Violinist / Conductor  Lawrence  Golan

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Vibrant, inspired performances, imaginative programming and an evocative command of different styles and composers are the hallmarks of American conductor Lawrence Golan. Newly appointed Principal Guest Conductor of Germany’s Bayerische Philharmonie in April 2021, Golan’s Music Directorship with the Yakima Symphony Orchestra in Washington state has been renewed for seven more years (through the 2028-29 season) and with Pennsylvania’s York Symphony Orchestra for five more years (through the 2024-25 season). A dynamic, charismatic communicator, he also continues as Music Director of Colorado’s Denver Philharmonic, and of the Lamont Symphony Orchestra and Opera Theatre at the University of Denver. Having conducted throughout the United States and in Bulgaria, Canada, China, Czech Republic, El Salvador, England, Georgia, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan, Maestro Golan continues to develop relationships with orchestras nationally and abroad.

Highlights of the upcoming 2021-22 season include the 50th anniversary season of the Yakima Symphony Orchestra, which will feature a gala performance by violinist Joshua Bell, and two recordings, one with the Villalobos Brothers, and one featuring Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 2, “Lobgesang,” with the Yakima Symphony Chorus. Maestro Golan will travel to Granada, Spain to conduct the finals of the María Herrera International Piano Competition and to Munich, Germany for his first concert as Principal Guest Conductor of the Bayerische Philharmonie in July of 2022. Additionally, Maestro Golan has a new book out called Score Study Passes published by Globe Edit and a new composition, Fantasia for Orchestra, distributed by Notation Central. Summer 2021 events include the August 6 release by Centaur Records of "Lawrence Golan, Fantasia" as well as the York Symphony Orchestra’s Open Air Summer Series at the York Fairgrounds.

Highlights from recent seasons include return engagements with Italy’s Orchestra Sinfonica Città di Grosseto, the Tucson Symphony Orchestra, the Portland Ballet Company and the Colorado Music Festival, as well as debuts with Italy’s Orchestra Sinfonica di Sanremo, Mexico’s Orquesta de Cámara de Bellas Artes, China’s Wuhan Philharmonic, the Maui Pops Orchestra, the Batumi Music Festival in Georgia, Eastern Europe, and a 14-city tour of China with the Denver Philharmonic.

As a recording artist, Mr. Golan has made several recordings, both as conductor and as a violinist. His latest orchestral recording was the 2018 Albany Records release of the world premiere Blu-ray disc and audio CD of composer Jiaojiao Zhou’s theatrical symphonic poem Ode to Nature with the Lamont Symphony Orchestra and producer Dennis Law. Mr. Golan has recorded three CDs with the Moravian Philharmonic for Albany Records. The most recent, “Tchaikovsky 6 & Tchaikovsky 6.1” featuring the composer’s Symphony No. 6 and the recording premiere of Tchaikovsky 6.1 by Peter Boyer (a work commissioned by Golan), won two Prestige Music Awards. “Funky Little Crustaceans” features orchestral music by Colorado composer William Hill, and “Visions, Dreams & Memories” is a collection of works for Native American flute and orchestra with James Pellerite, former Principal Flutist of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Golan’s recording of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 & William Hill’s Beethoven 7.1 garnered two Global Music Awards. As a violinist, Golan recorded "Fantasia; a collection of works for solo violin" and “Indian Summer: The Music of George Perlman,” which won two Global Music Awards.

A staunch advocate for music education, Lawrence Golan has been Director of Orchestral Studies and head of the graduate conducting program at the University of Denver since 2001. There he has won eight ASCAP Awards for Adventurous Programming of Contemporary Music, three Downbeat Magazine Awards for “Best College Symphony Orchestra," and The American Prize for Orchestral Performance – Collegiate Division. His latest honor is the 2021 Distinguished Scholar Award from the University of Denver.

An accomplished violinist, Golan served as Principal Second Violinist of the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra (1989-1990) and then Concertmaster of the Portland Symphony Orchestra for eleven years (1990-2001), before focusing his career on the podium. He has appeared as soloist with numerous orchestras, including the Chicago Symphony, and continues to perform, primarily to benefit orchestras of which he is Music Director.

