Acclaimed Kazakh Violinist Erzhan Kulibaev Receives U.S. Award

June 2, 2015
Latin American Herald Tribute

WASHINGTON – With an exciting, critically acclaimed performance, renowned Kazakh violinist Erzhan Kulibaev, a virtuoso who loves Spain and tango, received on Saturday the Washington Award, which recognizes young talent in the United States.

In a ceremony held in the historic mansion Halcyon House in Georgetown, one of Washington’s most charming neighborhoods, Kulibaev offered a wonderful interpretation of four pieces by Claude Debussy (1862-1918): “Sonata for violin and piano,” “Allegro vivo,” “Intermede: Fantasque et leger” and “Finale: Tres anime.”

Dressed in black and on a stage with a light blue background, the violinist, accompanied by Canadian-Japanese pianist Ryo Yanagitani, offered a brief but intense concert with a masterful command of his instrument.

In perfect harmony with Yanagitani, Kulibaev made his first performance in the U.S. capital a deeply felt, rhythmic recital, which drew a standing ovation from the two hundred people who packed Halcyon House.

The Kazakh artist’s concert was one of the highlights of the 15th Washington Awards presentation, which is conferred by the S&R Foundation and was created in 2002 to support promising artist and scientists with entrepreneurial spirit.

“For me it’s a very important reward because, according to the Foundation, it is given not for a concert, but for my lifelong career, which I started when I was six years old,” the musician told Efe before receiving the prize worth $5,000.

Kulibaev, who lives in Madrid and speaks perfect Spanish, dedicated the accolade to his family: “I think this award is for my parents, who have helped me so much since my childhood so I can study and devote all my time to music.”

The artist (Almaty, 1986) also thanked the “magnificent” Queen Sofia Music School in Madrid, where he studied under the guidance of a fellow countryman, prestigious violinist and teacher Zakhar Bron.

“I studied there for 10 years and I learned everything I know now. I learned to speak Spanish, English and a little German. I learned to play the violin as I play today,” said Kulibaev, who considers Spain a “wonderful country” with “very good orchestras.”

The Kazakh virtuoso has also been fortunate to embrace some of the most precious violins in the world.

“I have played with a Stradivarius. And now I’m playing with a French violin and I love its sound. It’s a Vuillaume, very famous,” the young performer explained to Efe. He is an admirer of violin geniuses Jascha Heifetz and David Oistrakh as well as Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), which he considers his “inspiration” and “favorite composer.”

As a soloist, Kulibaev has performed with prestigious orchestras around the world, such as the Moscow Philharmonic Society Chamber Orchestra, and has dazzled audiences in more than twenty countries, including Argentina, where he developed a passion for tango.

“(Tango) inspires me a lot, particularly compositions by Astor Piazzolla. I think tango does not receive the respect it should,” the violinist stated.

“It is very serious, very sad music and, strangely enough, I think classical music and tango have much in common. Tango has to be played with a lot of imagination and freedom, which is also necessary with classical music.”

Against the odds, Kulibaev was awarded in 2012 the First Prize and the Tango Award for best interpretation of Argentine tango at the International Violin Competition in Buenos Aires.

“The truth is that I did not expect to win the Tango Award because never before had I played this music genre. What I did was play with pleasure and then I won. I think I chose the best option: play and enjoy music.”

The young Kazakh virtuoso is “very excited” as he looks to the future after winning the Washington Award, which was also presented to the German-Egyptian double-bass player Nabil Shehata, American pianist Michael Mizrahi, Hungarian dancer and choreographer Tamás Krizsa and Chinese soprano Huanhuan Ma.

Kulibaev also hopes that the award will open doors to the U.S. music world: “I will meet many musicians in this country. I think there will be many projects here, many concerts, especially chamber music.”