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INTERVIEW | Violinist Marc Djokic Talks About Life, Music & Premiering A New Work In Toronto On April 1

By Anya Wassenberg on March 22, 2022

Marc Djokic (Image courtesy of the artist)
Marc Djokic (Image courtesy of the artist)

Noted violinist Marc Djokic will be returning to Toronto for a concert with Sinfonia Toronto on April 1. Along with a Mozart piano concerto and Haydn string quartet, the program will premiere a violin concerto by composer Robert Rival commissioned by Djokic.

LVT caught up with Marc as he’s preparing for the performance.

About Marc Djokic

A native of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Marc Djokic has been concertmaster of l’Orchestre classique de Montreal since 2018.

Coming from a family where his sister, parents, aunts and uncles were all musicians, Marc Djokic’s violin lessons began during his childhood with his father, noted soloist Philippe Djokic. He made his concert debut at the age of 14.

He went on to study at the Cleveland Institute of Music via their Young Artists program, and subsequently with the New England Conservatory and Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music. Marc was named winner of the 2020 ECMA Classical Recording of the Year, as well as garnering the 2017-2018 Mécénat Musica Prix Goyer and a Prix Opus from the Conseil québécois de la musique.

Along with his busy position with the OSM, he has performed across the country as a guest soloist, and has become known for his promotion and commission of new works as well as his interpretation and technique.

About Robert Rival

Robert Rival’s compositions are written in an extended tonal style, and he counts the vast Canadian landscape, along with literature, among the primary inspirations for his work. He received a doctorate in composition from the University of Toronto, and is now based in Ottawa.

His compositions for orchestra, voice, and chamber ensemble have been performed by orchestras across Canada, and have been broadcast internationally. He is a scholar as well as composer, and teaches at the University of Ottawa.

Marc Djokic (Image courtesy of the artist)
Marc Djokic (Image courtesy of the artist)

Q&A: Marc Djokic

Coming from a family background of performing musicians, how difficult was the past two years of the pandemic to cope with? How did you stay busy?

I’m often asked, as a musician, how I coped with the pandemic. Looking back at the past two years, I coped, continued to play my instrument and perform virtually. How? I have to acknowledge all the musical organizations, our unions and their teams who pushed through all the closures to ensure the continuation of performing arts during and after the pandemic. On a personal side note, I became a Dad during the first month of the pandemic. My wife Avery and I had a wonderful — and often loud! — distraction from the stress of the global pandemic.

You’ll be premiering a work written for you by Robert Rival at the Toronto concert. What can you tell us about this piece and how it came to be written for you?

I met Robert three summers ago at the Scotia festival of Music. My sister, cellist Denise Djokic and pianist David Jalbert had just premiered his Cello Sonata. I had heard a lot about Robert, and was really into his musical style after hearing this premiere performance. We got talking during an after-concert party, as all musicians do, and the idea of a concerto came up. This idea obviously stood the test of time!

This concerto titled under the shadow of the cypresses is in five movements and is scored for string orchestra. Like with any new piece of music, there is an excitement and anticipation leading up to first rehearsal and ultimately first performance. Even though I’ve seen the score, there is much to absorb and discover in the days of rehearsal leading up to the concert. What I’ve experienced so far in the practice studio is a concerto that pushes the technical boundaries of the violin, but not without the intention of expression and colour.

You have been involved with commissioning several pieces, as well as the CAMMAC Composers Competition. How important is it to blend new music with the old favourites in the classical repertoire?

When given the opportunity to curate an entire concert program, I enjoy choosing music that is sometimes drastically different with contrasting or diverse themes. I think this creative chaos is important in broadening audience expectations of the broad genre of classical music. There are also many unexpected links between new music and old favourites, which is always a treat to learn and share with audiences.

How optimistic are you about the future of classical music, given your direct experience with emerging and contemporary composers?

Looking back at the journey of this concerto, I think composers and musicians will continue to create no matter what. Maybe optimism has to be mixed with a stubborn determination, but at the heart of it is coming together through mutual admiration of music.

What are you looking forward to the most in the upcoming Sinfonia Toronto concert?

I’m looking forward to so many things. It’s a premier, it’s a concerto by Robert Rival, Toronto Sinfonia with Maestro Nurhan Arman, it’s an awesome concert to be a part of. Also, I had never been to Toronto until I was in my early 20s, so I still have that peppy excitement every time I return. You might also spot me at a few record stores around town the day after the concert.

Are there any other upcoming projects/performances you’d like to share?

On April 7th I will be performing in a multidisciplinary ensemble that my wife, visual artist Avery Zhao, and I founded in 2014 — Art Crush (Ensembl’arts). It will be a very creative performance combining live painting, dance choreography, and music tightly wound together in an artistic event at the Ottawa Art Gallery, presented by the ONMC (Ottawa New Music Creators).

In June, I will be performing Max Richter’s Recomposed — The Four Seasons at the wonderful Festival Classica in Saint-Lambert, (greater Montreal).

Tickets for Sinfonia Toronto’s April 1 concert Mozart Haydn Rival can be found here

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