As a composer/arranger, Golan’s edition and reduced orchestration of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker is published by Spurwink River Publishing. It is used by orchestras and ballet companies across North America. His scholarly-performing edition of the solo violin works of J. S. Bach, which includes a handbook on Baroque Performance Practice, and The Lawrence Golan Violin Scale System are both published by Mel Bay Publications. Golan’s Fantasia for Solo Violin is published by LudwigMasters and won the Global Music Award for composition in 2011. A recording of the piece appears on both the Ablaze Records disc "Millennial Masters Vol. 9" and the Centaur Records CD "Lawrence Golan, Fantasia."

A native of Chicago, Lawrence Golan comes from a musical family. His father, the late Joseph Golan, was a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for forty-nine years and Principal Second Violinist for thirty-five of those years. Lawrence Golan received his Bachelor of Music in Violin Performance and Master of Music in Violin Performance and Orchestral Conducting from the Indiana University School of Music and his D.M.A. in Violin Performance and Orchestral Conducting from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. In 1999 he was awarded Tanglewood Music Center’s Leonard Bernstein Conducting Fellowship, and in 2002, Aspen Music Festival’s Conducting Fellowship.

Mr. Golan’s previous positions include Resident Conductor, Phoenix Symphony (2006-2010), Music Director, Phoenix Youth Symphony (2006-2009), Music Director, Colorado Youth Symphony Orchestras (2002-2006), founder and Artistic Director, Atlantic Chamber Orchestra (1998-2003), Music Director, Portland Ballet Company (1997-2013), and Music Director, Southern Maine Symphony Orchestra (1990-2001). Lawrence and his wife Cecilia, who is from Buenos Aires, Argentina, have two young children.

==  Biography from the artist’s website  

In November of 1996, Lawrence Golan was back in Chicago, and we arranged to meet for a conversation . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:   You’re concertmaster of the Portland (Maine) Symphony, and teacher of violin, and soloist...  How do you juggle all of these facets of your career?

Lawrence Golan:   I have a very good computer program which keeps my schedule intact.  Also, I do conducting.  I conduct the university orchestra, and have a community orchestra that I conduct...
BD:   Do you also coach the soccer league, and play first base on the baseball team?  [Both laugh]
Golan:   Not yet, but I would say that the main thing is whatever I’m doing at any given time.  That is what’s most important to me.  So, when I’m conducting a community orchestra rehearsal, at that moment, that’s where my mind and my focus will be.  Then the next morning, when I have to teach some violin lessons, or teach a music history class, that’s the most important thing to me.  It’s just a matter of blocking everything else out.

BD:   Do you find that it’s all inter-related?

Golan:   Oh sure.  It’s all music.

BD:   Is the kind of music that you do for everyone in your community?

Golan:   [Thinks a moment]  As you probably know, the national statistics are that classical music reaches about two per cent of the population.  So, in that respect, in terms of classical music, no it’s not for everybody.  I like to try to make it as accessible as possible, and I do some pops concerts.  Certainly, with the orchestra we play pops concerts, children’s concerts, and Christmas concerts, anything we can do to expand the audience.  I do that both as a conductor and a member of the Portland Symphony.  Actually, I have branched out into other areas that are more accessible to the general public.  For example, I played at the Jimi Hendrix Festival one time, which obviously was for people that have never heard me play the violin before, and certainly they’d never heard Jimi Hendrix’s music played on the violin before.

BD:   You’ve also been in orchestras that have been backing up Walt Disney films and rock concerts as well?

Golan:   I am in the Warner Brothers Symphony doing the Bugs Bunny on Broadway tour, which, by the way, is coming to Chicago again this December.  I’ll come back in town for that, and that’s a great way to introduce people to classical music, even if they don’t already know it, because Bugs Bunny basically does his own version of some of the famous operas like The Barber of Seville, known as The Rabbit of Seville, and What’s Opera Doc? which is a mixture of different Wagner things, like The Flying Dutchman, and Tristan and Isolde.

BD:   You’re part of a live orchestra underneath the film?

Golan:   Right.  What they do is project it on a twenty-foot video screen, and then have a live symphony orchestra playing the music instead of the background that is on the cartoon.

BD:   I would think that would be really tough on the conductor, having to be his own click-track.

Golan:   We actually have a click-track.  The conductor has a click-track in his headphones, and all the musicians have the click-track as well.

BD:   You have no room for interpretation at all?

Golan:   Exactly, no!  You would call those spontaneous performances.

BD:   Is Bugs Bunny a good colleague?

