It feels like a family over there and I’m very much looking forward to joining that family.
– David Radzynski
On December 19, 2014, the day that would have been IPO founder Bronislaw Huberman’s 132nd birthday, the Orchestra named 28-year-old David Radzynski as its new concertmaster, joining current concertmasters Yigal Tuneh and Ilya Konovalov in the position. The young violinist hails from Ohio and grew up among a musical family. His father, Jan Radzynski, is a composer as well as Professor of Composition in the music department at Ohio State University while his mother is a pianist. He began receiving instruction from her at the age of three and took up the violin at six.
David studied intensely with Roland and Almita Vamos as well as Paul Kantor, who are widely regarded as among the leading violin instructors in the world. He went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in music from Indiana University where he worked closely with Mauricio Fuks and Kevork Mardirossian and a master’s degree from the Yale School of Music under the direction of Syoko Aki. He is currently finishing his studies with Ben Sayevich at the Park University International Center for Music. Professor Sayevich was instrumental in preparing David for the concertmaster audition. Located in Missouri, the school offers the few students they accept full scholarships and living stipends, allowing them to focus solely on their music. Before embarking on his new role David will receive a performance certificate and artist diploma from this institution.
It is certainly an exciting period for the musician, who will move to Tel Aviv in March to begin his duties with the Orchestra. We are grateful that David recently took the time to discuss his background, the IPO’s audition process, and much more.
What made you want to become a classical musician?
It has a lot to do with both my parents being musicians; they were a huge influence on me. My father is a composer and my mother teaches piano, so I grew up with music all around. When they would put music on I would just stare at the speakers for hours. I used to watch the Magic Flute hundreds of times over. I would also listen a lot as a kid to the Mozart clarinet quintet – that piece strikes a very sensitive spot in my heart. I become incredibly nostalgic when I hear its first two movements.
I always knew I wanted to play music, from the time I was six-years-old. It was very obvious to me. I didn’t have the maturity of an 18-year-old but I just knew that I wanted to play music even at the young age of six. I’ve always known what I wanted to do.
What made you chose the violin?
My parents took me to concerts all the time and I was drawn to the violin. I was very impressed with all the high notes when I was a kid. I loved the sparkly quality of the sound. And of course I love the repertoire that’s been written for it.
Although, I don’t remember it as being a strict or an immediate decision to focus on playing the violin, I remember it as kind of a gradual transition. I think my parents helped me, they felt there was something special with the violin and they encouraged me to put my efforts into it.
As an adult, I now love all the instruments for all the purposes they serve. I think the violin is just the tool which I use to express myself. I have an equal amount of respect for all the other instruments.
Who is your most important musical influence?
Certainly all of my teachers have been incredible, every single one has influenced me in one way or another, but without a doubt the answer to that has to be my parents. They dedicated themselves to helping me with the violin. Without my parents I would certainly not be where I am. That is just a fact. It wouldn’t matter how amazing my teachers were if I didn’t have parents that were so incredibly supportive. My parents always believed in me and had faith that I would succeed.
What did your audition involve?
Last year I was invited by former principal cellist of the IPO, Simca Heled, for a series of chamber music concerts with rising star pianist and conductor, Lahav Shani. Simca had heard me once on the radio from my recital at the Jerusalem Music Center in 2009. He found my e-mail and has been in contact with me ever since. During our tour together, he got in contact with the IPO and told them they should hear me play. Before I knew it, I was not only on a chamber music tour, but was scheduled to play for Maestro Zubin Mehta. This was completely unplanned and out of the blue!
I had to quickly prepare a movement from a concerto (at that time I was playing the Bartok Concerto no. 2), some Bach, as well as some other material. This was not really an audition, but just a chance for them to hear me, as well as an enormous honor for me to play for one of the most legendary conductors of our time, and one of the most renowned orchestras in the world. My performance turned out to be a great success, and several months later the IPO invited me to audition for the concertmaster position.
Because I had already played for them I entered the process during the semi-final round with ten other musicians. During this stage you are asked to play certain orchestra excerpts and solos, these included the Brahms Violin Concerto and Mozart Concerto no. 5. Each person played for about 45 minutes, so the auditions were done over a course of two days.
