For Russian-American violinist Yevgeny Kutik, family and history play a central role in his life. Arriving at age 5 as a refugee from the USSR, the hardship, work, and success that went along with it continually inspires his work.
“Exploring my cultural heritage and background has compelled me to move in unexpected directions as an artist,” he said.
His 2012 debut album, Sounds of Defiance, also on the Marquis label, features Achron, Pärt, Schnittke, and Shostakovich, and focuses on music written during the darkest periods of the lives of these composers.
For his 2014 album, Music from the Suitcase: A Collection of Russian Miniatures, he was inspired by sheet music his family brought over in their suitcase in 1990. This album debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard Classical chart, and garnered critical acclaim as well as featured on NPR's All Things Considered and in The New York Times.
“That project allowed me to explore my family's history and cultural background in depth … Family plays a major role in shaping us as humans, regardless of our geographic or personal differences. It seems there is a ‘common core’ that we can learn from and explore,” he said.
Meditations on Family: A New Collection of Music for Violin
As an extension of Music from the Suitcase, Yevgeny has commissioned a diverse group of today’s leading composers to form his new project, Meditations on Family: A New Collection of Music for Violin. For the short compositions, each composer used a personal family photo as their source of inspiration.
Featured composers include Joseph Schwantner, Andreia Pinto Correia, Gity Razaz, Timo Andres, Chris Cerrone, Kinan Azmeh, Gregory Vajda, and Paola Prestini. Yevgeny will be recording and premiering the works online throughout the 2018-19 season.
“It's part of a new project I'm launching dedicated to building a living archive devoted to family. Eventually, I hope to add more commissions to this project as time allows,” he said.
Passionate about his heritage, Yevgeny is always looking for ways to support refugees, although he wishes there was more he could do. He is an advocate for the Jewish Federations of North America, the organization that assisted his family in coming to the United States, and regularly speaks and performs across the United States to both raise awareness and promote the assistance of refugees from around the world.
“My family and I came to the United States as refugees and benefited profoundly from the support of incredible individuals who cared for us selflessly,” he said. “My guiding wish is that every person that needs it, can live a life free from political, religious, and personal pressure and with the same kind of love and support we received.”
The past and future collide
Yevgeny thinks there is something unique and special that one can learn from the deceased “greats”.
“Sometimes you agree with it, other times you don't, but the authenticity and immediacy of this approach is very illuminating,” he said.
For those musicians just starting out, they must be willing to acknowledge that failure, doubt and pressure will visit, often when they least want them. But this is when they must remind themselves to come back to the task at hand” performing, practicing, studying, etc.
“The more efficient and productive you are at your work, the less likely the former will have time to bother you,” he said.
This is why he hesitates to define an accomplishment as one specific thing or event.
“I think that every day I'm able to create great music, whether it be convincingly executing a phrase at home during practice or giving a compelling performance in front of thousands, these are all equal parts of accomplishment,” he said.
Learn more about Yevgeny and his upcoming project on his website.