Golan:   [Laughs]  Yes.  The biggest problem with that gig is trying to keep your eye on the music and not watch the show.  It’s a fun game.

BD:   Do the kids and the parents who come to Bugs Bunny then come to the Portland pops concerts, and then to the Portland serious concerts?

Golan:   I like to think so.  It’s not so much with the Bugs Bunny thing, because that’s not a Portland institution.  That was a national tour.  But, for example, our Magic of Christmas concert, which we do in Portland, is played thirteen times.  Just about everybody in the city of Portland goes, and anybody that’s ever heard of the Portland Symphony says, “Oh, you play that Christmas concert!”  Most people only go to that, but I like to think that each year, a few people at least get curious.  “Hmmm...  Do these guys play all the year round?  Maybe we can come another time!”

BD:   Give them a coupon for a dollar off one classical concert if they come to the Christmas concert.

Golan:   That’s a thought.

BD:   Is this the way to get music seeping into the brains of those who wouldn’t ordinarily think about it?

Golan:   I think so.  We also do what we call ‘run-outs’ to areas that don’t normally get serviced by classical music.  I know the Portland Symphony does that, and I did it when I was in the Honolulu Symphony, and other orchestras do it too.  They go to these areas and play a Community Concert for people who are hearing this music for the very first time, and they usually really like it.  They’re very enthusiastic audiences, and although they don’t necessarily make the trek into the cities for the concerts, they at least are exposed to it, and maybe buy some CDs.

BD:   And they realize that Classical Music isn’t so bad!

Golan:   Right.  [Laughs]  It’s not as scary as they thought.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   You grew up in a musical family, and yet you wanted to play baseball at first.  How did you go from wanting to play baseball to wanting to play the violin?
golan, sr
Golan:   Basically I was following in my dad’s footsteps in every way.  [Lawrence
s father, Joseph Golan (September 10, 1930 - June 27, 2011), is seen in the photo at right playing his final public concert in Yakima.]  He was my idol in many ways, and in a sense he taught me everything he knew.  He was a great baseball player.  He played a lot of baseball and a little football in college.  He taught me how to play baseball, how to throw the baseball, catch it, swing a bat, how to throw a football, and how to play the violin.  Those were the various things he knew, and violin was just one.  So basically I was just a normal kid.  I wouldn’t say I was really serious about sports as a career, but certainly the highlight of my summer each year was the Little League World Series, and then playing Little League football.

BD:   What position do you play in baseball?

Golan:   Over the course of my career
if you want to call it thatI played literally every position except for third base.

BD:   You even pitched?

Golan:   Yes, I pitched, and played short-stop and first base.  Those were my three main positions.

BD:   Is this early versatility related in any way to now playing the violin and conducting and teaching?

Golan:   I never thought about it before!  I guess if you want to make some correlation, you could, but I don’t know.  Music is something that takes a whole lot of concentration.  When you’re up on stage performing, really you block out everything else, and there is nothing else.

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  Not even the conductor???  [Both laugh]

Golan:   It’s got to be similar in any sporting event.  When you’re up on the free-throw line in a basketball game, you’ve got the opposition players and the fans waving banners.  Everything is trying to distract you, but you can’t pay attention to that.  You just focus on the rim, and put the ball through the hole.

BD:   We can’t expect all young ball players to get into music, but should we encourage all young musicians coming along to get involved, at least a little bit, in a sport?

Golan:   I don’t think that needs much encouragement.  From my experience as a teacher, it’s almost the other way around.  I basically teach university students, but I do teach a couple of high school students, and what I have found over the last few years is that whether they’re encouraged or not, or whether their parents are pushing for this or they just do it on their own, they’re dabbling in everything.  For example, I had a student who was the quarterback of the football team, a pitcher on the baseball team, first violinist in the orchestra, on the debate team.  He also did the school play every year.

BD:   That sounds like he’s doing too much.

Golan:   Exactly, and frankly he didn’t do anything really well.  He just dabbled in everything.  I had to sit down with him and say, “If you want to be a violinist, you cannot do all those things.”

BD:   What I’m getting at is a question for the ones who are concentrating solely on the music.  Should they diversify slightly, a little bit, to get out and do a sport?

Golan:   Absolutely.  A lot of times they’re known as music geeks.  If they focus only on that, and have no other interests, then not only do they suffer as a person, but their music suffers because they have no other experiences to express in their music.  Music is basically a series of moods or expressions.  The third movement of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6, the ‘Pathétique’, is a great fantastic heroic march.  How can you play that without ever winning a baseball game, or being on some victorious team?

