Interview with Yevgenia Pikovsky and Dmitry Ratush

An AFIPO interview with an IPO couple married to music… and each other

 

Arranging our family schedules so we never miss a concert is one thing. For two Israel Philharmonic members who are married to the orchestra and each other, the challenge is having a family schedule.

Yevgenia Pikovsky, who leads the orchestra’s second violin section, and her husband Dmitry Ratush, the IPO’s Assistant Principal Viola, love each other, their two children, and being part of Israel’s premier cultural ambassador. In 2017, while the orchestra was in New York for its Carnegie Hall concerts, they visited our offices and talked about life in and out of the orchestra.

“It’s mainly good, with of course some difficulties,” Dmitry said. “Right now, we are very happy, especially during the tours. It is great to work together and be together in different cities in interesting countries. But we have two children and it’s always very hard for us to leave our families. My father is old. It’s very emotional.”

The orchestra is a big part of my life,” Yevgenia added. “And we spend a lot of time rehearsing. Almost every evening we have a concert and we have tours all over the world. It’s exciting.”

Both Yevgenia and Dmitry came to Israel in 1990, when their families emigrated from Russia. Yevgenia was immediately accepted to the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, where she studied with Haim Taub, a legendary IPO concertmaster. She first played with the Israel Philharmonic under Maestro Zubin Metha in 1993, the same year she won the Vittorio Gui and Verchelli Competitions. After completing her Bachelor’s degree in 1994, she traveled to the U.S. to study at Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts, in Dallas.

After his family arrived in Israel, Dmitry was accepted to the Rubin Academy of Music in Jerusalem. He studied with viola virtuoso and composer Michael Kugel. After graduating, he also attended SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts.

After graduating from Meadows they returned to Israel and the following year became founding members of the Chamber Ensemble Millennium at Targ Music Center in Jerusalem. Since that time, Yevgenia has participated in numerous festivals in Israel including the 2nd Jerusalem International Chamber Festival.  From 1997 until 2004 she was a concertmaster and soloist of Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, which toured Europe, South America and the U.S. Fifteen years ago she became a full member of the IPO.

A year later, in 2004, Dmitry joined the IPO as Assistant Principal Violist. He has been a member of the IPO string quartet, served as Assistant Principal Violist of the Israel Camerata Orchestra, and as a Principal Violist with the Bern Symphony Orchestra, where Yevgenia was Concertmaster during the 2006-2008 seasons. Since 2009, she has been a member of the faculty and orchestra coach in the Jerusalem Academy of Music and is coaching violin students as part of the collaboration between the IPO and Tel Aviv Academy Orchestra.

Dmitry, whose first New York appearance was in 1991 at the Merkin Concert Hall, recently began working as a guest principal violist in Spain’s Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana, Palau del les Arts, under the baton of Maestro Mehta. He has performed regularly in the Israel Festival and Voice of Music Festival in the Upper Galilee and appears as a soloist and chamber musician all over the world in International Festivals and Chamber Music Series.

 

AFIPO: You play in so many different nations and before different types of audiences – even within a single country. How would you describe the Israel audiences?

 

DMITRY RATUSH: Very different, and within Israel we have different publics and different programs for them, like “Intermezzo” for older generations and “Jeans Concerts” for younger audiences, with beer, disco and light music before and after the performance. We also have programs for children [in Bronfman Hall] and in their schools. I must say, for my taste, the public in Israel is a little bit conservative, which is okay. They love the big names and all the great soloists and conductors, but we are not playing enough modern music, like Shostakovich and Hindemith. People are a little bit afraid of that music.

[Yevgenia and I] have played in European orchestras, but it’s very different. There it’s just a job: you go home and you forget about it. Here, everything is very alive and emotional. We are proud to represent Israel all over the world. It’s very important.

 

YEVGENIA PIKOVSKY: It’s our international language to provide our Israeli soul to people without words, just music, and to be without politics. We are on the stage just playing, performing, and doing our best. We are proud to live in Israel.

And of course, when Maestro Mehta is on stage, the concerts are a big success everywhere because everyone loves him. Musically he is at the top of the top and his abilities are amazing: He has so much energy and charisma that all the stages in the world become open to us. To exchange energy with him is amazing. It’s so full of emotion that it’s hard to go home afterwards. You need to relax.

 

AFIPO: What is it like being on tour with the orchestra?

