Conductor and violinist Yuriy Bekker seems to spur hyperbole in most everyone he encounters. Musicians who have performed with him, both professionally and under his tutelage, have called him “a rising star in the orchestral community” and “a world-class conductor and a world-class guy”; they’ve said “he brings out the best in everyone” and he’s teeming with “wonderful musical ideas” and is “a confident and constant professional”; that he “understands musicians” and “makes his students better at the violin instead of just teaching them to emulate pieces of music”; that he’s “the nicest guy, ever.”
It may be hard for those who don’t know Bekker to comprehend how one person can engender such comments — someone somewhere has something negative to say about him, right? Some bit of envy or abhorrence, some slight sentiment of passive aggression?
Nope. The guy is always smiling, always on the verge of total corporeal euphoria. He loves life and he loves music and regardless of which love fuels which, the two adulations are apparent in his performances and demeanor.
“When you play with Yuriy,” said Ellen Dressler Moryl, Piccolo Spoleto Festival producer and a member of the Charleston Symphony board, “you play better.”
Moryl and Bekker are co-organizers of the festival’s Spotlight Concert Series, and the violinist will present his “Yuriy Bekker and Friends” concert 6 p.m. Sunday at Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, 90 Hasell St. He’s also taking part in the series’ Brahms Retrospective concert 6 p.m. June 6 at Grace Episcopal Church, 98 Wentworth St. On Sunday, he conducted the Sunset Serenade Showcase, featuring music from “West Side Story,” and on Monday he led the Ensemble of St. Clare in a concert at Mepkin Abbey.
Bekker strives always to revitalize and reanimate classical music.
“I want to make the composers happy,” he said, “but that doesn’t mean there’s no creativity involved. How do I get their music just right? How do I get all the subtleties and intricacies the way Debussy or Ravel intended?”
Bekker loves the French repertoire. When he talks about Debussy’s “La Mer,” a fluvial piece replete with swells somber and elated that crash like a seiche of the sea, he rocks back and forth in his seat and looks off for a second, as though entering into some realm perceivable only to him.
He recently saw the film “Moscow on the Hudson,” in which Robin Williams plays a Russian immigrant trying to make ends meet in Reagan-era New York. Bekker, who is from Belarus, said Williams’ accent was surprisingly convincing and the film, which he showed to his wife Jenny, pierced the memory veil of his youth; Bekker grew up during the twilight of the Soviet Union. “There’s a part when Robin Williams sees people waiting in line, and he asks them, ‘Are you waiting in line for toilet paper?’ and they say ‘No, we are waiting in line for shoes.’ It’s wonderful.”
His relationship with the violin is constantly evolving. “I love always learning something new,” Bekker said. His is a quotidian endeavor that sometimes involves a half-dozen hours of practice a day.
“The music,” Bekker said, “it’s always playing in my head. Sometimes my wife is speaking to me, and I’m saying, ‘Yeah, okay, sure, maybe I should add some more cello over here...’ ”
Bekker has worked with John Williams, having performed at the opening of the Harry Potter World theme park, served a brief stint as concertmaster of the Orlando Philharmonic and was a protege of the late CSO Music Director David Stahl, who was himself mentored by Leonard Bernstein. His violin teachers included the great Nelli Shkolnikova and Herbert Greenberg. He’s both empirically and vicariously connected to some of the most acclaimed musicians of all time. It shows.
Greg Cwik is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.