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Back on Stage After a Shoulder Injury: Violinist Virgil Boutellis-Taft

by Madonna

Violinist Virgil Boutellis-Taft is set to return to the stage at the Berlin Philharmonie and Carnegie Hall after a two-year hiatus due to a shoulder injury. Here, he discusses his rehabilitation process, preparation methods, and insights gained during his time away from the violin.

After months away from his violin, Virgil Boutellis-Taft finds immense joy in returning to the stage, starting with two significant concerts—one at the Berlin Philharmonie and another at Carnegie Hall. This spring marks his comeback after a two-year break caused by a shoulder injury from a martial arts accident during a Krav Maga lesson. In hindsight, learning Krav Maga might not have been the best idea.

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This was the first time since he was seven years old that Boutellis-Taft had to be away from his violin for such an extended period, which brought numerous concerns. Physically, he worried about the duration of his immobility and the potential long-term consequences. Financially, he was anxious since his income primarily came from performances. Musically, he feared the challenge of regaining the dexterity and precision in his playing after such a long break. Previously, he believed that if one started playing before the age of ten and continued for at least three years, their skills would stay with them for life. However, facing a comeback proved daunting.

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During his period of inactivity and rehabilitation, Boutellis-Taft missed the expressivity, emotions, and exhilarating sensations of playing the violin. As soon as his rehabilitation allowed, he turned to precision sports, which are less risky than combat sports, to subconsciously rediscover those sensations. He began with golf, which requires great mastery and dexterity—every millimetre of movement affects the ball’s trajectory. Like with the violin, success in golf demands significant mental preparation.

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A healthy lifestyle is crucial, whether in sports or music, but especially in violin performance. To heal, Boutellis-Taft was advised to maintain a healthy diet, reminiscent of his first teacher’s advice: “chicken soup, chicken soup…” So back to that he went. He also swam extensively, which is ideal for getting back into shape after a break, and he even swam in the ocean as soon as he could.

His days are once again filled with violin practice. In the mornings, he loves to play Paganini, particularly La Campanella, and recently, he’s been revisiting Ernst’s Der Erlkönig, a piece he played daily during his teenage years. In the evenings, he often ends his practice with composers like Fauré or Mendelssohn. An unusual but effective practice method he has adopted is to play while engaging in unrelated activities, like listening to political debates, historical documentaries, or watching tennis tournaments. This helps anchor instrumental practice and enhance muscle memory, allowing for a natural and expressive return to regular playing.

No day in a musician’s life is the same. Since childhood, the violin has been an incredible companion for Boutellis-Taft, constantly pushing him to achieve excellence and seek beauty, truth, and rightness through sensitive and emotional expression. Meeting extraordinary people, like the French stateswoman and concentration camp survivor Simone Veil, has left a lasting impact on him.

He believes an artist doesn’t need to isolate themselves from the world to dedicate themselves to their art. He is passionate about politics and geopolitics, inspired by one of his brothers who transitioned from being an excellent cellist to a brilliant diplomat, a profession requiring foresight and comprehensive thinking.

Art gives an ideal to the world; for many artists, it involves confronting life’s realities. This confrontation often evokes emotions best expressed through rougher, harsher sounds, as seen in Janáček’s heartbreaking Violin Sonata. Visual artist Pierre Soulage and sculptor Alberto Giacometti conveyed this through their works, and in music, it might be a particular bow hold, vibrato inflection, unexpected silence, or explosive sound.

For Boutellis-Taft, Chausson’s Poème epitomizes these intense emotions, pushing beyond the notes into the essence of the musical line. Musicologist Alain Duault described this when hearing his album Incantation, and it truly reflects his feelings when he plays. Similar sensations arise in Bloch’s Nigun, albeit differently. The violin’s vast, uninterrupted palette of colours seeks out indescribable emotions, demonstrating music’s universal connective power. This is why art bestows humanity with its splendour.

Playing music transcends borders, allowing artists to travel through time and space. In recording Bruch’s Kol Nidrei with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Boutellis-Taft aimed to capture the essence of the original Kol Nidrei recited in synagogues. Performing this piece feels like a timeless chant rising from his violin, etching the air in a way only music can describe.

He is thrilled to be back playing the violin and performing live again. He eagerly anticipates sharing these unique moments at the Berlin Philharmonie and Carnegie Hall.

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