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Laurie Niles interview with Anastasia Khitruk

May 12, 2009 at 4:31 AM

After talking with violinist Anastasia Khitruk, I feel inspired to write a series of mystery novels based on her adventures. But what to call them? Here are a few ideas: The Secret of the Hidden Manuscript; Clue in the St. Petersburg Library; Ghost from the Forgotten Page; The Mystery of the Missing Groves Entry; Gem in the Stack of Paper....

Laurie and Anastasia

It would seem that Anastasia has always displayed some degree of resistance for the beaten path, for doing things the way everyone else does.

When she was a teenager in music school, "if everybody was playing the Sibelius I wanted to play Nielsen, and if everyone played Bruch No. 1, I played Bruch No. 3," she said.

So it might not be surprising that she has made it her mission, for her last three albums, to unearth hidden gems of the repertoire and explore uncharted territory – or at least territory for which the charts are mighty challenging to find. Her latest album, released last week, features works by the composer Léon de Saint-Lubin, ("San Lu-BAN" for French-challenged like me).

"This is my third album in a row, taking things which are unknown, and more specifically, are unknown to me," Anastasia said. The first two were a 2005 Naxos recording of works by Ivan Khandoshkin, and her 2007 Grammy-nominated recording of the Miklós Rózsa Violin Concerto and Sinfonia Concertante, also on Naxos. "There is something very satisfying – scary, but satisfying – about taking something which only exists on the page and actually creating your interpretation, where you have no guidelines."

"In these pieces, there are no tempo markings – there is really not much of anything. You're just kind of making it up," Anastasia said. "It's scary, because since you've never heard it, as you're learning it and you start playing it in concert, you're not certain it's actually good music! Once you record it, you get the edited version – pop it in with shaking hand..." She laughed. Thank goodness, she liked what she heard. "I thought, this really is not half bad!"

"St. Lubin was born in Italy, he studied in Paris and wound up in Berlin, where he had a very successful career," Anastasia said. "In fact at one point, Beethoven even wrote him a little cadenza, which is why a Beethoven expert like (Klaus Martin) Kopitz, who wrote the liner notes, would be so interested in him."

"He represented that very Paganini-esque tradition of violin playing, which is frankly pushing the limits; but at the same time he was making interesting Schubert-ian attempts at larger forms," Anastasia said. "The first four tracks are the Grand Duo Concertant, Op. 49, and it's interesting because there you really see where early Romantic music is turning into Romantic music. The end of the Grand Duo Concertant, the last movement, is funny because it's essentially four endings, and each of them is a Romantic conceit ending: one repeats the tonic, one is a fake fade-out – so he goes through all of them, one by one. It's like a compendium of possible endings you could put on there. He was obviously a fantastic pianist, because the piano part is very challenging."

"So St. Lubin became very successful, he became the director of the Konigstadt Theatre (the King of Prussia's theatre in Berlin)," Anastasia said. "Essentially it was the equivalent, I suppose, of being the concertmaster and musical director at once of the New York Philharmonic."

"From his correspondence and from the dedicatees of his pieces, you could tell that this was a very well-respected man, very in touch with the times," Anastasia said. "So you had a person who was clearly an amazing violinist, really a remarkable person, with many, many abilities, and he dies at the age of 44 and falls off the planet."

Enter, our own Jonathan Frohnen. (If you are interested in exploring Jonathan's huge collection of rare 19th century violin music, check out his website.)

"In the case of St. Lubin, it was actually not my idea to record it," Anastasia said. "Jon Frohnen, who does the series of 19th century virtuoso works, had heard my very first record, which had a Saint-Lubin piece on it. He had listened to it a long time ago, and so when he wanted someone to do a disc of Saint-Lubin, he contacted me. He said he'd send me the music, have me look over it."

"Originally he wanted me to do the caprices. But they did not interest me, they are a little uneven. Then he sent me a huge stack of music. There were quartets, and this and that," Anastasia said.

