Violist Yaroslav Kargin brings European style to Fairfield County
Updated 1:25 pm, Friday, September 15, 2017
NEW CANAAN — Movement is crucial to the music of Yaroslav Kargin.
And there isn’t enough of it in American classical music, according to the Russian-born violinist and violist.
“They tell you not to move here because you’ll stick out. They say because it’s orchestra people should be still. When I sit still my musicianship is gone. You need to be relaxed when you play,” Kargin said on a recent Wednesday in the chapel of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, where a group of his Fairfield County students, to whom he is teaching the Russian style of playing, perform an annual recital.
“A foundation of the Russian performance school is a musical approach. Even when we play scales, they ask you to make a phrase,” Kargin explained. “That’s what makes the Russian style. Maybe a slight imperfection makes it more musical. It makes it exciting.”
As Kargin spoke, he was in near constant motion. He sat briefly in the pew, then stood and walked to the church’s piano, at times stopping to emphasize a point with a strike of the keys of the instrument. Once the point was made, Kargin would circle the piano and find another pew on which he’d temporarily perch.
Kargin is 47, but he has the
appearance and vitality of a younger man. His hair is short, black and curly, with just a touch of gray at its roots. He has olive skin, dark, intense eyes and speaks passionately about his vocation.
Raised in Moscow, Kargin said he made the decision to become a musician in preschool when by chance he overheard a woman playing the piano.
“I thought she was a messiah or a god,” Kargin remembered. “The ability to touch the piano and make sounds - I decided then I would be a musician. Since then there has been nothing else.”
Despite the concerns of his parents, who worried that he might not be able to make a living, Kargin began playing the violin at age five, and continued his intense training throughout the course of his childhood and teenage years, always with professional aspirations.
“In order to get to college and conservatory it’s a huge, huge competition,” Kargin said. “You don’t have much of a life if you want to be a professional.”
At 15, he switched from violin to viola, which is larger than a violin and is tuned one-fifth octave lower. The latter is now his instrument of choice.
“Violin is very small, and you need to play in tight positions. It makes a very high, screeching sound. And my fingers were in pain because the strings are very thin,” said Kargin. “And then I heard on the TV a viola playing and it was such a rich, beautiful, melancholic sound.”
In the New Canaan chapel, Kargin picked up the viola and placed its body gently beneath his chin, arching his neck and closing his eyes as he played snippets of Bach and Beethoven, demonstrating the instrument’s variety of sounds.
During his second year at the Moscow Conservatory, at 21, Kargin was chosen for the State Symphony of Russia and began a touring career that has taken him to East Asia, across Europe, the United States and South America.
A New Haven resident, Kargin performs with the New Haven Symphony Orchestra, the Yale Camerata and the Yale Glee Club and teaches at Yale University and around Fairfield County. His students range in age from four to 81— though he says most are between 12 and 18 — and are from local towns like New Canaan, Westport and Wilton, though one hails from Belarus.
His oldest pupil, the prominent New Canaan art collector Gertrude Goldberg, reports that Kargin’s “dedication and passion” are an inspiration to his students.
According to Kargin, teaching allows him to hear the music he performs in a different context.
“I need teaching because teaching confirms all my musical ideas. There is an exchange between the teacher and the student,” Kargin said.
Teaching, combined with gigging, has also allowed Kargin to carve out a life for himself as a professional musician in the highly competitive world of classical music.
Auditions for large symphonies, like the New York Philharmonic, can draw hundreds of musicians competing for one position, Kargin said. To earn a spot as a member of the New Haven Symphony Orchestra, Kargin auditioned multiple times and ultimately beat out more than 50 hopeful violists.
Kargin tries not to let the competition affect him negatively. As he sees it, bad auditions and rejection are part of a musician’s life.
“Musicians fail all the time,” Kargin said, shrugging expressively. “What can you do? You just keep going.”