There’s no way around it: David Garrett is kind of cheesy. The German-American violinist rocks bleached locks, skinny jeans and the blazing confidence of a superstar who has appeared on Oprah. On albums with titles like Virtuoso, he zips through Rimsky-Korsakov, Michael Jackson and “Dueling Banjos.” The 30-year-old, who modeled to help pay his way through Julliard, has just released his sixth studio album, Rock Symphonies. It features slick interpretations of headbanger anthems by Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, Zeppelin and others. He chatted on the phone from New York, before kicking off a tour with an appearance on The Today Show.
Did you have any reservations about putting a violin spin on beloved hard rock music?
Of course. All artists question what they do. You have to have respect for the pieces, but that respect shouldn’t turn into fear.
How have classical people responded? Do you feel you have credibility?
I basically play for people who love music. Everything I do, I try to do tastefully and to a very high level of quality. I don’t care if classical fans love it or not, because it’s just meant to be for people who like music.
You started playing violin at age four. Was rock music important to you when you were growing up?
No. My parents were classical purists, which I never really understood. Rock music became more of an influence when I moved to the U.S. by myself to study at Julliard.
On your website you say you prefer “spirit over technicality.” That’s a rock & roll attitude. Yet you’re also in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s fastest violin player. So which is it?
You can only say that if you have great technique. You can have the best spirit in the world but if you have a shitty technique, your music will suck. You don’t want the audience’s enjoyment to be hindered by your technical ability. Spirit is important, but you have to have technique as your base. Either you can play, or you can’t.
What about the Ramones? That band didn’t have the greatest technical skills.
Spirit always needs to be combined with ambition. Anyone with great spirit will always work hard and be a perfectionist on his own terms. That’s more what I was trying to say.
Your tour kicks off in Seattle, and you cover “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Was that only because it’s the most recognizable Nirvana song, or is it honestly best fitted for the violin?
It’s the most popular song, and just happens to have the best guitar riff of the early ’90s. That piece really defined everything after the glamour of the ’80s and brought it back to reality. Even though it’s been played over and over, it has this raw energy that’s so inspiring to me.
Australian guitar shredder Orianthi helped out in the studio. Is she performing on stage with you?
She’s touring at the moment, so we won’t be playing live together. She can play. She’s a real virtuoso. There’s not many female guitarists out there. At least I don’t know too many…
Just as we consider correcting him, Garrett answers “one of his other three cell phones.” He places our phone down—without putting us on hold—and berates someone, presumably from his managerial team, in his German accent. After three long, awkward minutes, he remembers us. But the conversation is finished.
David Garrett visits [node:31501 link=Chicago Theatre;] Sunday 13.