Name: Yevgeny Kutik
Occupation: PViolinist
Nationality: Russian-American   
Current Release: Yevgeny Kutik's The Death of Juliet and Other Tales is out via Marquis Classics.
Recommendations: I think the Alban Berg Violin Concerto is one of the greatest works ever written. Similarly, when listening to Beethoven’s Ninth it’s hard not to let go of ego, and inner conflict, and pause at least temporarily simply to experience humanity.

If you enjoyed this interview with Yevgeny Kutik and would like to stay up to date on his activities, visit his official homepage. Or follow him on Instagram, Facebook, and twitter.

When did you start playing your instrument, and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?

I started playing the violin shortly after my fifth birthday.

I grew up in a musical family – my mom a violinist, my father a trumpet player, my grandfather a trumpet player. Long before I was probably even aware of it, music was in my blood.

I think I asked to play violin even earlier than five.

For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?

I grew up listening to lots of the famous recordings everyone knows and loves – Perlman, Oistrakh, Kogan, Mutter, Vengerov etc. It is fair to say that artistic process in some ways revolves around emulating others and listening to these players is where I learned so much about artistry.

During college and beyond, I was fortunate to study with the famous pedagogue and violinist, Roman Totenberg. More than anything, Roman’s goal was to foster an artist’s own individuality.

After several years of studying with him, I suddenly started truly “feeling” that I had my own personal voice in my playing and sound which I continue to develop today.  

How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?

In many ways, creativity has actually been one of my main windows into my identity. Using the violin, I’ve learned and understood so much more about my culture and background, than I ever could have without music.

Through projects like Music from the Suitcase, Meditations on Family, and now my new album, The Death of Juliet and Other Tales, I have been allowed a deep-dive into discovering my family’s history, my own history, and the Russian-Jewish cultural identity we’ve had to cultivate on two different continents.

What were some of your main challenges when starting out as an artist and in which way have they changed over the years?

I took a long time to understand that technique, albeit extremely important / crucial to everything, is only just a starting point within artistry. Often I was trained and operated as though perfect technique was the end all and be all of everything we do as string players.

I also believed conversely that any technical inconsistencies were fatal scars seared upon one’s creative ventures. I have moved on from this mode of thinking in recent years.

As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first instrument?

I played a variety of instruments – cello, piano, saxophone. Initially it was just about exploring sound worlds. However, at a certain point dedication to craft and technical comprehension become factors in ultimate expression. And the violin was the way I was personally able to do that.

Tell me about your instrument, please. How would you describe the relationship with it? What are its most important qualities and how do they influence the musical results, including your own performance?

My violin was made by Stefano Scarampella in 1915 in Mantua, Italy. It is a beautiful, powerful example of this maker’s work. While Scarampella could sometimes be inconsistent in his work, this violin is the rare example of perfection.

The violin shines exceptionally well in giant halls. It has the ability to easily deliver beautiful tone from the first row to the back. Under the microphone it can sometimes be too strong and require a bit more effort to tame. That has been a wonderful challenge which has helped me grow over the years along with the violin.  

How would you describe your approach to interpretation? Where do you start and how do you develop your view on a piece, what are some of your principles and what constitutes a successful interpretation for you?

A successful interpretation is one which makes listeners feel like active participants in the real-time creation of a piece. It challenges listeners to ask questions, to disagree, to want to get up out of their seats and, metaphorically, listen standing up so as to hear the music better.

To accomplish this as a performer, you must have a truly deep and comprehensive understanding of phrase and structure, and then you need to be brave enough to question everything you think you know. Ideally you get to the point with a piece where on stage you are humble yet confident enough to forget everything you built and start your interpretation from scratch on the spot.  

Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives?

I love working with living composers. In some ways, they are the best teachers. They can take you back to the basics of what a composition is. And working with composers can inspire you to completely rethink your concept of interpretation.

Whenever, I work with a living composer, I relish the opportunity to hear all of their ideas and suggestions, even if it goes completely against what it is I am doing.  

Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?

I like to work first thing in the mornings. Music and career require a vast amount of discipline and in my training, I discovered over the years that part of discipline is creating a routine and observing it as best as one can.

It also takes discipline to be able to stop working and let everything go completely. And I find this is easiest if I have worked all morning.

Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?

I actually just premiered a brand new violin concerto by Pulitzer Prize winner, Joseph Schwantner with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Leonard Slatkin. The piece is a massive 35-minute concerto which requires so much from the performers. It’s also a work Joe has been thinking about for many years now and I felt a great deal of pressure to bring it to life successfully. Happily, it was very well received.

There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?

If anything, over the years I have given up trying to find the ideal state of mind for creativity. I’m not convinced that such a thing exists, and if it does, I worry one can spend most of their time searching for it rather than being creative.

I believe creativity is possible anytime. It is more akin to awareness. And awareness is available anytime, we just need to choose to come back to it.

Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?

Music can access certain parts of our brains like nothing else can. And with that comes communication, it can often communicate far better than words can.

In this sense, music can unite a community around something uniform and something which can be shared. Within communities where members feel marginalized, music can serve as a starting point for healing.

Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?

I think what’s fascinating is how certain senses / external stimuli can create with their presence a powerful sense of fear, joy, longing, contentment, etc. Music can obviously do this.

So sound itself is touching the same elements within space and time that can play such a major role in our perception of thing. It confirms that music is one of the most important ingredients in our lives.

Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?

Artists play a key role in society, and will continue to do so in a major way in this post-pandemic world. As mentioned above, music can heal and unite, and not in a dissimilar way, artists across all genres can function almost like spiritual advisors (like Rabbis, Priests, Imams, etc.) to help people in their search for deeper meaning and understanding.

Personally, I see what I do much less in terms of entertainment, and more as one source of helping create communication and open up curiosity.

What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?

So much. There are so many elements of life that we can not truly understand, and there are times when we can glimpse at something that clearly is so much more than life itself as we know it, but we can not possibly even attempt to describe it in words. Music helps to create a bridge in these cases.