World-renowned virtuoso violinist Maxim Vengerov returns to the Royal Albert Hall for his postponed celebration of 40 years on stage with a dazzling line-up of friends Mischa Maisky and Simon Trpčeski alongside Marios Papadopoulos conducting the Oxford Philharmonic and students from the Royal College of Music.
Rescheduled from June 2020, the concert marks Maxim Vengerov’s remarkable performing career which started at the age of five, and celebrates his close ties to the UK as much-loved violinist and highly-regarded educator, including the Royal College of Music’s Visiting Professor of Violin.
Our regular contributor Yulia Chaplina met with Maxim before the concert to talk about life, music and the upcoming performance:
Yulia Chaplina: Maxim, if possible, could we start today’s conversation by talking about some personal things. Our readers would love to find out a little bit more about you and your lifestyle.
Maxim Vengerov: Sure, although it depends on what you are going to ask me about!
Yulia Chaplina: I hope you will find my questions appropriate. Are you a coffee or a tea person, for example? (Maxim ordered an espresso macciatto in our conversation)
Maxim Vengerov: I am a coffee person in the morning, for sure. I actually love making it myself in an old-fashioned Turkish way when at home. Also, when travelling, as you can see, I always order coffee in the morning too. I can’t have my day start without it. Later on, in the day, tea is possible.
Yulia Chaplina: What are your daily routines?
Maxim Vengerov: A substantial Lunch. I love lunch the most. It kind of divides my day into two. Also, my son Yakov has been born this year and we got a Shiba Inu puppy. I have managed to develop some kind of a routine; at 7.30 my wife Olga gives me the baby for 1-1.5hrs and then I go for a walk with the dog. The pandemic has made my schedule a little bit easier and there are definitely some positive changes to my lifestyle. My family and I absolutely love it.
Yulia Chaplina: And the rest of the day?
Maxim Vengerov: As I said – I get up, I nurse the baby and help my wife, walk my dog, play with my children if they are on holidays or take them to the school during the term time, then I drink coffee with my wife (that’s our ‘family ritual’), then lunch and then I have precisely 11 mins to nap.
Yulia Chaplina: 11 mins?!
Maxim Vengerov: Yes, 11 mins without the alarm. Not 10, not 12, but precisely 11 mins! I have trained myself and can’t live without this power nap. Afterwards I pick my kids from school, then I drink some tea with my wife, you see, that’s when the tea comes in, and do some business things. Then my children begin their music lessons online at 6pm: my youngest Polina is a cellist and my oldest, Liza, plays the piano. The teachers are based in Belarus and Sweden. Actually, funnily enough, everything at our house is online. Our children are truly the ‘online generation’ ones, and I must say the results are quite good!
Yulia Chaplina: May I ask about your food preferences? Which cuisine do you prefer?
Maxim Vengerov: I love turkey and I love Asian food – Japanese and Thai the most. Russian food for sure too! ‘Olivie’ (also known as the ‘Russian salad’ outside of Russia – YC ) and the ‘Herring under the Fur Coat’ are among my favourites. No New Year celebration will be the same without these two dishes.
Yulia Chaplina: How do you usually celebrate the New Year?
Maxim Vengerov: With the family, we have a big family and we do lots of presents for children. Usually we get together with my brother-in-law’s family. His name is Ilya Gringolts and he is also a very famous violinist. They have 3 daughters. So when we get together it is used to be 5 children in total but now with the birth of my son it is 6 all together! Quite a nursery as you can see. These couple of years, of course, were different due to the pandemic. For this year’s celebration we were alone, only with the Christmas tree. Now the children are skiing in Lugano. I started skiing as well.
Yulia Chaplina: You started skiing?
Maxim Vengerov: Yes, very recently. It’s a lot of fun, I love it! It got a little boring when everyone did it except for me, and I could only watch my family skiing out of the window. I also started playing tennis, I have taken already 100 lessons and I really love it. I think is a great hobby. Also in the future, it means I can spend some more time with my children playing doubles. I know that for a violinist, it’s not really something that is recommended, but if done with caution and with the right coach, it’s absolutely possible.
Yulia Chaplina: What is your ideal holiday? Beach or?
Maxim Vengerov: We basically live on the beach. For the holidays my family loves to go to the mountains and to ski. As I mentioned earlier, that’s why I also started skiing – it is important to do things together with my family, not be a father who just sits and drinks cups of coffee all day.
Yulia Chaplina: If possible, let’s talk about the professional side of things now. You are a very passionate performer. What is your violin for you?
Maxim Vengerov: It’s my lifetime’s partner and it’s of enormous importance. It got a little bit less over the years but it is still, of course, of huge importance.
