Day in the Life of Vladimir Jablokov
Vladimir Jablokov is a world famous violinist and up there with the greats, such as André Rieu and Nigel Kennedy. He has performed for BBC Proms, Carnegie Hall and for a presidents or two. He has shared a stage with opera’s sweetheart Katherine Jenkins. As well as masterfully playing the violin, he conducts and manages a 85 piece production.
I met Vladimir 15 years ago as he busked on the streets of Dublin. I’ll never forget that day. I was on my lunch break and hurrying around Dublin city trying to do a few last minute jobs for my upcoming wedding. The sound of a young man playing the violin stopped me in my tracks. There was Vladimir busking on the steps of the Ha’penny Bridge. It was the most beautiful sound I had ever heard, so I asked him to play at the wedding. Vladimir had very little English, but we still managed to strike a deal! Little did I know that day on the bridge he would turn into the world famous star!
Vladimir was born into a family of virtuoso classical musicians. He is from the fourth generation of musical maestros in Bratislava, and began his formal classical-violin training at the age of six. Both his parents were full-time musicians and met at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow. His father Alexander is a professor at the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava, while his mother Katarina was the leader of the National Operetta Theatre in Bratislava. All of Vladimir’s six siblings grew up playing music in what he describes as a musical zoo!
At the age of 18, Vladimir was due to start training at The Academy of Performing Arts, but years of regimented instrumental studies left him craving a break from classical music. He packed his bags, with a fishing rod in hand, and left for Ireland in pursuit of a new life. Three weeks into his Irish adventure, Vladimir was down to his last few euros, so he started busking on Dublin’s Grafton Street.
Today, Vladimir now lives in Kildare with his wife Nicola and their four children.
Here is a glimpse into Vladimir’s world…
Vladimir, can you tell us what it’s like the day of a big performance?
Morning: I try to stay in bed for as long as I can. Let's say 10.00 am. Have my coffee with a big breakfast. Generally, this would be the only meal of the day.
Midday: Ideally, I would practice scales and if time allows I would practice the evening repertoire in slow tempos. Then make sure everyone from the crew is in places they have to be, the stage is getting ready and I check that no musicians have gotten sick etc.
Evening: Arriving at the venue at around 5pm to check stage is prepared correctly, all the sheet music is on the stands and have a quick chat with the production team. At 5.30pm its the soloists sound check and at 6pm we have the full sound production check. 7pm meeting with the front of house manager. Quick coffee, then change to my performance clothes, quick warm up and the show is on at 8pm
What was it like growing up with music everywhere all the time in your family home?
There would be four or five people playing at the same time, in different rooms… like a musical zoo!
Was it a very musically disciplined household? I believe your father threw out the family TV when ye were kids?
Yes he did. While our schoolmates were doing typical school activities, we were taking violin, piano, theory lessons and choir practice. There was no time for television at home. Our father threw the TV out because he said everyone was addicted and wasting time. He said it’s better to read books and do sport.
So on the weekends my siblings and I began to seek sporty adventures of our own with long bike rides through the forest and mountains, fishing in the Danube River, downhill rollerblading, skiing, swimming in nearby lakes.
These pursuits and the touring helped to shape our imaginations and creativity, and sparked our lust for travel. We wanted to be like our dad and see the world with the music we made. It gave us great confidence and experience.
Why did you fall out of love with music in your late teens?
It was at the age of 14 when I started to study at the Conservatory of Music in Bratislava. A secondary school for Musicians and Actors. So there was no more questioning whether I wanted to become a full-time violinist, or not. Maths or science were not part of the curriculum any more. After about a year or two, I started questioning whether it is definitely something I want to do. I always wanted to be a solo violinist, but I started to realize, how difficult career it's going to be. That's why a short time after starting the University College of Performing Arts I decided to take a break. I never fall out of love with the music, but I just wasn't sure I was ever going to find the right path to reach the destination I always wanted.
So why move to Ireland when you were 19?
