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Story of success: Tutors help orchestra

Violinists Igor and Vesna Gruppman teach master classes around world

The Orchestra at Temple Square, formed in 1999, is gradually taking its place not just as an adjunct to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir but also as a viable, independent entity with its own concert schedule and steadily increasing stature.

Conductor Igor Gruppman and his wife, Vesna, are striving to make that happen, in part by supplying the orchestra with young musicians carefully nurtured through their tutelage.

In 2003, they founded the Gruppman International Violin Institute dedicated to teaching gifted violin students from throughout the world by means of videoconferencing technology and the Internet.

Though they had been teaching long before that, the Gruppmans began the videoconferencing about four years ago. It has been a boon to their efforts, because they maintain a busy schedule, and the computer technology obviates the need to stay tied down to one location. They have a home in Provo, Utah, but they spend more than half the year in the Netherlands, where Brother Gruppman for nearly three years has been concertmaster of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and music director and conductor of the Concerto Rotterdam Chamber Orchestra.

Former BYU faculty members, both Gruppmans teach at the Rotterdam Conservatory. Enrolled there now are Melanie Richards and Joanna Jacobs, two of their private students who are members of the Orchestra at Temple Square. They intend to earn advanced degrees in Rotterdam.

In fact, Sister Gruppman said, about half the violin section of the Orchestra at Temple Square and some of the viola section are her former students.

The videoconferencing technology "has been a blessing for many students," she said during a recent interview at the Gruppman's Provo home, "because the parents used to drive them here, and they would stay at a hotel or stay with us and have to spend money for tickets. Some students would fly as far as from Hong Kong."

Nowadays, the Gruppmans can give their long-distance lessons from anywhere they have access to a high-speed DSL computer connection.

"We're able to go from home to home, individual to individual, or small group to small group," Brother Gruppman said. "That gives us great mobility and creativity beyond anything we could possibly imagine."

He noted, "We have students in master classes that we do through the videoconferencing all over the world, and it's become kind of routine. We're already taking it for granted.

"The new development is that we're going to use this application with the Orchestra at Temple Square. From Rotterdam, I'm going to be able to audition people, listen to them play, and also have regular training sessions with the principals in the orchestra. It gives continuity to the whole process of maintenance and training of the orchestra, for us all getting better."

Though some of their students are Church members, many are not. One such beneficiary of the Gruppmans' videoconferencing tutelage is Russian-born Eugene Ugorski, whom the Gruppmans began teaching when he was 5, soon after they met his family in San Diego, Calif., where they were living at the time. Brother and Sister Gruppman moved to Provo two years later, and Eugene's parents began to fly there every two weeks with their son to give him the benefit of continued lessons from Sister Gruppman. For the past four years or so, they have been teaching him through the videoconferencing.

Already a virtuoso at age 17, Eugene was the featured soloist at the Feb. 17 Orchestra at Temple Square Concert in the Conference Center, where he performed Tchaikovsky's highly technical "Concerto in D Major for Violin and Orchestra." It was his second appearance with the orchestra, having previously performed with them at age 12.

"Vesna has put her heart and soul into this," said Igor, regarding the training of Eugene, whom he characterizes as their great "success story."

"He has already performed with major orchestras all around the world and has major management in London, but most important, he is a cultivated, rounded musician. And he has been groomed and prepared for this."

The Gruppmans hope to produce many other "success stories" with young musicians, particularly those associated with The Orchestra at Temple Square.

"We want to attract the best people, just like the choir does," he said. "We have a lot of people auditioning, but there are still a lot of people out there, either afraid, or not really thinking they're good enough. So we want to create a lot of positive energy around it so we can continue building the orchestra."

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