopold Auer, a Hungarian musician and educator who Gluzman says “set the cornerstone for Russian violin school” in the late 19th century. The Ex-Auer changed hands several times before it was acquired by a patron of the Stradivari Society of Chicago in the 1980s, and, 17 years ago, it was given to Gluzman on loan. It was then, in the halls of the Stradivari Society building in 1997, that Gluzman had the feeling of eyes on his back. “You know, sometimes you have that sensation, that sort of discomfort?” says Gluzman, “and I turned around and right behind me on the wall was a huge portrait of Auer staring at me. That was the spookiest thing I have ever experienced in my life.”
Still, contrary to expectation, Gluzman did not have an instant connection with the violin, despite the surreal circumstances surrounding the transfer of the rare Stradivari into his keep. “It’s not just that easy,” explains Gluzman. “It took time, actually, to learn how it responds.” But once he developed a feel for the instrument, Gluzman says “the sensation was incredible because I could do things suddenly that I didn’t even dream of before.”
Gluzman first began playing at the age of seven while living with his parents — both music teachers — in the Soviet Union. Though he was just looking for their attention at first, when he asked to begin his education in music, they marched him down to the local conservatory where he was subjected to rigorous testing. His first grade class of seven students was selected from a crop of about 100, and Gluzman was assigned the violin simply because he was “built for it.”
In 1990, when Gluzman was 16, his family fled the Soviet Union for Israel. Two weeks after their arrival in Jerusalem, Gluzman’s long and distinguished career in music got a jumpstart from a serendipitous encounter with world-famous Israeli violinist and philanthropist Isaac Stern. When Stern heard the young Gluzman arguing with a receptionist at the Jerusalem Music Centre about arranging an audition with him, he offered the boy five minutes to warm up before his one shot at a private audience. Stern wound up giving Gluzman a new violin, a music scholarship, and a ticket to study with him in Tel Aviv after a two hour session that day.
Gluzman went on to continue his studies at Julliard and, later, to perform as a soloist with nearly every orchestra of any renown across the globe — from the Seoul and London philharmonics to the Philadelphia and Chicago symphony orchestras — and he’s making his way to Tucson for two shows at the Tucson Music Hall on Friday, Dec. 5 and Sunday, Dec. 7.
Gluzman says he simply can’t be forced to choose a favorite piece to play, and so “whatever I’m playing that night, that is my favorite.” Perhaps this accounts for some of the zeal so characteristic of his performances. This December in Tucson, Gluzman’s “favorite” will be Sergei Prokofiev’s 1935 Violin Concerto No. 2 — a number that falls precisely in his contemporary Eastern European wheelhouse.
Despite a life that has carried him across the world and back countless times, Gluzman still finds himself occasionally lost on stage as he seeks those brief moments when the boundary between man and instrument disappear. “When there is no more me and it,” he says, “when we become one and it’s just my voice, that’s very special.”
More information and tickets are available at www.TucsonSymphony. org.
Craig S. Baker is a freelance writer in Tucson.