The Russians will invade The Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox this weekend when the Spokane Symphony performs a program of music by Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev and Stravinsky. Eckart Preu will conduct Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 and the suite from Prokofiev’s opera “The Love for the Three Oranges.” The young American violinist Stefan Jackiw will perform as soloist in Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto. Jackiw (pronounced JAH-keev) was born in Cambridge, Mass., to parents who are both physicists. “But there was classical music around our house all the time,” the violinist recalls. “I really loved the violin, and when I was 4, a friend gave me a very small violin as a birthday present.
“I began studying with a Russian lady, Zinaida Gilels, when I was five or six,” Jackiw says. “She grew up in the famous musical family that included the pianist Emil Gilels and his half sister, Elizaveta, who was also a violinist. I knew practically nothing about playing the violin, so Zinaida Gilels really introduced me to the violin and taught me how to play – the discipline of practice, how I use the bow, all the ingredients of the sound I produce.
“By the time I finished studying with her when I was 12, I had made my debut with the Boston Pops. Having a great teacher when you are young is incredibly important to a performer.”
Rather than being home schooled or attending an arts high school, Jackiw went to what he refers to as a “normal” high school, then went on to Harvard. Since Harvard does not have a program for performance in music, he took violin lessons at the New England Conservatory where he studied with Michèle Auclair and Donald Weilerstein. In 2007, Jackiw graduated from Harvard and received his Artists Diploma from the New England Conservatory. Since graduating he makes his home in New York City
Now at 23, Jackiw has already played with many of the world’s great orchestras, including those in London, New York, Boston, Cleveland and Chicago, and he has toured Japan with the Baltimore Symphony. Two seasons ago, Jackiw performed Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with the Stamford (Conn.) Symphony, where Preu also serves as musical director.
“That was a wonderful experience for me. After the performance, Eckart and I began discussing what concerto would be fun to do next,” Jackiw says, “and we both came up with Stravinsky as a possibility to do in Spokane.
“It is a great work, but it’s not in the standard canon of what every teenaged violinist learns,” Jackiw says. “Every year I try to select something new to bring into my repertoire, and I thought it would be an exciting piece to play.”
Stravinsky wrote the Violin Concerto in 1931 when he was in the middle of what his biographers call his Neoclassical phase. “This concerto is a kind of reinvention of classical and baroque forms,” Jackiw says. “It is full of irony and wry humor, but the third movement is a wrenchingly beautiful, almost tragic movement like an aria from a baroque opera.
“One of the most interesting things for me is that Stravinsky orchestrated the concerto in such a way that there are so many duets the soloist has with players in the orchestra,” Jackiw says. “Those bring out the different qualities of the violin as the soloist tries to match his current duet partner.”