The Siberian violinist Maxim Vengerov is often hailed as one of the best living violinists and has performed with the world’s most prestigious orchestras. Recently, he has also entered the field of conducting. Vengerov dedicates much of his time to UNICEF and bringing people, especially children, together through music in third-world countries.
Maxim Vengerov was exposed to fantastic music before he was even born. Both of his parents were active musicians, his mother a singer and conductor, and his father an orchestral oboist. While still in the womb, Vengerov attended one of David Oistrakh’s last concerts, one in which he performed the Tchaikovsky Concerto. Perhaps these pre-birth events prepared Vengerov for his life as a violinist.
Maxim started playing violin by the age of five and recalls his first meeting with his teacher, who asked the boy, “Do you have strength in these hands?” In response, Maxim punched her in the stomach with all his strength. In his own words, “Fortunately, she was in a good mood that day, and she accepted me as a student”. He took lessons from both Galina Tourchaninova and Zakhar Bron.
At the age of 10, Maxim Vengerov set forth on his first international tour. This same year, he won the Wieniawski international competition and made his first commercial recording. As a recording artist, Vengerov would later record for many top labels, including Melodia, Teldec and EMI.
Another important event early in his career was winning the Carl Flesch international competition in London in 1990 at the age of 15. From there, he began to appear as a soloist with orchestras, gaining the attention of the major recording labels.
Vengerov’s inspiration comes from a broad spectrum of music styles, including baroque, jazz and rock. His mentor, the great cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, who he likens to a grandfather, was also very influential on his development. According to Vengerov, Rostropovich “broadened my views of music and introduced me to composers like Shostakovich and Prokofiev as if they were still alive and I was actually meeting them” Vengerov also enjoys a unique friendship with the pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim.
At just 23 years old, Vengerov was named UNICEF’s International Goodwill Ambassador. As the first classical musician to hold this position, he was able to continue playing for children in more areas, including Uganda, Thailand, the Balkans and Turkey. In addition to raising money for UNICEF-assisted programmes, Vengerov is also a patron of the South African MIAGI project, which uses music to connect children of different ethnicities.
Plagued by an injury to his arm, Vengerov was forced to take a break from the violin, making a comeback four years later in 2011. During this pause, he pursued the art of conducting and focused on his humanitarian work, which earned him a Crystal Award at the World Economic Forum in Davos (2007). Vengrov’s decision to pursue conducting was perhaps influenced by his two greatest mentors, Rostropovich and Barenboim.
He has proven himself to be as talented a conductor as violinist and has already conducted a number of major orchestras, including the Montreal and Toronto Symphony Orchestras in Canada. In 2010, he was appointed the first chief conductor of the Gstaad Festival Orchestra.
Vengerov’s desire to conduct at the highest level possible led him to enrol at the Moscow Institute of Ippolitov-Ivanov to study with Yuri-Simonov, a master of the Russian-German school of conducting. Vengerov graduated with a diploma of excellence from the institute in June 2014. Since then, he has also enrolled for an opera conducting programme of two years, and is scheduled to conduct Eugene Onegin in late 2017.
Highlights from his recent concert seasons include collaborations with pianist Lang Lang and the conductor Long Yu opening the 2014-15 seasons of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre de Paris and Shanghai’s Symphony Hall. That same season, Vengerov appeared with the New York Philharmonic, and recorded Tchaikovsky’s Concerto with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France under the direction of Myung-Whun Chung.
The next year, Vengerov maintained a very busy concert schedule, completing five tours in Australia, Canada, Asia, Europe and South America.
He has since appeared in Australia, where he opened and closed the seasons of the Sydney and Queensland Symphony Orchestras, respectively. He has also appeared as a guest conductor with the RTE Orchestra Dublin, the Munich Philharmonic and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.
The future is bright for Vengerov, who already has many engagements for the 2017-18 season, including a performance with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra in Carnegie hall and the premiere of Qigang’s new concerto, written for him, at the Beijing Music Festival. The winter months will be devoted to opera, though he will still have time to tour Europe, China and the U.S. during the season. He also plans to launch his own recording label, Vengerov Music Vision, in the near future. His hope is to release four or five digital recordings each year on this label.
In addition to his work on the stage, Vengerov is a passionate and dedicated teacher. He is currently the Ambassador and visiting professor of the Menuhin Music Academy in Switzerland (IMMA) and the Polonsky visiting professor of violin at the Royal College of Music in London. In 2012, he was also awarded an honorary visiting fellowship at Trinity College, Oxford. He also serves on various competition juries, as he believes that competitions are capable of launching the international careers of young soloists. As such, he has served on the juries of the Donatella Flick competition and the Menuhin Violin Competition. He also conducted for the 2013 finals of the Montreal International Violin Competition and served as chairman of the Wieniawski Violin Competition on multiple occasions.
In addition to his numerous recordings, Vengerov has been featured on a number of documentaries, including Playing by Heart, which was shown at the Cannes Film Festival in 1999, and Living the Dream, which received a Gramophone Award for Best Documentary (2008).
Other awards and honours include orders of merit from Romania and Saarland, in addition to a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Soloist Performance with Orchestra (2003), two consecutive Gramophone awards (1994 and 1995), a Classical Brit Award (2004), five Edison Classical Music Awards (1995, 1996, 1998, 2003, 2004) and two ECHO awards (1997, 2003).