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The Young Pretender

Updated: Apr 16, 2020

Daniel Lazokovich, violinist

What right does an 18-year old, obviously comparatively inexperienced to fellow much older and seasoned soloists, have taking up one of the precious concert spots in a limited season with one of the world’s great symphony orchestras? Why should the discerning Boston audiences, parting with a fair amount of cash for a prized ticket, have to sit there and listen to a mere teenager hack his way through one of the mighty concertos when there are dozens of renowned performers who have been steadily building up their careers over many a punishing year and would literally kill for an invite from the BSO’s Maestro Nelsons? Then, what about the dangers to the psyche of such a young and impressionable musician? Surely the pressures of such a prestigious occasion can’t be healthy? Surely he’s destined to burn-out and become a crack fiend? The classical music world needs to rethink its responsibilities in this new age of ‘wokeness’ and snowflake nurturing. This sort of sentiment, according to the esteemed music critic of the Boston Globe, and others online, is how we should now be considering the ‘ethics’ of performance.

What utter rubbish!

Some people are just born mere ‘naturals’ – they seemingly slide out of the womb with fully formed flare for becoming the ‘greats’ of their age; their genes have somehow combined in a mysterious feat of alchemy to not only produce physical prowess and fortified mental aptitude, but also a little thing called ‘soul’ which allows them insights into the great works of the canons most of us will never glimpse. That sounds very exaggerated, but in the case of young Daniel Lazokovich, at least on the evidence I am going by (hearing him perform live in concert and then listening to several recordings), he seems to be destined to become one of the world’s foremost violin virtuosos. In fact, I take that back: ‘virtuoso’ is a bemeaning term for such skill and acumen – in the end, anyone can more or less paw their way around a violin with enough practice – and it belies what it takes to really play; in other words, to be a true musician.

One of the essential aspects of the really great performers, and something the critics seem to believe no longer exists anywhere these days, is a little thing called ‘temperament.’ In fact, arguably temperament is the essential X-factor (more so even than technique and musicality) delineating those with an ironclad character of fortitude and resolve from the majority of wannabes who crumple and collapse at the first sign of facing pressure. Roger Federer has a temperament which allows him to create balletic beauty with a tennis racquet, coming up with the most mind-bending combination of shots, often at his best when his back’s up against the wall. Ditto Martha Argerich belting her way through the knuckle-busting coda of Prokofiev Three at the grand age of 78. And temperament does not just mean calm nerves under pressure, but embodying its attendant spirit sisters of grace, charm, humility, niceness: qualities which, when united together in pressure-cooker moments, coalesce to engender that which we mere mortals recognise as verging on the superhuman, surely in concert with the higher realms? Cometh the hour, cometh the man!

From the moment Daniel Lazokovich strides onto stage, you are aware, you sense that he has ready temperament, poise, that certain inscrutability which no one of his age has the right to possess, to have acquired, yet they somehow have. There is nothing showy, pretentious or arrogant in his style. There is nothing precocious in the way he inhabits the extraordinariness of his child-prodigy status. Instead he smiles winningly, even a little shyly, his face even blushing at the occasion, shaking the hand of the concert-master with genuine reverence and respect, one fiddler to another. During moments when he is not playing the solo part, he has a habit of staring around admiringly at the members of the orchestra, absorbing the playing, appreciating their collective bonhomie as music-makers, rather than setting himself aloofly apart from them as some high-minded soloists tend to do. His playing is controlled, confident and consummate, but not without the occasional phrase shaped with tempered fragility, or else giving himself over to the odd slight thrill of adolescent risk or recklessness: in the first movement cadenza there was one high harmonic note, the galloping run-up to which he approached in the manner of a bull blasting through a china-shop, and there was that heart-stopping feeling it could suddenly all go wrong; that the boy-wonder illusion could all turn on one indelicate finger-placement. But he pulled it off and moments later something very shocking happened for an elitist Boston social event: the audience erupted into a five-minute standing ovation - at the end of the first movement! In the conventional etiquette of a classical music concert, this is virtually unheard of, but I think by then it was simply a matter of the audience just willing the kid on - so totally had he won us over - almost like an overexcited parent on the side of a cricket field when Johnny whacks a six over the boundary.

After witnessing all this, any argument about his age, questions over his experience or concert pedigree, or even his wellbeing mentally are simply meaningless. He could be nine or ninety and probably still embody the same carriage of a performer who is simply capable of performing. It’s not a matter of being crass regarding the potential for someone to burn out, to suffer fatigue: everyone runs this risk, but as far as his mental health goes, I’ll wager he’s in much better condition than some soloists twice his age and, what’s more, the guy probably just loves performing. And true performers need to perform on the biggest stages, in front of the largest crowds – it’s almost an act of cruelty not to allow them to.

Further to this, having Daniel Lazokovich on that stage is not only validation for his immense talent or recognition that he is genuinely a pretender to the throne, but recognition that he also does us a great service by countering the bleak disaffection of our times: while many kids his age have never heard a bow drawn across a classical violin before, when we hear the doom merchants prophesising the decline of the high arts, here comes the embodiment of the next generation: alert, eager, obedient, a disciple to pass on the word, carry on the legacy. There was something very reassuring, even genuinely uplifiting, in hearing an energised, enthused teenager play the violin in a setting as archly highbrow as the Boston Symphony Hall, a kind of pacification against the dread of it all disappearing into oblivion in a few years’ time.

He played the Tchaikovsky D-major concerto and suffice to say, he was sublime.


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