By AMY WARD
A dedication to helping others understand the power and spirit of music is what fuels the purpose of BYU’s newest professors of violin, the world-renowned Gruppman duo.
Ukrainian-born, Igor Gruppman and his wife, Vesna, who have been at BYU just over a year, were at first hesitant to come to BYU because of their busy schedule.
At the time, Igor was serving as concertmaster of the San Diego Symphony and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London. Vesna was concertmistress of the San Diego Opera and they were both occupied with recordings and concerts.
They were concerned that they wouldn’t be able to take care of students’ needs while still maintaining their other activities, Igor said.
However, he said, “The more we prayed about it, the more we felt that this was important and that we have a mission to fulfill here.”
Miraculously, in coming to BYU, they were able to maintain their schedule. “We are able to dedicate ourselves to the students,” Igor said.
The Gruppmans’ story is compelling.
Vesna, born in Yugoslavia, came from a musical family and “was a protegee from very early childhood,” Igor said.
By the time she was 14 years old, she was a seven-time winner of a national violin competition and won admission, as one of three people in her country, to the Special Central Music School for Outstanding Young Musicians in Moscow.
Two years later, she won a major international competition which started her concert career. She then entered the Moscow Conservatory of Music, where she studied with the great Russian artists of that era.
Igor’s start on the violin was a little less expected.
When he was seven years old his parents decided that he would play the piano. When they applied to the music school in Kiev, Ukraine, they discovered that all of the openings for piano students were taken. He could choose to wait a year to enter as a piano student or start the violin.
“I became a violinist by chance, but I’ve never regretted it,” Igor said.
At age 15 he, too, was accepted at the Special Central School for Outstanding Young Musicians in Moscow, where he met Vesna.
“Music was our identity,” he said.
The musicians at the school were an elite group from all around the Soviet Union, practicing six to seven hours a day, six days a week. The competition was fierce.
The Gruppmans met at age 15. “We were good friends and good competitors,” Igor said. It wasn’t until they were 20 that they developed real interest in each other. However, “Russian romance is always complex romance,” he said.
Marrying Vesna, a foreigner, would have endangered Igor and his family. Not willing to stay apart, they decided to immigrate to the United States.
Igor applied for emigration, but instead of leaving Moscow for Kiev within 24 hours as required, he stayed in Moscow for four more months to be near Vesna.
He would climb a tree and enter the Conservatory through the third floor window in order to evade detection by the KGB.
Igor moved to Los Angeles and 10 months later, after finishing her doctorate, Vesna joined him. They have now been married for 17 years.
They are not only unified through marriage, but through their passion for music as well, Igor said.
“When we play together, we hardly need to discuss anything,” he said. “It just happens.”
It was while they were in Los Angeles that they came into contact with the LDS church. Igor, who was Jewish, and Vesna, who was Greek Orthodox, had been “talking and quietly praying that we would find some spiritual ground where we could be happy,” Igor said.
A short time later, two sister missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, looking for a different apartment, knocked on their door. Vesna let them in and immediately felt the spirit.
“Hers was a very quick conversion,” Igor said. He himself was baptized less than a year later. They were later sealed in the Los Angeles LDS Temple.
Since joining the church, they have been able to participate in special service projects such as translating the temple endowment ceremony into Russian and Serbian, and aiding the Russian re-translation of the Doctrine and Covenants.
The gospel helped them to feel the spirit more powerfully in their lives. Before, growing up in atheistic countries, they had only felt the spirit through their music.
“Music is a very special medium through which we received a lot of inspiration and testimony. We continue to receive light through music,” Igor said.
The duo is excited to be teaching at BYU.
“It is a unique environment where we can not only teach music skills, but teach about the spirit of music as a divine gift,” Igor said.
They teach their students that they can “serve a life-long mission through music,” he said. “Bearing witness of (God’s love) is the most important mission music has on this earth.”
“People will know by being moved by music, how special music is and how to draw even more light from it,” Igor said.
Igor and Vesna direct all of the violin students on campus.
“It is wonderful that we could bring our testimony about the spirituality of music and teach it here,” he said.