As converts to the Church, concert violinists Igor and Vesna Gruppman were well aware of the phenomenal acoustics of the Salt Lake Tabernacle.
"We always wanted to play there because we heard the Tabernacle Choir a number of times in the Tabernacle, and we were always impressed with the incredible acoustics of the place," Brother Gruppman said in a telephone interview with the Church News from their home in San Diego, Calif. The interview was two days before the Gruppman's first performance in that historic building as guest artists with the Mormon Youth Symphony and Chorus at its annual spring concert."Of course, it's yet to be seen how our two violins will sound in this hall, but the choir sounds magnificent."
Judging from the response from a large and appreciative audience at the March 30 concert, their two violins sound just fine in the Tabernacle.
Supported by the orchestra, the Gruppman's opened the concert with Bach's "Concerto in D Minor for Two Violins" and closed with Mozart's Concertone in C Major for Two Violins and Orchestra."
"The Gruppmans play beautifully together," wrote Deseret News music critic Dorothy Stowe, "with admirable balance and tones enough different for distinction - he a little more wiry and aggressive, she more soft-edged and liquid."
As reflected in their countenances, the violinists clearly enjoyed themselves, turning to applaud the orchestra even as the audience applauded
both orchestra and guest artists.
Although they have been accomplished musicians since childhood, music came to mean even more to the Gruppmans after they joined the Church in the early 1980s than it did previously.
"One of the greatest blessings we have enjoyed through knowledge of the gospel is a great insight into what music is and what a great calling it is to be an artist," Brother Gruppman said in the interview. "The gospel greatly enlightens our understanding of musical language and our role as performers in spiritual education and missionary work through music."
"Inspired music," added Sister Gruppman "is also the word of God, and it's for the spiritual perfection of all people, especially for the saints. It is not only to uplift the spirit, but also it has a particular mission, even a mission of conversion, purification and perfection of the soul."
Citing Alma 29:9, Brother Gruppman reflected: "We can be an instrument in the hands of Heavenly Father to bring a soul to repentance. It's the greatest joy, really, when you can feel humble performing the music and be very reverent doing it." Both attest that music can be as powerful a means of spiritual communication as the spoken or written word.
The Gruppmans are fulfilling a Church calling to do an ecclesiastical review of the Russian translation of the Doctrine and Covenants pursuant to a revised translation. Brother Gruppman says he often wishes he could use music to convey the meaning of the scripture because of the comparative inadequacy of the written word.
The Gruppmans have demonstrated the spiritual capacity of music at firesides and sacrament meetings in many stakes in California and Utah, and have taught seminars at BYU.
He is concertmaster of the San Diego Symphony and she is concertmaster of the San Diego Opera. They also perform together as Uno Duo. Yet they find time to teach violin classes to 12 Cambodian and Hmong youngsters in a branch of their home stake, the San Diego California North Stake.
"The stake bought little violins for them," Sister Gruppman said "We think it is a special blessing to teach them, because we love those children so much."
The Gruppmans described themselves as religious even before their conversion, although each felt a desire to find further truth. Brother Gruppman was born in Kiev, USSR, where he began violin studies at age 7 and distinguished himself throughout his youth. Sister Gruppman, born in Nish, Yugoslavia, was a child prodigy, beginning piano and violin studies at an early age.
She won a scholarship to study at the Central Music School in Moscow, where they met and formed a friendship. A romance later blossomed when they attended a music conservatory together. But as his family was planning to emigrate, they decided to postpone marriage. His family came to the Los Angeles area in 1979. She joined him a year later, and they were married in Los Angeles.
One day in early 1982, sister missionaries visited her apartment in North Hollywood. It was by mistake that they knocked on her door; they had intended to visit her neighbor. But she listened to their message.
"Somehow, I couldn't picture them [the missionariesT being born on this earth. The feeling I had was that they were coming straight from God. When they taught me the Plan of Salvation and told me much more about Jesus Christ than I ever knew, it made so much sense! Although I couldn't understand everything because I didn't speak English very well, I just felt so much that this was true."
She was baptized within three weeks and then introduced her husband to the Book of Mormon.
"He read the book and very soon knew much more than I, although he felt he had to be perfect before he joined. So it took him about a year, and when we moved to San Diego in 1983, he joined the Church."
The Gruppmans will make triumphant returns to the Soviet Union twice this year. In September they will be there for a compact disc recording session, and in December for a concert tour that will include Moscow, Kiev and Leningrad.
"In each of those cities, we'll play a concert with an orchestra and a solo recital with a pianist," he said. And at the end of the tour we'll record a TV program with Moscow State Orchestra."