Veering Away from Van Halen

Like countless teenagers before and since, Daniel Bolshoy started playing guitar to impress girls.

“What I really wanted to do was play electric guitar. I wanted to be the next Eddie Van Halen, or whatever.”

At the time, Bolshoy was studying science at the Israel Arts and Science Academy in Jerusalem and knew very little about classical guitar.

“But I had a bunch of friends who were classical musicians, and I saw what they were doing, and I saw that it was something that had a lot of passion and was really cool.”

When he found a “really good” classical guitar teacher, Bolshoy thought, “Okay, that would be good for the fingers, but it’s not really what I want to do. And it became what I wanted to do.”

Now, at age 35, the Russian-born guitarist teaches aspiring professional musicians at the University of British Columbia and just started a new job as head of the guitar department at the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra School of Music.

“It’s kind of a unique thing here with the VSO School of Music, because it’s a school that most people will think of as a place to learn symphonic instruments,” he says.

“It’s great to have the guitar in that school, because that just kind of gives it a level of seriousness, I guess you could say, just like any other classical instrument.”

At UBC, his students have several years of study behind them, and may be headed for musical careers. At the VSO School of Music, on the other hand, he works with people who may have a lot of experience, or very little.

“Anybody who just wants to try out what classical guitar is like is welcome. It’s all ages. I have students as young as 13 – and they could be even younger than that – and then I have students in their 60s.”

Besides teaching, Bolshoy is one of Canada’s busiest classical guitarists, whether he is performing as guest soloist with a prestigious symphony orchestra, appearing on national radio from the Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto, or on his own in a more intimate setting.

“Classical guitar, you can do lots of things, because it’s such a versatile and transportable instrument, you can play anywhere,” he says.

“I go to very unusual venues to perform, from house concerts to concerts in remote villages with Remote Tours Canada, to concert halls and guitar societies and all that stuff.”

This Saturday, he will be at the Yukon Arts Centre as part of the 2011-12 Whitehorse Concert series.

In addition to touring in every Canadian province and territory, Bolshoy has also made several international appearances. One of his trademarks is his informal – often humorous – dialogue with his audiences.

Naturally, when he played with the Beer Sheva Symphoniette in Israel, he spoke in Hebrew. After all, he had lived in that country from the age of three until he emigrated to Canada when he was 17.

But in Russia, performing with the Vovograd Symphony, he took the audience by surprise.

“When I said ‘Good evening’ in Russian, they all applauded immediately because they thought I had learned two words,” he laughs.

“When they heard that I could actually continue the conversation beyond that, there was a lot of enthusiasm.”

Visiting his homeland was a memorable experience for Bolshoy.

“Russia, when I went there, was a new country for me. Even though I could speak the language, I didn’t know what to expect,” he admits.

“My parents couldn’t really help me, because it had become a different country since we left. When they left the Soviet Union, it was a completely different world.”

Bolshoy’s Russian adventure included spending 28 hours on a Soviet-era train, something he had never experienced before.

“But also, seeing the Russian audiences was amazing, because they’re really musically educated, and very enthusiastic,” he says.

“I played there in a festival and touring in a bunch of concert series, and everywhere I arrived the TV was there, and the master classes were filmed for live television. A musical concert there is a major event. That was definitely great, to see that.”

Bolshoy just released a CD of solo guitar works by Spanish composer Eduardo Sainz de la Maza, called Soñando Caminos.

His Whitehorse Concerts performance on October 15 will feature Sainz de la Maza’s music in the first half. The second half will consist of works by Augustán Barrios and Sergio Assad in the second half, and a new piece by American composer Michael Karmon.

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