Interview with Marc Bouchkov, Winner of the 2013 Montreal International Musical Competition

May 22, 2013, 1:11 PM · One might think that after 10 days of grueling competition -- playing Paganini, solo Bach, Ysaye, Mozart, a new modern piece, a recital program, a full concerto -- Belgian violinist Marc Bouchkov might be able to rest, having won the gold medal. Not so!

Yet he seemed very much up to the task of being the laureate, with all the interviews, socializing and extra concerts that involves.

Last Friday, after playing Ysaye's "L'Aurore" from Sonata No. 5 for a special group at CBC Radio-Canada headquarters, then appearing for a long radio interview in French, he sat for an interview -- in English -- with me. This was all just a few hours before performing the competition's Gala Concert, followed by a reception in which he greeted many well-wishers, sponsors and fans.

Marc Bouchkov
Marc Bouchkov and Laurie, at the CBC Radio-Canada headquarters in Montreal

It's no wonder that Marc is rather at-home with the whole process -- violin competitions are in his blood. Marc's father, Evgueni Bouchkov, placed third in the Queen Elisabeth Competition in 1989, and his paternal grandmother, Zoria Shikmurzaeva, placed fourth in the Queen Elisabeth Competition in 1963. Born in France to a Russian family, Marc started playing at the age of five, with his grandfather, Matis Vaitsner, as his first teacher.

"The violin was part of our family," Marc said. "Of course, when it is like this, it is a very musical home -- you can hear the violin from every room. As a child, it's like hearing someone speaking. If you hear somebody speaking, you start to speak the same language -- usually! (he laughs) So if somebody plays the violin, you will not say, "I want to play the trumpet." You probably want to play the violin. That is what happened to me. Of course it starts with the imitation, you take a wood thing and pretend to play like a big soloist and things, and then the parents ask, 'Do you really like it? Would you really like to do this?' And the child answers, 'Yes, of course! I want to be like you!'"

His grandfather taught him for about eight years, then he studied with Claire Bernard at the Conservatory of Lyon, then with Boris Garlitsky, first at Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique in Paris, then in Hamburg. He has participated in many contests competitions, including the 2012 Queen Elisabeth Competition, at which he was an unranked laureate.

He played his first big competition at age 15, the Louis Spohr Competition in Weimar. "I did it because I saw that a lot of other people were doing competitions, and we decided to try," he said. He was well prepared and made it to the finals -- then, "I didn't get anything, no prize! At that age, this is really a shock, like taking hammer shot on the head." It brought him down to earth with a big thud. Fortunately, his parents had perspective. "They taught me how to learn from the mistakes; how to learn from a failure." One failure should not make you give up and be destroyed; instead, one can learn and come back even better afterwards. And that he did, winning first prize in the Henry Koch International Violin Competition in Belgium several years later.

He continues to seek to learn from the mistakes, and even from the victories. "You need the nerves to think this way, but if you do, you will never stop. There is no moment when you will say to yourself, 'Well now it's over.'" Marc said. It's tempting to reject negative comments from judges, but analyzing those comments can lead to great self-improvement.

"You analyze and you analyze -- it's a very important characteristic to have, to be able to analyze what's going on: to analyze yourself, to be self-critical, and to analyze the people around you," he said. He said he learned a lot from his colleague, Andrey Baranov, who won first prize at the 2012 Queen Elisabeth Competition. "I basically discovered him, not only on the violin but also as a person, and I must say that I learned a lot from him. I really respect what he's doing, and I think he is a model, as far as being self-critical, being able to analyze, and also -- not speaking too much! The more you keep for yourself, the more then you can provide on the instrument later. And he's very good at it."

Marc plays on a Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume violin from his sponsor, Brigitte Feldtmann. The shoulder rest on the back is home-made -- a very low rest designed simply to keep his shoulder from dampening the sound:

Marc's Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume
Back of the Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume that Marc plays

One obvious characteristic of Marc's playing is his presence -- his involvement in the here and now -- and his awareness of his partners in music-making, be they one pianist or a whole orchestra.

"The music we are performing can be personal, but you have to share it," Marc said. "You have to share it whether is is a symphony, or a concerto, or chamber music, or even if it's solo music. If it's alone, you have to listen to yourself, and to the silence which accompanies you. You have to share it with the silence around you.

"In chamber music, you have to play with other people -- their part is exactly as important as yours," Marc said. "Without their part, you're nobody, and without your part, they're nobody." Even in an orchestra, everyone's part is equally important, "everybody has to participate, everybody has to be involved." A soloist may play louder, may play for a longer time, may have the melody or more notes, but the other parts must be given equal consideration. "To consider every part is extremely important, and a pleasure, when you come to play with an orchestra," Marc said. "It's a very social thing to be a musician. You don't have to be social out of the music -- maybe you can be totally alone and living in your place. But as soon as you take out the instrument to make music, you have to be social. Even if you're alone, you have to be social with the atmosphere around you."

Some of his favorite artists today include Frank Peter Zimmermann and Leonidas Kavakos. "For me, these performers play, and you feel something, you feel a link."

Another place that Marc feels a link is with the orchestra, and not just as a soloist, but as an orchestral player. He has played for several years as a section player in the North German (NDR) Radio Symphony Orchestra

"I respect it and I love it," Marc said of orchestra playing. "This is my counterstrike against all this policy of: 'Never go in the orchestra, you're a soloist! The losers go into the orchestra!' You hear this from a lot of teachers and from a people who consider themselves big artists. But never listen to it! It is totally wrong."

For Marc, playing in the orchestra has allowed him to see how it works from the inside. "If you know it from inside, really from the inside, then you can build an image when you're coming to play as a soloist with the orchestra." In other words, he can feel at home, as a soloist playing with a professional orchestra.

And what if the orchestra is conducted by Maxim Vengerov, as it was in the finals and gala concert in Montreal?

"Honestly speaking, it has been an unbelievable experience," Marc said. "I grew up with Vengerov's recordings. I loved so much the way he played Max Bruch Concerto, I wanted to learn like him! I even studied some concertos by ear -- I didn't have the score, but I would play with earphones, listening to his recordings. For me, Vengerov is still this unbelievable figure of the violin of this century. He conducts very well."

"I was really pleased that he was going to conduct (at the competition)," Marc said. "I didn't know him at all as a person, and I was a bit scared to meet him, of course! But when I saw him and when we started to speak, I was sure that it could be nothing but good. He's very respectful towards the younger musicians and towards the less-experienced musicians, and he helped us. His way of dealing with the orchestra is very respectful and very noble. I love that -- this has been a very nice experience."

* * *

BELOW: Marc Bouchkov performs Ysaye's "Caprice d'après l'étude en forme de valse" in the semi-finals of the 2012 Queen Elisabeth International Violin Competition:


May 23, 2013 at 01:16 AM · Great interview. Very thoughtful young violinist.

Interesting-looking violin too. Is it just me, or is this violin proportioned differently? Seems the lower bouts are larger than they are on modern violins. Optical illusion?

May 23, 2013 at 02:22 PM · Hi Laurie,

Excellent interview and great to hear Marc Bouchkov's perspectives! Thanks again for all the excellent coverage of the competition!

Cheers and best,


May 23, 2013 at 06:31 PM · Hi, I second other posters here: excellent interview and very interesting to hear about this violinist (and what a wonderful background/musical family he has :)


May 23, 2013 at 09:52 PM · It's Frank Peter Zimmerman not Frank Patrick.

May 24, 2013 at 12:10 AM · Thank you for that catch, Sarah!

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