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Saturday, March 25, 2006 | Eugene Ugorski is just like any other La Jolla teenager. He likes to play basketball and football, watching movies and just hanging out with his friends. Oh, and there’s also playing as a concert violinist with orchestras from Sao Paulo, Brazil to Salt Lake City, to keep him busy.
We sat down with San Diego’s 16-year-old boy-wonder violinist to ask him what it’s like to spend six hours a day practicing the violin, what his hopes are for the future, and whether he thinks he brought his talent with him in his genes from his birthplace in St. Petersburg, Russia.
You travel a lot. Where’s the most exciting place you’ve been and where’s the scariest place you’ve been?
The most exciting place I’ve been to would probably be when I was in Moscow, Russia, because that’s very near where I was born. It was really fun to go back to Russia. It was my first time back since I was three, so it was a big deal.
I wouldn’t say it was my scariest, but the most exotic, most irregular place that I’ve been to would probably be Brazil, when I was in Sao Paolo. That was very interesting, very different. I was used to the language being different, that wasn’t such a big deal – they say Portuguese is similar to Spanish, but I couldn’t understand a word. I guess the way of life there is just different to here. Everything, literally, is different, when we have summer, they have winter, and I actually went in June and it was freezing.
Your parents are both musicians. How much of your talent do you think came from your genes and how much of it do you think was learned from playing and practice?
That’s a really good question, I’ve been interviewed about 120 times and nobody’s ever asked me that. I know for sure that there are such things as a natural athlete and a natural musician where you just pick it up, but I’d say that more than 50 percent of how you play is hard work, dedication and your love of the instrument. I practice around six hours a day, so I would say most of my talent comes from working hard and playing.
Apart from music, what other passions do you have?
I’m just a regular guy, just totally not different from anybody else. I love sports, I love basketball – I’m actually watching the March Madness right now. I like to hang out with friends, go and see movies, just do regular activities.
An old adage is time flies when you’re having fun. You practice for six hours a day, does that time fly by?
Well, I would say that now it’s become something of a really big habit. For me, now, it’s just my daily routine. I wake up and without thinking I just go straight to practicing. I used to try and get it in before school, but that’s been really difficult since high school. Usually, I get home about 2:30 p.m. and then I have about five-and-a-half or six hours practice. On the weekends, I practice more than that.
But I still manage to balance that out with school. I have a free block, an entire period, a whole 55-minute period just to do work, and that really helps.
You were born in Russia, do you think being of Russian “stock” has had much of an influence on your life and on your development as a person?
Right now, I’m known as an American violinist, from Russia. I moved when I was three, so there’s not much that I remember.
When it comes to playing music, a lot of the music I play is famous Russian composers like Tchaikovsky. When I went back to Russia, I played with a very famous Russian conductor Valery Gergiev, and I played a Tchaikovsky concierto with him. That was kind of a big deal, because it was in his hall – Tchaikovsky’s hall – in Russia, in Moscow, playing the Tchaikovsky concierto, and I’m Russian, so it was kind of a big responsibility.
You play very complex, very intricate music. Does simplistic, pop music grate on you?
Not really. I don’t mind that at all. There are some people who are totally dedicated just to listen to classical 24/7. I’m not that kind of guy. I love jazz. Jazz is really cool. I listen to whatever, as long as it has a good rhythm – just good music. Probably not rap, like hip-hop or something like that.
San Diego is often described as a bit of a cultural desert. Do you agree with that?
No. Well, let me rephrase that. Because we’re a big sports town, we have a symphony. My automatic reaction is no, but it’s not even remotely similar here to some European city, not even like New York. It’s a beautiful city, with the beach and the ocean and the great view, but I guess that would be the highlight.
What are your hopes for the future? Do you expect to be a professional musician for the rest of your life?
Yes. I’m totally hoping to continue being a concert violinist, to keep traveling. I hope to end up traveling more. I definitely want to continue doing what I’ve been doing, being a soloist.
What’s a dream venue for you?
I still haven’t been everywhere I want to go, not even close. I guess the ultimate dream would still be to go to Germany, to play with the Berlin Philharmonic, or an ultimate musicians dream is probably Carnegie Hall, but it’s going to happen eventually.
– Interview by WILL CARLESS