A Contender: Viola Student Competes in Prestigious Competition in Japan

For Yury Ozhegov, there is only one way to prepare for competition, practice hard.

MSU Professor of Viola, Yuri Gandlesman and Yury Ozhegov

That’s what the Russian-born violist and student in the MSU College of Music is doing morning through night, seven days a week, as he readies for the Tokyo International Viola Competition this spring.

Ozhegov is among just 30 contestants who were selected from a field of more than 300 young musicians to compete in Japan from May 30 to June 7 as part of the prestigious Viola Space Festival. Founded in 2009, the competition is recognized for introducing new works for viola and bringing international acclaim to young musicians who have dedicated their lives to the classical stringed instrument.

“Being accepted brings me new motivation,” says Ozhegov. “I need to continue to work and practice harder to achieve a new level of playing the viola.”

From Moscow to Michigan
Born in Moscow, Ozhegov’s musical path was charted when his mother enrolled him in preparatory music school at age 4. A year later, he auditioned and was accepted to study violin at the same prestigious school.

Ozhegov says he decided to become a professional musician at 13 when he heard acclaimed violist, conductor, and teacher Yuri Bashment play viola. He fell in love with the sound of the instrument, and decided to switch from violin.

“A teacher asked me if I really wanted to dedicate my whole life to playing,” he remembers. “My answer was yes.”

Ozhegov attended the Academic Music College in Moscow and the Moscow State Conservatory for his master’s degree. He played professionally with the Tchaikovsky State Symphony Orchestra of Moscow Radio, and constantly strived to improve his artistry. Two years ago, Ozhegov attended a master class in Germany taught by MSU Professor Yuri Gandelsman. He instantly knew he had found a new pathway to learning.

“I decided to come to Michigan State because of Professor Gandelsman,” says Ozhegov. “After his master class in Germany, I lost any doubt I had about whether it was better to stay in Moscow or go study with him.”

Going Green
Yuri Gandelsman, professor of viola, was prepared to welcome Ozhegov to the MSU Viola Studio and to help the young artist with the transition. He knew Ozhegov would face some initial difficulties coming to the United States because of his limited English skills. So in 2013, he arranged for him to attend MSU as a performance diploma student until he could further develop his language abilities.

“He is a very good worker and a nice guy,” says Gandelsman. “He had a position in one of the biggest symphony orchestras in Russia, so his desire to come here showed me how much he wanted to learn new things about music.”

Ozhegov applied himself to learning English and will begin his doctoral program Fall Semester 2015. He also secured a post as principal violist for the Battle Creek Symphony. Ever driven to excel, he applied for the Tokyo competition, and committed to meeting the exacting demands once accepted.

“It’s very difficult to get to this level of competition,” says Gandelsman. “Then, the moment they invite you, you have to start working much harder.”

Jim Forger, dean of the College, remarked on Ozhegov’s dedication, and on the importance of generous donors who make it possible for students to attain their dreams.

“This is one example of the opportunities that our talented students work toward,” says Forger. “I am grateful that our donors are standing by to assist our students as they compete at the highest levels.”

For Ozhegov, his days are rigorous, but he’s up to the challenge. He sees the competition as a way to showcase the quality of the MSU Viola Studio, and to give back to a College that changed his life.

“I’m so happy that I’m part of this great university,” he says, adding that he wishes he could wear green at the competition instead of the signature black required of classical musicians. “I’m doing everything I can to justify the hopes of my dearest Professor Gandelsman and my sponsors and hope to bring only good news from the competition.”

The Viola Studio at Michigan State University

Yuri Gandelsman, former principal violist with the Israel Philharmonic and the Moscow Virtuosi Chamber orchestras, joined the faculty of the MSU College of Music in 2008.

In seven years, Professor of Viola Gandelsman has grown the studio by 76 percent, attracting musicians from state, national, and international arenas.

“They are all very good musicians,” says Gandelsman. “They learn something from me and I learn something from them. It’s not just a teacher instructing students. They are my colleagues.”

Many of Gandelsman’s students hold positions in orchestras and chamber groups in Israel, Europe, and North America, and have been prizewinners at numerous international competitions.

Gandelsman has been hailed by the Jerusalem Post as “...undoubtedly one of the greatest violists of our time.” He has entertained audiences around the world for more than 30 years as a soloist, chamber musician, and a conductor. 

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