If you were born into a family of virtuoso classical musicians, you might expect to follow in the well-trodden path of your esteemed relatives.
Growing up the fourth generation of musical maestros in Bratislava, Vladimir and Anton began their formal classical-violin training at the age of six, but had been surrounded by music since birth. Their parents met at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow, and their father Alexander is a professor at the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava, while their mother Katarina was first violinist at the National Operetta Theatre in Bratislava. All six siblings (Vladimir is third, and Anton fourth) grew up playing music
“Music was everywhere”, says Vladimir says of the family home. “It was like a musical zoo, you’d have four or five people playing at the same time, in different rooms”, adds Anton.
The brothers regularly toured Europe with the family ensemble. While their schoolmates were doing typical school activities, Vladimir and Anton were taking violin, piano, theory lessons and choir practice. There was no time for television at home. “Our father threw the TV out because he said everyone was addicted and wasting time,” recalls Anton. “He said it’s better to read books and do sport.”
So on the weekends the two brothers obliged, and began to seek sporty adventures of their own: long bike rides through the forest and mountains, fishing in the Danube River, downhill rollerblading, skiing, swimming in nearby lakes…
These pursuits, and the touring, helped to shape their vast imaginations and creativity, and sparked their lust for travel. “We wanted to be like our dad and see the world with the music we made. It gave us great confidence and experience.”
Both brothers are united by a passion for music, and their kindred adventurous streak led them to discover their own sound. “From the age of 14, I wanted to play anywhere, for anyone,” says Vladimir. “And we wanted anybody to like what we do – not necessarily a strictly classical audience.”
At the age of 18, Vladimir was due to start training at The Academy of Performing Arts, but years of regimented instrumental studies left him craving a break from classical music. He packed his bags – and a fishing rod – and left for Ireland in pursuit of a new life.
Three weeks into his adventure, Vladimir was down to his last 200 euros, so he started busking on Dublin’s Grafton Street, first performing music he’d learnt during his studies, and then switching to Viennese music. Money flooded in and it eventually led to the concert halls of Ireland.
Meanwhile, Anton continued to pursue a more traditional route. After winning several classical violin competitions, at 18, Anton left Bratislava to study in Switzerland and Germany ultimately getting two Masters degrees at the Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiana in Lugano.
Just like his older brother, his curiosity inspired him to explore music further afield: jazz and traditional gypsy music. At 14, Anton had fallen in love with Stephane Grappelli’s jazz violin and the Hungarian Romany melodies played by Roby Lakatos. He played along with the CDs, and found himself listening more to jazz and gypsy music than classical.
Over the years the brothers have played several concerts together in Ireland, one of which would mark a pivotal point on their musical journey. During a concert of Viennese music, Vladimir’s string broke, and while he had to leave the stage to fix it, Anton decided to play some Russian songs with the pianist “just for fun”. “Poor Vladimir wouldn’t have agreed with it, but I thought ‘let’s play something’ and when he came back the audience were screaming and clapping. ” So the brothers decided to make a CD of Russian songs arranged as classical music melded with a little jazz or gypsy music. “That’s how we created our style.”
Seeing them live is nothing short of electric and exhilarating, as they bring their skilled fusion of classical music with the playfulness and simplicity of traditional folk to intense life. There’s the energy, passion and emotion of gypsy and folk music, but also the virtuosity of classical performance.
“There’s instinct, emotion, there’s everything in that music [gypsy/folk],” says Vladimir. “We play it because we really enjoy it and then we try to achieve these two things: perfection and spontaneity. Our music is a combination of the strict classical rules with gypsy music’s relaxed vibe. We feel privileged to have the opportunity to connect our knowledge and skills from our classical education with the improvisation of folk and gypsy music”.
Improvisation plays a part in their shows too, in the spirit of the Romany music. Says Anton, “It’s keeping the show alive when you play a small improvisation, during the performance, it’s a surprise. The other performer has to be awake when he plays with you!”
There’s an unspoken dialogue between the musicians that comes from being brothers who have performed together since childhood. “We can be very honest with each other and we never fall out”, says Vladimir. “With anyone else it wouldn’t really work.”
It’s a winning style that has seen The Violin Brothers perform high-profile shows “When I was small I heard always musicians saying that they play music for the audience,” says Anton. “I was like ‘oh, I do it only for myself’, but now I see the faces of people after the concert, how happy they are. During the show you can feel the electricity. You touch paradise for a few seconds.”
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