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This story by Elaine Strauss was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on
November 4, 1998. All rights reserved.
Markov, Venturesome Violinist
When I was very little," says violinist Alexander
Markov, referring to a time in the late 1970s, "I used to walk
across Central Park in the dark with a friend. We were curious because
everybody used to tell us how dangerous it was." Markov brings
the same sort of derring-do to his musical career. He likes to program
all 24 of Paganini’s daunting "Caprices" in a single
and he is currently working up a repertoire for a violin with six
strings, instead of the usual four, that will bridge the gap between
classical music and rock.
The venturesome violinist makes his solo debut with the New Jersey
Symphony Orchestra in the Sibelius Violin Concerto in D minor. Zdenek
Macal conducts a trio of performances of the concert that includes
the New Jersey premiere of Steve Reich’s "Three Movements for
Orchestra" and Richard Strauss’ "Also Sprach Zarathustra."
Performances take place Thursday, November 5, at 8 p.m. in New
State Theater, followed by two concerts in Prudential Hall at the
New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Newark.
"Musically, the Sibelius is one of the top violin concertos, along
with the Tchaikovsky, the Mendelssohn, and the Beethoven," says
Markov, by phone from his home in Connecticut. "It’s very
It’s technical and brilliant, but it has strong musical content and
is very powerful. It’s a contrast with the Paganini `Caprices,’ which
are all virtuoso."
"It will be especially pleasant to play with Macal," Markov
adds. "We have a long friendship. We used to play together in
Italy after I won the gold medal in the Paganini Competition in
The two previously collaborated in a performance of the Sibelius with
the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
As part of his Paganini Competition prize, Markov had the opportunity
to use Paganini’s violin, the Guarneri del Gesu "Canon," in
concert and for the rehearsals leading up to it. "It was almost
a mystical experience," Markov says. "Imagine holding
own violin! My grandfather came to Italy and got to hold it."
An engineer, Markov’s grandfather was doubly thrilled because his
daughter, Markov’s mother, is also a violinist.
Markov, 35, was born to two violinist parents in Moscow. The family
came to the United States in 1976, when he was 12. "It was an
easy change," Markov says. "In Russia schools are very strict
and hard to handle. They’re like military institutions. We had to
wear uniforms. They were a horrible gray color, and you felt like
a mouse. When we arrived in New York I didn’t know English, but
was very good to me and my family."
Markov attended New York’s Professional Children’s School and studied
at Juilliard with Ivan Galamian, who trained a generation of concert
violinists. He made his Carnegie Hall debut at age 16, playing a
concerto and music by the violin virtuoso Pablo Sarasate. Markov
his repertoire today as "from Bach to Berg. I basically play all
the violin concertos."
Shortly after arriving in New York Markov’s mother found a job with
the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, by chance. "Ironically,"
says Markov, contemplating his performances with Macal, "my mother
played in the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra when we first came to
America." She now plays with New York’s Mostly Mozart Orchestra,
and the City Opera Orchestra. Markov’s father, Albert Markov, teaches
at New York’s Manhattan School of Music and performs as a solo
"We perform together," Alexander says, adding, "We make
a good team." He singles out a Vivaldi concerto for three violins
that gives the family a chance to appear on stage together. Father
Albert, in addition to violin, also plays viola. His arrangement of
Prokofiev’s "Peter and the Wolf" for two violins and viola
is another way to keep the family busy. Add a cellist to the Markov
family, and you’ve got a string quartet.
Markov began his violin studies with his father in Moscow. By the
time he was eight, he was already appearing as an orchestral soloist,
and performing double concertos with his father. "My father was
an important influence on my musical growth, because he is a great
performer himself," says Markov. "When you have a teacher
who is also performer, it’s a valuable experience. It provides both
sides of the coin. If the teacher is not a performer, he can only
teach so much." On the other side of the coin, a successful
is not necessarily an outstanding teacher.
Following his own star, Markov has emerged as an
performer. On the Erato CD featuring three of Henri Vieuxtemps’ violin
concertos, he displays an awesomely supple technique that bubbles
up from a substantial, meaty sound — fireworks with anchors. In
part, he attributes that sound to his studies with his father who
once represented the Russian school of violin playing, "and now
the American style," says Markov. Albert Markov’s book on violin
technique, published by G. Schirmer, goes by the no-nonsense title
"Violin Technique." "It’s nicknamed `the green book,’"
says his son.
"My father was a big influence on my violin playing," Markov
says, explaining his singularly robust approach to flamboyance.
my personal intuition of sound. You should have an idea of what you
want to do, and hear in your head the sound you want to create. When
you practice, you should try to achieve that ideal sound. You don’t
just practice. Practicing doesn’t always make things better. It’s
the idea in your head that makes for progress. I’ve seen students
practice for seven hours a day without it helping a lot. I used to
practice a lot as kid. Now my practice schedule ranges from two hours
to 10 minutes, to seven hours. I practice to maintain myself in shape,
and I’m always searching for new musical ideas. Otherwise my playing
"I concentrate on what I want to say musically," Markov says.
"Many performers think about what the critics will write. But
a musician should think about what he wants to say. If the
critics like it, okay, but the performer should focus on his
ideas, on what he wants to do. And the audience will accept it. I
just try to be myself, and play from the heart. I depend on my musical
intuition rather than calculating effects. I don’t like compromising
in music. I take the bull by the horns and do what I think is
right. The rest is how my luck turns out."
Markov lives now in rural Connecticut, outside of Stamford. He enjoys
being in the country, yet close to New York. "I’m almost a normal
person," he says. "I like to do what my friends do —
walking. I like movies, comedies especially. Life is too serious,
For the serious parts of life, Markov still falls back on Paganini.
He played the 24 Caprices in concert in Turkey in October.
a major marathon," he says. "They drain so much energy. The
goal is not only to play them technically right, but to bring across
the music. It’s challenging and it’s not done very often. It’s
difficult, but I enjoy the challenge. I live by that."
Markov moves beyond Paganini into contemporary music as he pursues
another project that features an electronic six-stringed violin. The
instrument has two strings below the normally lowest violin string,
so that it reaches down into the region normally reserved for the
cello. It was designed for him by James Remington and has a unique
sound. Markov and Remington hold a patent on the instrument, and have
written music for it. "The music we wrote for the new instrument
will be arranged for ensembles, and also orchestra, with the
violin as the lead instrument," says Markov. "The music is a
of classics and rock. Eventually, there will be recordings.
"We’re searching for new musical ideas," says Markov. "I
know so many musicians who play the same thing for 20, 40, or 60
We’re now approaching the 21st century, and we want to do something
— Elaine Strauss
State Theater, New Brunswick, 800-ALLEGRO. $14 to $54. Thursday,
November 5, 8 p.m.
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