Maxim Vengerov

Maxim Vengerov

Violin • Viola

• Born 1974

Editor's Choice

Maxim Vengerov was perhaps the most recognisable name in the violin world in the 90s and 00s, but he was also among the last of the great musicians produced in the hothouse of the Soviet musical education system. Those terrifying standards produced a player of superhuman technical prowess, but Vengerov’s innate curiosity meant he lapped up the chance to explore a world of music beyond his imagining once he could travel west. A hungry public gobbled up the records he produced in the 1990s, which covered much of the standard repertoire, often under the direction of his great mentors, Mstislav Rostropovich and Daniel Barenboim. There remains something gloriously old fashioned about his playing, as though he’s the last in a line of golden-age virtuosos who had their particular repertoire and understood that their job involved more than simply dazzling an audience, but also charming them, and tugging at the heartstrings.

Biography

The Soviet-born violinist Maxim Vengerov has been one of the most successful modern exponents of the great Russian school, marrying flawless technique acquired early in life to broad musical curiosity. He has been increasingly often active as a conductor.

Vengerov was born August 20, 1974, in Novosibirsk, in Siberia, where his father was an oboist in the local symphony orchestra. His mother ran an orphanage and conducted its choir. Vengerov took up the violin at four and, of his own volition, would practice for hours after dinner. The child was enrolled in lessons with a strict local teacher with whom he clashed; he refused to play, but then when his mother broke down in tears, he suddenly picked up his violin and played 17 pieces from memory without interruption. At seven, the Soviet government moved Vengerov to Moscow for special musical studies. His teacher was Zakhar Bron, whose tuition led the youngster to a win at the 1984 Junior Wieniawski Competition in Poland. Vengerov followed Bron to London and then to Lübeck, Germany. In his teens Vengerov was already playing concertos with top European orchestras such as the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam; he made his U.S. debut with the New York Philharmonic in 1991.

Vengerov's recording career began in the late 1980s, and in 1992 he signed with the Teldec label. A major breakthrough was a 1994 recording of violin concertos by Shostakovich and Prokofiev, with Mstislav Rostropovich conducting the London Symphony Orchestra; it won two Gramophone awards in Britain and snared two Grammy nominations in the U.S. In 1997, Vengerov was named Envoy for Music of the United Nations' Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), the first classical musician to hold the post. He signed with the EMI label in 2000, and for Teldec or EMI he has recorded almost all the major violin concertos. Unlike many other violinists from the former Eastern Bloc, Vengerov cultivates a wide variety of musical interests that include Baroque works, jazz, and rock.

His pace of recordings and performances on the violin was slowed somewhat by a shoulder injury sustained in a 2005 weightlifting accident, but he used the layoff to develop his interest and skills in conducting. In 2010, he became chief conductor of the Menuhin Festival Gstaad Orchestra, and he completed several courses in orchestral and operatic conducting. Vengerov has also taught violin at the Menuhin Institute in Switzerland and the Royal College of Music in London. In 2019, as a violinist, he released an album of works by Kreisler and Chinese composer Chen Qigang with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra. An Israeli citizen, Vengerov lives with his family in Monaco. He owns the "ex-Kreutzer" Stradivarius violin, which he plays with a bow once owned by Jascha Heifetz.

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