talking to


Today we have a guest who is very dear to my heart, Maestro Gabriel Croitoru, a violinist with an exceptional national and international artistic career. He is a professor at the National University of Music ­Bucharest. Early on in his career he won the most important international violin contests: the Wieniawski, in Poland; the Sarasate, in Spain; the Tibor Varga, in Switzerland; the ­Paganini, in Italy; and the Fritz Kreisler, in Austria. Since 2008 he has been playing on the violin that belonged to George Enescu, crafted by the famous luthier Giuseppe Guarneri in 1730. This violin, called “The Cathedral”, was bought by Enescu, who preferred a Guarneri del Gesù violin to a Stradivarius one. Gabi, thank you for the honour of accepting this interview for MASONIC FORUM.
Thank you for the invitation, Claudiu.

You are one of the few personalities in Romania who do not hide the fact that they belong to Freemasonry. Please explain to us why you don’t have any reservations in the matter.
Because it seems to me that first of all it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of. To be part of and belong to a Brotherhood that boasts – and has boasted over the years – only famous names, or largely famous names, is, I think, something to be proud of. Of course, I can’t speak for anyone else, as we all know, but for me – why not? It’s true that I haven’t made a big fuss about it, but I never hid the fact that I belonged to the Order either.

A key-question, Gabi: what is Freemasonry to you? Please describe your Masonic journey.
Thanks to Freemasonry I have increasingly had the opportunity of meeting people who I wouldn’t have met otherwise, quality people who aren’t in my circle of acquaintances from the musical field – because that’s where I work. I think that for each of us the fact that we belong to the same organization improves our life, makes us better, as it should. It’s not always the case, but most often it is. Of course you learn new and interesting things, as long as you are open and you like to go there. I, for one, have always felt that I go there to learn interesting things, I go with an open heart, I meet my brethren and don’t see anything stopping others from doing the same. After all, what do we do – we usually navigate in our own sphere of influence, each of us in their own field. What Masonry does is it brings us together and creates the opportunity of improving our sphere of action. I joined Freemasonry in 2008 – there, it coincides with the year when I won the right of playing this wonderful violin – and at that time I was raised, I reached the Master degree. I got pretty far in the Rite as well. Degrees aren’t event that important, in the end it’s not something to be boastful of, I never sought to be raised. But it happened that I could help left and right and, thanks to these things which were observed somewhere, I was raised in the degrees. I’m talking about the Scottish Rite here – in the Craft Lodge things happen sort of automatically, on the basis of the Tracing Boards which we all do. There are people who have tried and will continue trying to clamber – “clamberers” I call them – on the shoulders of other Mason Brethren because in their outside life they don’t have recognition they think they deserve. So they say to themselves “let’s clamber on the shoulders of others and see which of us turns up in front”. It is my estimation that we are Brethren, we are equals, as we all know, and that sort of status isn’t something to be prideful of. Actually, it is something to be proud of, but not simply the fact that you were raised in the Degree. After all, that’s not our purpose.

Absolutely. You are an accomplished person, Gabi, and I dare say that Freemasonry is proud to have among its members personalities such as yourself. It’s natural, because that’s what gives it value. Those at the apex give value to the structure.
I remember my Masonic parrain, his name was George Buluță – I am referring to him in the past tense because he is no longer with us. He told me: “Look into my eyes. This is your moment of joining. You won’t be playing the violin any better from now and don’t imagine that people are going to look at you in a better sort of way. True, they will know you and what you are about and you, in turn, will have the opportunity of knowing them. But if you’re here to self-exalt yourself, you’re on the wrong track.” I can sadly see that there are many doing this. We have characters of our own, but there’s no garden without its weeds.

