David Garrett and his musical way out of convention
BY LARA VIRIOT
(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue Q1 2019)
He possesses this charming mix of casualness and self-confidence. The international star David Garrett is one of the most impressive and talented violinists of his time. From May 2008 to April 2010, the “Devil’s Violinist” held a very special world record: he played Rimski-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” in 66.56 seconds – that means 13 notes per second– without making a single mistake. This even won him an entry in the Guinness Book of Records.
At the age of four, he made his first attempts on the violin – his father, a German jurist and violin auctioneer, also worked as a part-time violin teacher and was his first mentor. At 13, he was already exclusively under contract with Deutsche Grammophon, and the famous violinist Yehudi Menuhin once described him as the “greatest violinist of his generation.”
A unique blend of classic and modern pieces is Garrett’s trademark – he is a crossover violinist with real pop star qualities. No question, Garrett both technically and creatively masters all facets of being a mature virtuoso with a palpable joy for detail – be it powerful “strokes,” quiet subdued sequences or soft melancholy. He finds inspiration for his own work almost everywhere and also in seemingly everyday things, as he told us in an interview before the launch of his new “Unlimited Live” tour. His great curiosity makes him open to many things, always ready to try something new and inspired by a wide variety of music genres.
You started playing the violin at the age of four. Even as a child, you practised for up to eight hours a day. How was that for you?
It certainly hasn’t always been easy as a young kid to muster that discipline every day. Looking back, though, it was incredibly important for my playing today and the career development I was able to experience. Without that foundation, my playing would be very different today.
You signed your first record deal at the age of 13. How has it changed your life? Could you experience a “normal” youth despite the early start of your music career?
Actually, my parents signed the contract since I was still a minor. In the end, I already had a very different life from my peers. I had private lessons and the focus during my childhood was already on learning and playing the violin, giving successful concerts and building a career.
Six years later, you went to university in New York. Please tell us more about how this stage of your life has shaped you and what experiences you still benefit from today.
Part of the reason behind this was the desire for a larger social environment and also to play music with others. That is why I decided to officially study music and the violin. Of course, working with Itzhak Perlman has had a huge impact on me, as a violinist, as a musician, but also as a human being. Those four years were, I believe, very, very important for me to get a general musical education, which in turn makes what I do today possible, even outside of pure classical music.
Over the years, you have found your own personal music style. Where do you get the inspiration for your music?
I think inspiration can come from anywhere. From a conversation, from a good meal, from friends, from experiences, from nature. I believe that leisure is as important to my inspiration as discipline and work.
How do you perceive the music around you?
I approach new music with great curiosity, and it is very important for me to be open to new music styles and genres. I have always incorporated this openness into my own projects.
In your shows you like to work with great effects. Are there any new concepts in your upcoming tour? What can we look forward to?
I wouldn’t say it’s always great effects – if a special effect fits perfectly at one point and supports the music, that’s wonderful. But sometimes, it’s the little things that impress the most. Of course, the music always comes first. But luckily I also have the great luxury of being able to create a show around the music, and that’s something I really like to do. Accordingly, I sat down for the next tour with a great production team, with whom we worked out a really fantastic concept. For “Unlimited Live,” we came up with insanely great video concepts and visually spectacular elements on the one hand, and on the other hand, we’ve also integrated a few quieter moments, for example with the pieces that we play unplugged for the first time. Balance is always very important to me.
You have tried your hand at acting with the role of the famous Italian violinist Paganini. How can you identify with him?
First and foremost, we both learned the same instrument, and we certainly relate with regard to the level of difficulty. But above all, I can identify with the fact that he approached the instrument very creatively and always tried to explore completely new avenues with the violin.
Do you have any other wishes that are close to your heart and that you would like to realise in the near future?
My biggest wish is always that my fans continue to be excited about the concerts and my music, and I want to keep that up for many years to come. Since “Unlimited Live” is a greatest hits tour, of course, we really went all out for it and I hope the fans will be just as enthusiastic about it as we are.
David Garrett was born in Aachen on September 4, 1980, as David Christian Bongartz. His father is the jurist and violin auctioneer Georg Paul Bongartz and his mother is the American prima ballerina Dove-Marie Garrett. With over three million albums as well as millions of tickets sold, David Garrett has always surpassed himself over the ten years of his international career. With the new “Unlimited Live” tour, he finally gets back on tour and celebrates his crossover anniversary together with his fans in a brilliant show.
Picture credit © Christoph Köstlin