Maxim Vengerov was tired. It was a Monday afternoon and the virtuoso violinist and sometime conductor was ensconced in his dressing room at the Tel Aviv Opera House, where he has been rehearsing with the Rishon Lezion Orchestra and pianist Shira Shaked for this week’s Vengerov Festival.
It’s been a busy summer for Vengerov. In the last three weeks, he’s jetted twice to South America, once to China and twice to Paris.
He also celebrated his 40th birthday, doing, what else? Working.
But he’s not complaining. He’s finally in Israel, where much of his extended family lives, including his parents and grandmother. And he’s succeeded in bringing his eponymously named festival to Israel, something that’s been on his mind for some time.
The Vengerov Festival was first established in 2013 in Tokyo, with local artists and orchestras taking part. The second edition, which took place several months ago also in Tokyo, consisted of 10 concerts, including the Polish Chamber Orchestra and Israeli conductor and pianist Vag Papian.
This third edition of the festival, which Vengerov wanted to hold in Israel during the summer but which was postponed due to the war, includes soloists from the International Menuhin Music Academy in Gstaad, Switzerland, Israeli pianist Shira Shaked and Papian, as well as the Israel Symphony Orchestra from Rishon Lezion.
“We’ve been flirting for quite some time now,” he said of the Rishon Lezion Orchestra. “I have lots of great friends in the orchestra, and it was obvious that we should one day work together. I’m more like a colleague, less like a visiting conductor.”
Vengerov, who invited residents from the south to be his guests at the festival, wears white jeans and floral button-down shirts to rehearsal, and plays solos while also conducting.
The festival, which pays homage to composers and great violinists, offers the perfect opportunity to see Vengerov in action.
During Friday afternoon’s performance, he’ll perform as a soloist and conductor with the Swiss chamber ensemble playing works by Tchaikovsky and Saint-Saen. In the second concert on Saturday night, Vengerov will be the soloist in the Tchaikovsky Concerto and soloist and conductor in Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Sheherezade.”
Filling two jobs is challenging, he admitted, akin to being an actor and director in the same film, he said.
“Doing both takes experience,” he said. “I told the orchestra, ‘Don’t worry, I’ve done it a few times.'”
He’s not bragging. Vengerov has been in this line of work for some time.
Born in 1974 in the Soviet Union, he began his career as a solo violinist at the age of five, winning his first international competition and making his first recording at age ten.
He has recorded for a number of music labels, including Melodia, Teldec and EMI, and earned a Grammy in 2004. And besides playing around with baroque, jazz and rock, he began conducting seven years ago, eventually earning a diploma in conducting in June from the Moscow Institute of Ippolitov-Ivanov.
The violinist and conductor still, somewhat surprisingly, calls Israel home despite having spent only three years of his life here.
Vengerov came with his parents and grandmother in 1990, when he was 16, at the height of the Soviet immigration to Israel. He was already well on his way to stardom — “that was clear to me from age six” — and after studying at the Jerusalem Academy of Music, left Israel for Europe.
He now lives in St. Petersburg with his wife and two young children.
Israel, however, “is in my genes,” said Vengerov. “My heart and soul belong to Israel.”
His family came to Israel because “they needed a sense of hope,” said Vengerov. “Thank God there is this country, and I felt instantly connected to this country.”
“You can’t explain that to other people,” he added. “You try to explain this to foreigners, but even though I don’t live in Israel, I feel that this is my people and one day hope we’ll make our home here.”
In the meantime, however, it’s easier to live elsewhere, given the endless travel and engagements around the globe.
“My job is to travel a lot,” he said, laughing. “It’s a roller coaster.”
It’s hard to say no to any of the work, he said, given the quality of the projects he’s offered. “It’s a dream,” he said.
He’d like to make the Vengerov Festival an annual event in Israel, knowing it will help bring him here as frequently.
He can handle the craziness, he said. “I’m sustainable and durable,” said Vengerov. “That’s my character.”
And when will he get to rest? At the end of September, after stops in Vienna and England, when he’ll head home to St. Petersburg for five days.
“Then it’ll be Yom Kippur,” he said. “And I’ll relax.”
Vengerov Festival, Charles Bronfman Auditorium (Heichal HaTarbut, formerly known as the Mann Auditorium), Friday, September 19, 2 pm and Saturday, September 20, 9 pm. Call Eventim, *9066, for tickets, ranging in price from NIS 99 to NIS 285.
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