"In all those things there were a few real gems. In particular, the three short little pieces: the Adagio Religioso, Op. 44, which I think is just little beautiful, it has little shades of Schumann; and the two solo pieces (Fantaisie sur un theme de Lucia di Lammermoor, Op. 46 and Theme Original et Etude de S. Thalberg, Op. 45a) and are now things I have played for a year solidly, in recitals, and they've done very well. Not everything you still enjoy after you've performed it 30 times. This is really nice, it's difficult, but it's unique and it's got a lot of heart."

(BTW, if you'd like to download the sheet music for these pieces, check the links at the bottom of this article.)

One hundred years ago, the "Lucia de Lammermoor" was standard repertoire, she said.

"It's funny, we sort of lump into "Romantic music" two things that are completely different: the era of St. Lubin, of Mendelssohn, and the era of Brahms," Anastasia said. "Brahms was born in 1833, so let's say, between 1820 and 1850, something had happened. Something very interesting, but something extreme."

"St. Lubin was born in 1805 and he died in 1850; same place, same time as Mendelssohn," Anastasia said. "You can hear the first little shoots of actual Romanticism, sort of, sprinkled about, like little ghosts of Schumanns-to-be. But we are talking about a very, very different civilization. I love this idea, of salon concerts, salon music -- music played in order to amuse at a close range. Today you are trained for projection, big sound. There's a celebration of this constant big sound. Ironically, at a time when we have great amplification systems, this is when people want to crunch and press down. It makes no sense! I love this idea of little jewels, which are beautiful, not existing for some political reason. It's music with no political message whatsoever, it's just pretty."

I asked Anastasia about her violin and..."It's a mystery violin," she said, "it's Northern Italian."

I also mentioned, while we were being mysterious here, how I fancy my violin summons ghosts from the past. She didn't appear to think I was crazy.

"They are people, there are people in them," Anastasia agreed. "I've played on a lot of violins. Until I was 27 and I bought my violin, I played on borrowed fiddles – all sorts. I worked my way from Vuillaume to Gagliano, every maker in between. And you have real relationships. They have temperaments, they definitely have moods.

"But you can sense, especially if it's been recently played, I swear that the person is still there. And it can be uncanny," Anastasia said. "And then they have a spirit. This is a living being, it's not something that's manufactured, it's one-of-a-kind completely. This is wood, it vibrates, and I think that as you play it, you change it at a molecular level. Depending on who plays it, and with which sound, it changes in a different way, and it becomes a different being."

"The violin I played before this one, with which I had a very bad relationship, it was an early Strad, and it was Christie Brinkley, I swear," she said. "It was pretty, it was shrill, and I swear, it was blonde. It was a blonde violin. I couldn't stand it! I hated that thing, it would smile shallowly at me from my case. And then it had a set of wolfs – there was no getting near a C#. That was sort of a low point in my violin relationships."

"When I bought my violin, I must have looked at 150 violins. I looked at every violin on sale, on the planet, I think. And they had this set up for a Baroque player," Anastasia said. "So of course it didn't have any sound, except for one thing. As you played the C, on the G string in first position, it was like magic. It was the ultimate C of all Cs."

I wondered what Anastasia looks for, when she's playing through forgotten literature. Which is treasure? Which is trash? And why?

She mentioned her Khandoshkin recording.

"With Khandoshkin, it was just the shock of it," Anastasia said. First of all, she couldn't even find the composer in the Grove. She had found the music for a sonata by Khandoshkin at Frank Music, and couldn't find anyone who had heard of the composer. A few people in St. Petersburg said they liked Khandoshkin's opera – but actually he'd never written one.

"When I got the music, I looked at it, and it's quite difficult, especially the first sonata. And I assumed it was early 19th century, just from the violin technique, which is by the way, very unusual," Anastasia said. "So I put the music away, and then about a year later, I'd been hired to play a solo program, without the piano. As the day approached, I was short about 20 minutes. So I remembered, I had this other music, I'll dig it back out. I wanted a 19th century piece.

