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Raiskin and Zhu – Paganini

March 3 @ 2:30 pm

Youthful brilliance is on display as Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra Music Director Daniel Raiskin welcomes American violinist Kevin Zhu, first prize winner at the 2018 International Paganini Competition in Genoa, Italy. Rossini composed The Barber of Seville at the age of 14, but Russian/American polymath Lera Auerbach composed her first opera at only 12! She’s gone on to be one of today’s most exciting creative voices, and her 2010 tribute to Mozart, Eterniday, was premiered by Maestro Raiskin. Grieg withdrew the score of his early Symphony in C minor from circulation, but its perceived merits have only improved with age.

Concert underwritten by Carol Bellringer & Greg Doyle
Kevin Zhu underwritten by Sandra Lackenbauer

Daniel Raiskin, conductor

With his unmistakable artistic signature, Daniel Raiskin has become one of the most recognized conductors of his generation and had developed a broad repertoire beyond the mainstream in his strikingly conceived programmes. A son of a prominent musicologist, Daniel Raiskin grew up in St. Petersburg. He attended the celebrated conservatory in his native city and continued his studies in Amsterdam and Freiburg. First focusing on viola, he was inspired to take up the baton as a result of an encounter with the distinguished teacher Lev Savich. In addition, he also took classes with Maestri such as Mariss Jansons, Neeme Järvi, Milan Horvat, Woldemar Nelson und Jorma Panula.

From the 2020/2021 season Daniel Raiskin is the Principal Conductor of the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra in Bratislava. He is Music Director of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra since August 2018 and Principal Guest Conductor of the Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra from season 2017/18.

His regular guest appearances include the Hong Kong Sinfonietta, Naples Philharmonic Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra Taiwan, Niederösterreichische Tonkünstlerorchester, Orchestre National de Belgique, Orchestre National de Lyon, Orquesta Sinfónica de Tenerife, Osaka Philharmonic, Residentie Orkest, Sinfonia Varsovia, Stuttgarter Philharmonikern, Swedish Chamber Orchestra and Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra. His appearances in opera productions include Carmen, Shostakovich’s The Nose and Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Within the InClassica Dubai International Music Festival 2021 and 2022 he conducted the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra. Furthermore, he will conduct this orchestra on a tour in Japan in 2023.

Raiskin was Chief Conductor of the Staatsorchester Rheinische Philharmonie in Koblenz (2005-2016) and of the Artur Rubinstein Philharmonic Orchestra in Lódz (2008-2015), and Principal Guest Conductor of the Orquesta Sinfónica de Tenerife (season 2017/18). Daniel Raiskin is also relentlessly committed to sharing his knowledge and passion with young musicians around the world. He devotes his time regularly to working with youth orchestras in a.o. Canada, Estonia, Germany, Iceland, Netherlands and South Africa.

Among the major soloists with whom he has appeared are Emanuel Ax, Rudolf Buchbinder, Cameron Crozman, Xavier de Maistre, Renée Fleming, Nelson Freire, Martin Fröst, Alban Gerhardt, Vadim Gluzman, Natalia Gutman, Daniel Hope, Kari Kriikku, Simone Lamsma, Lang Lang, Francois Leleux, Jan Lisiecki, Alexei Lubimov, Tatjana Masurenko, Albrecht Mayer, Daniel Müller-Schott, Olli Mustonen, Julian Rachlin, Benjamin Schmid, Julian Steckel, Anna Vinnitskaya, Lukáš Vondráček and Alexei Volodin.

Recent recordings include Mahler Symphony No. 3 and Shostakovich Symphony No. 4 with the label AVI, both to great critical acclaim. His recording with cello concertos by Korngold, Bloch and Goldschmidt with Julian Steckel and the label AVI received an Echo Klassik Award in 2012. Other recent recording projects include a Louis Glass Symphony cycles and a concerto cycle with the entire concertos and rhapsodies by Aram Khachaturian, both with the label CPO, Lutosławski’s vocal-instrumental works with the label Dux and a recording of Alexander Tansman’s Isaie le Prophète and Psaumes with the label World Premiere Recordings.


