My family arrived in America from the former Soviet Union in 1990. We were just six of an estimated 1.5 million Russian Jews that left their homes between the late 1980s and 2000 in search of a better life. The journey was not easy. For many, including my family, leaving the Soviet Union meant leaving behind money, citizenship, most physical possessions.
We arrived in western Massachusetts with just two suitcases and several duffel bags for our pillows and blankets. At my mother’s insistence, one of the suitcases was filled with sheet music from our collection back home. At the time it made little sense to the rest of the family as to why we would drag generations-old sheet music halfway across the globe, leaving less room for the clothes and possessions that were more essential for starting a new life in a new country.
Growing up, I was always aware of these scores sitting on the shelf, collecting dust, but it was not until I was a young man that I became curious enough to explore the contents of the pages. These scores formed the basis for my 2014 album, Music from the Suitcase (Marquis Classics).
In 2020, as the pandemic canceled concerts and upended plans for the foreseeable future, I was in search of inspiration. As I began sifting through these musical pages that my family brought over, it dawned on me that as difficult as this pandemic and resultant loss of opportunity was, with strength and determination, there would always be a way to begin again, to rebuild from nothing, as so tangibly represented by these scores.
I spent the quiet months of quarantine collecting memories and stories from my family, looking through family photographs, and at the same time, for my own enjoyment, playing through some of my favorite scores from school and concerts over the past years. I began to realize that much like the collection of music my family brought over, I now had my own sheet music, representing my journey thus far: a semblance of a musical “home,” and of teachers, memories, and community.
And this is how the idea to film Finding Home: Music from the Suitcase in Concert came about. Over each of the five episodes I give live performances of many of the same works from my original album along with several works which have taken on important meaning for me in recent years. Punctuating the music are familial and autobiographical stories, retold through recollections and photographs. Each episode revolves around a theme of “finding home” as I explore anti-semitism in the Soviet Union, our months as “stateless” refugees, the amazement and challenges of starting a new home, my teachers and mentors, and lessons for the future.
Yevgeny Kutik, violin
With a “dark-hued tone and razor-sharp technique” (The New York Times), violinist Yevgeny Kutik has captivated audiences worldwide with an old-world sound that communicates a modern intellect. Praised for his technical precision and virtuosity, he is also lauded for his poetic and imaginative interpretations of standard works as well as rarely heard and newly composed repertoire.
A native of Minsk, Belarus, Yevgeny Kutik immigrated to the United States with his family at the age of five. His 2014 album, Music from the Suitcase: A Collection of Russian Miniatures (Marquis Classics), features music he found in his family’s suitcase after immigrating to the United States from the Soviet Union in 1990, and debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard Classical chart. The album garnered critical acclaim and was featured on NPR’s All Things Considered and in The New York Times. Kutik’s next solo album, Words Fail, was released on Marquis Classics in October 2016. The album uses Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words as a starting point to expand upon the idea that music surpasses traditional language in its expressive capabilities. Words Fail was Album of the Week on San Francisco’s Classical KDFC, LA’s Classical KUSC, and Seattle’s Second Inversion, which acclaimed in an accompanying review, “Kutik’s violin sings and dreams across two centuries of classical music.” His 2012 debut album, Sounds of Defiance, also on the Marquis label, features the music of Achron, Pärt, Schnittke, and Shostakovich. Funded in large part by a Kickstarter campaign initiated by Kutik, the album focuses on music written during the darkest periods of the lives of these composers.
In 2019, Kutik launched a new commissioning and recording project titled Meditations on Family via Marquis Classics. He commissioned eight composers to translate a personal family photo into a short musical miniature for violin and various ensemble, envisioning the project as a living archive of new works inspired by memories, home, and belonging. Each track was released digitally weekly, and the full EP CD, produced by four-time Grammy winner Jesse Lewis, was released on March 22, 2019. Strings Magazine featured Kutik as its cover story for the March/April issue, reporting, “True to Kutik’s vision, each miniature is a window into the composer’s emotional life.” Kutik says, ‘I like this idea that when you are flipping through a family photo album, you don’t spend ten minutes on each photo. Rather, you look at each one and there’s a rush of emotion and then you go on to the next photo. I wanted to recreate that.’” Featured composers include Joseph Schwantner, Andreia Pinto Correia, Gity Razaz, Timo Andres, Chris Cerrone, Kinan Azmeh, Gregory Vajda, and Paola Prestini.
Yevgeny Kutik made his debut at the Kennedy Center, presented by Washington Performing Arts in April 2019. In September 2019, he will make his debut at the Ravinia Festival. Kutik made his major orchestral debut in 2003 with Keith Lockhart and The Boston Pops as the First Prize recipient of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Young Artists Competition. He was a featured soloist in Joseph Schwantner’s The Poet’s Hour – Soliloquy for Violin on episode six of Gerard Schwarz’s All-Star Orchestra, a made-for-television classical music concert series released on DVD by Naxos and broadcast nationally on PBS.