 

DMITRY: We are working a lot: Concerts and rehearsals at the same time and sometimes a flight and performance on the same day, then the next day a completely new program. It’s hard but it’s very interesting.

 

YEVGENIA: When we are at home, we have to do everything. On tour, it’s just working and playing. No cleaning or such stuff.

 

AFIPO: What changes have you seen during your time in the orchestra?

 

DMITRY: There has been a big change in the past ten years, when the old generation retired, and we miss some things from that older generation. Now we have many good players from the younger generation.  We are in the middle of these two generations.

 

YEVGENIA: We miss good old-school musicians, people who came from everywhere. It was good to sit and learn from those people, such as a person who played in the time of Bernstein, and was part of a good old-fashioned school, either Russian or American. Now it’s very democratic, much easier for people. It’s somehow easier to communicate. Before it was this mix of old and new. That’s a huge difference.

 

DMITRY: We still have the same great conductors we’ve always had. Maestro Casado, Murray Perahia, and many more are coming this season.

 

YEVGENIA: Generally, we are open for new things, new feelings, and new energy. We are learning musicians, gaining different views about music and about composers all the time.

 

DMITRY: Also, we have a new chamber music hall, with great acoustics. We’ve had a few rehearsals there, but at this time we haven’t played a concert yet. We are looking forward to that.

 

YEVGENIA: Playing chamber music is very good for a musician, and very important. I also teach, and am trying to teach audition technique in a very different way from the academies. We spent three years here in the States, at a big university in Texas and it was a good school for auditioning and preparing ourselves for the future. It’s very important for young people.

 

DMITRY: In Israel, it’s very important for Israel that we have this kind of a relationship with the academy. We can teach them really what it means to be an orchestra musician.

 

AFIPO: Do you remember your IPO auditions?

 

YEVGENIA: My audition was very successful. I was invited into the IPO orchestra after my first audition. Before that I had been Concertmaster at the Jerusalem Orchestra for seven years and had suddenly felt I needed a change in order to go forward. So I auditioned and got in the violin section.

Auditioning is playing music, but it’s harder because you are alone and yet you need to provide a general picture, and make it as good and musical and professional as it can be. You can’t be afraid of it, but must play the music so you share the joy of it.

 

DMITRY: I must say it was luck for me. With my first really big audition I also entered immediately. I was given the position of Assistant Principal and am very happy that I am in this place.

 

AFIPO: What is a typical work day like for you?

 

YEVGENIA: We have a son and he is just five years old. We take him to the kindergarten and then try to get to rehearsal early to warm up for what we are going to play. Then we’re back home, and I’ll generally prepare some dinner. Then we usually have concerts in the evening, so almost every evening we are leaving. Our son is always asking, “You are again at the concert?!” For him it is pretty hard. But our 18-year-old is just finishing school this year and will then go into the army. We are very proud of him, but despite being older, he is always asking: “How do you know? You are never there…” He also has this feeling that I was out almost every evening. I was on tours and you know, we had to leave home. But we are lucky that we have good parents on my side and Dmitry’s side. Everyone is a good team to help and support us.

 

AFIPO: What are some of your favorite memories of the Israel Philharmonic?

 

DMITRY: I was 16 when the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra came to Russia. I think it was the first time the IPO was touring Russia, Moscow and St. Petersburg. I didn’t have a ticket and sat upstairs in a window, in a secret place. I had a personal feeling when the orchestra played there. They played Ravel’s La valse and Mr. Perlman, the great soloist, played the Tchaikovsky Concerto. Maestro Mehta was conducting. For me, it was an experience, seeing all the Jewish players together playing in the country where nobody thought this could be. Nobody thought an Israeli orchestra would come. I knew then that I was going to move to Israel, but even in my dreams I never thought I would be in this orchestra 20 years later.

 

YEVGENIA: I remember, on a birthday of mine years ago, the former IPO Concertmaster brought me up me to sit with him on the stand. It was amazing. It’s important to share with young people, so they can be part of it. We must never forget it’s not routine work: It’s so colorful and different all the time.

 

DMITRY: This is what is good about being a musician. It is different each evening. Even if you play the same thing, you are in a different mood and the conductor is in a different mood.

 

YEVGENIA: Different stage, different audience. It’s never the same. That’s the point of life that it’s not boring. Being in the IPO is the best place for us. I am in love with my job, which is not only a job it’s much more than that. And rehearsing and touring together with such a huge group of people, it’s like a small state inside the State of Israel, and there are a lot of relations between people, both musical … and personal.