Igor Ozim

My teacher, Professor Igor Ozim, passed away very recently, on 23 March 2024. I came to his class as an 18-year-old, fresh from a series of summer master classes with him in his home country Slovenia, and in Semmering and Klagenfurt, Austria. Professor Ozim cared greatly for his students. Unable to afford studies in Switzerland, he sent me a list of competitions I could play at, in order to obtain the necessary financial basis upon which to study in his class in Bern. I won one of those competitions, and travelled from Dublin, a violin case in one hand, suitcase in the other.

Some of the most immersive years into the art of violin-playing ensued. Having been a student of Herman Krebbers throughout my teens, a teacher who encouraged confidence, self-assuredness and a focus on the concerti and bravura repertoire, I found myself suddenly in a “back to basics” scenario, something the majority of Prof. Ozim’s students experienced. Open strings, scales, etudes - from Ševčík and Kreutzer to the other end of the spectrum with Wieniawski, Paganini, Ernst - became a part of daily practice, weekly lessons and monthly class concerts. I won’t pretend I loved it. I did not. It was gruelling. It was merciless.
But I found myself transforming from day one. Where before, time was a casual witness of life as it passed, now being two minutes late for a lesson meant that I was told in no uncertain terms that if it happened again, I would not receive tuition. I came fifteen minutes early to every single lesson with Professor Ozim from that point on.
Where before I floated along on talent, now I developed a curiosity about how things worked: that particular technique, the history of how a certain piece came into being, the benefit of not practising, not slowly, but in slow motion.

Where before I rocked up to class playing off by heart, now it was insisted upon that every first performance of any piece was played from the score.
Intonation and rhythm - there’s not an Ozim student on the planet who can’t rattle off a list of pieces they learned with him where those basic skills, alongside a complete understanding of the score, weren’t first priority.
And vibrato! He had a book in which he invited his students from all over the world to translate a “vibrato prayer”. My contribution was in Dutch and the prayer was something along the lines of:

“Dear God,
Grant me that I vibrate:
- all first and fourth fingers
- the first short note after a long one
- the last note before and the first note after a shift
- the culminating note of a shift
- when I cross a string
- and in diminuendo

I’m a stage animal, but he refused to let me perform in public for 6 months, much to the agitation of my manager at that time. He insisted on recalibrating how I approached performance - despite the fact that I felt I didn’t need any tweaking. He said: “Gwendolyn, I’m not a psychologist. But I’m a great psychologist.” And it was true.
Professor Ozim encouraged me to ask questions, and once he felt my cage could not be rattled, he supported my interpretations, no matter how idiosyncratic. As long as I could explain why. I’ve rarely met a violinist who could explain things as clearly as he could. Systematic. Considered. Burning with curiosity.
A formidable amount of repertoire was in his fingers and his seemingly endless library of music was meticulously curated. Baroque, classical, romantic, modern, contemporary. He loved it all, he had mastered it all.
His students rifled through pages and pages of his scores, stealing fingerings, copying bowings, thankful for every bit of information we could glean from him.
He taught non-stop, travelling by train between his professorships in Bern, Cologne, Vienna, Madrid, Sweden. Always punctual. With a razor-sharp sense of humour in the plentiful languages he spoke. We would wait for that chuckle, that curl of a smile when he made jokes.

When years after completing my studies with other masters like Ana Chumachenco, Zakhar Bron and Shmuel Ashkenasi, I found myself in need of instilling a calmness to the abundance of knowledge that had been imparted to me, he was the first to suggest I write about it. A PhD followed, in which he offered interview after interview so I could attempt to consolidate even a drop in the ocean of all I learned from him.
When I first called the GAIA Music Festival into being in Switzerland in 2009, he taught masterclasses at it and gave chamber music concerts, alongside other greats sadly passed, like Vladimir Mendelssohn, and those still vibrant in life like Frans Helmerson, Philippe Graffin, and Professor Ozim’s wife, our classmate and formidable teacher Wonji Kim. I told Professor Ozim from the start that we didn’t have the funding yet to pay him properly. He told me to spend his fee on scholarships for interested students.

Some days after learning of Professor Ozim’s passing, as scores of his former students paid their respects – I read those from my classmate Patricia Kopatchinskaya, as well as Roberto González-Monjas and Kurt Sassmannshaus – I caught myself in a smile. A sentence that my mother spoke right after she heard the sad news had caught up with me: “a teacher lives on through his students”. I was in the midst of teaching a student and had just pointed out that, “this slur across two notes signifies a diminuendo”. It’s one of the countless gems that the Prof. frequently imparted. Trust me, with that knowledge, Mozart will never sound the same again.
Later, practising Camille Saint-Saëns' "Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso" that I am preparing for an upcoming tour, my eyes flitted over familiar handwriting – the markings of Professor Igor Ozim. This man’s thoughts on bowings and positions changes were jumping off the page. Professor Ozim’s endless curiousity led him to be well-known for his editions of some of the greatest works in the violin literature, including a particularly eye-opening perspective on Mendelssohn’s violin concerto, published in the early 2000’s, where nearly every phrase was turned on its head and challenged.

His students are all high fliers - concert masters, section leaders, soloists, chamber musicians.

I miss being in that weekly class with them, and I miss him.
“Dear God,
Please give us the chance to keep imparting what Professor Ozim taught us.
He was a leading light and will be greatly missed.

> You can read Professor Ozim’s views on violin teaching by downloading my thesis (free of charge).

> Or watch an interview I conducted with him for GAIA Music Festival here.

> Read The Strad Magazine obituary here.

> Read Schweizer Musikzeitung obituary here.