’Your performance should radiate the colour of real fresh grass. Go to nature and look’ - Yuri Kramarov: A legacy regained

Kramarov in performance - headshot

Russian violist and pedagogue Yuri Kramarov was one of the most important Soviet-era musicians. Misha Galaganov explores his life, career and teaching methods

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Imagine it’s 1937, and an eight-year-old boy in Moscow sees his father, a respected engineer, being arrested in the middle of the night as an enemy of the state. Imagine the terror, the sense of overwhelming unfairness: such a young child might not realise that many other Soviet citizens are likewise being arrested everywhere in the country. Now imagine the boy’s shock and horror when his mother is also taken shortly thereafter, and he is left practically an orphan. He does not know at that moment that he will never see his father again, and it will be almost 20 years before he next sees his mother. This is what happened to Yuri Kramarov (1929–82), who would grow up to be one of the most outstanding Soviet violists and pedagogues of the 20th century.

Luckily, a friend of his mother, ‘Aunt Sasha’, as Kramarov called her, took him to live with her in Leningrad (now St Petersburg) and raised him as her own son. When Germany invaded Russia in 1941, they went to Tashkent (then part of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic) as refugees. However, Aunt Sasha then went to Moscow to help out in a hospital, leaving Kramarov behind living in a Tashkent hostel and attending a special music school for gifted children – one that had temporarily relocated from Leningrad shortly after the beginning of the war. But he did not like it there, and in 1943 he ran away to Moscow.

It happened spontaneously. Walking down a street in Tashkent, cold and hungry, he met a pilot, who upon learning that Kramarov was deeply miserable in that city asked if he wanted to go to Moscow with him. Most people would not say yes to such a proposition, but Kramarov did, and subsequently flew to Moscow on a military plane. There he realised that music would be the most important thing in his life and resumed his studies. After the war, he moved back to Leningrad to continue studying at the special music school, then from 1948 at the Leningrad Conservatoire in the class of Soviet violist and pedagogue Isaak Levitin…

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