Ilya Gringolts plays Bruch and proves he is the “Violinist’s Violinist”

Ilya Gringolts is the “violinist’s violinist” and his performance of Bruch’s Violin Concerto in G Major, backed by the Australian Chamber Orchestra, is near perfection. Ilya Gringolts plays Bruch is a must-see and showcases his breathtaking virtuosic ability through one of the most beloved romantic violin concertos.

The Russian-born violinist is celebrated for his scintillating talent, which saw him become the youngest-ever winner of the International Violin Competition Premio Paganini at the age of 16. He then trained under the legendary Itzhak Perlman at New York’s Julliard School before a soaring career as a soloist.

Australian Chamber Orchestra’s Artistic Director Richard Tognetti was driving when he first heard Gringolts playing some Paganini on the radio. He immediately pulled over and insisted on finding out who the soloist was behind the exceptional playing. In 2018 Tognetti booked the violinist in for a tour with a performance of Paganini and Vivaldi. The performance was sensational, and the soloist is back to open the orchestra’s 2023 season as a guest director. This year’s tour features four works that show both Gringolts versatility and flawless skill, with a program including a mixture of canonical and contemporary work.

Gringolts along with the ACO begin with Felix Mendelssohn’s String Symphony No.13 in C minor. Sinfoniezatz, composed by Mendelssohn when he was only 14, begins with arresting and airy section followed by a heavy polyphonic finally.

Ilya Gringolts plays Bruch - Australian Chamber OrchestraThe repertoire continues with the world-premiere of Sydney composer Harry Sdraulig’s Slanted. The 30-year-old composer is very much a rising star and is known for his Waltzing Matilda Fantasia, which was commissioned and recorded by Yo-Yo Ma and Kathryn Scott. His latest work constitutes a set of 18 variations of an opening theme. The melodic and harmonic material throughout slopes in pitch and structure but has an overall flow.

Gringolts stresses the importance of performing new work and said Slanted is “wonderfully energetic and full of ideas.” The work can be split into two halves; an intense, dissonant, and frenetic start followed by an overtly romantic solo violin ending. The world-premiere went off without a hitch – despite the well-timed ringing of an audience member’s mobile phone. The composer graciously shook Gringolts hand and must have been pleased to watch his sister Eliza, who is in the ACO’s cello section, perform his piece to enthusiastic audience applause.

Legendary violinist Yehudi Menuhin commissioned Swiss composer Frank Martin to write a seven-part religious devotional based on sacred paintings in Siena. The 25-minute piece has solo violin as both Christ and the Evangelist and tracks Christ’s Passion from Palm Sunday to the Road to the Ross and eventual Glorification. It’s a piece wrought with emotion, anguish, and pure ecstasy. Gringolts masterfully executes the utter despair in The Image of Judas, the shrill tutti of the crowds mocking Jesus in The Judgement, and the euphoric solo in The Glorification.

ACO cellist Julian Thompson labelled Gringolts a “freak – in the nicest possible way” as he can play anything on his instrument. The Bruch Violin Concerto is one of those things. As a violinist myself and lover of Bruch’s concerto, I had high expectations.

Ilya Gringolts plays Bruch - Australian Chamber Orchestra

The ACO’s Artistic Administration Manager Bernard Rofe drastically slimmed down the orchestral piece to fit an all-string configuration with two basses and timpani. It took a few bars to adjust to the trimmed arrangement but by no means was sound sacrificed. Playing on his 1718 “ex-Prove” Stradivarius, Gringolts delivered the virtuosic passages with richness, lyricism, and beauty. He rose above the pulsing rhythms in the orchestra and forged the build-up to the climax with ease. The second movement was handled with absolute tenderness and brought moments of perfect sweetness. The Finale, with its energetic and generous bravado brought the house down. It was what we were all there for and was undoubtedly the highlight of the evening.

Bruch is always a hard act to follow but Gringolts managed to deliver with another 20th-century European piece by Grazyna Bacewicz. Concerto for Orchestra is a neo-classical masterpiece blending Handel and Bach with 1950s Polish music. It was a delightful piece to end the night.

Gringolts’ effortless mastery has cemented his solo virtuosity among the legendary violinists of our time. He is a soloist who can tackle any genre of music with impressive technicality delivered with a nonchalant playfulness. It’s a concert not to be missed.

– Antoinette Milienos
Antoinette is a Journalist, Violinist, and chronic suffer of FOMO (fear of missing out).

Ilya Gringolts plays Bruch runs for 2 hours including a 20 minute interval and will be performed in Sydney until 12 February, the Queensland Performing Arts Centre on 13 February, and the Llewyllyn Hall, Canberra, 15 February. Buy tickets now. 

Disclaimer: Antoinette Milienos was an invited guest of Opera Australia.
Photocred: Julian Kingma