‘I was 5 when I studied the violin. At 19, I rebelled and moved to Ireland thinking music was not my future’

What I do: Guided by his parents in Slovakia, the Kildare-based musician Vladimir Jablokov began studying the violin at the age of five. His dedication to the instrument has, for better or worse, shaped his life

I grew up in the wonderful city of Bratislava in Slovakia on the banks of Danube. I was very close to music since the day I was born. My parents were full-time violinists. When I was five they asked whether I’d like to study violin. I enjoyed it. The only problem was, I was never asked that question again. From age 14 I was with a conservatory of music, where the only career option is music.

I started to question, do I really want to be a classical musician for the rest of my days? I rebelled. I’m 19, I go to Ireland, the farthest in Europe I could travel without a visa. I didn’t have a single word of English. I had €650. Everyone told me I’m mad. I had a backpack, sleeping bag, tent and tools to survive in the wilderness, because I see a few pictures from Co Clare. No research whatsoever. When I arrived to O’Connell Street, I realise I’m not going to live for long on €650. I was 19, proving parents and everyone else wrong, so ringing my parents for money or return flight was not an option.

Three days into my adventure, I said I’m going to busk on Grafton St for a short time. Music was not going to be my future. But I found tunes I enjoyed and people enjoyed. The biggest struggle was the first winter. I played in Temple Bar until sometimes 4am, frozen, and people after Christmas are not as generous. I know this with concerts now, being a promoter as well as performer. But March came and the weather improved. In early April, I built my first band with musicians from Slovakia. We had a CD out by July, mainly Strauss and Viennese music, Hungarian dances. In 2006 we had a second band.

From 2007 I took full leadership, invited musicians from abroad, started the Slovak Festival Orchestra. First violin, second violin, viola and double bass. Sometimes piano, percussion. They were busy times. We did a national tour. Sometimes we had more people on stage than in the audience. We played Mozart, Queen of the Night aria with a soprano, then Nessun dorma, Strauss because it was my favourite, Gypsy Airs by Sarasate. In 2008 we had 48 players from Slovakia in Marley Park, for City Council summer concerts.


I only made the decision to stay three years ago. My wife Nicola and I decided, “Why break something that works?”. We enjoy living in the country in Kildare. We want to bring our kids up in this country.

My dad passed away in August 2021. I played Four Seasons to him over Zoom a month beforehand. He was in love with this composition. I performed it for the first time two months after his death, in an arrangement with just a few players. We did visuals to add to the soundtrack that was written 300 years ago. We toured the quartet across arts centres in 2022. It was successful. I said, “Let’s bring this farther, let’s go for the full shebang.”

I’m working with the RTÉ orchestra on our new arrangement of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons for a 21st century audience. It is the most recorded and performed composition of all time, perhaps. Our arrangement is based even more closely to Vivaldi’s original manuscript, which is 300 years old in 2025. We don’t know exactly how they used to play it 300 years ago. There are no recordings.

Antonio Vivaldi’s original composition is for just a string orchestra with Basso Continuo. Generally it’s 15 or 20 players, with harpsichord. We added the brass section, woodwind, four percussionists, even a modern drum set for some parts. The combination of the harpsichord with the drum kit creates a certain timbre. Vivaldi used harpsichord a bit like percussion. We added other instruments that were not in Vivaldi’s times, like wind machine or thunder sheets, that people know from movies. This arrangement is like a movie soundtrack; Vivaldi wrote it 300 years ago like a movie soundtrack too.

My youngest brother Viktor lives in Bratislava. He is conducting. My brother Anton in Switzerland is joining us for the second half, doing violin duets with me of popular classics: Those Were the Days, Que Sera Sera, Bohemian Rhapsody, Bella Ciao. It’s more personal and it will get people to clap along. Anton plays several styles: classical, gypsy, jazz. The only time people criticise him is when it comes to tiddle-tiddly! They say he’s playing it too fast, because he wants to show off.

I tried to play Irish music. I just cannot. I have to have sheet music, remember music as a mathematical structure, what finger, what melody, what position and it has to be exact. Maybe I should spend more time in the pubs and after a few pints I will be exactly in time for Irish music! – In conversation with Deirdre Falvey

Violinist Vladimir Jablokov and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra present Four Seasons Explained, Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin, May 24-25.