A prison isn’t usually considered an ideal place for a classical music performance, but violinist Gidon Kremer turned The Pacific Institution in Abbotsfield, B.C. into a concert hall when he played for a crowd of inmates last Wednesday.
Kremer, who has been playing classical violin for over 50 years, has performed in some of the world’s most prestigious concert halls. But he considers listening to music a transformative experience for everyone.
“I think music is something that can give warmth to everyone in trouble, in prison or not in prison,” said 72-year-old Kremer.
About a quarter of the inmates signed up to hear Preludes to a Lost Time by Mieczyslaw Weinberg and Chaconne by J. S. Bach played by Kremer on his 379-year-old Amati violin.
The concert was organized by the Looking at the Stars Foundation, a Toronto-based charity that brings classical music to places without access to traditional music venues. The Foundation was created by Dmitri Kanovich, who came to Canada as a refugee from Lithuania and went on to a successful career in information technology. A lover of classical music, Kanovich says he created the foundation as way of giving back to his adopted country and helping prisoners begin to recover and prepare to rejoin society.
The inmates were searched by prison guards and a dog before they were allowed into the gymnasium, which served as the performance space. The Pacific Institution is a federal penitentiary, and inmates there are serving time for everything from murder to property crimes.
Robert, an inmate who came to the show to hear the violin, said he would like to see a classical music program in the prison.
“For the lower-functioning inmates, it would be good for them for therapy,” he said. “They come out of their bubble. They come out of their shell.”
After the concert was over, inmates were given the opportunity to ask Kremer questions about his career, music, and the history of his violin. They also thanked him for coming to play.
“I have to say that in some ways they were more attentive or more enthusiastic compared to some concert audiences,” said Kremer. “I’m happy to have been here.”