Have you met Freemasons in your international activity as a musician? Did it lead to a better collaboration or interaction with them?
I have had numerous opportunities to meet Brethren from other countries. I don’t know that it necessary led to an ulterior collaboration, but we’ve certainly kept in touch and every time I went there we met (or when they came to Bucharest). An example comes to mind: a former high-school and university colleague who, after we got our bachelor’s, in ’87, left the country. He emigrated, because it was before ’89. We lost track of each other for about twenty years. Twenty years later, one day I was at university and I see him in a neat little suite, tie, white shirt and all – this is 10 in the morning, right? “How are you, I haven’t seen you in ages!” “Well, you know, I’m ok…” “Why are you dressed up like that, where are you headed?” “I’m going to meet some friends.” It seemed a bit early to be dressed to the nines, so I say “Did you change jobs? Are you working for a multinational now?” “No, no, but…” Ok, I didn’t press him any further, he didn’t say anything else, so fifteen minutes after we part ways he calls me: “Why didn’t you tell me you were a Freemason?” “Hey, I did ask where you were going!” He learned from the Brethren that he saw me and they asked him if he sent me their regards. Of course not, because he didn’t know! He is currently a member of the Grand Lodge of Portugal, as a Grand Organist (Director of Music). I don’t know if we have this, I don’t think we do.

As a professor, as someone who has shaped generations of musicians, do you think that the younger and less young generations have lost their historical and cultural points of reference? What are the consequences of the young generation’s losing of the historical points of reference and how severe do you think this loss is?
I think that the points of reference have changed. They have other priorities. When I was in school and was taught by professors there weren’t as many temptations and there weren’t as many financial demands, let’s call them that. Young people today are torn in too many directions and can’t handle all the demands anymore. But I’ve seen that in the last 10 years the situation has improved. Those who truly wish to learn an instrument – and I’m referring to those who are gifted, because there are also people who go to university but not always have a calling for the profession they wish to practice; I’m referring to those who have a God-given ­talent and have the opportunity to learn from others who are still performing on stage – put in the ­effort. You can see that these people want it and actually get it. Basically, a large portion of them have left the country – I’m referring to previous generations of students; I have been teaching at the university since 1990. A large number of former students thicken the ranks of famous foreign orchestras. I can also give examples of peers of mine who have chosen to go abroad. I wasn’t drawn by this, quite the contrary, I might say. I have had more than one opportunity to leave, and yet I chose to stay here. I think I was the one who did the right thing, not the other way around. Ultimately, of course, it’s a personal option, but I don’t think they had it better or I had it worse because of it. Each of us went their own path. I would even say that now, gradually, my generations is coming back home, while the others, the young people, aren’t at all tempted to leave the country. It’s encouraging and gratifying for philharmonics, for conductors, for the future generation of soloists. I think there’s also the power of example – not just mine, there are others. Through the advice we give and through all the ideas we try to inoculate to the young people we have contributed to their staying in the country and supporting Romanian culture, because ultimately this is what it’s all about.

You talked about an exodus – indeed, after 1990 there was a massive exodus, from all social strata. It’s true, there were very many capable people who left but, in my travels abroad, I have seen that not even the elite are all that well-integrated in the communities there, even if they probably live much better than they would have in Romania.
You always win on one aspect and lose on another. It ultimately depends from person to person what they consider to be more important in their private life. We’re not talking just about professional accomplishment. I think that I have had plenty of professional accomplishment even staying in Romania. It’s true that some of my peers have surpassed me from a financial standpoint, but by doing a job which I wasn’t willing to do, and that is to play in an orchestra. I have always liked to play as a soloist. It’s true that I’ve had the opportunity to do so ever since I was quite young. I’ve stuck to this idea – as a friend of mine says, “ideas few in number, but fixed” – and here I am at almost 60 and still not being tired of what I do. A very smart friend of mine told me: in life if you manage to do what you like and also make a living out of it, then you’re the happiest man alive. If you also have a family, then the picture is complete. Otherwise, you will be happy on one side, unsatisfied on another and you’ll always have something to bicker about or something to regret. I have no regrets.

That’s amazing!
It might come off as complacency, but I promise you that I feel that over the years I have evolved, not regressed. I began as a soloist, which I still am, at some point – that is, for 20-odd years now – I have become part of a chamber ensemble that belongs to the Transylvania Philharmonic in Cluj-Napoca, I am lead violin in the Transylvanian Quartet and starting from 1990 I have been teaching at university. I remember when I gave the exam for becoming a university professor. I had to hold a lesson, apart from the recital that was compulsory for anyone who wanted to apply. I was thinking that if I got a student who was too good, I wouldn’t have anything to say to him: if I got a student who was too unprepared, then he wouldn’t understand anything I had to explain to him. I was stressed out about it! In the meantime I have lost this stress, a few years have passed since then, to be fair. On the contrary, nowadays when I see others, much younger, who have the same thoughts I feel I have something to say to them, I can teach from experience.