BD:   You need to know the thrill of victory...

Golan:   Exactly!

BD:   ...and then for the fourth movement, you have to know the agony of defeat.  [Both laugh]

Golan:   That’s right.

BD:   So, you really should be well-rounded?

Golan:   Right.  I certainly would agree with that.


BD:   Can we move that around to the public, and say that the audience which goes to sporting events should be more well-rounded themselves by coming to classical concerts?

Golan:   That’s true, and in a way you’re going to find that.  In a certain respect, a lot of same people that you’re going to see at a Bulls game, are also at a symphony concert.

BD:   Yes, and there’s always a lot of baseball fans at the opera.  For some reason, baseball and opera go to together.  It’s very strange...  It ought to be hockey because hockey is in three acts with two intermissions!  [Both laugh]

Golan:   That’s right.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Let’s come to some of the specifics of playing.  Tell me a bit about your instrument.  All violinists are proud of the instrument under their chin, so tell me a bit about yours.

Golan:   My instrument was actually made for my father in 1972 by a Chicago maker named Franz Kinberg, who worked at the violin shop called Kagan & Gaines downtown.  It’s known as his golden period, roughly 1970 to 1973
, when he turned out several violins that are really first-rate.  Theyre equivalent to some of the old Italians, and just from those three years, people such as concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony, the concertmaster of Lyric Opera, and many of the section players in both groupsincluding my dad, who was principal second of the Chicago Symphonyall have violins from that three-year period by Kinberg.

Considered among the best of the 20th century American makers, Franz Kinberg was born in 1920 in Serbia, and studied with Lajos Kain in Zrenjanin from 1937-39.

He then worked for several shops over the next decade, including Franz Schneider in Zagreb, Remenyi in Budapest, and Hofmann & Czerny in Vienna. Kinberg left for the U.S. in 1949, the same year he won the Gold Medal at the International Exhibition of Contemporary Violin Making at The Hague.

He was employed by Kagan and Gaines in Chicago until his retirement in 1982. His instruments have been owned by the distinguished concertmasters Mischa Mischako and Sidney Harth as well as members of The Philadelphia Orchestra and the Chicago, Detroit, and Pittsburgh symphonies.

Kinberg violins are in demand for their superb craftsmanship, strength, broad and rich tonal palette, ease of playing, and ample power.

BD:   What is it about those instruments that makes them so special
the sound, the touch, the feel, the response, or everything?

Golan:   I would have to say the sound, and not so much the response.  Maybe this is my own personal thing with my own personal violin, but I frankly feel that it has the capacity to get an absolutely beautiful sound, and when focusing on that and really trying, I can get that sound.  The one complaint, if I were to give one, is that it’s not easy to get that sound.  A lot of times, the notes don’t speak, or it just doesn’t respond right away.  Although I’ve never owned a Stradivarius or a Guarneri Dal Gesù, my understanding is that those play themselves.  They have a great sound, and you just touch the board and string, and the sound comes out.  With my violin, I have to work hard to get that sound, but the good news is that the capacity is there.  Obviously with many violins, as well as other instruments, you could do everything that you’ve learned from every teacher, and it just doesn’t have that potential.

BD:   Do you play the same instrument all the time
for the childrens concerts, for your Portland concerts, for solo recitals, everything?

Golan:   Indoor, outdoor, it’s all I have.  I use it for everything.

BD:   That’s the instrument on the recordings, too?

Golan:   Right.  Some people borrow instruments from the Stradivari Society, or Bein & Fushi.  They get a violin on loan, and they’ll use a Strad or a Guarneri Dal Gesù for a big concert.  Or if they’re a real solo player, they often get it loaned to them for a year or two.  I’ve actually never looked into that, and never been offered it either!  [He laughs]

The Stradivari Society is a philanthropic organization based in Chicago, Illinois, best known for its arranging deals between owners of antique string instruments - such as those made by luthiers Antonio Stradivari and Giuseppe Guarneri - for use by talented musicians and performers. The Stradivari Society does not hold title to the instruments.

