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July 2014
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From Soviet Refugee to iTunes Favorite


Live on Wednesday at 12:15 pm

When Yevgeny Kutik was a boy, his mother declared, “Enough.” She packed up her family and left the Soviet Union.

There wasn’t one reason for leaving. It was a series of reasons: Yevgeny was bullied in Kindergarten; she was laid off because her employers exceeded their “quota of Jews”; her older son had picked up racial slurs at school – against their own people. America seemed to be a better home for this family.

Most of the belongings of three generations had to be left behind, including mother’s violin – that was declared a national asset. With just a few suitcases in hand, children, parents, and grandparents bid, “Do svidanya.”

Today, Yevgeny Kutik is making a name for himself as a concert violinist. He’s been featured on NPR, in The New York Times, and has climbed to #6 in Billboard Magazine.

YvgenyKutik1Here Yevgeny Kutik shares some things about his story and how it shaped him as an artist today:

Describe the background of your commercial release, Music from the Suitcase.

My family left Minsk, Belarus, now the former Soviet Union, in 1989. We left in search of religious freedom, much like millions of other Soviet Jewish families were doing at the time. As a condition of leaving, you were allowed to bring only a very limited number of personal belongings and almost no money. My mom had collected a number of fascinating music scores from her days as a violinist and decided to squeeze them into one of our suitcases, along with our other most cherished belongings. Growing up as a kid, I paid little attention to these scores (which were sitting on our shelf) but always associated them with this family journey. As I became older I became increasingly interested in exploring my past, and these scores were an integral part of this process. I compiled the music for this album from these collections.

Your family came to the U.S. seeking a better life. How are they doing and do they feel like Americans now?

We are all extraordinarily grateful for the wonderful community that embraced and helped us upon our arrival in the USA. This country has given me and my family amazing opportunities to live free and accomplish wonderful things. We are truly lucky.

Do you ever wish you could have studied violin in Russia or have you found a musical home in the United States? 

I had some absolutely incredible violin teachers here in the USA, starting with my mother. I worked for several years with the late, esteemed Russian pedagogue, Zinaida Gilels, in Boston. After that I worked for over eight years with Roman Totenberg, a legendary Polish violinist who saw most of the 20th century unfold before his very eyes.  He passed away at 101, and was a major influence on my playing, musicianship, and much more. Following this, I went to work with Donald Weilerstein. Mr. Weilerstein needs little introduction from me, of course. His unique approach to music really helped me to see the violin differently.

I read you were kind of excited about the other artists side-by-side with you on iTunes. Who were they? Does their music influence you or is it something you enjoy more when you’re “off the clock”?

I am grateful for the wonderful attention and reception “Music from the Suitcase” has received. When it was featured on iTunes for a week, I found myself in the company of artists such as Juan Diego Florez, Anne Akiko Meyers, Simone Dinnerstein, and many others. It was truly an honor to be featured among such great artists, whose work inspires me on a daily basis.

On Wednesday, Yevgeny Kutik plays at the Chicago Cultural Center on the Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concerts. WFMT’s live broadcast begins at 12:15 pm.

More on Music from the Suitcase.

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