Our country has always been at the crossroads ­between East and West. Let us now move on to the artistic field. The Russians have heavily supported excellence in art, they named artists emeritus, artists of the people and so on. On the other hand, the West did the same – the English raised the important ones to nobility, made them Sirs or Dames, the French gave them the Legion of ­Honour… In our country there’s total chaos, or at least that’s how I view it.
In our country too, during the time of the communists, there were titles for those in front, i.e. soloists and conductors. If we look back to my generation – I consider a generation as around twenty years apart, not ten –, basically everyone has received titles from the state, such as Artist of the people or Artist emeritus, on the basis on how they were recommended, probably, I don’t know the criteria. At any rate, all those who have had and still have these titles are personalities, in the cultural field at least. They weren’t awarded these titles for nothing. There were a lot fewer Artists of the people because they were exempt from taxes, among other things. Of course, being part of the Soviet sphere of influence after World War II, we inherited bad things, for the most part, but there were also good things. Take, for instance, in the cultural field, since this is our topic of conversation, the fact that over the years we have had continuity. I’m referring to conductors and soloists, it doesn’t matter if operatic or symphonic. Basically, these people had the opportunity to develop their careers. But not only theirs, because orchestras benefit from a conductor they know very well. Now, on the other side, in the West, there wasn’t and still isn’t such a practice. We can take Karajan – he conducted Berlin his whole life, didn’t he? On the other hand, Celibidache died as the lead conductor of Munich. So there were many exceptions to that rule, but in the West they never gave a life annuity, so to say, as a form of salary, for someone to permanently handle this – on the contrary, every two-three years everyone feels somewhat chased away and forced to leave elsewhere, something which I don’t think is necessarily in the benefit of the orchestra or the public. So we did have good things as well. For the time being we still hang on to them. I don’t know how long they will keep permanent tenure for conductors and soloists, but I think that offering young people the possibility to go down this path, to choose a profession and do it increasingly better is something to be praised. We’ll see. It’s hard to say what will happen, I don’t think anybody knows.

Will we still have valuable artists, Gabi?
Yes, we already do. Let’s take my generation, who is on its home stretch; behind us we already have a generation – again, 25 years apart – of young people who are today between 30 and 40 years old and do their job really well, both in the country and abroad, and have international recognition. And in the university, to go another 20 years down, there is hope that we will continue to have who to promote in the artistic field. Of course, I am talking about violinists here, because them I know best by having been in my care for such a long time.

Speaking of students and work: you play on ­Enescu’s violin and I know he used to say that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Can you comment on that, please?
I don’t know that the percentages are similar between us, in my view in Enescu’s remark there’s a bit too much perspiration to the detriment of ­talent. But it’s clear that one without the other doesn’t work, or it works up to a certain level. To be acknowledged as a complete artist – or as close to complete as possible – you have to work, it’s clear that you can’t make it without work, but on the other hand those who lack talent can’t reach this level. Or even if they do, it takes too much and they lose their patience on the way. So I tend to agree with him, of course that’s the way things are – it’s only the percentages that I have a problem with.

How long do you work or rehearse a day?
It depends on the moment. At any rate, I don’t think there is a day without studying. Maybe it’s only on holidays that I put the violin down for a few days, otherwise I have it in my hands all the time, whether it’s for my concerts or for the students. I have had the opportunity of learning with several professors at once. I had one professor at university and another one for my private lessons, and each of them was upset on the other. I realized that the best way is to study a repertoire with one of them and another repertoire with the other – that way, they wouldn’t be fighting. It was their didactical dispute. As the beneficiary of their advice and instructions, I considered it best to study different repertoires with each of them. Every half year we would change the repertoire because we would exhaust it. The workload was different than if I had done the same thing with both of them. But it helped me a lot, because I built myself a huge repertoire. I don’t want to brag, but it really is big and sometimes I look at young people nowadays, even the talented ones, who don’t have this. They aren’t able to go beyond the routine of university, to learn something on the side. There are very few who manage to get out of it. They are probably the ones who will remain, as soloists, conductors or acknowledged artists. Those who are satisfied with doing only what the university gives them, which is the bare minimum, don’t make a winning choice in the long term.

