Member of Brooklyn Rider Visits College of Music

Violin virtuoso Johnny Gandelsman performs for MSU campus community.

Johnny Gandlesman performed a two-and-a-half hour solo of the complete Sonatas and Partitas of Johann Sebastian Bach, from memory.

A Moscow-born, New York-based violinist with a personal connection to East Lansing visited MSU in mid-January for two days that evolved into an impromptu cultural event.

Equipped with simply his violin and talent, Johnny Gandelsman quietly stepped onto the stage of the Cook Recital Hall to unleash a two-and-a-half-hour solo performance of the complete Sonatas and Partitas of Johann Sebastian Bach. Then he did it again—the next night—for an audience that collectively opted to forgo intermission for the virtuoso performance.

Gandelsman’s performance was the third in a three-week tour that wound its way from Brooklyn to Boston to culminate at MSU, where his father, Yuri Gandelsman, is a viola professor.

“I was so proud of him when he came here and played all solo Bach in one concert,” says Yuri. “It is really rare when a violinist can play all this music. Every second you have to concentrate. It was musically unbelievable how he did it.

Johnny Gandlesman works with College of Music student Diana Moisejenkaite.

In addition to performing, Johnny held two master classes for College of Music students. One of those students was Diana Moisejenkaite, a first-year doctoral candidate and violinist from Lithuania.

“I learned a lot when I worked with him,” says Moisejenkaite. “He changed my way of thinking. The most important thing about playing music is to know what you are saying.”

Johnny says he advises students and musicians to question everything and to trust their instincts.

“It’s OK to make mistakes. It’s OK to fail. Be curious,” he says. “Don’t wait for someone to figure your life out. If you can imagine it, it can be done.”

Watch the video of the performance below (produced and provided courtesy of Johnny Gandlesman)

Johnny knows from experience, having grown up in a musical family and following an early path as a gifted soloist and chamber musician in classical concert halls. Johnny came to Philadelphia to study at the Curtis Institute of Music in 1995, preceding his parents who moved to the U.S. in 2001. Drawing on his education and training, Johnny cultivated a musical voice that reflects his imaginative collaborations with artists in rock, jazz, pop, blue grass, and classical. A passionate advocate for new music, he has premiered dozens of works for his group Brooklyn Rider and for the Silk Road Ensemble collective.

His family was initially puzzled by his musical choices, but as Johnny succeeded, Yuri said he began to understand his son’s direction.

“I grew up in Russia, and in my generation, we played solo ensembles and chamber music,” says Yuri. “We had children when we were very young, and half my life was playing in orchestras as a principal. Johnny’s path is a little different. He has a different perspective. I think it is much better.”

Director of Career Services and Music Entrepreneurship Christine Beamer had an opportunity to talk with Johnny during his visit and to explore the potential of a residency with Brooklyn Rider in the fall of 2015. Plans for the late October residency, she says, may involve Brooklyn Rider leading a Running Start workshop on music entrepreneurship and sharing how they have built a thriving career in chamber music.

“Johnny and his group, Brooklyn Rider, demonstrate the new classical music future that doesn’t see genre barriers as fixed barriers,” says Beamer. “They easily move between genres and make great music while coming at it with a business sense. For Johnny and Brooklyn Rider to come here and share their insights is an exciting prospect for our students.”

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