Artem Diaz Kolesov Fominyx, the Inaugural Grauman Fellow at The Wallis, speaks about his journey with the violin, how his family used to scrap for money to pay for his lessons, and the importance that Brahms played in his life.
Join us for an evening of chamber music on February 4 with our Inaugural Grauman Fellow Artem Diaz Kolesov Fominyx and guest pianist Evelyn Lee, featuring Brahms’ three violin sonatas. The two parts, violin and piano, beautifully imitate, echo and intertwine forming chamber unity with plenty of lyricism and virtuosity for both players.
For a whole year, I would pick up a clothes hanger and I would take out a piece of straw from the straw broom that my parents had, and I would pretend that that was my bow
Hannah Burnett: How did you get started with the Violin?
Artem Diaz Kolesov Fominyx: My journey with a violin started a while ago, and I saw someone play violin while visiting my aunt in St. Petersburg. I think I was five years old when I first saw that concert. I was just really fascinated with the instrument, with the sound. And for a whole year, I would pick up a clothes hanger and I would take out a piece of straw from the straw broom that my parents had, and I would pretend that that was my bow. And I would kind of play the clothes hanger like that.
My mom would just shake her head and say, “No, it’s too expensive, and you don’t have the patience that’s required for violin playing.” I guess I did have the patience to get on her nerves a lot, that she finally decided to get me a violin and brought me to one of the violin teachers that actually lived in our apartment building. Unfortunately, I got very anxious during the little audition process where I had to clap some rhythms and sing some songs, and I guess I didn’t do the right things. My violin teacher actually told my parents that I’m probably not cut out to be a musician, but clearly my next violin teacher was a little bit more successful at getting me to play violin. And after that, I just went on to study with many different teachers.
I was lucky that I was studying with some of the best teachers that I had access to. Even though my parents didn’t have a lot of money, they were still able to help me take some lessons. My lessons in the beginning were free, but then as Russia was going through more and more privatization in the early 2000s, it became more and more expensive to take music lessons.
My family had to pick up different tin cans and glass bottles and we would exchange them for money and that’s how sometimes we would pay for my lessons.
So, at some point, I had to use some of the money that my family saved up from my previous winnings when I would win different competitions when I was eight years old and ten and twelve. And then when we moved to St. Petersburg from Malaria Slavits, which is the little city that I grew up in and was born in.
I started realizing that we don’t have a lot of money and especially not enough for me to take lessons. So at some point, my family had to pick up different tin cans and then also we picked up some glass bottles and we would exchange them for money and that’s how sometimes we would pay for my lessons. Another way that my parents were able to also put me through music was my mom would sell honey on the street, that my grandparents would send us in these big vats and that’s how I was able to receive my music education.
Then, when I was 15, I performed with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic and that performance was taken without my knowledge, actually, it was taken to the professor who later became my undergraduate professor in Halifax, Nova Scotia. My older brother was living in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with his wife and children, and he took a recording, that particular recording of my performance, and he brought it to my professor and I ended up going to Canada on a full scholarship to study violin. After that, I had many, many different amazing mentors and teachers, some of whom were Almita Vemos. I also studied with Moni Simionov. And right now, I’m studying with Bing Wang at USC. And I am extremely lucky to have her as a teacher.
All of my mentors have been wonderful, and I’m so thankful to all of them for everything that they taught me.
My older brother was living in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with his wife and children, and he took a recording of my performance, and he brought it to my professor and I ended up going to Canada on a full scholarship to study violin.
HB: So, I noticed that all the pieces you are playing in the recital are Brahms. What makes these sonatas and Brahms special for you?
ADKF: The Brahms sonatas have a very special place in my heart, and I would say Brahms as a composer has a very special place in my heart as well. These specific sonatas, and in particular number one, come with a lot of great memories that are maybe slightly traumatic, but only a little bit. The first time that I heard sonata number one was actually when I heard one of my violin teachers in Russia play this beautiful composition at one of her recitals. She was also playing all three Ram sonatas at her recital, and I think I was 14 or 15 back then. And I remember getting to the concert hall a little bit earlier because she asked all of her students to arrive a little bit earlier so we could help her figure out the acoustics.
It was in one of the beautiful palaces somewhere downtown St. Petersburg. And when I got there, I was pretty much one of the first people there with my mom. And my violin professor was playing through the opening of the first violin sonata. And I just thought it was the most beautiful piece of music I’ve ever heard.
And suddenly, maybe like in the middle of the second page, my violin professor stopped and looked at me and said,”So, how is it sounding?” And I said,”Oh, it sounds great. It sounds really beautiful. It’s very well balanced.” And I guess maybe my answer wasn’t satisfactory to my violin professor.
So she actually asked me to come up on stage and handed me her violin, which I’m sure was also a really beautiful instrument. I’m not sure what she used to play, but she handed me her violin and she said, okay, you play the opening of this sonata, and I’m going to go walk around and listen to how it sounds. And so while her husband was playing the piano, I started attempting to sight read the sonata. And of course, I had never heard the sonata before in my life by that point, so I was completely panicking and more people started coming into the room, and I felt like I was destroying some beautiful piece of art that was being created in front of me. And I just remember I started getting really anxious and I just put the violin down and I said, “I’m sorry, I can’t do this.”
And after that, after listening to all of the three Violent Sonatas, I went home and I listened to particularly the first movement of Sonata Number One, and I just listened to it on repeat for several months. And after that, I always wanted to perform it. And unfortunately, when I asked my violin professor if I could perform it, she said, “No, you’re way too young for this. I don’t think you can do this.” And then six months later, I ended up going to Canada to study there.
And my violin professor there said that of course it would be a great idea for me to play. And that was the first time I was actually allowed by my mentors to play the sonata. And I was so excited. I remember that I pretty much memorized the piano part. I at some point even had to like, I sat down and I started playing the opening of the first violin sonata because it’s just so beautiful and so special to me.
I hope that people will take away from this concert that we are always connected to the past as much as we are connected to the present and future.
HB: What would you like the main takeaways to be from your show?
ADKF: I think what I want the takeaway to be for people who attend the concert is that humans have been creating art for many, many, many years. It’s been thousands of years of art creation for us. And as a species, we have always been drawn to beauty. We have always been drawn to unusual things that exist in art. And I think that even when I think about some of the greatest artists outside of music, I think how a lot of the new art that is being created is still very much based on something that they took or saw or were inspired in the past.
So I think that for me, what’s important and what I hope that people will take away from this concert, is that we are always connected to the past as much as we are connected to the present and future. And I also hope that people will hopefully be able to reflect on our humanity. I’m really grateful to everyone who helped me on this journey rehearsing and just talking through all of these ideas. And I’m just so grateful to everyone in my life who has been there for me and helped me to make this possible. So I really hope that everyone enjoys the performance, and I’m really excited to see everyone there.