Fame is a lottery. It’s nice to think that genius will out and be acknowledged but that doesn’t always happen, and it hasn’t with the violinist Boris Brovtsyn – someone you’re unlikely to have heard of, though he lives in London and gets honoured in musicians’ circles.
I had barely heard of him myself until last week when we were both in Jersey for the Jersey Liberation Festival, which runs there to commemorate the island’s liberation from the Nazis back in 1945. It’s an event devoted to nostalgia: memories of rationing and Churchill’s wartime speeches. But there’s also music. And the roster this year featured Brovtsyn playing Saint-Saëns’ 3rd Violin Concerto with the Jersey Symphony Orchestra (yes, there is such a thing, although the players largely fly in from the mainland).
As concertos go, the Saint-Saëns score isn’t a crowd-pleaser: the opportunities for dazzling virtuosity are limited. But it’s a piece where true musicianship can shine. And Brovtsyn shone, with the unforced and effortless liquidity of old-school Russian giants. His technique was equal to the starriest practitioners around.
The sole reason I can think of for his lack of stardom is a charmless platform manner. Looking like a convict on the run, he isn’t glamorous. But he’s a master, which is more important.
Something probably unique to Jersey’s Liberation Festival is its enthusiasm for outdoor, route-marching concerts that combine fresh air and exercise with music at strategic points en route. This year, as in the past, the music was provided by a brilliantly inventive duo – Harriet Mackenzie, violin, and Miloš Milivojević, accordion – with a choir, the Liberation Vocal Consort. And although it rained (it usually does), the scenery around the church and manor of St Ouen (pronounced “when”: they collect obscure saints in the Channel Islands) was enchanting, and the concert sequence a complete joy.
I particularly liked two wartime prayers by Dietrich Bonhoeffer turned into choral works by latter-day composer Philip Moore: reminders to the folk of Jersey that not every German wanted to invade them.