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David Garrett


David Garrett: Nothing Else Matters: The CD is apparently actually called Encore, but I used one of the names from the album. Great CD with both classical hits and popular rock songs as well. He is a phenomenal violinist.
Rock Symphonies: His latest album where he blends symphonic music of great classical composers with some of rock's equally greatest musicians.

David Garrett

“You have to be a world-class violinist in order to record a good crossover CD.” (David Garrett)

“Only those artists can afford to do crossover who have already made a name for themselves in the classical music scene.” David Garrett sets high quality standards. And he knows what he is talking about. In Fall 2007 the recording artist made his appearance in Germany with the release of his crossover album Virtuoso and he has been redefining standards in the classic and crossover scene step by step ever since. The native of Aachen, son of a German jurist and an American prima ballerina, can allow himself to sound out the limits. After all, at age 29, he already looks back on a matchless career.

He gets his first violin at age four and makes his first appearance with the Hamburg Philharmonics at the early age of ten. At age thirteen he is the youngest artist to be awarded an exclusive contract with the Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft. In 1999, at the height of his career, the shooting star redirects his energy, deciding to leave his predetermined path as a classical violinist and move to New York – not to take a time-out but rather to place his musical proficiency on a theoretical foundation and perfect his technique. He enrolls at the prestigious Julliard School, studying musicology and composition.

Instruction with Itzhak Perlmann lends his performance completely new facets. David Garrett’s particular enthusiasm for studying composition earns him a distinction in 2003 when he wins the renowned Composition Competition of Julliard School with a fugue composed in the style of Johann Sebastian Bach. In doing so, he lays the foundation for what have become legendary arrangements. His highly esteemed American composition teacher Eric Ewazen has said of him “As a violinist, his spectacular, heartfelt and expressive playing already dazzled – even when he was a student – those of us who had the great pleasure of teaching him, and we recognized his extraordinary gifts and his amazing talent.”

Since completing his studies, the visionary violinist has committed himself to a clearly defined goal – introducing young people to the classics and kindling enthusiasm for reputedly serious music. Combining classical elements with those of pop and rock as well as rhythm and blues is a means to this end. “Regarding the crossover pieces I arrange, I strive to attain a level of performance at least equal to that expected of classical works. When another violinist looks at one of my scores he must say “The violin part is damned good. It is so difficult I’d have to practice it for hours before being able to play it.” Concerning his ambitions, David Garrett puts it succinctly. “You have to be a world-class violinist in order to record a good crossover CD. This poses an even greater challenge than classical music does because you want to present things to your listeners in a completely new light while putting on a superb violinist’s performance. The great virtuosos from Paganini to Heifetz did just that. Anything else would be merely mindless commercialism.”

Whereas many conservative contemporaries wonder whether uncompromising excellence and popularity, art and commerce can or may even be reconciled, David Garrett long ago proved that it is possible, enthralling listeners of all ages. The same new, incredibly electrifying spirit pervades lofty philharmonic halls holding sold-out classical concerts and open-air arenas staging crossover programs. The people sense that they are being taken seriously, that a person is performing who approaches the task with utmost discipline while creating an awareness for various musical genres and styles. Garrett’s desire to diminish the awe of classical music felt by young audiences in particular, to spark a whirlwind in the music scene while striving to sweep as many people off their feet as he possibly can is perpetually fulfilled.

David Garrett is not only a technically brilliant recording artist who has received the praise and support of such eminent violin virtuosos as Isaac Stern, Yehudi Menuhin and in particular Ida Haendel. His greatness is also reflected in his mental countenance. As one of the few classically versed artists he has an undistorted perspective on tradition and modernity. Thinking in terms of fixed categories is foreign to him. “In my eye, the Paganinis, Liszts and Chopins of the 19th century were the world’s first rock stars,” he says. Garrett knows the secrets of great music and understands that the more substance a work has, the more possibilities an artist has to make it his own and place it in new contexts. “Bach arranged Vivaldi and Mozart arranged Turkish marches. Beethoven wanted to enchant the masses too, employing musical means to this end. Great composers have always incorporated elements which were popular in their day and there is nothing reprehensible about that. On the contrary.”

Thus his musical expertise inspired him to interlace Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal with Mozart’s Turkish March – and he did so before Michael Jackson’s death, before the world paid tribute to this exceptional talent. David Garrett sets trends of his own because he is also ahead of his time. And yet he knows that talent and a command of one’s instrument do not suffice alone if one is to intellectually and spiritually penetrate a work and gain a grasp of it. A background knowledge of music theory enables the well-traveled artist to analyze and scrutinize scores. “Many great works are unbelievably rich in diverse possibilities. A certain passage in Mozart’s Turkish March and one in Smooth Criminal have almost the same harmonic progression. This goes to show that apart from instrumentalization, music has hardly changed at all over the past 250 years. We continue to work with the same material.”

Only this mixture of perfectionism and openness, thoroughgoingness and foresight explain the overwhelming success which David Garrett has had since the release of Virtuoso. Whereas this recording achieved golden status and, as one of the most successful projects of the year, was distinguished with the ECHO Klassik 2008 award, the successor album Encore, released in October 2008, went even one step further, reaching platinum status and heading the US classical and classical-crossover charts for months.

With his album Classic Romance, released in November 2009, the virtuoso violinist returned to his point of departure: classical music. It is extremely important to him that his listeners grasp the path he took in his crossover arrangements. Thus for him, Classic Romance was a special CD with a very personal dimension. In the Mendelssohn Year Garrett chose this prematurely deceased composer’s violin concerto to form the focus of his recording.

And since the artist with American, German and Russian roots wanted to create something Romantic, he arranged seven small works centering around Mendelssohn and twining through his age of Classicism and Romanticism, selecting such works as Antonin Dvořák’s Humoresque, Jules Massenet’s Meditation, Vocalise by Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff and None But The Lonely Heart by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. “The more composers I can include in such a project, the more instructive it will be for the listener. I hope to awaken curiosity in newcomers to classical music so they will want to hear more. Thus on the one hand the entire Classic-Romantic program is highly classical but on the other hand it reveals a lot about my personality and my preferences.” The overwhelming response to Classic Romance, which has won over even larger numbers of enthusiastic listeners than Encore did, is proof of a fortunate mixture. David Garrett is delighted that his classic album has received such a marvelous response. “Classical music is very close to my heart and I am very happy that people understand my message.”

© Dr. Burkhard und Sibylle Schäfer