Leonidas Kavakos: Deep thinker

LSO Rattle Barbican 060122 0394

For Leonidas Kavakos, recording Bach’s Solo Sonatas and Partitas has been the culmination of a 30‑year artistic journey and, as the violinist tells Charlotte Smith, the works have a pertinent message for our troubled times

‘Around 1989, a good friend of mine – a doctor with one of the largest album collections you could imagine – lent me a recording of solo Bach by the Belgian Baroque violinist Sigiswald Kuijken. Up to that point, I thought my Bach playing was fine. After all, I’d been awarded the Bach prize at the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis in 1986 by a jury that included Henryk Szeryng – who alongside Grumiaux and Milstein had produced the must-hear Bach recordings for any young person at that time. But Kuijken’s recording was such a shock to me: a positive shock in terms of how this music could sound, and a negative one in terms of how I had been playing it. It was like an earthquake.’

I’m speaking to Leonidas Kavakos about Sei solo, his new recording of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Sony. It’s perhaps surprising that this is the first time the celebrated Greek violinist has committed the complete set to disc, and that 20 years have passed since he recorded his album featuring the First Sonata and the First Partita interspersed with Stravinsky’s Duo concertant and Suite italienne for ECM in 2002. But his reason for waiting until the relatively advanced age of 53 (his age when the recording was made in December 2020) to put his personal stamp on the seminal works dates to that revelation of more than three decades ago. It prompted a complete and fundamental rethink of his approach to Bach – so much so that it would be nine years before he would perform the works live in concert again. And rather than race to share his new insights with the world on disc, Kavakos decided to wait until his new attitude felt ‘natural’….

Already subscribed? Please sign in

Subscribe to continue reading…

We’re delighted that you are enjoying our website. For a limited period, you can try an online subscription to The Strad completely free of charge.

  • Free 7-day trial

    Not sure about subscribing? Sign up now to read this article in full and you’ll also receive unlimited access to premium online content, including the digital edition and online archive for 7 days.

    No strings attached – we won’t ask for your card details

  • Subscribe 

    No more paywalls. To enjoy the best in-depth features and analysis from The Strad’s latest and past issues, upgrade to a subscription now. You’ll also enjoy regular issues and special supplements* and access to an online archive of issues back to 2010.


* Issues and supplements are available as both print and digital editions. Online subscribers will only receive access to the digital versions.