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Spotlight

Ljova

By Tad Hendrickson
Published July 5, 2007

Born in Moscow in 1978, violinist Ljova (Lev Zhurbin) moved with his parents composer Alexander Zhurbin and writer Irena Ginzburg to New York in 1990. He played in string quartets, jazz combos and gypsy bands, and eventually graduated from Juilliard. He’s since arranged for Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, Kronos Quartet and even rapper Jay-Z, and written dozens of compositions, exploring musical styles from Azerbaijian, China, India, Iran, Japan, Russia and Tanzania.

Ljova’s 2006 debut album, Vjola: World On Four Strings—a solo album that featured the violinist alone and multitracked—was classical in nature, though it had some folky gypsy fire. His live performances, though, are proof that he’s more than just a guy who sounds good on disc. Recently, he’s been spotted leading a new project entitled Ljova & The Vjola Contraband, where he’s joined by a gypsy-ish quartet featuring accordion, violin, bass and drums. A good leader takes pride in his band, and Ljova writes and arranges music that highlights each member of the group. He also has a fun, chatty and amiable onstage manner, reminiscent of someone playing a few tunes for friends and family in a living room rather than an audience at a concert hall or hip club. When it comes time for the leader to step forward and solo, Ljova often plays eyes closed with a passionate vibrancy that seems to even come out when he is doing something delicate and nuanced. When the song calls for a more fiery approach, he literally bounces around on stage as he works his bow across the strings.

Currently there are plans for a European tour with the band in the summer of 2007, as well as local dates. Ljova also finds himself sitting in the gypsy band Romashka (and has wooed singer/bandleader Inna Barmash off her feet with plans of marriage). Life is good for the still-young violinist, and still more recognition is bound to arrive in the years to come.