A rock star in the classical world

Russian viola prodigy Yuri Bashmet returns to Hong Kong for a one-off concert to celebrate his birthday, writes Kylie Knott

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 May, 2013, 12:59am

Uniquely Russian: viola virtuoso Yuri Bashmet

HK Academy for Performing Arts

When talking about major influences, Russian violist and composer Yuri Bashmet puts The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix at the top of his list.

They might seem unusual role models but, then again, Bashmet is not your average musician. In fact, he's way above average, having elevated his instrument to hero status - a great feat considering the strong competition from the violin and cello, instruments that usually steal the limelight.

This month, the city's classical musical fans will be treated to his exceptional talent when he gives a one-off performance at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. The title of the show, "Uniquely Russian", reflects Bashmet's contribution to music. It is also part of his 60th birthday celebrations (as a gift, Chinese composer Tan Dun - author of the scores for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero - wrote a piece for the viola). Joining Bashmet on stage is the globally acclaimed chamber orchestra, the Moscow Soloists.

"We have included in the programme the work of Tchaikovsky, his famous serenade of the string. Since the concert takes place under the sign of my 60th birthday, I'll play a lot on the viola … I'll perform [Italian violist Niccolò] Paganini and a stunningly beautiful piece of [German composer] Max Bruch," he says. "The programme is varied and very festive. I hope it will give great pleasure to everyone."

If past performances here are anything to go by, Bashmet is guaranteed to please. "Hong Kong is a fast city, but a city with history. I love performing there," he says.

Bashmet will also hold master-classes for APA students on May 23.

"To play a musical instrument really well you need to start practising early. My grandson is six, but he started playing the violin when he was three. I have been lucky to have had wonderful teachers during my childhood, and now I must transfer some of those skills to the younger generation.

"In Russia, I have been teaching at the Moscow Conservatory, but I still run two youth academies for gifted children from all over the post-Soviet space. So the masterclasses, like the one I will hold in Hong Kong, are an important part of this visit."

With so many concerts under his belt, Bashmet says it's difficult to isolate a favourite, although a concert in France made an impression.

"I play more than 200 concerts a year and there have been many memorable ones. But about 20 years ago I was playing Shostakovich's Sonata in a small town in France. I felt bad and had very little energy to play. But the concert was quite incredible. It was like I existed separately from the music - it was a very weird sense. People were absolutely amazed and some felt as if they had fallen into a trance."

Amphiteatre, HK Academy for Performing Arts, 1 Gloucester Rd, Wan Chai. May 22, 7pm, HK$300- HK$500 HK Ticketing. Inquiries: 3128 8288