Wednesday 18 September 2019

Strings bind the family together

Violinists Vladimir and Anton Jablokov play together, and will be joined by their family for Christmas concerts

Vladimir and Anton Jablokov perform together as The Violinists. Photo: David Conachy
Vladimir and Anton Jablokov perform together as The Violinists. Photo: David Conachy

Andrea Smith

Growing up on the banks of the Danube in Bratislava, Vladimir and Anton Jablokov were full of musical talent, adrenaline and mischief. Luckily, with six children to contend with, their mum was the epitome of cool in the face of their antics. So when the local police came knocking to report the brothers playing on the roof of their three-storey house, having climbed up a shaky ladder to get there, it didn't take a feather out of her. "Mom's answer was, 'Really? We also used to do that as kids'," laughs Vladimir. "'That's so cool'. The shocked policeman said, 'Madam, we don't think it's very safe for them to be on such a steep roof'."

Now living in Ireland and Switzerland, respectively, Vladimir and Anton come from an astonishingly talented family. Their dad, Alexander, is a professor at the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava, and is a recently-retired concert violinist. Their mum, Katarina, is an orchestral and concert violinist, and also teaches violin at a music school.

Vladimir (33) comes third of their children, while Anton (29) is fourth. Andrej, the eldest, lives in Austria and is an orchestral violinist, while Olga is a professional piano player. Of their younger brothers, Alexander played violoncello and is training to be a professional athlete, while Viktor is doing his master's in conducting in Moscow.

Vladimir says he tried to push Anton to be equal growing up, from being as fast on the bike as him to being able to play violin pieces that he was playing. "And then, as any older brother, I could be really mean to him," he says.

Luckily, Anton doesn't hold it against him. "Vladimir was kind of a god of mine, as I used to follow him everywhere, and unfortunately believed everything he said about right and wrong, politics, girls, etc," he says. "I only discovered many years later that many of the things he said weren't really meant to be serious."

As children, the brothers had an enormous amount of afterschool activities, including music lessons, choir rehearsals and family concerts and tours. They were also members of the Bratislava Boys' Choir.

Vladimir came to Ireland after a year of university, and says he has learned about violin-playing from his dad and even from Anton, and about concert promotion from Pat Egan. He lives outside Robertstown in Kildare with his wife Nicola and their baby girls, Anna (two) and Nina (nine months). He also has two children, Dominika (12) and Patrick (eight) from his previous marriage to Justina, and they are with him around half of the time. "It's a very busy and happy house," he says.

Anton completed two master's degrees in Switzerland, where he now lives. He met his wife when he arrived in Lugani and his friend said he could stay at her friend's apartment for a few weeks. "She said it could be a little loud because she had a three-year-old son, Emile," he says. "I said I didn't mind, and now I'm married to Lio and Emile is eight."

While they have forged respective careers very successfully and have collaborated with the likes of the BBC Concert Orchestra and Katherine Jenkins, Vladimir and Anton are particularly excited about their recently-released new 12-track album, 'The Violinists' Solo. Their style combines classical music with the playfulness of traditional folk, which gives them an intense and unique edge to their performances, and they will perform solo together in concert in Dun Laoghaire, Naas, Limerick and Westmeath this week.

"This is the first album we produced and financed entirely on our own, and we enjoyed making it very much," says Vladimir. "The only annoying thing about the recording was that Anton was never happy with the takes, and forced everyone to repeat even the good ones. He's very honest and really passionate about learning and is never happy with the performance and playing. He's constantly looking for the improvement and finds great joy when something works the way we want."

After the solo gigs, Vladimir will be joined by Anton and members of their family for Vladimir's Viennese Christmas concerts, taking place at the National Concert Hall twice-daily on December 10 and 16 and also in Meath, Kilkenny, Clare and Waterford. As well as performing beautiful classical melodies from the Romantic era along with festive favourites, the family will open their family photo album and share memories of playing together. They'll be joined by an orchestra, tenor Sean Costello, soprano Claudia Boyle and the Arabella Voices choir.

Anton says that Vladimir's best quality is his patience, and he can stay calm with the same people for many years. "I wouldn't be able to work with myself, for instance," he jokes. "We always criticise each other but have never had serious arguments or problems because of that, and on the financial side, I trust Vladimir. What's most annoying about him is that he tells jokes that particular groups of people can't get - musician jokes for non-musicians, for example."

Vladimir retorts that Anton is a bit last-minute at times, and they once drove halfway to Wexford for a concert before discovering that Anton had brought an empty violin case and his instrument was still at home, "And he doesn't have a driving licence, but would still criticise my driving," he says .

Vladimir & Anton 'THE VIOLINISTS' new album is now available. Upcoming Irish dates include National Concert Hall Dublin 10 & 16 December. www.nch.ie/ www.the-violinists.com

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