Violinist Stefan Jackiw – “music connects you with humanity”
I am reconnecting with the slender, young looking 31 years old violinist, Stefan Jackiw, who impressed me deeply when I had heard him perform several years ago, at the Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church. Home of the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players – just a block from Lincoln Center – less frequently performed repertoire is presented here in an accessible way, by musicians belonging to the former orchestral ensemble led by the late Jens Nygaard and upcoming talents of the New York classical music scene.
photo credit: Sophie Zhaim
Already then, Jackiw came across as being an artist with an inimitably searching character and an utterly engaging musician with a maturity well beyond his years. He clearly dominated the stage in a literal sense, since there was not even a stage actually; Jupiter players just stand in front of their audience, which makes for a much simpler and more direct display of their skill. It also makes it more difficult for some performers to stand there in such proximity, rather intimately exposed, without the sanctification of the pedestal effect of a stage.
This was clearly not the case for Jackiw, who embraced the closeness with every one of his nimble movements and a soaring tone projection, pulling the audience into his music making with an almost uncanny optimism; not of the naively joyful kind, but rather a deep felt response of life affirming buoyancy with an emotional depth, only gained through some serious soul searching.
Since then, the highly accomplished violinist’s career has taken off to even new heights. When we meet at Indies, a café, often frequented by musicians thanks to its lighter fare and proximity to Lincoln Center and the Juilliard School, he had just made his debut at Carnegie Hall, performing Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto with Mikhail Pletnev, kick starting a tour with the Russian National Orchestra. He also completed a tour, performing Ives Violin Sonatas with the brilliant pianist Jeremy Denk, which included a well received performance at the 92Y. The New York Times called their collaboration an arresting account and a model of how performers can both inform and entertain an audience with a challenging program (Anthony Tommasini) photo Shiro Yuki NY Times
Jackiw had first collaborated with Denk in 2007, at the Seattle Chamber Music Festival, and they had “clicked” from the get go:”Besides being a greatly informed and learned pianist with immense insights into the historical context and how to make strikingly clear, how a piece is put together, for me his playing is so special because of its emotional generosity. When he plays, he is the opposite of academic; filled with spirit, life and joy, he makes you fall in love with music all over again,” says Jackiw. They continued their spirited affiliation, performing several times over the years and their relationship has deepened into a strong partnership, further evolving their similar musical values, personal temperaments and ideas on interpretation. When it came to Charles Ives, a project Denk had mentioned to Jackiw a while back, Jackiw started learning all four Sonatas at once, for their shared performance. While Denk had been closely involved with the composer’s work for quite some time, Jackiw had only been somewhat familiar with some of his chamber music already, while the Sonatas were rather new territory for him. That’s why he hopes to repeat their Ives tour in the near future:”I feel the first time around, after you learn new repertoire, you have to put it away for a while. The second time you perform it, there is a very different understanding, and that’s especially true with a composer you don’t perform all that often. It is different when you play, say Brahms, whom you play all your life. Even if it’s a new or lesser played piece, its informed by how you play Brahms’ other works…I already look forward to revisiting Ives.” While much admired by Jackiw, Denk, is also a prolific writer on his thoughts on music – he is currently writing a book, built on a selection of entries of his successful blog “Think Denk,” a consummate and often witty outlook from his perspective as a musician – Jackiw, who is an excellent communicator himself, says he is rather shy when it comes to writing about music; though he did write the program notes for his Carnegie Hall debut. “It is important for me, to write down my thoughts that go into building a certain program, and my thoughts about a performance. Writing forces me to articulate my thoughts about music, deepening my own understanding and informs my commitment to then crystallize my thoughts in my playing and vice versa, “he says.
Jackiw often attends others’ concerts and likes to think about the experience, but also about his own role, as a performer. Photo credit: Sophie Zhai
“I believe that we (as performers) are re-creating a composer’s work, like an actor re-creates Shakespeare… and in that sense we are servants to the composer’s score. But within that, one could argue if it is our job to guide the audience in a controlled way, pointing out the path through the piece; or rather go on the journey with the audience together, in real time. As a listener, I find it always more compelling, when the performer and the audience are “taking communion” together, when there is this togetherness of experiencing the music. While giving yourself up to the music may be risky, and the willingness to relinquish control may be dangerous, this is – for me – the place, where music takes flight. It sounds a little indulgent, but the great, late Hanoncourt expressed it so eloquent:”Beauty exists at the edge of catastrophe.” Pushing to that edge, being in the presence of all that is expressed in the score, the torment, the joy, the emotional extremes….being vulnerable to all that opens you up to an experience, bigger than oneself and that connects the performer with the audience. As a performer you cannot keep the audience at an arm length. It may be more comfortable, you would be less naked, but that’s not what it is about. An actor like Daniel Day Lewis, for example, is totally amerced into his characters. He becomes the character, he is portraying, every time. “
Jackiw is inspired by other performers, who radiate this total commitment and honesty in their playing; some of his all time idols includes violinist Christian Tetzlaff, whose concerts he always aims to attend. The other one is Gidon Kremer, with whom he performed chamber music in Korea, last year. “It would be a dream to play together with him again,” he says. “Already in the rehearsals, this is an artist who is so inspiring with utter commitment and always so different in each performance.
“After all, why do we go to museums, read literature and want to get a perspective on history,” exclaims the former Harvard psychology major, if not to connect with beauty, but also with the emotions expressed by others. I find it deeply comforting to discover that others felt like I feel. “One of the major conventions in psychology is “normalization,” which means to show empathy to a patient, by showing that whatever mental ailment patients are plagued by, they are not alone; there are others that have suffered this before and are now. And music really shows that too, through the works of composers, who have lived and suffered and lived seeking joy and beauty. It is difficult to go on stage as a performer, it takes some self-reflection and thinking about what matters and why we are here, as a musician, dedicated to express all that, it forces you to look inward too, and that’s what keeps us grounded and in our most blissful moments, connected to humanity. “
In the following months, Jackiw is looking forward to several orchestral performances in Europe, including his Berlin Konzerthaus debut, as well as reconnecting with his Korea based ensemble “Ditto.”
For more info about the artist: www. stefanjackiw.com