The Society was founded by Geoffrey Fushi and Mary Galvin in 1985 when Galvin, wife of then-president of Motorola, Bob Galvin, was approached by Fushi and Robert Bein from Bein & Fushi Violins of Chicago, to lend the Ruby Stradivarius of 1708 that he had previously sold to her to a promising violinist, Dylana Jenson. Seeing that such rare violins were very expensive and difficult to obtain, Galvin and Fushi designed the structure and name of the society after lending another violin when Dorothy DeLay of the Juilliard School asked Fushi for a violin for her most promising student, then ten-year-old Midori. Enjoying the experience of lending such beautiful violins to those who could use them to grow and launch their careers, a string of loans followed.

Awardees include Joshua Bell, Gil Shaham, Paul Huang, Yi-Jia Susanne Hou, Leila Josefowicz, Philippe Quint, Sarah Chang, Janine Jansen, Vadim Repin, Kristóf Baráti, Hilary Hahn, Maxim Vengerov, and Paul Coletti, all of whom have enhanced their careers playing violins the Society arranged for them to borrow.

The Society's two dozen patrons are each given tri-annual concerts by their sponsored musician during its three-year period. Each artist is responsible for insuring the instrument, and its delivery to The Society's curator, John Becker. Inspection and service is performed exclusively by Becker three times yearly, and cannot be done by any other luthier without permission. The instrument is often purchased by the artist from its patron, with The Society acting as liaison.

BD:   You’re not a touring soloist, so you don’t get to play that many different works.  From the huge repertoire thats available, how do you decide which solo and concerto pieces you’re going to play?

Golan:   For one thing, I almost never play something I’ve played before, because I want to expand my repertoire.  Each time I play a concerto, I play a new one, and I pretty much have covered the standard repertoire.  I haven’t yet performed the concertos of Prokofiev, Bartók, or Stravinsky...

BD:   Can we look for those in the next few years?

Golan:   Yes, and in fact I’m also having a concerto written for me that hasn’t even been started yet.  It
s by a colleague of mine.  When I was doing my doctorate at the New England Conservatory, one of my classmates was a composer named Beth Gaynor, who is now doing her doctorate at the University of Chicago, studying with Shulamit Ran.  She’s writing a concerto for me, and we’re planning on it being ready in 1997.  So with the concertos, I’ve gotten up to the twentieth-century, and with recital material, again I hardly ever play a piece that I’ve done before.  If I want to program a Beethoven sonata, of which there are ten, I’ve done several, but the next time I play I’ll do one that I haven’t done.

BD:   When you’ve done all ten, you’ll have to come back to some of them.

Golan:   That’s right.  I’m actually looking forward to that because it gets a bit tiring learning new pieces all the time.  It takes a lot of work and a lot of time, but until I feel I’ve covered the standard repertoire, I feel I’m too young to start sitting on things I’ve played before and resting on those.

BD:   Without mentioning any specific names, are there some that suit you better than others?

Golan:   I think so.  I like to think that I have an affinity for several different periods.  With my doctorate, I did a lot of studying of baroque performance practice.  In fact, I did a dissertation on performing Bach, and the whole issue of dotted rhythms, and over-dotting and under-dotting, and the treatment of trills, and the bow-stroke, and vibrato.

BD:   On the old instruments or on the modern instruments?

Golan:   On modern instruments.  My ideal approach to playing Bach is knowing as much as possible.  Having played older instruments, and knowing how they sound, and knowing historically to the best of my knowledge the way they played, if anybody says, “This is the way they played back then,” they’re saying something that they really don’t know.

BD:   It
s just an educated guess?

Golan:   Right.  After all the research I’ve done, my ideal approach to Bach is trying to play on my modern violin the way they may have played then, and trying to emulate the sound that an older instrument may have produced.  One thing that I ran into was a major difference between playing baroque music now, and playing it when it was written, is the halls that it was played in versus the halls that it’s played in now.  For example, I had the great opportunity to play the Bach Double Concerto with my father and the Chicago Symphony, with Daniel Barenboim conducting, which was really the highlight of my career.  I’m so grateful to have had that experience.  In preparing for that concert, that was right around the time I was doing my doctorate, and my paper on baroque performance practice.  I had all these ideas about how Bach should be played, and how it’s really different from the way you hear it today.  Then, when I started rehearsing with my dad, his approach was completely different.  I knew his approach is the way that they do it in Chicago, and it got me thinking that he’s right in the sense that we’re playing this concert in Orchestra Hall, which seats 2,600, not to mention the little microphone hanging there to record it for international broadcast.  We really did have to play with a much fuller and stronger sound, an aggressive sound, than we would if we were playing in a large living room in the king’s castle.  Chamber music literally comes from a chamber, a large living room which is very reverberant, with high ceilings and marble or wooden floors.  That was a real sticking point that I had to reconcile between how I thought I should play Bach, and the reality of playing for a huge concert hall.

