Inside look at the high-velocity life of a young virtuoso of today
Boston — At age 26, violinist Peter Zazofsky has accrued such important honors as the Grand Prize at the Montreal International Competition, third at the Wienawski Competition in Warsaw, a Leventritt Foundation award, and, most recently, the Gold Medal Second Prize at the Queen Elizabeth Competition in Brussels. His father, George Zazofsky, was a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. His uncles include Harold Gomberg, former principal oboe of the New York Philharmonic and Ralph Gomberg, current principal oboe of the BSO.
Among Other important dates in Peter Zazofsky's schedule this season ar three performances of Prokofiev's Second Violin Concerto, with the BSO celebrating its centenniary this season.
I caught up with Mr. Zazofsky between trips to Europe. He is not only gregarious, he is articulate, and deeply dedicated to music -- not just a career in music but in the constant striving to perfect his insights into the composers' wishes -- the mark of all great performing artists.
There is always the danger, on the competition circuit, of eventually becoming an efficient technician rather than a rounded musician.
Yes, though because there has been so much adverse publicity regarding "competition players," judges are consciously looking for something a little more personalized these days. In my experience, when you have 50 first-class violinists competing against each other, it's from the beginning a nonmuciscal environment. Competing against anyone is antimusical. Right? I mean music is just not like that. It's not the first one to finish the caprice who wins.
I find that when there are 50 violinists, maybe ten are first clas and maybe five are really gifted. The individualist -- the one who is his or her own player, and not a "product" -- is going to stand out.
Which competition helped you the most to further your career?
I have a couple of answers to that. The San Francisco competition that I won at age 19, when I was still very green as a player was the biggest shock to me, because I felt I had the least chance of winning. The finals included Eugene Fodor and a very fine cellist name Paul Tobias, both older, and i was really the callow youth. Fodor had already won the Paganini. And i was there in the finals almost by accident, it seemed to me. I had no intentions of winning at that time. It was almost as if I was playing to say i had done it. Because i was very much into chamber music, I considered my solo opportunities to be very few; I didn't feel I was that type of player.
Anyway, somehow i entered the finals and i played kind of crazy final round and managed to win. That was a turning point from my own point of view. I played once with Ozawa in San Francisco after that, but then went back into hiding in school because i wasn't ready.
But it did indicate that you could have a solo career.
Yes, I finally thought maybe there was something to it.
Because originally you thought you were just going to become, what?
Well, I had got so much into chamber music because I love the music so much. It's more gratifying from a strictly musical point of view -- the music is invariably better. I'm also a kind of person who likes social contact. I'm not one to spend six or seven hours alone in a practice room, or on tour, hotel to hotel, that can also be a bit of a drag.
A quartet group was a kind of a community I enjoyed -- making music with people that I knew and trusted to play well and to be on the same wavelength. When you play with a symphony orchestra you often have none of that feeling. Of course, there's an ego-gratification that's unique. But I'm always trying to make chamber music with orchestras and sometimes that can get you into a bit of a mess with conductors.Though it's very hard to make chamber music with a professional orchestra, thaths what I'm always trying to do.
Why is it hard?
First of all there's not enough time to rehearse. Most of the time when you play with a symphony orchestra you come in the day before the concert. The orchestra has an interpretation of a concerto all set. It's like a jigsaw puzzle. You fit in it then off you go. I don't think that's an ideal way to make music.
With a string quartet you can agonize for tails.
I tend to look at things from a point of view of having a thing that fits together with a number of players. When you are talking about 100 players, it's a pretty tall order. If a conductor has a very strong personality, if he agrees with the soloist, and if really knows the orchestra and they know him, then it can really work.
I don't know of a better way to get a deserving young artist a chance to play , than to throw him up against nine judges, or 18 judges, and say 'OK!' People complain often about the tension of it, but for the tension of a career -- having to play Amsterdam tomorrow and Boston next week -- this is good preparation.
Have you given much though at this point to what you're going to do about finding a balance between career and your personal life?
Yes, I've given that a lot of thought, and have come up with no solutions yet. I mean, I have a picture of how I'd like my life to go.
One can go to the extreme of giving your life completely to the public, and this is no good. Obviously, I look for balances. Up to now, my concert career has been first, almost exclusively. But I had an idea of how it should eventually go -- how many concerts a year I'd like to have -- something like 50.
If I have a full season of concerts, the summer is important so that i can be rejuvenated for the next season. That's the way they used to do it back in the days when they didn't have such quick communications.
Do you ever feel you run the risk of having a work ceasing to intrigue you, so that it runs the risk of becoming a mechanical run-through?
Yes. And then stop playing it. I think that happens now and then with a piece and if you can afford to do that you should stop playing that concerto. But right now, how many times do i have a choice of what I want to play?
Naturally, and any artist will tell you, if he's speaking frankly, about the conflict within each of us between remanticism and 'thou shalt not be boring.' This conflict between the classical, let's say, and the romantic -- can't we just do this nicely and have it fit instead of constantly tugging at the music in such a way that you distort it terribly -- is constantly going on in the mind and heart of an artist.
Do you have a Bergonzi violin?
Well, I had a Bergonzi on loan for four years from a millionaire in California. But they called it in just last month -- a month before the Boston Symphony date!! But anyway I'm lucky that my father is giving up his Guarneri for me to use for the time being -- although he's playing very actively -- until I can find something. I'm really looking. There are many, many people who cannot believe that you got to have, $300,000 to buy a really great fiddle.