"Then, finally, I look at the frontispiece, and there's the date. And the date is like 1760! This is remarkable, this is an amazing achievement!" Anastasia said. "So I learned the first sonata, which was the only music I had, I played it at the concert and people liked it. Then I found more, through my friend Alexandre Brussilovsky – he had heard of Khandoshkin and recorded some duets, actually with himself. They are duets like the Wieniawski etudes – one person plays, one person takes a nap. So at one of his festivals, I did three and the other person took naps...They're wonderful duets. The duets unfortunately are not in print and are very difficult to find; I found all the duets in St. Petersburg, at the library. There is one lady, a musicologist named Anne Mischakoff Heiles, from the University of Illinois, who is the world expert on Khandoshkin, and she is, of course, American. She did the liner notes.

"Actually the best-known Khandoshkin piece, a concerto for viola, is an obvious and well-known fake," Anastasia added.

"The most amazing thing about playing music is – when you are playing somebody's music, you live in their head a little bit," she said. "When you play Mendelssohn, you live in his head a bit, then you come back with a thud. Then when you play music like Khandoshkin, which you have never heard, it's a whole new space to explore."

"I would never record the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto today, not for anything, because frankly David Fyodorovich, he owns it, he has it – in my case, I can hear Oistrakh in my head, and he would interfere," Anastasia said. "And I have no desire to interfere with that perfect performance, to me, the first record he made. That's the way I hear it in my head today; he's already done it. Maybe in 10 years, maybe in 20 years, something will strike me. I'm not closing the door. But until something does strike me, I will leave it alone.

"It's completely different to play it in concert, because a concert is a question of the moment," she said. "You capture that moment. And Tchaikovsky is a lot of fun to play. It goes like a steam engine. There are certain concertos which are wonderful to play – Shostakovich No. 1, Tchaikovsky. There is such a natural flow, emotionally, to the experience. I've always found, for instance, Beethoven very difficult, because as you play it you have to maintain this remove. You hover. It's very hard because you have have to make sure you are buttoned up, to a great extent, that you have that little distance."

"I really think music is a remarkable art. It has a capacity to create joy, and that is what it exists for," Anastasia said. "It doesn't have to be a happy joy, it can be a tragic joy or a sad joy, but it's that feeling of being taken out of yourself, it's the ultimate language. And it's meant to be shared."

"When you get the right piece and it's the right evening, you understand for a minute. For a moment, your little 'self' thing is just kind of gone, and then the universe is yours," Anastasia said. "It's all yours, and you feel like you're hovering. Time stops, your spine does some strange squiggly thing....I want everyone to have it. I don't see any reason why people should be denied it."

Anastasia Khitruk records Theme Original et Etude de S. Thalberg, Op. 45a , by Léon de Saint-Lubin.

The free downloads, courtesy member Jonathan Frohnen: (Both files are in PDF format)


From Stephen Brivati
Posted on May 12, 2009 at 4:52 AM


fantastic interview.  Love that stuff about nt doing the Tchiak becaus of oistrakh.  Heifetz used ot play the Roszas cocnerto i think but I don`t recall him recording it.  A fantastic job of keeping the repertire fresh and interesting.



From Laurie Niles
Posted on May 12, 2009 at 4:55 AM

Heifetz did indeed record it, as did Robert McDuffie, but what Anastasia said of the Rosza was, "I felt I could do something new."

Posted on May 12, 2009 at 7:11 AM

yes indeed a fine interview...

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on May 12, 2009 at 8:23 AM


I mention the Heifetz recording juts in passing . Its not particlarly relevant to what Ms. Khitruk is doing. It seems like there are some cocnertos that sort of started and then stopped with heifetz because people were afraid of comparison. Thankfully this is changing.



From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on May 12, 2009 at 11:50 AM

Wow!!!!!!!!!!!!! I didn't know her and her playing from the little video you put is wonderful.  You can really see she is a real artist and not someone that is just technically good but with no soul.   She doesn't fake anything her talent is REAL, I love her sound!


From Anne Horvath
Posted on May 12, 2009 at 1:22 PM

Very nice interview. 

From Norma Santos
Posted on May 12, 2009 at 1:34 PM

This is a piece that was composed for her by composer Michael Colina - mesmerizing!


