Thank you for your compliments and observations.
When was the first time in your life that you actually heard the violin being played and how did your parents respond when you, a little boy, wanted to learn the violin?
When I was two years old, I saw Itzhak Perlman playing the violin on Sesame Street and was immediately enraptured with it.
When I first asked for violin lessons after seeing Perlman on TV, my parents were skeptical at first. After all, I was only two years old. But after six months of my pestering them about it, I started taking private violin lessons on Long Island with Tal and Jo Schifter. My teachers followed the Suzuki method of teaching and it proved to be extremely productive and helpful.
I've been studying violin for over twenty-four years now and my parents have always been supportive of my music. My mother is a pianist, my father played guitar and bass, and my sister is a professional trumpet player (she also played violin when we were kids), so I grew up playing music with my family regularly.
Itzhak Perlman has always been one of my inspirations. In fact, in preparation for this role in Fiddler on the Roof, I went back and viewed his film, In The Fiddler’s House, in which he explores Klezmer music.
I have learned a great deal from watching him play. He plays with great feeling and power. I try to search for a personal emotional connection to all the music and hope that it comes through when my bow hits the strings.
How religious an upbringing did you have, or was it more a secular, Jewish-cultural upbringing?
I was raised in a Jewish household with strong cultural associations. We kept Kosher, celebrated the holidays, went to synagogue, and my sister and I became Bar and Bat Mitzvah, respectively. I also attended Hebrew High School for one year. Religion was a matter of personal choice in our house, but my parents made sure that we had a good foundation and were exposed to everything. As an adult, I have since returned, personally, to more of a connection to my roots as a Jew, but I am not a practicing religious Jew.
I heard that your violin belonged to a German violinist who survived World War II as a musician in Hitler's orchestra. After his death following the war, the violin was never played until it came into your hands. What was it like for you when you first played that violin with the knowledge of its heavy history? How much power does the history of your German-associated violin have with you, both then and now?
When I first played that violin, I was twelve years old and although I had factual information of what had occurred during the Holocaust in Germany, I did not fully realize the impact of the events. I was too young to fully understand.
The violin came to me through a mutual friend that was performing in Germany and met a woman named Haike. She had her father’s violin and was interested in having someone play it. She didn’t want the instrument to continue sitting in a case, collecting dust. Haike brought it to New York City on her next visit and asked me to play it. When I first got the violin, it was not in the best of shape, so I cleaned it up a bit – put on new strings, cleaned off the dust, etc.
When I first put my bow on the strings, I played one of the pieces I was working on at the time – the theme from the film Schindler’s List, originally recorded by none other than Itzhak Perlman. It proved to be an emotional performance for everyone. In order to purchase the instrument, we first had it appraised and found out some very interesting history of the violin – it was made in the early 1900’s in France. This means that it was created in Europe around the time that Fiddler on the Roof takes place, and at the same time that my own family was immigrating to America from Russia. All of these factors make this instrument special and unique.
Many people have been moved by the violin’s story, but I try to think of it simply as my violin. I know that I can make it sing, regardless of what its life has been before me. So maybe, in a way, that's the point — that no matter what it has gone through historically, it continues to sing.
You have an impressive track record, not only as an actor/musician but also as a composer for productions on and off Broadway. Would you like to perform in Germany with your special violin?
I have never tried to contact anyone in Germany to perform there, mostly because as a young artist, I have my plate full just trying to find consistent work in the U.S., but it would be quite an experience to be able to play my violin in Germany.
Many members of your Sovronsky family have fled Russia and Belarus during the last hundred or so years. Have you ever visited the lands of your ancestors?
I have never been there. I do not feel deeply connected to the place, as I know very little about it. My father's grandfather, who was from there, did not speak of it often so there is not much history or connection that I have with it. However, my father has recently started researching and collecting my family’s history, so maybe one day, he and I will take a trip there. Performing there is an intriguing idea but I have not yet been lucky enough to receive such an opportunity.
Even though you are young, you already played the figurehead of Fiddler on the Roof, literally setting the tone from the beginning, at one of America’s most successful theatres. Looking back, what were some of the difficulties or struggles—externally or within yourself—that you had to overcome in your life before you climbed on top of that roof?
When I first started my studies in theatre and music in college, I was told that my interests were too vast—that nobody would take me seriously as a performer if I didn't choose one art form over the other. However, in spite of their advice, I moved to NYC and tried my hand in a career in both music and theatre. I am proud to say that I have been working ever since.
As an actor/musician/composer, I rarely find work that requires me to draw from all aspects of my skill set at once. It is refreshing to find a project like Fiddler on the Roof at the Walnut Street Theatre as it allows me to utilize many of my skills. Both the director and the music director were adamant about me contributing not only as a musician, but also as an actor, as a composer and as an arranger.
What was it like for you when first you floated across the large stage at the Walnut Street Theatre as an actor, a musician, a Jew, or any other role that you might see yourself playing there?
When the curtain rises on our stage, I am first and foremost a storyteller. It is my duty to bring the audience into the world of the play with my simple violin solo. As far as the flying on the roof goes, it is a tremendous amount of fun, and I’m quite glad I’m not afraid of heights. It’s a great way to start the show and I enjoy seeing children’s faces in the audience as they are looking up at me, floating above the stage. This production feels magical in that respect and I like to think that we are bringing something new to a classic musical.
You were present during many of the pivotal scenes, but did not follow the milkman and remnants of his family when the villagers left at the end.
The script is actually not specific as to the final movement of the Fiddler at the end of the show. Every production I know of has included the traditional ending of the Fiddler going along with Tevye and the others to leave their shetetl, but Bruce Lumpkin, the director, wanted to try it with me staying behind.
The Fiddler represents the struggles which Tevye experiences in relation to his Jewish traditions in Anatevka. When he and his family decide to move to America, those struggles aren't going with them. Maybe they will encounter new hardships and try to balance them in America, but they will not be the same ones that they have found in Russia.
If you had the opportunity to create a piece for a new Fiddler on the Roof, what kind of music would you compose?
I remember that when I was a child, one of my favorite aspects of going to synagogue was the music. We had an amazing cantor and I used to look forward to hearing him sing on the high holidays. Whenever he would sing prayers, I felt a deeper connection to the words being spoken. There has always been something incredible to me about how music has the ability to deepen the impact of language. If I was creating a new piece of music, it would draw from those traditional melodies.
Your excellent website www.AlexanderSovronsky.com lists a wide range of upcoming theatre and concert activities. What are your professional plans long-range?
I would like to find a company where I can build a career as an actor/musician/composer. If a repertory company was interested in developing me and my work, I would welcome them with open arms. I would also try to find a theatre company with a strong education outreach program, as I am interested in teaching.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
I would like to end with Itzhak Perlman. He once said, “As I’m playing, I’m constantly learning . . . one always gets instruction, whether on purpose or not.” I believe that the same is very true for anyone, in a career in the arts or not. I think it is important to always remember keep your mind open. There is always room for growth. I try to always keep this in the forefront of my consciousness, whether I’m writing music in my apartment, or performing on the stage of the Walnut Street Theatre.