When Anastasia Khitruk was a toddler she fell in love—-with Johann Sebastian Bach. “I was allowed to go to concerts at a very young age, as long as I didn’t squirm,” Khitruk recalled. “I still remember how I sat.” She demonstrated, lifting her legs out in front of her. “The fugue started and when the second voice came in, I was dumbstruck. I held my breath and I started screaming.”
That youthful out-of-body experience was Khitruk’s eureka moment. “Time stops; you feel yourself opening up and you’re not you anymore,” she said. Thus began Khitruk’s love affair with Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Paganini, and the other masters of classical music. Born into a musical family in Moscow, Khitruk came to the U.S. when she was six years-old and took her adopted country into her heart. She loves classical music; she loves America. And she is determined to unite the two.
In person, Anastasia, a Grammy-nominated violinist, is stunning, with long red hair and enormous green eyes that convey both enthusiasm and curiosity. She talks passionately about her craft. She began playing the violin when she was only six and first performed with an orchestra at eight. “My mother didn’t want to give me a violin,” she said, noting that everyone else in her family played the piano. Once she began to play, however, her mother pressured her to become a child prodigy and Khitruk rebelled, putting her instrument aside for five years. Instead, she had it in her mind to become a pathologist. “I recognized how fragile life is,” she said, explaining her interest in that medical specialty.
The pull of music was too strong, however, so at thirteen, she returned to playing, practicing ten or eleven hours a day. Often she managed on only two hours sleep. At fifteen, she auditioned for the legendary violin teacher Dorothy DeLay and was accepted at Julliard. “She was an amazing woman, the way she taught,” Khitruk said of DeLay, who was eighty-four when she died in 2002. “You know how people talk about giving someone a fish or teaching them to fish? She was all about giving you the fishing rod.”
Rather than criticize, DeLay taught her students to eliminate the problems. “It’s figuring out how to get the things I want from music,” Khitruk said. “It’s putting one thing next to the other to get the sound you want.”
Khitruk sees herself as a conduit. “When you share music, it’s not about you. It’s about the composer and the audience,” she said. “You are the translator and you translate the spirit of the piece. There will be a moment, it will pass forever, and never happen again.”
Playing Khitruk’s new album, Leon de Saint-Lubin, Virtuoso Works for Violin, we are happy to have her as our intermediary. Released on May 27, Khitruk spent time in France where two major country-wide radio stations played her music. “ The French are very big listeners of classical music,” she said.
That Americans are not huge fans of classical music is something Anastasia is trying to correct. “I do not think that liking Britney Spears means you won’t like Mozart,” she said. “That experience of joy, that eureka moment belongs to all of us.”
Anastasia founded the Manhattan Music Society, a nonprofit organization with the goal of developing youthful audiences. Many young people, she believes, have been turned off by classical music, believing it to be elitist or beyond their comprehension. “You are not going to have a positive response if you are being talked down to,” she said. Her goal is to make the music understandable and accessible. Her music can be downloaded on the Internet and she wants nothing more than to see young people listening to her violin concertos on iPods. She works to involve the community, particularly children. Recently she played a concert in Westbury Gardens on Long Island, where families were encouraged to come, picnic, and listen to beautiful music.
Khitruk is just as passionate about America as she is about her music. In Russia, her parents were pianists and music professors and enjoyed many of the privileges extended to those who projected the image the state wanted the world to see. Yet the family did not buy into the Communist propaganda and in 1981, Elena Tatulyan brought her two daughters to the U.S.
“There were no men in our household,” she said, noting that besides her mother and sister, her grandmother and great-grandmother came with them. Her early impressions of the U.S. in general and New York specifically are both insightful and humorous. “The amounts of food we saw in America!” she said, her eyes growing wide. “There was a scarcity of food in Russia. My grandmother lived through World War II and told us stories of what they had to eat, like rats.” She shivered.
Her humorous story involved the first time she saw a dog owner picking up after his dog. “You scoop here in New York,” she said with a laugh, adding that would be “inconceivable” in Russia.
In April, 2008, Khitruk spent ten days in Moscow and was disappointed with what she saw. She feels Russians are “having trouble digesting their own history.” She met a young woman who told her, “Americans are so amazing! They think they won World War II.” Khitruk didn’t say what was on the tip of her tongue: “Well, they did!”
“They want to be the great Russia,” she said, “but that requires sacrifice. “You can’t lie and cheat your way to a great society.”
Because her hands are so valuable, Khitruk is not allowed to ski, play tennis, or ride horses. She enjoys cooking, particularly in her house in Provence. Books remain one of her passions. She reads Madame Bovary every five years and travels with a well-worn copy of Eugene Onegin. “I would not like to get mentally old,” she said.
Besides her concerts, recordings, and work with the Manhattan Music Society, Khitruk also gives master classes and participates in teaching festivals. Does she still practice so diligently? “Only if you want to play in tune,” she said, laughing.
Her schedule shows no sign of slowing down. This fall, she will play at Carnegie Hall and continue to spread her enthusiasm for classical music. “You have to earn people’s trust,” she said. “I’m happy to earn it one person at a time.”
Anastasia Khitruk’s website is www.anastasiakhitruk.com
Woman Around Town’s Six Questions
Favorite Place to Eat: Chat Noir, 22 East 66th Street. The souffles are amazing, and Suzanne Latapie a wonderful hostess.
Favorite Place to Shop: Bookberries, Shakespeare, nothing like a real bookshop run by people who read.
Favorite New York Sight: Central Park, any season, any weather.
Favorite New York Moment: Seeing heads of industry in their Armani riding the subway.
What You Love About New York: Leonard Bernstein got it right, it’s a wonderful town!
What You Hate About New York: Potholes. To be precise, potholes in high heels.