David Radzynski grew up among a musical family. David Radzynski grew up among a musical family. David Radzynski grew up in a musical family. (Photo: Courtesy AFIPO)

How a 28-year-old landed the top job at a world-renowned orchestra

A chance encounter led to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Yale student David Radzynski.

For classical violinists, few jobs are as sought after as that of the concertmaster. To earn the title at a prestigious orchestra as a fresh-faced 28-year-old graduate seems unlikely. Yet that's what happened to David Radzynski when he was appointed concertmaster of the renowned Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO) earlier this year.

The orchestra’s concertmaster is known – rather tellingly – as the leader. Indeed, leading is exactly what this role entails. Concertmasters are not only tasked with performing any solo parts required in an orchestral score, but are also in charge of setting the tone on stage and carrying out the conductor’s musical vision. The members of the orchestra pick up cues on dynamics, tempo and nuance and emphases of phrasing through the concertmaster’s bowing and gestures. Their duties don’t end when they exit the stage, either; principal violinists also represent the orchestra at official functions.

That's a lot of responsibility, particularly for a violinist undertaking his first orchestra gig. Before this appointment, Radzynski had never played in a professional orchestra, never mind led one. So how did someone as young as he end up in the first chair of one of the finest orchestras in the world? That tale, like most success stories, involves a whole lot of hard work and a dollop of luck.

Radzynski was born in New Haven, Connecticut. Music was in his genes. His father is a composer and a professor of composition and theory at Ohio State University, and his mother is a pianist. In fact, it was Radzynski’s mother who first began providing musical instruction, beginning to teach him piano at the tender age of 3. At 6, he took up the instrument that would become his musical tool of choice: the violin.

As he grew older, his natural aptitude for music became apparent. It wasn’t long until the prizes and accolades began pouring in. In 2001, Radzynski was the winner of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra Young Musicians Competition, and in 2006, he was awarded first prize in the solo competition of the American String Teachers’ Association. Radzynski received a bachelor's in music from Indiana University and a master's from the Yale University School of Music before going on to study violin performance at Park University in Missouri.

A recital of Radzynski’s was broadcast on an Israeli classical music radio show. This performance caught the attention of another Israeli-American musician, Simca Heled, who happened to be listening at that exact moment. Heled, who was the former principal cellist of the IPO, was impressed by what he had heard. He reached out to Radzynski – a connection that would ultimately help propel Radzynski into the esteemed role.

Six years later, and a confluence of luck, fate and hard work led to a huge career breakthrough for Radzynski. The first stroke of good timing was the job opening itself, which followed the IPO’s long-time concertmaster Lazar Shuster’s retirement after almost four decades at the helm.

"My parents took me to concerts all the time and I was drawn to the violin," says David Radzynski."My parents took me to concerts all the time and I was drawn to the violin," says David Radzynski. (Photo: Courtesy American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra)

As the IPO began searching for a replacement, Heled – who was then playing in a series of chamber music concerts with Radzynski – suggested they consider the young musician for the role. Having gotten in touch with the IPO, Heled arranged for the promising violinist to perform for the IPO’s internationally acclaimed music director, maestro Zubin Mehta. Despite the fact that this initial performance was rather last-minute, he still managed to impress.

Radzynski had to prove his mettle. Several audition rounds required him to play excerpts from orchestral works and solos and to perform the Brahms Violin Concerto with the orchestra and its conductor, as well as playing several concertmaster solos for the judges. Evidently it went well, as shortly thereafter, Radzynski joined Yigal Tuneh and Ilya Konovalov in the esteemed ranks of the IPO’s rotating concertmasters. Just like that, the young violinist went from graduate student to first fiddle of a first-rate orchestra.

Besides the professional change of pace required by his new appointment, Radzynski also faced a big lifestyle change. Seizing this opportunity with the IPO meant moving to Israel. He's been enjoying his new life in Tel Aviv, praising the warmth and openness of the people as well as the support he has received from his fellow orchestra colleagues.

Radzynski is one of many young artists joining the orchestra’s ranks. In recent years, a large number of the IPO’s veteran musicians have retired, making way for an influx of younger talent. The IPO’s new members are injecting youthful vitality for a new generation of orchestral enthusiasts.


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