From Laurie Niles
Posted on May 13, 2009 at 12:53 AM

Buri, I think you hit the nail on the head. People are afraid to give those pieces new life because of the inevitable comparison to the great Heifetz (who of course, can never be wrong, right?). Anastasia told me that, when she released that Grammy-nominated Rosza recording, one critic actually clocked her tempo, and commented how it was several notches different from Heifetz' tempo (which, she added, was several notches from Rosza's request).

This kind of criticism gets silly, and paralyzing.

From Royce Faina
Posted on May 13, 2009 at 5:19 PM

This is one that's going into my Violin Folder, I learned so, so many new things!  Watching her play is a joy, I love how she used the full range of her contact points and not miss a beat! Her bowing is just,!!!!! Definitely got to get her CDs!  Especialy this new one!  This is the first that I have ever heard of Leon Saint-Lubin.


ps: I wonder if critics pull up Heifetz like some people who quote a few passegaes of, "A Brief History of Time" and try to sound like they are on par with Stephen Hawking????

From Rosalind Porter
Posted on May 14, 2009 at 11:45 PM

Fascinating interview, I've always loved researching unusual music and it is great that there are recording companies and artists around in these difficult times, who can bring some of these gems back to life to a much wider audience. 

It is also reassuring that Anastasia is yet another violinist who believes that violins have souls and personalities!  

From Bram Heemskerk
Posted on May 15, 2009 at 1:17 PM

I think a lot of violinists would be happy to be compared to Heifetz. But perhaps now Anastasia sets the new golden standard for the vc of Rzosa. Of course she is different than Heifetz. A 116th recording of Heetboven (Dutch joke, means Hot-above) would not be compared to the version of Heifetz. Great interview. I have added to my favorites.

From Jonathan Frohnen
Posted on May 15, 2009 at 2:53 PM

I'm usually pretty sharp...but I need a bit of explanation here:

"Originally he wanted me to do the caprices. But they did not interest me, they are a little uneven..."

What exactly do you mean by "a little uneven"?  Assuming you're talking about the op.42, I've always thought of these as some of the most brilliant and well-constructed caprices of their kind...Saint-Lubin was one of the true masters of solo violin everyone looooves to hear the violin alone.  Am I right you all? :-)

From Vartkes Ehramdjian
Posted on May 16, 2009 at 3:03 PM

Anastasia Khitruk is  a great violinist, and I agree with her 100%, about her opinion of choice she makes to perform music which is forgotten..................

To play music written today, and forget what  "BEAUTIFUL" music has been written by composers almost 200 years ago is unfair.
I think I sometimes repeat myself, but  like Anastasia I always hope there are other virtuoso violinists who think and ............ feel the same way as I do.
What happened to the beautiful music written by H.  Wieniawsky, five concertos written by H .Vieuxtemps, Charles de Beriot number 9,  L. Sphohr,number 2 and 8, Viotti concerto no. 22.
Concerto written by D'Ambrosio, a beautiful concerto written by H.W. Ernst op. 23, Lalo's "concerto Russe" opus 29, a beautiful concerto by Henri Marteau op 18, Molique concerto numero 5 en la mineur op. 21, Le Grand concerto numero un de H. Wieniawsky....P.Rode has 6 concertos, Kreutzer has 13 of them etc.
 Maybe some are not very difficult to play, but they sound better , much better than those concertos "putting bunch of nails  in a bag and shaking it." like Aram Khatchadourian used to say.
I also have works by Leon de Sant-Lubin, (will look for it somwhere in my library)
I think I have etudes by him
I also have the 8 Wieniawsky capriccios for two violins.(I love number one, played it with my 8 year old daughter)

I find it sad that these composers are getting forgotten day by day and some new ones are being (imposed) figure of speech, on young talents.

I am ready to help anyone with the above mentioned  music sheets (not selling)

Montreal Canada

From Bram Heemskerk
Posted on May 17, 2009 at 10:50 PM

Vieuxtemps wrote 7 violinconcerto's (and 1 part of an 8th violinconcerto I thought). Soon all Vieuxtempsconcerto's with sheetmusic + other rare violinconcerto's on my Youtubechannel

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