"I asked myself, 'Why do I dedicate my life to music, why do I do this on a daily basis?' It's a difficult path … so I realized that music has an amazing ability to communicate so much better than I could ever possibly do with words."
That's how Russian/American violinist Yevgeny Kutik came up with the idea for his latest recording Words Fail. "And it kind of reminded me of where words fail, music speaks, a quote we're all very familiar with by Hans Christian Anderson," he recalls. "But this album is an exploration of what happens when words fail. What does that sound like, what is this music?"
Yevgeny opens the recording with three of Felix Mendelssohn's "Songs Without Words," stunning piano pieces which are part of an eight-volume collection. The Song without Words, Opus 19, No. 1, became the seed for two original works that appear on the recording. "And so I went to two phenomenal amazing living composers, Timo Andres and Michael Gandolfi, and I said, 'Can you sort of use this idea as a prompt and in your own languages create whatever you would like to create?' And interestingly enough, both of them used the first Mendelssohn song, this four-note descending motivic, melodic … and they both used that as the first … thematically the first several notes in their individual pieces. I'm not sure that they coordinated in any way on that, but it just so happened and I think it's actually kind of beautiful."
Yevgeny was especially pleased when Timo Andres was able to join him to perform that piece on this recording. "And it provided a whole other, I guess, perspective on the recording process and to actually be able to record with the composer playing," Yevgeny says. "I kind of wish Mendelssohn were there … but he wasn't."
Julie: He might have been there in spirit? The opening line of the piece, which is the title of the recording, Words Fail, has this ghostly feel to it and then it comes back again and again.
"Timo has a remarkable unique language that's very relevant today to our lives," Yevgeny says. "And I think that's a great word, ghostly, and it does … it starts off in this very mysterious way. Timo told me to almost pretend like I'm standing in a room by myself and playing this. And then the line gradually expands and it becomes louder dynamically but also emotionally, and the piece sort of goes on from there."
Yevgeny Kutik was just five years old when he immigrated to the United States from Russia. His memory of that experience has faded over the years, with the exception of the music his mother packed in her suitcase. Tchaikovsky's "Song without Words" was one of his mother's cherished scores, and that's one reason it appears on this recording. "It's such a sweet gem of a work and I thought it perfectly fit with the tone of this new album," Yevgeny says.
Another work that ties directly Yevgeny's roots is a Jewish Prayer composed by Lera Auerbach. "But I started thinking, 'Words fail'," Yevgeny says. "What happens when we aren't able to express ourselves? I'm moderately religious and I grew up certainly in a Jewish background and it got me thinking about prayer. And I kind of thought about growing up and I think there's no other time than when you're praying sometimes when words truly fail you because what are you supposed to say — I have no idea. So this got me thinking and I saw Lara's piece, which is 'T'filah,' and it means 'Prayer,' loosely defined. And I just wanted to explore it and see what that sounds like and bring that to mind because that for me is equally relevant to explore."
There's also a rarely heard chamber arrangement of Gustav Mahler's "Adagietto," from his Symphony No. 5. Yevgeny told me it gave him a completely new perspective on the music of Mahler. "He reduces a 100-person orchestra to two instruments and he is forced therefore to break this piece down to its very essence," Yevgeny says. "And in this essence I feel like you develop a deeper understanding of the Adagietto itself. And now I certainly honestly listen to Mahler's music a little bit differently. The Adagietto becomes sort of a different piece, but one that can help us understand a lot more."
When Words Fail, music speaks, a revelatory idea that became even more profound as Yegeny Kutik created this new recording. "We've all been in the position where we don't know what to express," he says. "Like we're feeling this rush of emotion and we can't put it into words. And I think that it's something that we all have in common, and I think that's something we don't think about. So frankly, if anything, this recording has in a way made me start to think about humanity and about people slightly differently. And I kind of just listen more. It highlights for me again how much we're all the same and united, I guess."