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Café Concert: Julian Rachlin

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VIDEO: Julian Rachlin and Itamar Golan play Brahms

There’s a kind of ceremonial air when violinist Julian Rachlin arrives at WQXR for his Café Concert. Looking tanned and nattily dressed, he’s clutching a double case containing both a violin and viola.

Keeping his jacket on, Rachlin reaches for the violin, a 1704 Stradivarius known as the "Ex-Liebig." He consults with his longtime pianist, Itamar Golan, speaking in a mixture of Russian and English, while his Austrian girlfriend (whom he speaks with in German), sets a timer on her iPhone. The two musicians run through their piece for the day’s program: the first movement of Brahms’s Violin Sonata No. 1.

After making some adjustments – tweaking tempos, phrases and a couple of repeats – the rehearsal is over. Rachlin and Golan begin the lush, G-major Sonata, its hushed introspection giving way to dramatic outbursts followed by passages of tranquil lullaby. 

Rachlin and Golan, who are in town for a pair of all-Brahms recitals at the 92nd Street Y, have been performing together since 1996. “Of course, the Brahms sonatas were always part of the recitals but we’ve never done the complete cycle,” said Rachlin. “I think it’s a very natural wish for a musician to play the whole cycle, to travel a whole journey with one composer.”

Rachlin was born in Vilnius, Lithuania in 1974, and moved with his family to Vienna four years later. The violinist has made the Austrian capital his home ever since, studying at the Vienna Conservatory and later becoming the youngest soloist ever to play with the Vienna Philharmonic, under Riccardo Muti. His teenage years were difficult at times: a major label record contract went south unexpectedly and the business of classical music revealed its troublesome side.

Rachlin recovered from the prodigy period, and has developed a more rounded career that includes chamber music, concertos, occasional conducting and a teaching post at the Vienna Conservatory. Work as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador and occasional ski holidays fill out much of Rachlin’s time.

Until recently, the violinist ran a September chamber music festival in Dubrovnik, Croatia, called Julian Rachlin and Friends. While it drew some notable names and critical praise, the festival’s 12th edition was its last, for now at least. Rachlin said it fell victim to a difficult funding climate for the arts in Croatia. “I had the opportunity of calling my musician friends and forming the right teams together for the chamber music,” he said. “I also learned how difficult it is, to fight for sponsors, to get the funds together and to run a festival. But it was a great school for me to see how the classical music world runs behind the curtains.”

Video: Amy Pearl; Audio: Edward Haber; Production & Text: Brian Wise