At two years old, violinist Julian Rachlin was already fascinated by music, yet he had to beg his parents for violin lessons, not least because money was scarce. Now a world-renowned musician, he shares his early memories with Alexandra Rotter.
Your parents fled from Vilnius (Lithuania) to Vienna with you in 1978. Why did they make this radical move?
My parents left the former Soviet Union in order to give me a better life – I was two years and nine months old at the time. They were considered to be traitors and their passports were taken away from them at the Soviet border. They were prepared to start from nothing. I am incredibly grateful to them for this.
Why did they choose Vienna?
My parents are trained musicians. My mother is a pianist and conductor and my father is a cellist. Their dream was to live in Vienna, which is the ‘mecca’ of classical music.
Did you have contact with other family members who stayed in the Soviet Union?
Before 1990, the time of perestroika, my parents weren’t able to visit anyone in their homeland – my father couldn’t even go to his mother’s funeral. It’s unimaginable today. But, by making this choice, they were able to give me unbelievable opportunities to develop. I was able to grow up in a free world where the person is the focus and where you can study irrespective of your race or religion.
What conditions did you experience initially after leaving the Soviet Union?
It was very difficult at the beginning. We didn’t have anything and lived in a tiny basement at without windows. I didn’t have the same toys as other children. But despite this, I was a very happy child and have only the fondest memories of my childhood.
How did you become interested in music?
At the age of two, I was already fascinated by classical music. At the time, I was interested in the violin, but back then it was more of a toy for me. From the age of six, I began to learn the violin seriously with a teacher. There was a certain talent there, but more importantly, I was curious and eager to make progress. For me, classical music was like the most exciting thriller. I don’t know why but the joy in music and the hunger to develop myself further have always been there.
Didn’t the fact that your parents were also musicians play a role?
There was always music at home and it was infectious. But my parents never forced me to learn an instrument. On the contrary, I had to beg them to let me do it. They had bigger problems than finding me a teacher and didn’t take my request seriously at first. But when they saw that I really wanted it, they supported me. And most importantly, they gave me love because I was their child and not because they wanted to make something out of me. That’s also the secret of my success and why I’ve always loved music. I know of many cases in which parents pathologically attempt to make something out of their children.
How did music influence your everyday life as a child?
Music has influenced my entire life in wonderful ways. As a child, I did everything that other children did. I played outside, played football, went to the cinema – the only difference was that I had three hours less free time due to practising. But it didn’t feel like work to me. Since I was 13 years old, I’ve travelled around the world. At that age, I won the Young Musician of the Year Award for Austria at the Eurovision Competition in Amsterdam. It’s like the Eurovision Song Contest for classical music. It was broadcast live all over Europe. My career began just like that, overnight.
What changed after your win?
I began to work with large orchestras and conductors. Just imagine, a 13 year old child who suddenly became a star – that was a big challenge. At the start, I played approximately 20 concerts per year.
Do you want to pass on some of your enthusiasm for music to the next generation?
Absolutely. For 16 years, I’ve been a professor at the private Konservatorium Wien (Conservatory of Vienna) University.
Do you still enjoy living in Vienna?
Vienna is one of the best cities to live in. I have been a proud Austrian since 1982 and feel at home here. At that time, the government enabled families like ours to settle down here. We also integrated ourselves without delay and learned the language. It was wonderful to grow up in a world where human values are the most important thing. Historically, Vienna has also been a melting pot. What is an Austrian, after all? Always a mixture. For me, it’s wonderful when people can live together in a country in a respectful manner.
Do you feel like a stranger when you’re on tour?
I spend around 250 days of the year travelling around the world and play 100 to 120 concerts. I’m a stranger everywhere but also, at the same time, at home everywhere. We live on a truly amazing planet. For me, the earth is just one country – one with different traditions, cultures and religions. There are only nice people and not so nice people. I try to give my positive energy to the people with a good heart. It’s not important where these people come from.