BD:   Did it make you schizophrenic at all?

Golan:   No.  Basically I succumbed to the modern way of doing it in terms of sound.  In terms of the trills and rhythms and dotted rhythms, I stuck with what I believed in in terms of ‘authentic’ playing.

BD:   Did you get your father and the orchestra to do that with you?

Golan:   Pretty much, yes.  The one area where I really went the ‘modern way’, was in terms of sound.  This was the way my dad wanted to do it, and how the orchestra does it naturally.  That was the way to go when playing in Orchestra Hall, not to mention that although it was reduced strings, it was still five or six stands of first violins and second violins, as opposed to maybe two or three players on each part, which is how it may have been in the baroque period.

BD:   But you brought all of this knowledge and understanding, so it really was a collaborative effort?

Golan:   Right, and it turned out well in the end.  Coming back to your original question about the sort of types of music, I feel like I have a broad-based knowledge of the baroque period.  Also, I have a natural affinity for the romantic period, especially some of the romantic virtuoso violin pieces, like Sarasate
s Zigeunerweisen, or Henri Wieniawski’s Polonaises, as well as things like the Tchaikovsky concerto, the Brahms concerto, and the Bruch concerto.

BD:   [With a grin]  You’re just quietly a sentimental old fool!  [Both laugh]

Golan:   Exactly!  If I am a natural at anything, that would be the period, and then the baroque material is something that I really had to study and learn to do well.

*     *     *     *     *
BD:   You’ve made a couple of recordings.  Do you play the same for the microphone as you do for a live audience?
Golan:   Yes, and no.  In terms of going into the recording session versus a live performance, the ideas are the same.  I certainly don’t change any ideas about how I want to do something musically or technically.  I don’t change any fingerings or bowings, or any musical ideas.  My overall approach to music, whether it’s for live performance or recording, is that I have a strong desire to do the composer and the piece justice, with all there is written down in the original.  I always study the original scores when available, and Urtext editions, and, if possible, even facsimiles of the original manuscript.  Basically, I just try to do what the composer wrote.  I don’t try to impose the Lawrence Golan interpretation of X concerto.  I look at what’s on the page, and just do what it says.  So in that respect, whether it’s for recording or live, I try to do the same thing.  Where it does differ for a recording is that in a live performance, if you fluff a note here and there, or if something squeaks, it doesn’t get noticed by the audience.  But a CD lasts forever [both laugh].  They are even worse than records.  LPs scratch and eventually you have to throw them out.  So when I listen to a play-back, I’ll feel that if it was a live performance, it would have been great.  I won’t play it any better than that.  But if there’s a little squeak, I’d better do another take.

BD:   Do you go back and put in the correct note, or do you go back and put in the phrase, or do you go back and re-do the whole movement?

Golan:   The way it works is that I’ll record two complete takes of each movement.  Then we can use different parts
maybe the first half from one take, and the second half from another take.  We could use a whole take, but because it’s a recording, I want it to be as close to perfection as possible.  However, I do know that I’ll never get there no matter how many takes there are.

BD:   Are you pleased with the recordings as they stand?

Golan:   Yes.  Again, they are not perfect, and I never will be perfect.  They’re representative of the way I play, which means they’re okay, but they’re not perfect.  I’m happy with how they came out.

BD:   Is there such a thing as a perfect performance?

Golan:   I used to think there was, but the older I get, the more I realize that there isn’t.  You can’t please all the people all of the time.

BD:   Do you usually please you?

Golan:   Usually not!  [Both laugh]  From a musical standpoint I usually do, but from a technical standpoint there’s always something that goes wrong.  There’s always one note I wish I could take back, or one shift, or something.

BD:   But to musically please you is an awfully good sign.

Golan:   Yes, and that’s probably the main thing.  Who cares if you miss a note here or there?  But I’m pretty convinced about the music when I’m playing it.  Whether other people are convinced about it, I don’t know, but at least I am.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Let me ask the easy question.  What is the purpose of music?

