Utah Symphony’s Associate Concertmaster Gerald Elias is a published author as of today! His new book, Devil’s Trill, was released today, August 18 in stores and online. Below is an interview between Jerry and Utah Symphony | Utah Opera publications editor Melissa Singleton. Click here for more info about Jerry’s book.
Please describe your education?
I attended Oberlin College, 1970-72 and then Yale University and Yale University School of Music, 1972-75. Simultaneous BA (cum laude) and MM.
At what age did you begin musical training?
7 years old, and it only took about five years before I started to enjoy practicing.
What instrument(s) do you play / have you played?
Violin and viola. I once played mandolin at a Tanglewood performance of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, but that probably doesn’t count.
What originally interested you in your instrument?
My older brother, Arthur, played the violin. He ultimately became an oral surgeon, but I stuck it out. Also, my father always listened to recordings of violin concertos, so grew up listening to Heifetz play Tchaikovsky, Francescatti play Beethoven, and Misha Elman play Mendelssohn. When I was seven my father asked me if I, too, wanted to play the violin, but there was no question mark at the end of the sentence.
How old is your personal instrument and who was its maker? (Please share stories related to your instrument.)
I have four excellent instruments. The best is one made by Joseph Gagliano in Naples in 1785. I bought this violin my second year in the Boston Symphony. Even though at the time I was not looking for a violin to buy, so many of my colleagues said what an amazing instrument it was that I ultimately I took out a loan to purchase it. What a lucky break. The violin is a gem.
Then there’s one by Ansaldo Poggi, one of the greatest 20th century makers, which was made in Bologna in 1924. This was bought for me by my parents when I was in high school at the urging of my Italian violin teacher, Amadeo Liva, who knew Poggi personally and brought the violin to me all the way from Bologna.
I have a fine violin that was made for me by former Salt Lake City maker, Terry Borman, in 1992, who even let me pick out the wood that would be used for the back. Shortly after buying it I performed a concerto on it with the Utah Symphony.
Finally, in 1998, while on sabbatical leave in Italy, I purchased a wonderful violin from the Cremonese maker, Nicola Lazzari, also at the recommendation of Mr. Liva. Nicola was kind enough to put my name at the top of his list because he knew my stay in Italy was coming to an end, so I’ll never forget the drive back to Umbria from Cremona, with my wife Cecily at the wheel and me holding the violin in the air while the varnish was still drying!
How many years have you performed with the Utah Symphony?
I joined in 1988.
With what other orchestras have you performed or do perform?
I was a violinist in the Boston Symphony from 1975, when I graduated college, until 1988. I still often perform with them during their summer season at Tanglewood.
What has been the highlight of your career to date?
- As an orchestral musician, performing Mahler Symphony #2 with Claudio Abbado and the Boston Symphony in 1979.
- As a soloist, performing the Mozart Concerto #3 with the Australia Symphony Orchestra in the Sydney Opera House.
- For chamber music, performing the Ravel Quartet at Primary Children’s Hospital with the Abramyan String Quartet.
- As a conductor, conducting Beethoven Symphony #5 with the National Conservatory Orchestra of Peru.
What has been your most embarrassing moment as a performer?
When I showed up for a recital in Lexington, Massachusetts with an empty violin case! (I had left my violin on a shelf at Symphony Hall in Boston after a matinee concert, grabbed my closed case and raced off to the recital. You can imagine my chagrin. I had to drive back to Boston, which fortunately was not too far.)
Where would you like to see the Utah Symphony in ten years?
I would like to see the Utah Symphony having regained its international reputation and its competitive financial status among American full-time orchestras, both of which it once had but currently does not. This will require visionary administrative and artistic leadership, a renewed commitment not only to excellence but to greatness by the entire organization, and the galvinizing of the community to support the Symphony in a way commensurate with that goal.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
I see myself handing off my position in the Symphony to a younger person with the skill, dedication, and energy to carry on this amazing tradition of ours at an age when I am not yet a liability to my colleagues. After that I intend to keep doing what I love doing: conducting, performing, teaching, writing, and watching baseball.
