Master class

Yuri Bashmet, playing and teaching the viola

Private music lessons

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Yuri Bashmet — Teacher, violist, conductor

Boris Baraz — Cellist (student)

Claire Bobij — Violist (student)

Andrei Gridchuk — Violist

Mikhail Muntian — Pianist

Danilo Rossi — Violist (student)

Olivier Bernager — A collection by

François Manceaux — A collection by

Program notes

This masterclass recounts the trajectory of a supremely gifted violist and turbulent artist, heir to a uniquely Russian tradition of interpretative rigour which is seen passing on to his pupils here. Yuri Bashmet is an explosive mixture of severity and sensitivity which reaches the heights of musical sublimity!

Contrary to the well-known image of the Russian genius shut up in a conservatory for prodigies, the young Yuri did not realise he was destined for the rarefied world of classical music. As a teenager he Iearnt his music from the school of Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles, playing the electric guitar with rock bands in the nightclubs of Lvov (Ukraine). In those years which saw the death of Stalinism and the birth of perestroika, he was sure of only one thing : music and he were inseparable. In 1970, not yet twenty years old, he was attracted by classical music. The violin of course, the conservatory; his family weren‘t against it. He spoke of his intentions to a well-informed friend, who explained that there were too many violinists and he was bound to end up playing the viola. Yuri wasted no time, and at once began practising the latter instrument, whose expressiveness soon began to fascinate him. He dreamt of his viola... and that's one of the stories told in this fine film by Jacques Deschamps, at once an endearing portrait and a 'private music Iesson' given in Montpellier at our invitation.

Filmed here during the summer of 1990, when he was already recognised in the West as one of the violists, Yuri Bashmet was generously welcomed by the city of Montpellier along with his ensemble, the Moscow Soloists, when glasnost enabled him to leave the USSR freely, like other Russian artists and intellectuals at that time. And so here is the flamboyant violist, with hair and soulful glance, in rehearsal with the Moscow Soloists, renamed 'Solistes de Moscou-Montpellier' for the occasion. In this film taken at a prestissimo pace, he works in turn with beginners on the viola and seasoned musicians, some of whom are members of his ensemble. Since music is a family affair, we find in his improvised dacha at Palavas-les-Flots, which looks directly onto the beach. He plays Schubert accompanied by his ten-year old daughter, who bravely takes in his somewhat severe remarks on her performance. His method? Liberty, a flawless technique, and a musicality that shines through every word, every note played as an example... Pedagogy? He gently bullies his pupils without ever letting them feel any kind of superiority on his part. It is doubtless one of the elements of the Russian sensibility to consider friendship as a mainspring of creation. But it should be remembered that Bashmet, a virtuoso through and through, didn't really have much of an idea of teaching methods at the time we filmed him, except by comparison with those he was confronted with during his studies with the illustrious Feodor Druzhinin at the Moscow Conservatory. You only need to watch him, say his musicians, to understand a little better and make great progress in musical execution. Music is not always conveyed by words; Bashmet, when he can't say things, mimes them. His usual method is to seize the pupil's viola and play it: the sound blossoms, even on mediocre instruments, and the music invades the screen.

The film is also punctuated by performances of masterpieces: the Schubert's Arpeggione Sonata, the Brahms F minor Sonata with the marvelous Mikhaïl Muntian, rehearsals with his orchestra. Whatever he plays, whatever he does, there is always the same impression of urgency and concentration. A few bars of Benjamin Britten's Lachrymae are heard at the still centre of this 'private Iesson'. They are of such intensity as to bring tears to the eyes, and alone suffice to encapsulate all by themselves the soul of this angel-musician.

Private music lessons: twelve hugely influential programmes broadcast by French television between 1987 and 1991. The guiding principle for Olivier Bernager and François Manceaux was to capture the art of the leading performers of our time, live in concert but also and above all in a teaching environment.

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