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Inside look at the high-velocity life of a young virtuoso of today

By Thor Eckert Jr. / December 4, 1980


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.

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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.