Throughout the United States, Kutik has performed with orchestras including the Rochester and Dayton Philharmonics, Tallahassee, New Haven, Asheville, Wyoming, and La Crosse symphony orchestras, as well as Florida’s SYMPHONIA, New York City’s Riverside Symphony and Park Avenue Chamber Symphony, and the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra of Boston. Abroad, he has appeared as guest soloist with Germany’s Norddeutsche Philharmonie Rostock and WDR Rundfunk Orchestra Köln, Montenegro’s Montenegrin Symphony Orchestra, Japan’s Tokyo Vivaldi Ensemble, and the Cape Town Philharmonic in South Africa. He has appeared in recital as a part of the Dame Myra Hess Concerts Chicago, Peoples’ Symphony Concerts, Merkin Hall Tuesday Matinee Series, and National Sawdust in New York City, the Embassy Series and The Phillips Collection in Washington D.C., and at the Lobkowicz Collections Prague presented by Prince William Lobkowicz. Festival performances have included the Tanglewood Music Festival, Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival, Pennsylvania’s Gretna Music, Germany’s Ludwigsburger Schlossfestspiele, and the Verbier Festival in Switzerland.
Passionate about his heritage and its influence on his artistry, Kutik is an advocate for the Jewish Federations of North America, the organization that assisted his family in coming to the United States, and regularly speaks and performs across the United States to both raise awareness and promote the assistance of refugees from around the world. He was a featured performer for the 2012 March of the Living observances, where he played for audiences at the Krakow Opera House and for over 10,000 people at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Yevgeny Kutik began violin studies with his mother, Alla Zernitskaya, and went on to study with Zinaida Gilels, Shirley Givens, Roman Totenberg, and Donald Weilerstein. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Boston University and a master’s degree from the New England Conservatory and currently resides in Boston. In 2006, he was awarded the Salon de Virtuosi Grant as well as the Tanglewood Music Center Jules Reiner Violin Prize. Kutik’s violin was crafted in Italy in 1915 by Stefano Scarampella.
“Kutik presented an elegantly phrased, sensitive interpretation that balanced passion with nuance… The audience sat hushed throughout his encore – a traditional Yiddish folk song – listening intently to his heartfelt playing.” – The Strad
“Kutik delivers the performances with a blend of polished dexterity and genteel, old-world charm.” – WQXR, New York Public Radio
“On the recording [Music from the Suitcase], Mr. Kutik retells these stories with his dark-hued tone and razor-sharp technique, bringing out the zesty playfulness of Eshpai, the melodic genius of Prokofiev, or the cadenza-like virtuosity of an arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Russian Dance’ from Swan Lake.” – The New York Times
“The program’s main draw was the New York premiere of George Tsontakis’s Violin Concerto No. 2 (2003)… In its solo passages the violin often projects an old-fashioned rhapsodic style, which was magnified by Yevgeny Kutik’s rich, sweet tone.” – The New York Times
“Assured and full-bodied playing, which brought a kind of rough-and-tumble lyricism to two neo-classical works by Stravinsky… His reading of the Duo Concertante was the most characterful – and maybe most satisfying – you’re ever likely to hear. But the violinist may have reserved his most insightful playing for the premiere of Words Fail, a one-movement ‘song without words’ he commissioned from [Timo] Andres.” – The Washington Post
“This is the first time I have heard Kutik, and I hope it will not be the last. He is always thinking, always playing the music, not just the notes.” – American Record Guide
“Violinist Yevgeny Kutik gets points right off the bat for the concept of this album, which is in all likelihood one that nobody else has attempted before …” – All Music
“Kutik was at his best in Schnittke’s Violin Sonata No. 1, a piece that veers from style to style with abandon. Kutik and the imposing pianist Anna Polonsky moved together effortlessly through thickets of dissonance in the first movement and the playful, percussive jabs of the second.” – The Washington Post
“Violinist Yevgeny Kutik gets points right off the bat for the concept of this album, which is in all likelihood one that nobody else has attempted before” – All Music
“Kutik’s playing had to be experienced to be believed. His tone was infused with a divine fire. Every note ached with meaning and character.” – Mass Live
“As this imposing, EP-length sampling of Kutik’s artistry shows, his playing is never less than enthralling…” – Textura
“This happens very rarely: Already after the first movement the audience – which is quite well acquainted with the ‘symphonic behavior code’ – cannot hold its applause and breaks forth. So it happened during the concert of the Norddeutschen Philharmonie, started off by the Russian-American violinist Yevgeny Kutik with the emotion-packed and striking Violin Concerto of Peter Tchaikovsky. Throughout, the young violinist put on a violin show par excellence with his breathtaking virtuosity, fine dynamic nuances, and melodic and rhythmic flexibility. And after the last movement he received – now according to the rules – huge ovations.” – Ostsee-Zeitung (Rostock, Germany)
“Yevgeny Kutik exerted a dazzling command of the soloist’s role… Kutik rolled off the soaring melodies in rhapsodic style. Above all, Kutik’s performance was passionate. With lightning-fast arpeggios, stretches of ‘dialogue’ in which Kutik created both ‘speakers,’ and ravishing slow violin melodies, Kutik offered the audience an electrifying performance.” – The Greenville News (SC)
“Yevgeny Kutik infused every note, no matter how fleeting, with its own color and character, elevating Bruch’s music from merely pleasing to unforgettable. From the start, it seemed to dawn on everyone in the hall that a master was at work..” – City Pulse (Lansing, MI)
“Kutik’s gift goes far beyond the mere mastery of his instrument. It combines deep and revealing investigation into the heart of the music he plays with passionate desire to share its stories in the most vivid terms imaginable.” – The Republican (Springfield, MA)