World-renowned Russian-American violinist Yevgeny Kutik was only 5 when his family immigrated to the United States, so he doesn’t clearly remember the anti-Semitism they faced in Belarus. But he’s heard his parents’ and grandparents’ stories.
Kutik, who was born in Minsk in 1985, told the AJP the discrimination was “just present in life; it was very noticeable every day, that’s how my family grew up. They didn’t know otherwise.” His parents, both professional musicians, for the most part could choose to ignore it — such as the constant jokes during rehearsal breaks that were “particularly, like acidicly, anti-Semitic.” Then his mother was fired from a conservatory because they had exceeded their quota of Jews. And when Kutik started preschool, she noticed that the other parents “immediately singled me out as the Jew,” making him an object of ridicule, though luckily, no violence. Kutik’s parents decided to leave Belarus to give him and his older brother, as well as themselves, “more of a chance.”
The transition was not easy, with six months in Austria and Italy, not knowing if their final destination would be the United States, Israel, South Africa, or Canada, says Kutik, who notes that their situation was not unique; several million Russian Jewish refugees had similar experiences. With the help of HIAS (formerly the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) and the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires, his family was resettled in western Massachusetts and so warmly welcomed that Kutik considers the Jewish community there “my second, third and fourth family.”
Kutik will be in Tucson for a Jan. 17 concert for UA Presents and also will headline a Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona Northwest Division campaign event on Thursday, Jan. 18. The Federation event, which will be held at The Buttes at Reflections, 9800 N. Oracle Road, will begin at 5 p.m. with a sunset cocktail hour on the patio, with dinner and the program beginning at 6 p.m.
Kutik also will join the Federation for a Lion of Judah lunchtime concert on Friday, Jan. 19.
The UA Presents concert, which Kutik will play with pianist Spencer Myer, will feature selections from Kutik’s album “Music from the Suitcase: A Collection of Russian Miniatures.” These pieces, such as Prokofiev’s Waltz from “Cinderella” and other, rarer works, were among the sheet music that his mother insisted on packing in one of the two suitcases the family was allowed to take out of Belarus.
Kutik holds a bachelor’s degree from Boston University and a master’s degree from the New England Conservatory, but his career began taking off when he was still in high school. He won first prize in the Boston Symphony Orchestra Young Artists Competition in 2003, leading to his orchestral debut that year with the Boston Pops. In 2006, he was awarded the Salon de Virtuosi Grant and the Tanglewood Music Center Jules Reiner Violin Prize. Known for his lush, Old World tone coupled with what The New York Times called “razor sharp technique,” Kutik has recorded four acclaimed albums and is widely sought after on concert stages worldwide. He was a featured performer for the 2012 March of the Living observances, where he played for audiences at the Krakow Opera House and for over 10,000 people at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Kutik will play his violin — which was crafted in Italy in 1915 by Stefano Scarampella — at the Federation’s Northwest event, but the evening’s format also gives him a chance talk about his family’s story and his support for the Jewish Federations of North America.
“I do my best,” he says, “to raise awareness of the story — raise awareness of this kind of journey and what so many millions of people went through, and the need for the community to remain involved, to be involved, to keep helping.”
Admission to the Federation’s Northwest campaign event is $40. RSVP by Jan. 4 at jfsa.org/nwcampaignkickoff2018 or contact Karen Graham at 647-8469 or [email protected].