Golan:   There’s no one answer to that.  It’s an expression of various moods.  When a composer writes a piece, it’s clear that there are different moods and feelings and sentiments in mind or in heart, and the purpose for me as a performer is to figure out what the composer wrote, and why he or she wrote it.  Then I try to play it exactly that way, and express those emotions.  Another purpose of music is entertainment value.  This can mean relaxation to certain people of certain types of music.  There are certain pieces that you could put on to fall asleep, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.  The Bach Goldberg Variations were written for Johann Gottlieb Goldberg who had insomnia.  He asked Bach to play the harpsichord in his house to put him to sleep.  That’s the reason those pieces were written.  That’s not to say the purpose of all classical music is to put it on when you go to bed so you can fall asleep.  [Both laugh]  That’s just a little anecdote to show what the purpose was for that piece.

BD:   By a supreme master.

Golan:   Right, a supreme master.  I consider Mozart the pinnacle of music.  For me, everything leading up to Mozart was figuring out forms, coming up with new forms, new ideas, and new harmonies.  All this stuff was being figured out, and Mozart’s just the pure and simple perfection.  Beethoven expanded it all, and went out again.  You could look at it as two triangles, with the big end being pre-Mozart coming to the point of Mozart, and then the tip of another triangle touching it, with Beethoven going out again to that big end.  That’s how I look at that.

BD:   Has music declined after that?

Golan:   No, I wouldn’t say declined.  It’s just gone in many different directions.  For example, now that we’re at the end of the twentieth century, we still don’t have a name for this period.  It’s just called ‘the twentieth century’, and the reason for that is because there are so many different directions that it has gone.  We’ve had minimalist, maximalist, impressionism, expressionism, and avant-garde.  There is no one name yet... at least it hasn’t been named.  A hundred years from now, maybe they’ll look back at the twentieth century, and see what music has survived, and maybe it will be categorized into some name or some period.  But the way it stands now, we have baroque, classic, romantic, and twentieth century!  There is no real name for the period.  I won’t say declined, but rather that it’s just branched out.

BD:   You have made some small contribution to that literature.

Golan:   [Laughs]  You mean my Fantasia [shown below].  That’s the only piece I ever wrote, except for a few song-type things when I was a kid.

BD:   [Laughs]  Those don’t count.

Golan:   No.  Unless you’re Mozart or Mendelssohn, anything written before age ten doesn’t count.  But the piece I wrote was actually inspired by the unaccompanied works of Eugène Ysaÿe with whom I became familiar at Indiana University.  The big-time-teacher there was Josef Gingold with whom I was lucky enough to study for one year.  I actually had heard of Ysaÿe, but never heard his music.  But at Indiana University, everybody plays Ysaÿe because of the Gingold connection.  I was studying one of the pieces, the Sonata No. 4, preparing it for a recital, and I was inspired to write my own piece.  It was not based on, but inspired by the Ysaÿe piece, using some of the same techniques of hiding a melody in the middle of virtuoso string-crossings.  The melody is actually there, but there are so many notes around it that you have to pick it out.  There are also some of the harmonic techniques and pizzicato things which came from Ysaÿe.  In fact, Ysaÿe himself was inspired by the unaccompanied works of Bach.  In 1924, he went to a concert by Joseph Szigeti who was playing some unaccompanied Bach, and Ysaÿe was so inspired to write his own unaccompanied works for violin that he went home that evening and sketched out six unaccompanied works.  As you know, there are six unaccompanied partitas and sonatas by Bach, so there are six Ysaÿe sonatas.  He didn’t actually flesh them all out in one night, but he did sketch out the ideas and their forms.  So that’s where that whole CD comes from.


BD:   It’s a tribute to a tribute to a tribute?

Golan:   Exactly!  One piece inspired the next, which inspired the next.

BD:   Tell me about George Perlman.
Golan:   George Perlman is an incredible man.  He’s approximately 98 years old, and still teaching four days a week.  He has a huge violin studio here in Chicago in the Fine Arts Building on Michigan Avenue.  He’s been in that building for the better part of this century.  My dad started taking lessons with Mr. Perlman in 1934.  He had already been there for several years before that, and here we are sixty years later.  He used to be on the seventh floor, and now he’s on the sixth floor.  The piano in his office is unbelievable.  Because he plays the piano with all his students, the keys are worn down.  When they first come out of the factory, the black keys are basically rectangular, and have edges.  But he’s played those notes so many times that they’re really quite rounded.  They’re not by any means rectangular.  It’s amazing.  He has inspired and taught so many people about music, and about the violin.