Do you teach? If yes, do you teach privately and/or through a university (which university)? How many private students do you have?
I teach privately and at the University of Utah School of Music. Over the past few years I’ve reduced my teaching load in order to have time to pursue my other interests, and because for me teaching is the most exhausting part of my profession. That being said, there’s little that’s more rewarding in life than seeing one of your own students blossom into an artist.
Do you perform regularly in any other local musical projects? If yes, please list.
I’ve been music director of the Vivaldi By Candlelight concert series since 2004, which is the main fundraising event for the Utah Council of Citizen Diplomacy.
I was first violinist of the Abramyan String Quartet for its ten year existence from 1993 to 2003. We performed throughout Utah with extensive education and outreach programs, and had six tours to Japan.
I often perform on the Nova, New Music Ensemble, and Canyonlands concert series.
Please share your participation in any community groups, hobbies or activities:
I love hiking and camping, but gave up fishing because I never caught anything. I enjoy sports, cooking, gardening, reading, and most of all, travel.
What CDs have you recorded?
The Abramyan String Quartet was involved in several recordings of local composers such as Morris Rosenzweig, Miguel Chuaqui, Phillip Bimstein, and Arthur Shepherd (in collaboration with Grant Johannesen). We also made a recording called Mr. Mozart and Friends with a grant from the Utah Department of Education.
I’ve also recorded “Partita Intrecciata” by Mr. Rosenzweig.
My orchestration of the Aaron Copland Violin Sonata has recently been recorded by violinist Andres Cardenes and will soon be available on Albany Records.
Do you have a personal website? www.geraldelias.com
Please include information about your latest novel and your career as a writer.
I’ve always enjoyed reading mysteries and suspense novels. They take me away from the daily grind, and when well-written, are as thought-provoking as the most scholarly tome. Some of my favorite authors in this genre are John LeCarre, Walter Mosley, Laurence Sanders, and Dick Francis.
My road to published authorship has been very circuitous and could be the subject of a novel itself. But suffice it to say the books I’ve written, about the seamier sides of the classical music world, are, though fiction, nevertheless steeped in reality, dealing with issues of ethics and integrity as well as murder and mayhem. And by writing about murder in the classical music world, as opposed to carrying it out in real life, I’ve saved myself substantial amounts of prison time. The protagonist in each of my novels is a curmudgeonly, blind violin teacher named Daniel Jacobus, and he inevitably gets drawn into life-threatening situations against his will and somehow manages to make things a lot worse before they get better.
I am indebted to my agents, Simon Lipskar and Josh Getzler, at Writer’s House in New York, my editor, Michael Homler, and my publisher, St. Martin’s Press, for having the confidence in my stories.
Devil’s Trill (on the bookshelves beginning August 18, 2009) , has been selected by Barnes and Noble for their Discover Great New Writers program for Fall, 2009. Following is a summary of the story:
Greed, lust, power and murder are not words that come readily to mind describing the world of classical music. Yet this is the setting into which blind Daniel Jacobus, a reclusive, vulgar violin teacher living in self-imposed exile in rural New England, is inexorably drawn. To Jacobus, who spends his time chain smoking, listening to old LPs, and berating students in the hope they will flee, the evils of that world are epitomized by the ‘Piccolino’ Stradivarius, a uniquely dazzling violin that has brought misfortune to all who possessed it over the centuries. After the Carnegie Hall debut of nine-year old Grimsley Competition winner Kamryn Vander, a pawn of ruthless handlers, the priceless ‘Piccolino’ is stolen. Then Vander’s teacher and Jacobus’s nemesis Victoria Jablonski is brutally murdered. Jacobus becomes the primary suspect in both crimes, but with the help of his friend and former musical partner Nathaniel Williams, and his new student, Yumi Shinagawa, sets out to prove his innocence against all odds.