Life & Culture

Meet the Israeli fiddler who is raising the roof

Rock star violinist Bar Markovich tells of how he condensed the famous musical into three minutes, and why he traded his classical instrument for an electric one


Bar Markovich’s gift for music was discovered when he was just four. A teacher at his pre-school music class realised that the tiny tot had perfect pitch, and urged his parents to get him violin lessons.

However, just a year into studying the instrument, Markovich was introduced to the Irish musical Lord of the Dance. And so entranced was he by the energy of the electric violins that his dreams went instantly beyond the classical world. And the “Rockstar Violinist” was born.

“It was mind-blowing for me,” says Haifa-born Markovich over coffee in London, where he has lived since he began his Royal College of Music performance degree course nine years ago.

“I just loved the fact that it was a completely new way of playing the violin. As a child that was exciting, and I thought, ‘One day I’m going to have an electric violin.’ I knew then that I wanted to do something outside of classical music.”

As a teenager he went on to explore the work of renowned electric violinist Vanessa Mae, and his passion for fusion music took off, as well as his love of rocks bands Sum 41, The Offspring, and Guns ‘n’ Roses.

So that he could play in a school punk-rock band, his friends created a makeshift pickup to attach to his violin, using the component from a set of speakers and some wires. And at their school graduation ceremony, the friends played the music where for Markovich it had all began: Lord of the Dance.

“It was a dream come true,” he recalls. “I was playing music I’d fallen in love with years before, and I got to do it live on an electric violin.”

When Markovich discovered progressive metal, he was impressed by how the guitar playing was at such a high technical level that it correlated with classical music.

He said: “I started thinking, ‘Maybe I could do that, too, but on violin.’”

So continued his journey of bringing the virtuosity of the violin into genres where it has rarely been used before.

Markovich has played a number of prized Stradivarius violins worth up to a quarter of a million pounds, but it was his Viper — a white, custom-made electric — for which he saved up for over two years, that is his most prized musical possession.

With it he is able to use a distortion pedal “to get as close as possible” to the rock sound. Not that his mother approved of his investment at first.

“She thought I was drifting out of classical music. But at 19, I told her ‘I’m going to do great things, just let me do it.’

“I wish I’d had the courage to have that conversation earlier.”

And he did go on to great things. Since, he has performed at prestigious venues such as the Carnegie Hall as part of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, and has taken his electric-violin fusion music to synagogues and churches around England and America.

At the New Virtuosi festival for talented young musicians he played Vivaldi with pedal effects, and he has also performed topless at London’s Jewish queer nightclub Buttmitzvah, at a Dolce & Gabbana fashion show, and for Made in Chelsea star Mark-Francis Vandelli. And he is, of course, available for simchahs.

His own compositions, an experimental fusion of classical violin and drum ’n’ bass, can be heard on his Crazy Violin Adventure series, in which he makes self-recorded videos of his performances in natural spaces: a national park in Croatia, and in Dorset, for example.

Next week he brings his breathtaking medley of Fiddler on the Roof to the Embassy’s Israel 75 festival. The challenge of the mission, he says, is distilling the score into a three-minute arrangement for the 75 strings players who will be backing him, while also injecting his distinctive “rockstar violinist” character into the music.

“I’m going to push it a little bit out of the soundtrack frame and out onto the stage. It’s going to be something new that hasn’t been done before,” he says with a grin.

Markovich will be forever grateful to the teacher for spotting his gift. “To bring joy or to be able to touch someone without touching them physically is a superpower,” he says.

“Another teacher in Israel said to me: ‘You have been given a talent from God. You have the responsibility to use it to bring joy to people.’”

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