Kevin Zhu, violin

American violinist Kevin Zhu has amassed an outstanding record of concert performances and competition wins since he began playing violin at age three. Praised for his “awesome technical command and maturity” (The Strad) and “absolute virtuosity, almost blinding in its incredible purity” (L’ape musicale), Kevin has performed on the world’s largest stages, ranging from Carnegie Hall in New York to London’s Royal Festival Hall to the Forbidden City Concert Hall in Beijing. Initially coming to international attention after winning the 2018 Paganini Competition and 2012 Yehudi Menuhin Competition, he has established himself as a leading figure among the next generation of musicians, astonishing audiences with his peerless technical mastery and inimitable artistic voice.

​In the 2022-23 season, Kevin will make concerto debuts with the Des Moines Symphony and at the Auditorio Nacional in Madrid, and embarks on a project to record the 24 Paganini Caprices on Paganini’s famed violin ‘Il Cannone’, something never done before in history. He performs the complete Caprices in Italy, Singapore, and Germany, and makes his Merkin Hall recital debut with a program inspired by ballet and operatic masterpieces.

​Recent performing highlights include concerto appearances with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Moscow Virtuosi, and China Philharmonic Orchestra. A highly sought-after recitalist, he has toured across the United States and Europe with repertoire ranging from Beethoven to contemporary commissions. Kevin is also a passionate chamber musician, collaborating with artists such as Itzhak Perlman, Lawrence Power, and Jan Vogler.

​In addition to his efforts on stage, Kevin serves as a Culture Ambassador of the Lin Yao Ji Music Foundation of China. He has been featured on ABC Eyewitness News, BBC Radio 3, and RAI Radio 3, and is the recipient of a 2021 Avery Fisher Career Grant and Salon de Virtuosi Career Grant.

Kevin holds a Bachelor’s degree from The Juilliard School, where he studied with Itzhak Perlman and Li Lin. Kevin performs on the c1722 “Lord Wandsworth” Antonio Stradivari violin, which is on loan from the Ryuji Ueno Foundation and Rare Violins In Consortium, Artists and Benefactors Collaborative.

MARCH 3, 2024


Two centuries ago, Niccolò Paganini’s Violin Concerto in D major was the last word in difficulty, a work so fiendishly showy that only its creator could possibly do it justice. But does it still hold the same place in the pantheon? With all of the advances in violin pedagogy, with Suzuki kids starting as young as three, with how-to videos available at the push of a button, is it even a challenge for today’s virtuosi?

Kevin Zhu thinks so.

“Oh, it’s still terrifying,” says the 22-year-old prodigy. “It’s still scary, I have to say, and it never gets easier. No matter how well you know it or how many times you play it, there are always these terrors, these challenges that somehow you have to cross. And even within the last 50, 60, 70 years, with this massive increase in the general technical level of violinists, people really have a tough time with it. But of course there are always little tricks and secrets that you can discover with time that hopefully make it a little bit more approachable.”

First off, Zhu suggests, it’s necessary to look at Paganini himself, and why he might have been compelled to write something so hard. “Basically, Paganini was kind of the rock star of the time,” he explains. “He was extraordinarily famous, but he was also a very, very intense person. People would notice his music-making not only for his virtuosity, but also for his world-building. He had a natural gift for doing imitations: imitating animal sounds, or imitating scenes that you would see walking along the street of Italy or wherever. Of course his violin competitors at the time called this only a cheap trick, but today we know it as ingenious.”

“He had a particular concert look, too,” Zhu continues. “We know him as this tall, very slender, figure: very skinny, with long fingers. He would walk out on-stage dressed all in black, with a hood… That look, combined with his incredible violin playing, brought out the crowds. And obviously the instrumental fireworks were fantastic, but then he would play something slow—a beautiful song in this Italian bel canto style—and people would faint and throw flowers and everything.”

