San Francisco State UniversityA-ZSearchCalendarNeed help?News

SF State News
SF State News Home
SFSU in the News
Events Calendar
Gator Sports News

Expert commentary
Expert Commentary 1
Expert Commentary 2
Expert Commentary 3

For Journalists
News Releases
Faculty Experts
Public Affairs Staff

For Faculty
Submit a News Item
Be an Expert Source
Working with the  Media

SFSU Publications
SFSU Magazine

Public Affairs

Prof plucked to teach Richard Gere violin for film

December 2, 2005

Photo of Jassen TodorovWhen producers of the new film "Bee Season" asked members of SFSU's Alexander String Quartet to recommend a violin instructor who could teach Richard Gere how to play for his role, Assistant Professor Jassen Todorov was the first name that came up.

Todorov, a colleague and friend of SFSU's quartet in residence, is a master violinist who has performed the complete works of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Grieg and Schubert at SFSU. He is considered one of the most prized young musicians in his native Bulgaria and one of the most prominent violinists of his generation.

From January to April, for up to three two-hour sessions per week, Todorov taught Gere to play -- or to look as if he is playing -- a passage from Bach's Chaconne for Solo Violin for a scene in the film. The film, based on Myla Golderg's novel, was shot in and around Oakland. It opened in November in the Bay Area, with credit to Todorov for teaching Gere the violin for the dramatic role.

"I watched his face and hands in the movie, and I was very happy and very proud, to say the least," Todorov said. "He did very well in those scenes. He was a great student. I was there all the way, during shooting. We practiced very hard, and we accomplished a very difficult task together."

Gere was different from Todorov's typical student in that he was practically a beginner. Luckily, Gere had taken a few violin lessons and plays piano and guitar. Having learned to dance for his Golden Globe-winning role in the film "Chicago" was also a bonus.

Photo of Jassen Todorov and Richard Gere on the set of "Bees Season""[Gere] was determined to play well," Todorov said. "He wanted to succeed, not just to look as if he played well, but go several steps farther. He practiced a lot. His wife was sometimes unhappy with his practicing so much in the very beginning, but he is very talented. He has a good ear and plays other instruments. All of this contributed to him being a fast learner."

Todorov continued to teach music classes and conduct the symphony orchestra at SFSU while giving evening lessons at the Geres' temporary Oakland Hills home. Todorov isn't expecting an acceptance speech nod by Gere, should the actor receive an Oscar for his performance, but Todorov does consider Gere a friend.

"We worked on a one-on-one basis, so you develop a bond," Todorov said. "We spent time together and shared stories. We talked about families, life experiences and funny experiences. After all, with two hours together, and lots of breaks in between playing, I was able to get to know him. We became friends."

Todorov instructs all of SF State's undergraduate and graduate violin students. He teaches courses in chamber music literature, career management in music, music theory and string methods. Some of his former students now play as orchestra soloists in the Bay Area and beyond, including the Manila Philharmonic.

Sophia Yurima, a senior studying under Todorov, said Gere was lucky to learn from her teacher.

"[Todorov] is passionate about music, that's for sure," Yurima said. "He's an excellent player and a patient teacher. He gives little details about technique and shows you how things work."

Todorov has spent time in front of the camera, too. As a child he played the violin for television commercials and performed recitals on Bulgarian television. He is also a bit of a movie buff, claiming such films as "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest," "Life is Beautiful," "The Cider House Rules" and "Forrest Gump" as favorites. Will he ever teach another actor to play violin?

"I would love to do it again and could do it even better next time," he said.

-- Student Writer Gary Moskowitz with Matt Itelson


San Francisco State University

Home     Search     Need Help?    

1600 Holloway Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94132    (415) 338-1111
Last modified December 2, 2005 by University Communications