Interview with Randall Goosby: Tchaikovsky, Stradivari, and the Art of Golf

March 28, 2023, 12:15 PM · When he takes the stage with the Los Angeles Philharmonic this Thursday and Friday at Walt Disney Concert Hall, 27-year-old Randall Goosby will perform a work that has been a crowd-pleaser for more than a century: the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. (Click here for information about that concert)

Randall Goosby
Violinist Randall Goosby. Photo by Jeremy Mitchell.

"It's about as athletic, dramatic and impressive a piece to watch and listen to, as is possible," Goosby said to me in a phone interview last week. "The violin is doing all of these acrobatics even within the first few minutes of the piece. I think there's something in it for everyone. It's also incredibly fun to play. I must admit, after I learned it for the first time I thought, 'It's over-played, everybody plays Tchaikovsky. I don't want anything to do with Tchaikovsky.' Fast forward years later, and I'm just thrilled to have the opportunity to travel around and perform it in different places."

This week's performances will be his third appearance with the LA Phil, the first two being at the Hollywood Bowl. He's had a whirlwind of a year - beyond a busy touring schedule, he also just finished his Artist Diploma degree at The Juilliard School in December 2022.

Really, Goosby has been on a roll ever since starting the violin at age seven. By age nine he had made his orchestral debut with the Jacksonville (FL) Symphony, and at age 13, he was the youngest-ever participant to win the Sphinx Concerto Competition. When he was 14, he appeared on National Public Radio’s From the Top, and in 2018 he was a prize winner at the Young Concert Artists International Auditions. By now he has played as a soloist with top orchestras, including Cleveland Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, and the New World Symphony Orchestra; and he comes to this LA Phil performance with a newly acquired violin, the 1708 "Strauss" Stradivarius, on loan from the Samsung Foundation of Culture in Korea.

While Goosby studied the Tchaikovsky concerto with his longtime teacher Itzhak Perlman and has had it in his fingers for more than a decade, he only just gave his first performance of the full work in January, with the San Antonio Symphony.

"So it has been quite a long journey with this piece, but the part of the journey that actually happens on stage has only just begun," Goosby said. "Being able to talk with audience members about how much they enjoyed the piece and the performance - that gets me really excited to continue going around and sharing it."

"Some really touching stories come from audience members," he said. "The Tchaikovsky is one of those pieces that, if you're a classical music fan, you probably know the piece and you've known it for a long time. So people have long-standing memories and associations with it. People will say, 'Oh, this was my grandfather's favorite piece. I remember him playing it for me on his record-player when I was eight,' and this is a person in their 70s or 80s."

"It's very reaffirming to hear how impactful music can be," he said. "This music specifically strikes a chord emotionally with anyone who hears it. There's so much in it - so much nuance, so much excitement. There's just such a wide range of emotions that you go through in listening to the piece."

Audience members are also continuing to respond to Goosby's 2021 debut album, Roots, a celebration of African-American music and African-American musical influence. (Read our interview with him about that project here)

"It's been great to see the continued response and appreciation for the album," Goosby said. "For me, it was a first step in bringing forward the part of my life that is discovering and sharing the music of underrepresented composers, and in making that a big part of my life and my career."

BELOW: "Adoration," by Florence Price, with pianist Zhu Wang. From "Roots."

"I've since recorded my next album which is going to be released in May," he said. "That album is going to feature the two Florence Price violin concertos, as well as one of my favorites, the Bruch Violin Concerto in G minor. I had the honor and the pleasure of recording it with Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra." That album was recorded live during a series of four concerts. "Philadelphia is at the forefront of an effort to bring Price's orchestral music to light and into the fore. This will be the latest installment of their series of recordings of Price's orchestral works, including the symphonies, piano concerti, and of course now the violin concerti."

"The most recent development - a very exciting one - is that I'm playing a new instrument."

For the past few years Goosby was playing the 1735 "Sennhauser" Guarneri del Gesù violin, on loan from the Stradivari Society. About two months ago, he started playing on the "Strauss" Stradivarius. "It's my first prolonged exposure to a Strad. I'm still getting to know the instrument - and it is getting to know me!"

The Strad is quite different from the del Gesù, he said.

"Strads in general are maybe a bit brighter and more brilliant than del Gesùs, but this one is on the darker side of the Strad spectrum," he said. "I had this preconceived notion, again, just based on my limited experience with Strads, that they were a bit more temperamental than del Gesùs and a little bit more particular in terms of how they like to be played. But this Strad really seems to fit well in my hands."

He tried the Strad for the very first time, just two days before flying to Dallas for three performances of the Tchaikovsky with the Dallas Symphony. "My plan was to just get to know the Strad for a couple of days and then leave it in New York at the shop so that I could play the del Gesù and be comfortable in Dallas," he said.

But after two days with the Strad, he was hooked - there was no going back to the del Gesù. "The Strad has been incredibly fun to play. The range of colors, textures and sound qualities that are possible on this instrument seems infinite," he said. "Things like bow speed, bow pressure and the bow contact point - the effects that they have on the sound are really amplified by this Strad. Every time I pick it up, it inspires me to think outside of the box, try things differently and try to make as many weird sounds as I can, just to find what the outer edges of the limits are, in terms of what I can really do on the instrument expressively. It's been an incredibly enlightening two months."

"The tricky part is going to be finding a bow that matches" he said. "I'm sort of neck-deep in bows now, I've been playing on a different bow every few weeks, which is a little nerve wracking, concert-to-concert. But luckily, when I'm on the road, I've got a pretty good amount of time to practice and fiddle around with things. It's been a really fun process."

And what does Goosby do in his spare time? About four years ago he started playing golf, and it's become his go-to activity.

"I only started playing because my mom started playing," he said. When she inherited a set of golf-clubs from a co-worker and started playing the game, Goosby's first reaction was to tease her about it. Then she challenged him to come hit some balls and see if he liked it.

"So I went, and it took me about an hour to hit a half-decent shot," he said, "but I hit a good one, and instantly I was completely hooked. Since then, I can't tell you how many times my mom has said, 'I've created a monster!' because I'll golf at any possible opportunity. I'll golf in 30-degree weather, I'll golf in rain, I'll golf in wind. It's just a fun, physically and mentally challenging way to escape from the realities of work and life."

"Also, I've found a lot of parallels between between golf and music, largely from performance standpoint," he said. For example, both pro musicians and pro golfers make it look easy when they are playing a concerto or hitting the perfect shot - but there is a lot more to it than meets the eye. Also, in both disciplines, players and performers are subject a host of conditions that can't be controlled.

"In a performance, there are certain things that you can't control - the temperature, or the noisiness of the audience, or how your body's reacting to nerves that day," Goosby said. "It's taken years, and I'm still very much in the process of figuring out how to navigate those."

"In golf, it's exactly the same," he said. "You can't control the weather, you can't control what type of grass is around where your ball lands - and all of these different things factor into play. So it's very much a thinker's game. It requires a lot of the same sort of acceptance and faith that is required of performing. I find it to be really, really fun. I actually now take my golf clubs pretty much anywhere I go!"

While he's in Los Angeles, he'll likely try to get in a few rounds. He also play for another audience besides the one at Disney Hall - "Just because I'm a basketball nut, I am playing the national anthem for a Lakers-Clippers game on April 5, just a few days after my last concert with the LA Phil," Goosby said. "I'm a huge, huge LeBron James fan, so even though it's a Clippers home game, I'm going to have the LeBron jersey underneath whatever it is that I'm wearing...hopefully we get some good seats, but I'm really looking forward to it, and what nice treat."

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For more information about Randall Goosby's performance with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, please click here.

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