Fiddler fits in
After 14 years in the U.S., Ilya Kaler has found the right job
Ilya Kaler is a happy man. The Russian-born violinist has found a niche at DePaul's School of Music that works for him professionally and for his family as well. "It's like what they say matters in real estate," he explains in his spacious teaching studio on DePaul's Lincoln Park campus. "Location, location, location." He and his wife, Olga, also a violinist and DePaul instructor, and their two children live in Northbrook, where they can easily commute to the school or catch a plane from O'Hare. In addition to his DePaul duties, Kaler keeps up a busy schedule giving master classes at other universities throughout the U.S. He's out of town almost every other week. "It's important to be near aircraft," he says.
Kaler came to the U.S. from Moscow 14 years ago, taking a job as a professor at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. But it wasn't enough. "I was so impressed with the level of playing in American orchestras that I wanted to be a part of that, too." He won an audition to be concertmaster of the Rochester Philharmonic, and in 1996 he began teaching at the Eastman School of Music. He left Eastman for Indiana University in 2001 and came to DePaul in 2003. "I was looking for a place with more diversity, more opportunity for performing" than IU could offer, he says. At DePaul, he can play recitals, chamber music and make an unexpected appearance as a soloist with a local symphony orchestra, as he did last summer with the Grant Park Festival Orchestra. "I was called three days before the concert to see if I was available to play," he says. He gave a stunning performance, from memory, of Prokofiev's First Violin Concerto. "That is something that you are simply expected to be able to do at a certain point. You should be able to play the standard concertos from memory and have them ready at all times." He estimates he has about 40 concertos ready to go at a given moment. Did his training at the Moscow Conservatory prepare him for this? "I knew from the time I was nine or ten that I was going to be doing this. That is how they do the system there."
In Mosocw, Kaler was exposed to an interdisciplianary approach to music—one in which the students are taught more than just the notes. They studied the theoretical basis of a work to understand how it was put together and its historical context of a given piece. He's bringing this to DePaul, working with members of the musicology faculty and the dean to help students move beyond rote performances. "I can go and talk to the dean about this any time I choose," he says, clearly pleased. "We are at a very interesting turning point at this institution."
Kaler's upcoming recital showcases the sort of interdependent relationship he's implementing. He loves having faculty members he can perform with, running off a long list of them that includes cellist Stephen Balderson and conductor Cliff Colnot. The recital will include Chausson's Concerto for Violin, Piano and String Quartet, which isn't exactly heard every day. "The pianist always complains about it, because they're always like this," he says, miming a pianist running his hands up and down the keyboard. "But," he adds slyly, "they love it."
Ilya Kaler plays a free faculty chamber music recital Wednesday 30.