From Russia With Love: A Musical Journey
A versatile violinist and conductor, Dmitry Sitkovetsky has created musical magic with the world's best orchestras.
It is not so surprising that Dmitry Sitkovetsky became a musician when one considers his background. He is the only child of what he calls, “Russia’s musical elite”: his father is the renowned violinist, Julian Sitkovetsky, and his mother the acclaimed pianist, Bella Davidovich. In fact young Dimitry’s first musical encounters were as a toddler playing under his mother’s piano while she was practicing.
Dmitry Sitkovetsky was born in Baku, Azerbaijan. His father died when he was just three and a half and his only memories of him are his recordings. His death meant Dmitry’s mother was left with the responsibility of earning money for the family. ”
Being a concert pianist she spent a great deal of time on the road,“ says Sitkovetsky, ” so I was raised to a large extent by my nanny and uncle, my father’s younger brother. “
But the influence of his father was still great and Sitkovetsky says the reason he became a violinist was because of his father. “Although I never had the chance to collaborate with him like I did with my Mum, I just heard recordings, and in many indirect ways have been influenced by him. “
Refusing to bend to the rules
Sitkovetsky studied at the Moscow conservatory until 1977 and at 22, he immigrated to the United States. This was a brave move for a young man,
one that involved a great deal of preparation.
“1977 was a very different time to leave Russia as opposed to what it was like 10 years later. If at 22 I had said I wanted to leave, I would have been immediately drafted into the Soviet Army. Emigration was simply not allowed in the Soviet Union,” he says.
Thus the young musician’s departure from Russia involved a long elaborate plan that entailed stopping public performances, registering himself as mentally ill and then spending an extended period in a Moscow sanatorium. The latter was, he says, an experience he could write a book about. “I needed to convince the government that the investment that they had made on my behalf was lost, that I was not going to be a violinist anymore and that there was no reason for them to keep me,” he says.” In my case it worked because I was well-advised and a number of people were monitoring the case externally.”
The period leading up to his emigration was a difficult time but Sitkovetsky was well-prepared. “I knew very well what I was facing if I stayed. I knew the advantages and the disadvantages,” he says. “I was born into the musical elite of the Soviet artistic community, but it came at a price and that price I was not willing to pay.”
Despite the risks his departure from Russia involved, Sitkovetsky says he was never fearful. “I was not as scared as my mother’s generation because I did not grow up under Stalin, I was born a year after he died… in a way I beat the system. I figured how to work it to get out, and I left with all my skills and talents intact.”
Singing for supper in New York
Sitkovetsky’s arrival in New York on September 11, 1977, marked the beginning of a difficult time. The Soviet authorities forbade him to take his instruments with him, so he arrived with only a factory violin and bow. The new city presented the young musician with other challenges. He spoke little English and had almost no money. However he was fortunate enough to arrive in time for auditions at the prestigious Julliard Music School, where he was accepted.
Sitkovetsky’s precarious financial situation meant he was working whenever he got the chance - even making music on the streets in order to help make ends meet. It was, he says, also a time of many paradoxes. “I remember playing solo Bach for a group of New York Taxi drivers one week and then winning a major Bach competition in Washington the next,” he recalls.
In 1979 he won the first prize in Vienna’s Kreisler Competition and this was to be just the first of a long list of prestigious awards and achievements for the young musician.