When Yulia Ziskel and Joe Deninzon met as students at Indiana University, they were surprised by how much they had in common: They had both moved to the United States from St. Petersburg, Russia, with their families (Deninzon at age 4 and Ziskel at age 17), and they had both been classically trained in the violin from a young age.
The connection between them was immediate.
Today, the New Jersey-based couple is married and living in Dumont in Bergen County, where they are raising their two children and still playing the violin—but now professionally.
Deninzon comes from a family of musicians. His father was a violinist in the Cleveland Orchestra, and his mother was a concert pianist. Ziskel comes from a family of engineers, but has always had a natural gift for music. A neighbor who heard Ziskel singing brought her to her first violin lesson.
Ziskel is now a first violin in the New York Philharmonic, continuing her love of classical music. Deninzon, on the other hand, decided to combine his violin skills with his love of rock music, and today leads the progressive rock band Stratospheerius playing an electric violin—a head-turner of an instrument.
“Electric violins have been around for 70 years or more, but it’s still a novelty to a lot of people,” says Deninzon. “My goal is to educate people…about what’s possible with this instrument, and younger musicians with how you can work as an electric string player.”
The couple says their genre difference is a positive thing. “It’s a blessing we have never taken the same audition together,” says Ziskel. “It’s like having two different jobs. We can appreciate each other’s worlds, but we don’t overlap.”
Deninzon agrees: “We know our strengths and weaknesses. At the same time, if Yulia has had a long day and she wants to tell me about something that happened in the orchestra or some repertoire she’s working on, I totally understand what she’s talking about, and I can support her that way.”
Like most musicians, their line of work depends heavily on live performances, which were put on hold when the Covid-19 pandemic struck in 2020. The couple soon had to find new ways to get their music out to the world.
Deninzon began teaching violin lessons online, and Ziskel and the New York Philharmonic performed outdoor shows all over New York City as the NY Phil Bandwagon. The couple see the temporary halt in their careers as a silver lining.
“We got to spend more quality time together as a family,” says Deninzon, who shares son Max, 14, and daughter Arianna, 9, with Ziskel. “We’re usually so busy running around playing concerts and touring. It was great to calm down, and it made us appreciate a lot of the things that we have.”
Ziskel and Deninzon have since returned to performing live, and they want the world to know that, while the violin is a renowned classical instrument, there’s much more to it than meets the ear.
They also hope to use their music to move people.
“If you are proficient at what you do, you can really touch souls with your instrument,” says Ziskel. “I sure hope that I can touch other lives with what I do, with the sound I produce on this instrument, with my proficiency, and as a part of my New York Philharmonic family.”
Deninzon’s band is set to realease its latest album, Behind the Curtain: Live from ProgStock, on May 18.
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