BD:   Now you’re playing his works?

Golan:   Right.  In addition to his teaching, he has written several pieces for violin and piano, many of which are of a pedagogical nature.  They’re graduated in levels.  For example, there’s one piece called Concertino, and another one called Indian Concertino, both of which are primarily playable in first and third position.  That just means they are very basic, something that somebody playing for maybe two or three years could study.  They’re not really beginning beginners’ pieces, but I would say intermediate to advanced, depending on the piece.  Other pieces go up to the advanced level, but all of the music, even the simplest ones which are written for fifth graders, is really nice music.  I didn’t realize that until I heard the play-backs of the recording sessions.  Most of the music on the CD [shown at right] is just outright great music.  I put the Concertino on there because I wanted to have all his works, even though it’s a baby-piece, and it’s very simple.  I wasn’t really thrilled with it as a piece of music, but when I heard the play-backs, and heard it without actually playing it, and I was able to listen to the performance, it’s really nice music.  As simple as it is, it belongs right up there with all the other music.

BD:   I’m glad you’re bringing that now to a wider public.

Golan:   Yes,  I don’t think any of this music is really known to the general public.  It’s certainly known to violin teachers and students because it’s been published by major publishers including Carl Fischer, Theodore Presser, Boosey & Hawkes, and so on.  But the general audiences don’t know it, and most of it has never been recorded before.  Mr. Perlman was telling me that Dance of Rebbetzin, which is one of the movements from Suite Hébraïque, was recorded by Mischa Elman, but for the most part, most of his works have never been recorded before, and certainly not a complete collection of his music.  So I hope that people like it.  It’s been a great project for me.

BD:   Besides the two solo recordings, are you on any other CDs?

Golan:   I’m a member of an orchestra, but not concertmaster.  There’s the Solti Carnegie Hall concert.  He put it all together, and it was actually a great project.  It was called the Solti Orchestral Project at Carnegie Hall.  He hand-picked some of the finest principals from five major orchestras of this country, including Chicago, Cleveland, Boston, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles.  He would have also asked for some from New York, but they were on tour at the time.  Then he personally auditioned every single section player in the orchestra, so he literally hand-picked and assembled the entire orchestra by himself.  We met in New York for two weeks of rehearsals and concerts at Carnegie Hall.  It was a great experience, and London Decca recorded the two concerts, and put them onto one CD [shown below], sort of highlights from each concert.

BD:   It sounds like it was a great experience.

Golan:   Yes.  I’ve also done a couple of more ‘pop-type’ things.  I’m on one of the Mannheim Steamroller CDs [Fresh Aire 7].  I really don’t have any other plans for solo CDs.  I take projects as they come, or as ideas come into my head.

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BD:   You will be thirty in a few days.  Are you at the point in your career that you want to be at this age?

Golan:   Good question!  Yes, I think my career has gone very well up to this point.  I’m not where I want to be eventually in the long run, but considering I’m just hitting thirty, I’ve done all right.

BD:   Where do you want to be at fifty?

Golan:   I’m getting more and more into conducting, and I would like to perhaps be music director of a very good orchestra.  I’ll never be music director of a major orchestra because they don’t take American conductors.  [Both laugh]  You have to have a foreign accent to get a major orchestra, but there are so many orchestras out there that play very well, and I would be honored to be music director and conductor of any number of orchestras.

BD:   Maybe organize a Johann Strauss-type group.  He would conduct with the bow and then also play.

Golan:   I certainly do a lot of that.  With the baroque and classical music, that’s how I do it, especially the violin concertos.  I play Vivaldi, including The Four Seasons, as well as Bach concertos as conductor and violinist.  I would probably also do that with Mozart, but you have to stop at Beethoven.  You need somebody else holding the stick when you’re doing Beethoven.  [Laughs]  But combining playing and conducting is nice.

BD:   Thanks for coming back to Chicago.  I’m sure your dad is very proud of you.

Golan:   [Laughs]  It’s Thanksgiving, which is my favorite holiday because it has the most food!  [More laughter]


© 1996 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on November 25, 1996.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB in 2000.  This transcription was made in 2022, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.  To read my thoughts on editing these interviews for print, as well as a few other interesting observations, click here.

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Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.