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A violinist and his music

By Saskia Constantinou

Ahead of the Apollon International Chamber Music Festival next week, CEO of Apollon International Connections and Festival Director Saskia Constantinou had a chat with the Russian-born, London based musician Yuri Zhislin (who will be taking part in this year’s festival) about chamber music, the festival and his developing career as a conductor.

Following the success of last year’s festival, Zhislin is again pleased to be in Cyprus as the 2015 Artistic Director of the second Apollon International Music Festival. As he mentioned “we really have a great variety of chamber music during the four nights – from Haydn’s Gipsy Rondo Piano Trio to Brahms’ monumental Piano Quintet and the Cyprus premiere of the Colombian composer/pianist Arturo Cuellar’s Latin Fantasy for Piano and Strings.

“I believe that this festival offers the perfect opportunity to introduce chamber music to a wider, ‘non-elitist’ audience although I have mixed feelings about the popular misconception that classical music is elitist. Maybe it isn’t such a bad thing that there are real connoisseurs out there who feel they belong to some kind of exclusive caste if you like, who are able to appreciate classical arts in all their glory. I don’t think we should be afraid of branding them as elitist.”

Once again, this year has an interesting mix of musicians. “I am incredibly lucky to have friends who are amazing artists. There isn’t any process of selecting them, but it’s more of a case of inviting them to a big party, to have a great time both on and off stage. This year we have the brilliant Armenian-born Spanish violist David Abrahamyan, whom I have known for many years, as well as German cellist Claudio Bohorquez and his wife, pianist Katia Skanavi. We are also pleased to be teaming up with Cypriot musicians, violinist Nicos Pittas and clarinettist George Georgiou.”

Throughout the year and all over the world, there are music festivals of many types and varieties. Yuri emphasizes their importance saying “It’s a wonderful way for us to catch up on things, to have fun together and to share musical ideas. From the listener’s perspective, there is always something special about a festival atmosphere and having the opportunity to get to know the artists in relaxed and intimate surroundings.”

Zhislin is well-known to Cyprus audiences as both violinist and violist in a solo and chamber capacity. He is keen however, to expand on his conducting experiences. “It’s not something completely new to me. I’ve been directing the Russian Virtuosi of Europe, a chamber orchestra that I founded, for over ten years at our concerts and tours throughout Europe and South America. I’ve also conducted festival orchestras in Spain and had a major Mozart project a couple of years ago in Russia. On this occasion, Natalia played Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with the wonderful Bristol Ensemble. As with the Russian Virtuosi, they rarely have a conductor, but this time they decided to invite a conductor to help them “navigate the ship” throughout the Concerto and asked if I wanted to join them, especially given that I know Natalia’s interpretation so well. I happily accepted the challenge and am glad to say that it was a huge success.”

Zhislin’s musical interests are wide and his is very enthusiastic about old-school rock, appreciates good pop music and is a big jazz fan. “I recently wrote a piece for violin, electric guitar and string orchestra – it’s my way of trying to break into the ‘forbidden’ world of pop/rock and of blending these genres together.”

Most of Zhislin’s private time centres around his daughter with Natalia. “Our little Anechka has just turned sixteen months” he says beaming and reaching out to show me his latest photographs. “We are still young and relatively inexperienced parents, but are learning fast and we are looking forward to being together in Paphos.”

Apollon International Chamber Music Festival
A festival with music from distinguished musicians. November 12- 15. The Annabelle Hotel, Poseidon Avenue, Paphos. 8pm. €15. Tel: 70-002106

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