The violinist on why a piano trio is “the best of everything” and why he’d need a higher ceiling for his dream dinner party.
1. Three pieces of music you particularly love?
Bach’s Chaconne is always there but I go through phases.
I just heard the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra perform Stravinsky’s Petrouchka live in St Petersburg. It was such an overwhelming performance that it made me think that Petrouchka is the greatest piece ever written.
I also love the music of Ernő Dohnányi.
2. Your musical heroes?
Yehudi Menuhin, not only for his artistry but for giving me the opportunity to come and study at his school and supporting me in these years.
My whole family of musicians who have always been role models to me and from whom I have learnt so much.
My teachers. Without them I wouldn’t be talking to you now.
3. Your father was a Russian rock star. Were you ever tempted to follow in his footsteps?
I loved his music and I remember hearing more Led Zeppelin than Mozart when I was little, but I think my mum would have found that very hard to take as she really wanted me to be a violinist so she made sure that was my path. My dad was always touring so I think he couldn’t override her.
Alexander “Sasha” Sitkovetsky. Photo © Keith Saunders
4. Why the violin?
Because of my mum, and I guess it was in the family tradition.
5. Most overrated composer?
I don’t think that a composer can be overrated. A composer whose music people generally don’t like is rarely heard as much as someone who everyone loves. Plus, music is too subjective. What one person might like, the other person will not identify with. There are plenty of people who don’t like the music of Tchaikovsky and to some he might feel overrated but to millions of others, he is one of the great composers of the Romantic Era. On the other hand, there are people who think the Hindemith is an incredible composer and many others who don’t connect to him in a strong way.
6. Most underrated composer?
I think Dohnányi has written some absolutely wonderful music.
7. Three pieces of music you’d happily never hear again?
That’s a difficult one to answer. I don’t think that you ever shut a piece off for ever, but again, go through phases. If I play a certain piece too often in a short space of time, I need a break from it. After the last Musica Viva tour [in 2014] where we played the Smetana Piano Trio 10 times in a row, I was happy to put it away. So, at that point it felt like I never wanted to hear it again even though I love the piece, but now it’s been long enough so I am ready to play it again. Often it can happen with the best music, because often it is the best music that you play the most.
8. The best thing about being in a piano trio?
It is the best of everything. You can play like a soloist because all three parts are so individual and they all stand out, and you are also playing as part of an ensemble where three players build a unified interpretation together. On this tour we will play Rachmaninov, Mendelssohn, Shostakovich, and Lachlan Skipworth. In every piece, there will be sections where each instrument has the solo line, like in a sonata or a concerto, and then the trio writing will bring all three instruments together. The piano trio repertoire is also some of the most beautiful music ever written. Although it is often in the shadow of the string quartet repertoire, I think that audiences on this tour will hear the variety and the depth that the piano trio can offer.
9. Your greatest concert experience?
I am extremely self-critical so it is hard for me to really think of a “greatest concert”, but I do remember some wonderful occasions and concerts that I was part of. The trio still have some fantastic memories from our last tour here three years ago. The different cities, the warmth of the audiences, and the chance to get to know the country really made us very happy here and that’s why we are so excited to be coming back. There are other moments, of course, but I prefer to look forward to the next ones.
10. Your funniest or most embarrassing moment on stage?
Two that I won’t forget. Many years ago, I fell off the stage during a concert. It was between pieces and I was taking a bow and as I stepped back to let the pianist through (who happened to be Bella Davidovich, the legendary Russian pianist and my great aunt), I didn’t realise that the stage had ended – so I fell back Thankfully nothing was damaged and I got up and played the Franck Sonata. It happened so long ago that I can laugh now, but, back then it wasn’t that funny. The other one happened more recently, and probably it was only me that noticed, but the Trio was doing a recital at the Wigmore Hall and, towards the end of the second half, I realised as I was playing that my fly was undone, so I tried to manoeuvre my body into an angle where the audience would not become aware of this. I think I just about got away with it.
11.Any clichés about violinists that really bug you?
I actually don’t know any clichés about violinists, what are they? I am sure that there are things that we do that annoy others. The one I have noticed and been called out on myself is the practice/chat, where you are practising and maintaining a conversation with another person. You think that you are giving both equal importance but the other person really doesn’t want to hear you practice some double stops passage while talking to them.
12. If you weren’t a violinist what would you do?
Probably some kind of sports, I love tennis, football and basketball. I would be terrible at them but would love to try.
13. Six people you’d like to invite for dinner?
Leopold Auer (teacher of Heifetz, Millstein, Elman, Zimbalist, Tosha Zeidel and others), Sir Alex Ferguson, the Los Angeles Lakers team of 2000 – 2002 (I’d need a bigger house with a higher ceiling), Franz Schubert, Jay Z/Beyoncé, and my great uncle Julian Sitkovetsky.
14. A historical person you’d like to go on a date with?
Clara Schumann. I want to see what it is about her that brought such passion from two musical giants.
15. Three favourite films?
Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, not my favourite Star Wars but the first movie I saw when I left Russia in 1990. I was staying in California with family friends and it was on TV on my first evening there.
The Omen – how horror should be.
It’s a cliché but The Godfather and The Godfather II are just incredible. No matter how many times I’ve watched them, I am completely gripped by every scene.
16. Last book you couldn’t put down?
I’ve been reading quite a few biographies of musicians/composers lately, so not always “can’t put down” material
17. What do you do to relax?
It’s just so nice to be home with Wu Qian (pianist of the trio and my wife) and daughter that I have no specific plan to relax, just spending time together and see where that takes us. If I am on tour alone, then you can’t beat room service and a good show on your computer.
18. Three guilty pleasures?
Taking my wife out to restaurants. I love to eat well and try new places. That will be a big part of the Australian tour for sure!
Spoiling my daughter in some way.
I can eat an unhealthy amount of crisps.
19. Your proudest moment?
Getting married and becoming a father.
20. Your biggest bucket list item?
Never thought about it but I can definitely say that my top ten would all be to do with travelling. I love trains so a historical train journey is a must, for example the TransSiberian Express. I have also never been to the Caribbean, so that’s definitely on the list.
The Sitkovetsky Trio will perform Rachmaninov’s Trio élégiaque No 1, Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No 2, Op. 67, Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No 1, Op. 49, and Lachlan Skipworth’s Piano Trio. They begin their national concert tour for Musica Viva in Brisbane on July 6 at the Queensland Music Festival, then perform in Melbourne on July 8, Perth on July 11, Adelaide on July 13, Sydney on July 15, Hobart on July 17, Melbourne on July 18, Newcastle on July 20, Coffs Harbour on July 22 and Sydney on July 24.