Or that, at any rate, is the myth. In playing the Violin Concerto in D major Zhu finds it useful to consider the Paganini legend, but also to look analytically at how the 19th-century master achieved his spectacular effects, and why.

“You look, first, at the history of the music, which for this piece especially is strikingly, because it was written originally in a different key,” he says. “It was written in E-flat major, and Paganini actually tuned his violin up half a step to make it sound more brilliant, more striking, and more strident. So you take that into account. And then you know that one of Paganini’s goals was this incredibly brilliant showmanship, so you look at the music and you think ‘Okay, what can I do with all these notes?’ When something is very fast, what does that mean in the context of what he would have imagined, what he would have seen at the time?

“You can imagine one of these Italian palazzos with children running around in these little dashes of notes here and there, or an absolute diva screaming at the top of her lungs in the marketplace. So, slowly, you take the separate pieces of the music and you put them together into your own story about what you think the music represents.”

Zhu’s interpretation is convincing enough that, at 17, he won the Paganini International Violin Competition in Genoa, Italy. His reward was not cash, but something of inestimable value: a chance to play a concert using Paganini’s own fiddle, a 1743 model built by the Cremona school’s Giuseppe Antonio Guarneri.

“Paganini left it to the city of Genoa in his will, and it was kept in a museum for a long, long time,” Zhu says. “Today, it’s housed in a glass case, in this Paganini Room, they call it, in the city hall. It’s played maybe once or twice every year, and each time they take it out to allow somebody to play it you have to have ceremonial Italian military officials watching you to make sure that everything’s okay.”

If playing in front of an armed guard was intimidating, Zhu doesn’t show it. He hopes to eventually record using the Guarneri instrument, and has no difficulty explaining why.

“It was called Il Cannone, or ‘the cannon’, and the first reason is because of its unbelievable power,” he notes. “When I had the chance to play on it, it took a little bit of time to wake up, having been stored away in a glass case for so long. But after maybe 10 minutes or something, the violin comes alive. I felt so clearly that each of the four strings was like a different animal. The bottom string had the character of a bull, and the top string was like a bird flying overhead… It was just the most incredible feeling. And then you come to realize ‘Wow! That’s how he did it.’ That violin helped so much with Paganini’s imagination, and how he wrote his music, and all the techniques that he used. Everything fits together.”

For his Victoria Symphony appearance—in which the Violin Concerto in D major will be presented alongside Gioachino Rossini’s overture from The Barber of Seville, Lera Auerbach’s Eterniday (Homage to W.A Mozart), and Edvard Grieg’s Symphony in C minor—Zhu will have to be content with his everyday fiddle, a borrowed Stradivarius. And he won’t be tuning to E-flat major. “I’m not sure that the people that loaned me my violin would approve,” he says wryly. But the memory of playing Il Cannone and walking the streets of Genoa will follow him into the concert hall, making for as authentic a Paganini experience as this century can afford.

Notes by Alex Varty


Gioachino Rossini (1792—1868)
Overture to The Barber of Seville

Nicolo Paganini (1782—1840)
Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major
Allegro maestoso
Rondo: Allegro spiritoso


Lera Auerbach (1973—)
Eterniday (Homage to W.A. Mozart)

Edvard Grieg (1843—1907)
Symphony in C minor
Allegro molto
Adagio espressivo
Intermezzo: Allegro energico
Finale: Allegro molto vivace

GRIEG: Symphony in C minor
Performed by the Malmö Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Bjarte Engeset


GRIEG: Symphony in C minor
Performed by the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
Conducted by Dimitri Kitayenko


March 3
starts at 2:30 pm


Victoria Symphony


Farquhar at UVic
University Farquhar Auditorium, Ring Road
Victoria, BC V8P 5C2 Canada
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Concert Programme

  • Rossini
    Overture to The Barber of Seville
  • Paganini
    Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major
  • Lera Auerbach
    Eterniday (Homage to W.A. Mozart)
  • Grieg
    Symphony in C minor