Profile: Bogdan Vacarescu, violinist, and the Menuhin Room concert series

On Saturday 27 January 2024, international virtuosos Bogdan Vacarescu and Valentina Seferinova will be presenting a stunning programme for violin and piano featuring treasures by Ralf, Vivaldi, Vitali and Sarasate at the Menuhin Room at Portsmouth Central Library.

What are you looking most forward to when performing at this concert?

I have a great deal of admiration for Valentina, with whom I played in July.

On this occasion, we will be covering a huge swathe of history in our music, from the Pre-Classical through to the Classical and Romantic periods.

Who and/or what have been the most important influences on your musical career or interest in music?

I was born in Romania. Both my parents are musicians: my mother was a music teacher, and my father played double bass in the Bucharest State Opera House orchestra. One benefit of this was that I watched nearly all the major operas and ballet performances from a young age, getting to know what pieces they were from the first few notes!

I tried piano but because Swan Lake has some marvellous violin solos, at the age of four I decided to learn violin. I’ve a lot to thank Bernard Schwartzmann, my teacher between the age of four and twelve. At the age of five, I made my first public appearance, which was also the first of many competitions at national level.

A few years later I started lessons with Paul Ratz, a prominent violinist and concertmaster of the Bucharest Opera orchestra.

I attended the George Enescu Music College and the National Music University of Bucharest where I had several teachers, however Ratz remained my mentor.

Ratz’s teaching approach was unique. He encouraged students to find solutions through experimentation and his style of teaching would change according to the personality of each student. He used a right-hand bowing technique taken from the time of Charles de Beriot at the Franco/Belgian School, further developed by his teacher’s lineage, Vasile Filip and George Enescu. We listened to the greatest 20th-century violinists, including the “king”, Jascha Heifetz.

Subsequently, I moved to London where I received a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Music with Gyorgy Pauk.

What have been the greatest challenges of your musical career so far?

Personal connections play a big part in getting on in your career if you’re a musician, which isn’t in itself a bad thing. However, I have experienced the effects of corruption first hand, and these days there’s even more competition for the “top” spots, so there’s more corruption than there used to be. I can recall being given a second prize in a chamber music competition because the son of the sponsor had to get the first prize or being told that “you are not one of our people”.

I have suffered physical challenges, starting with acute tendonitis at the age of 23, which put me out of action for a year. For the better part of the past four years, because of osteo-arthritis I had to stop playing until I discovered Qigong. Musicians need to take care of their bodies, to avoid hunching and right shoulder issues, for example. It’s good that these days people are encouraged to do at least one hour of physical exercise per day.

What are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?

I founded and lead the String Dimensions chamber group. You can read more about it below. We spend a lot of time bouncing ideas about and trying things out. There’s rarely one right answer or one authority on what is “correct.”

Are there any composers for whom you feel a particular affinity? 

I am especially keen on composers from the Romantic period, for example Paganini, Kreisler, Sarasate. There’s a great deal of freedom in their music. There’s also Bazzini, Lipinsky and Paganini, who were all good friends with each other. With Paganini you need to bring out the melody well; it’s hard to play, but you need to make it sound easy and pretty.

I also use my own interpretation to play Bach, which some purists complain about, but (contrary to public opinion) Bach used to do a good deal of improvisation.

What are your most memorable experiences, either as a performer, composer or listener?

I was very happy to come back to music-making in July this year in Chichester after many years of enforced, health-related absence, and even happier when I discovered that I could sustain my performance from a physical point of view.

At fourteen I performed for the first time as a soloist in the company of a symphony orchestra. We played Henri Vieuxtemps’ 4th Concerto which for me was one of the most exhilarating moments up to that point.

It’s been great to extend in folk music since I moved to the UK. I was asked to play by a Balkan folk band, and as a result set up Unicorn Frequency. I was also encouraged in this by performing with Nigel Kennedy non-classical music. You can read more about this below.

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

1.  Only do it if you love it.
2. Work hard and you will get your “slice of the cake”.
3. Do physical exercise.
4. Expand your knowledge by reading and listening: this can lead to great ideas.

How would you define success as a musician?

Creating a better version of yourself every day.

What would you like to be doing in 5 years’ time?

I’ve got many ideas, but the violin will remain the main focus. I’d like to do some recordings, and I am in the early stages of writing a book about my spiritual journeys: I hope that I will have finished it by then!

About Bogdan

Bogdan is a Romanian virtuoso violinist living in the UK.

He has toured internationally since his teens, including to the Sydney Opera House, the Athenaeum in Bucharest, the Romanian National Radio Hall, the United Nations Concert Hall in New York, New Morning in Paris, Kings Place and the Southbank Centre in London.

He has made numerous recordings for Romanian National Radio and Television, BBC Radio, ABC Australia and played on soundtracks for films and documentaries, most notably in collaboration with Oscar winners Stephen Warbeck and Gabriel Yared, the BBC and ABC Television.

He toured the world for many years with the comedy-cabaret classical string quartet “Graffiti Classics” and the Balkan band “Paprika.”

His recent release, Violin and Piano Thrillers with renowned British pianist Julian Jacobson, was made Album of the Year in Romania and received a 5-star review in Musical Opinion. It features Enescu’s Sonata no. 2 in F minor followed by virtuosic gems rarely performed since Heifetz. New projects include a collaboration with Bulgarian pianist Valentina Seferinova.

As founder and leader of “String Dimensions” he showcases beautiful chamber music rarely heard in today’s concert or radio programmes.

With Unicorn Frequency he focuses on reviving and reinterpreting Hungarian folk, Romanian laments and showpieces, Bulgarian dances, Russian gypsy gems, Italian pizzicas and tarantellas and Griko tunes, free improvisation and jazz, interspersed with unique arrangements of masterpieces from the classical repertoire.

Bogdan is currently associate lecturer at the University of Chichester where he teaches violin. Bogdan is a graduate of the Music Conservatory in Bucharest and the Royal Academy of Music in London as a student of Beno Schwartzman, Paul Ratz and Gyorgy Pauk.

Visit his website.

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