You know one interesting thing? When I had my first child, Liza, I couldn’t imagine that I can love someone so much. And before my second child Polina was born, I was really worried that I simply just can’t love her as much on top. But I can, and now it’s the same is with my son Yasha – I love him so much too. Love is such a wonderful feeling, and one’s ability to love can really expand. There are no limits in love. It is such a wonderful feeling, and it brightens up the world. And there different ‘loves’ – love one’s family, music, friends, nature and so on. Love is the driving force of the world. It enhances you as a human being and enriches one’s spirituality and connection with the world.
A performance for me is an outburst of energy and love through the music. I love doing it and I adore music and performing. Every time my encounter with an audience is very special and exciting – one never actually knows who is in the audience. This intrigue really turns me on. There isn’t ever a routine in music and there isn’t routine in love. But in music there must be discipline in place. A musician must be quite pedantic, super well-organised. I am trying to teach my children to be highly organised.
Yulia Chaplina: Are you an organised person yourself?
Maxim Vengerov: Actually, I was born very disorganised and messy. My parents were at work until 6pm. Usually I woke up and there was a cold breakfast for me. Very nice breakfast but it was always cold. Then I did basically nothing all day. Then when my mum came home from work and practised with me. Sometimes my mum made me practise until 3 or 4am in the morning. And then I was allowed to ride my 3-wheels bike. Naturally, all the neighbours could hear me riding my bicycle at that time of night and I used to get shouted at ‘your parents are crazy, what are they doing to you?! Poor child – no regime, no nothing.’
But then it all changed when I relocated to Moscow. I went to live with my grandpa and grandma, and they have shown me how to live properly: every day rigid wake-up, morning fitness and practice routines. This has really helped me a lot and shaped me into the person I am now.
I usually get upset when people say ‘oh, he is an artist’. It implies that an artist is just someone from a different planet. Being an artist is so many things! And the most important one and the trickiest one is to be able to manage and organise oneself so one can perform successfully, give it all on the stage and enjoy oneself. It is also extremely important to then stop thinking about the music and focus on the time with your family, friends and everything else.
Yulia Chaplina: Is it difficult to switch off for you after concerts? As a pianist myself, I find it extremely hard to manage constant thinking about the piano playing and the upcoming programmes and concerts.
Maxim Vengerov: I found it very difficult, and I had to work on it a lot. I got a real problem in the past when my concert programmes got ‘re-played’ in my head for days and nights. I thought that it should stop at some point, but it didn’t stop for a very long time. I couldn’t sleep, I was just hearing all my programmes in my head. And then I started conducting and I began to get the symphonies ‘re-played’ and they are of course 10 times longer and louder… But now every performance is an event for me.
Yulia Chaplina: What is your routine on a concert day? Is there one?
Maxim Vengerov: I have a very rigid concert day routine. I plan every single minute of my day. There is a practice and a fitness routine and of course some rest. Maybe a film… Then I need to eat properly and get to the concert hall well ahead of time to avoid any stress. It is quite complicated to organise it all. Every single minute of the day is planned, and I quite strictly follow the routine.
Yulia Chaplina: Do you always follow this routine without any variations? For instance, if you are tired, do you allow any exceptions?
Maxim Vengerov: Of course, if I feel tired and want to sleep, I will allow it to myself. But only for 11 mins. However, I never live for the sake of the routine, I am very flexible. Every day is very different. But this 11 mins nap is really lifesaving.
Yulia Chaplina: So 11 mins power nap is a real lifehack from Maxim Vengeroff! You do so many things – you play, conduct, teach, etc. Do you have a favourite activity?
Maxim Vengerov: I love it all. I can’t only play the violin without doing other things. I need all these things for my balance. My harmony is in lots of things. I also love teaching and love giving masterclasses – here I am a guest professor at the Royal College of Music in London and at the Mozarteum in Salzburg. I also have one regular private student from Korea. So my harmony and balance lies in combining all of these things!
Yulia Chaplina: Finally, how does it feel to have been performing on the stage for 40 years?
Maxim Vengerov: 40 years performing on the stage felt like a milestone to celebrate and I was delighted to be returning to the Royal Albert Hall with friends to mark it. Then the pandemic hit. I am thrilled to be finally celebrating this milestone on September 19th at the Royal Albert Hall with my friends Mischa Maisky, Simon Trpceski, Marios Papadopoulos and the Oxford Philharmonic and many of my students from the Royal College of Music, revisiting some of the pieces which have meant so much during my performing career.
Yulia Chaplina: You are performing Beethoven Triple Concerto, why did you choose that?
Maxim Vengerov: The Beethoven Triple is always enormous fun for audiences and players alike. It should be even more so with my friends. Then Shostakovich….recording and performing Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No.1 with Slava Rostropovich when I was 19, was a life-changing experience which has shaped my whole musical life ever since and I carry his legacy with me wherever I go. Sarasate will be an amazing arrangement for 8 violinists from the Royal College of Music and myself, and we hope fireworks will be flying! I hope you can join in this special event!
Yulia Chaplina: Thank you so much for talking to me, Maxim, it was a pleasure!