Gabi, should we go back to the Masonic side of things, like we started the interview? Do you think the world today still needs Freemasonry like it did in the past?
Of course it does, because Freemasonry brings us closer together. And I don’t think I’m just saying that, because it’s what happened to me. That’s what we try, myself and by Lodge Brethren, to give to those around us. I have learned a great deal of things. As my Masonic parrain, George, said, I didn’t learn to play the violin better, but I’ve learnt so many things since I joined Freemasonry. But this has to be paid forward, in my view – if not, what’s the use of all the Masonic history, all the customs and traditions we have? It’s all so beautiful, in the end, if you know how to use it humanely, not pragmatically.

Very nicely said!
That’s my opinion, that’s what I believe and I think I’m not wrong. Now, it’s true, you won’t succeed every time or you won’t see the feedback you are expecting – but that means you’re obligated to try that direction only up to a point. You pluck at someone’s sleeve once, twice, but if he doesn’t want to get out of his space, you leave him there, that’s his limit. Maybe the light doesn’t reveal itself to everyone all the time. Some are closer to the end of the tunnel, others are further behind.

Have you ever recommended someone for Free­masonry? Have you ever thought someone is worthy of being your Brother?
Sure. I had and still have Brethren which I brought in wholeheartedly. There is only one that I still have doubts about, all the others I think have been deserving of the encouragement I gave them – because, ultimately, it’s an encouragement coming from the person that recommends you. He encourages you to be a different person than you were, and not for evil, but for good. With regards to one person I believe I still have my doubts. We’ll see, maybe time will light his paths and he will return to better sentiments.

Gabi, I would like you to describe yourself as a man too. Everyone knows you as an artist, as a Mason – there it is, from now on more non-Masons will know you are a member of Freemasonry, but talk to us, if you will, about Gabriel Croitoru’s private life.
I can say I have been happily married for many years now, from 1986 to be precise. We are former classmates, we’ve known each other from primary school, while at the same time being competitors, because we were peers. In the 11th grade we became friends, in the last year of university we got married and we still ­haven’t grown tired of each other. We both teach violin at the university. When I was 25 we had Simina, our daughter, who could study what else but violin? One of my professors at the time, he is now no longer with us, Ștefan Gheorghiu, told me that I was very lucky to have found my daughter’s talent at the right time. He told me that there are people who discover their talent too late and don’t have the time to do much with it anymore and they stay unsatisfied for life. “You’ve had the stroke of luck to find what she is good at, what come easy for her, and she also has your support, because both of you work in the field.” As a matter of fact, at one point the majority of students he couldn’t tutor he directed to us, thinking he hadn’t taught us everything we knew for naught, in order to carry his didactic legacy forward. Simina went on to play, she is currently working at the university, at the Department for Chamber Music, because there were too many Croitorus at the violin and she had no room left. She is doing a very fine job as a soloist, she plays beautifully. She has an 8-year-old daughter and I’ve already appeared alongside her on stage, three generations in a row playing. It’s something extremely rare. I, for instance, didn’t have musical precedents in my family – I am talking on a professional level. My daughter had both of us. My granddaughter has her mother and us too, so we really are three generations and we’ve already played together. She is appearing more and more often on stage, with no problems, very comfortable, because at this age you don’t know what it means to be nervous. There is no stage fright, you’re not afraid of the world, especially when you have people around you that you know from home and feel safe around. So she has no problem whatsoever in taking the stage. I remember Simina’s first recital, when she was about 8 or 9, when it was finished we organized a sort of buffet, and she came to ask me: “Dad, are we nervous?” So I say: “Why do you ask?” “Well, that lady over there asked me if we’re ­nervous.” “And what did you say?” “I don’t know what that means, that’s why I came to ask you – are we or are we not?” “Go tell her we aren’t.”

Thank you again, Gabi, for the honour you’ve done me and our audience. It’s not common for a Maestro to speak about two fields that in your case, in your soul, are combined – Freemasonry and music, high-class music. I am honoured, thank you so much, Gabi.
I thank you, too!