New Classical Tracks®

Violinist Johnny Gandelsman explores the sounds of America

Johnny Gandelsman performed with the Silk Road Ensemble.Max Whittaker

New Classical Tracks - Johnny Gandelsman (Extended)


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November 23, 2022

Johnny Gandelsman — This Is America – An Anthology 2020-2021 (In a Circle Records)

New Classical Tracks - Johnny Gandelsman

“I was born in Russia into a family of musicians. Both of my parents are musicians. My only sibling, my older sister, is a violinist as well,” says violinist Johnny Gandelsman, who has been living in Brooklyn since 1999. “I've been playing since I was 5 years old, and my family moved to Israel when I was a kid. Then I came to the United States to go to school and have been living here ever since.”

You might recognize Gandelsman as one of the violinists with the ensemble Brooklyn Rider. He also has played in the world music collective Silk Road Ensemble. Most recently, he has been commissioning new works for his three-CD solo project, This Is America – An Anthology 2020-2021.

“This is a project that was born a few months into the height of the pandemic. I was just trying to think if there was anything I can do about the situation in the world. One thing that occurred to me was to commission new works from American composers,” he said about his inspiration for the project. “I wanted composers who live here and to ask them to reflect on the times.”

Can you talk about the composers, pieces and themes we hear in the project?

“One piece that comes to my mind is a work by a composer from Tatarstan, Adeliia Faizullina. Her piece is Dew, Time, Linger. When the pandemic struck, she was a student in Los Angeles studying composition. Her piece captures this incredibly beautiful feeling of isolation. She finds really beautiful ways to depict silence, such as a drop of water in the sink or a gust of wind.

“I asked Rhiannon Giddens to write a piece. She created New to the Session. It was about her experience attending music sessions where people come together and play tunes. And her experience was that she was a beginner in that world. It's this succession of fiddle tunes, which are full of joy.

“The opening piece is by Clarice Assad. It's simply titled O, which represents oxygen. That seems to encompass so much of what we were experiencing, people struggling to breathe, just being able to breathe and maybe a sigh of relief if you did feel safe.”

Can you talk about O?

“We were struggling to breathe. She also mentions the killing of George Floyd as forcibly denying his breath. It was not planned that way, but the piece that closes the album set is Breathe, by Kojiro Umezaki. His work also deals with the same themes but in a very different way of expressing them. It's a bookend for this almost four-hour release.”

To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.


Johnny Gandelsman — This Is America – An Anthology 2020-2021 (Amazon)

Johnny Gandelsman — This Is America – An Anthology 2020-2021 (Bandcamp)