In 2004, on the 30th of September I arrived in Ireland hoping for an adventure in the wilderness after seeing some great pictures of the West coast. Not doing much homework in advance and having no English at all, I didn't reach my destination and instead decided to stay in Dublin City. However, two weeks into my adventure I had already run out of money. I had the option of calling my parents for help, but I was too proud and stubborn. Instead, I decided to busk on the streets of Dublin. This was the best decision I could have made. After a short time, I realized that I still loved music and more importantly I had found an audience.
Tell us about your first Christmas in Ireland, when you were alone and dishearten with life.
That same year I had bought a return ticket back to Slovakia, however just before Christmas, something made me decide not to take the flight.
On Christmas Eve, I busked for a few hours, moving between Grafton Street and Henry Street, and afterwards going to a party somewhere on the outskirts of Dublin. There were a lot of people and the atmosphere was full of excitement, but somehow I had never felt more alone. I simply wasn't in the mood for a party and after a short time, left to return to my flat. I wasn't exactly sure how to get there, but I knew it was on Frankfort Avenue in Rathgar. I asked a few people along the way for directions. Most of them looked at me like I was from another planet, saying I needed to get a taxi. It was getting later and later, and slowly, there were less and less people to ask. There was a taxi here and there, but none of them available. So, I decided to keep walking.
After a while, I heard a sound. It was a beautiful choir. I followed the music and came in front of a church. Standing outside, I thought of all my family in Bratislava enjoying food on Christmas Eve. I thought about my life and what should I do. I thought about my future and how I could change my life for the better. Soon enough the music finished and people started walking out from a midnight mass. I was about to ask someone for directions when I realised I was standing in front of the church opposite my flat. I went up the stairs to my freezing attic bedroom, put on my hat and gloves and sleeping bag and got in under my duvet. I decided there and then I needed to do something more with my life.
You shot to stardom within three years after arriving in Ireland and even produced your first Viennesse Christmas Concert in 2008. How hard was it to pull that together?
I started to play at corporate events, weddings and producing concerts. I had to come back to Grafton Street to busk several times, in order to cover losses from my early concerts. When I thought I was doing very well, the recession came. The vast majority of private events were cancelled and my concerts stopped selling. However, this was also the year I organized the first Viennese Christmas Concert at the Trim Castle Hotel and I invited my sister Olga over to Ireland to play the piano as a part of an ensemble of only 6 people.
After the concert, I told Olga that the following year I was going to invite and reunite the whole family. She told me I was mad, but I didn't listen. Being able to afford only travel expenses and a small fee, in 2009, after a five year break, the Jablokov family met on stage once again. This was the beginning of a tradition that goes on to this day. Even the snow and flight disruptions in 2010 didn't stop us as the whole family fell in together and stayed in my house in Ireland over Christmas. The memories we have from these times in Ireland are long-lasting and very special and due in no small part to the warm welcome we have always received from the people of this country. We hope to have many more of them in the future.
You performed in St. Canice’s Cathedral last year for Yulefest. What do you like about Kilkenny?
It was a very first time we brought the Christmas Family concert to Kilkenny last year, but my visit's to Kilkenny are going way back. There are many favourite places for me. The first visit was at the Kilkenny Castle in 2007, following year it was St' Canices Cathedral, then Set Theatre and so on. It is amazing to have so many beautiful venues in such a small distance. Each of them unique in it's setting/atmosphere giving the right vibe to the audience and us even before the concert begins.
Your family gets together every year at Christmas time. It must be a very special reunion with lots of music?
Yes it’s a family tradition now. We can't wait to meet again. We even have aunties and cousins flying from Europe and staying with us at the rented house for the tour. I had to rent an 18-bed house this year! Plus the Jablokov family will perform as a part of an 85 piece production in only three venues in Ireland – Lyrath in Kilkenny, The National Concert Hall and INEC in Killarney. It is the first time we decided to bring the larger production outside of the capital and I am very happy we found a suitable venue in Kilkenny. It's going to be very special.
See Vladimir in concert for ‘Vladimir’s Viennesse Christmas Gala’ at Lyrath Estate on December 12th, 8.00pm www.yulefestkilkenny.ie.