Ivry Gitlis and the Great Tradition

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

LABELS: Tony Palmer Films
ALBUM TITLE: Ivry Gitlis and the Great Tradition
WORKS: Various
PERFORMER: Ivry Gitlis; dir. Tony Palmer


Watching Ivry Gitlis is a virtual masterclass in how to play the violin. His impossibly relaxed left hand makes even the most finger-crippling passages appear nonchalant, and rapid position-changes are encompassed with a magician’s sleight-of-hand. Like an old master’s brushwork, he uses the bow to create a palette of tonal colours that glisten iridescently, the result of precision weighting and inflection so as to allow his instrument’s natural resonances to blossom forth unimpeded. Subtly lit so as to enhance the spectral brilliance of his playing, one has several opportunities to observe at close quarters Gitlis’s mellifluous technique in action.

Yet for all his classically-honed style and precision – his teachers included George Enescu and Jacques Thibaud – there is a playful capriciousness and spontaneity about both the man and his playing that is more reminiscent of Stéphane Grappelli’s brand of jazz ‘cool’ than a conventional classical virtuoso. Gitlis has enjoyed a richly varied and rewarding life and Tony Palmer’s captivating filmed portrait captures his unquenchable spirit.

Highlights abound, including excerpts from the 2003 film Sansa in which Gitlis plays an eccentric conductor, an impromptu lesson in an airport lounge, a haunting excerpt from Bartók’s solo Violin Sonata played alone in a beach paradise, a lesson on Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in which he demonstrates the music’s mood by waltzing along to it, and historical footage showing him jamming with Grappelli, Dizzy Gillespie, mime artist Marcel Marceau and improvising on Windmills of Your Mind with Michel Legrand.


Julian Haylock