For the final round, the group was cut to four people, who each performed for approximately 30 minutes. I played the Brahms Violin Concerto with the Orchestra and Zubin Mehta conducting. I also played a few of the concertmaster solos with the Orchestra – Strauss’s Heldenleben and Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis.
It’s a huge responsibility. You have to know the score, you have to know your part inside-out, and you have to treat your colleagues with the utmost respect. You’re a leader, but you want to be a leader that people respect. So that’s incredibly important.
You have to be constantly in contact with all the major performers in the Orchestra. Your ears have to be open and not only focused on your part, you have to be listening and respond to the other sections and Orchestra. If you hear something that is not working out very well you have to catch it immediately and make a suggestion or give advice. You can’t just be in your own world; you have to be listening to everybody.
You are also representing the Orchestra. Even outside of the Orchestra, if someone invites you to give a recital in Europe somewhere you better play incredibly well – people will judge the Orchestra on the quality of your performance.
What went through your mind upon hearing you had been chosen?
I was incredibly ecstatic; I couldn’t believe what was happening. They brought me into this office and Zubin Mehta was there and all of the top people in the Orchestra where there and I remember not knowing what to say. My brain was twisting and turning in all different directions. I was digesting everything.
On one hand I was incredibly happy and on the other I’m thinking that my whole life is changing – it’s a big change from being a student living in Parkville, Missouri to going to live in a major city in a new country and having this incredible position. But this was such an incredible achievement and I felt very happy and honored that they wanted me.
What do you think about moving to Tel Aviv?
It’s going to be a big change; my parents and sister live in the States so I won’t be able to see them as often. But I do speak Hebrew and I do have family in Israel so I’m very excited to get to know them better. It’s a completely different environment there. The mentality, the culture…I’m sure I’ll get to know a different side of me once I’m there. It’s an emotional change; it’s a psychological change.
But there is a lot of diversity in the Orchestra, I’m an American, the Principal Cellist is Italian…there are people there from all over the world. Also, everyone was so welcoming and so warm to me. They were very enthusiastic, that really made me feel at home. Like a family. It feels like a family over there and I’m very much looking forward to joining that family.
What are you most excited about?
Everything excites me. It’s the kind of job that aside from being able to lead in a major international orchestra with one of the best conductors in the world and appear on major stages as the leader of an incredible Orchestra you also get to play orchestra music and chamber music and recitals with wonderful people. You have so many opportunities. I’m excited about the whole package.
It’s impossible to answer that. Life is full of surprises. This was so unexpected. Right now my focus is to put my whole heart and soul into this job and whatever happens in ten years I’ll worry about it then. I go with the flow.
Who are your favorite composers and why?
Well, there are certain composers that are automatically up there in the top – Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms. Those guys are just up there because they’re like gods for me.
So I don’t have a favorite composer, but I do have composers that I’ve had phases with, for example, Bartok. In my opinion, he was one of the greatest composers of the 20th century. To me, he was the 20th century Beethoven; he borrowed a lot from his techniques. I went through a huge Bartok phase – huge – I used to listen to all the string quartets several times a day. His music comes very naturally to me and he’s had a huge influence on me as a musician.
What do you like to listen to when not performing or rehearsing?
I’ve had periods of listening to hip hop, but not as much anymore. I love jazz. I love Latin American music. Anything I can dance to even though I’m probably the worst dancer in the entire world.
If you weren’t a musician what career would you want to have?
Actor, without a doubt, because it’s a very similar type of art – as a musician you are also acting, you have to get into the role of the music. If it’s a piece that’s very sarcastic you have to perform and show the sarcasm, or the love, or the passion, or the anger – you have to show it in your playing. We’re given a text – the notes – and we have to make it our own. It’s similar to what actors have; there are so many parallels between the two.
Some Final Thoughts…
It is with great thanks to Maestro Mehta and the IPO for believing in me, to Simca Heled who was the main trigger and made all of this possible, and to Professor Ben Sayevich who prepared me for this audition.
Also, I’m just super excited to start working. It’s going to be an incredible experience. I’m really high on life and it feels pretty damn good.