I caught Pinchas Zukerman for a chat when he was in town giving masterclasses at Cadogan Hall not long ago. He is a mesmerising person on stage, holding forth to the audience and students alike with his memories and anecdotes about the great musicians with whom he studied, and the youngsters who were playing to him seemed to be lapping up his every word. The violin's history is aural, in more ways than one: this is how its traditions, secrets and marvels are passed down most effectively. “My teacher, Ivan Galamian, used to say
that if it sounds good, you feel good,” Zukerman told us all. “I’d put it the other way too: if it feels good, it’ll sound good.” He's back in the UK with his NAC Orchestra this week and I have a short piece in today's Indy about what they're doing, where and why...
After the outbreak of World War I, some 30,000 Canadian troops came to the UK and underwent military training on Salisbury Plain. Now a Canadian orchestra is following in their footsteps – at least as far as the town’s cathedral. Ottawa’s National Arts Centre Orchestra plays there on 29 October, part of a tour in which they celebrate the links between the two countries. At the helm is their music director Pinchas Zukerman, one of today’s most celebrated violinists and a dab hand, too, with the conductor’s baton.
Zukerman, 66, started out as a child prodigy in his native Israel, where the influential violinist Isaac Stern spotted him and encouraged him to study in New York; he rose to stardom during the 1960s-70s. Today, though, there is still a pugnacious energy about him, an unshakeable determination to forge ahead with big ideas. I catch him after a masterclass at London’s Cadogan Hall and find him still afizz despite a long day’s work.
“Canada feels very passionately about this anniversary,” Zukerman declares. “One of the high points for the orchestra is of course performing at Salisbury Cathedral, and with my connection with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra [he is its principal guest conductor] it also seemed the perfect idea to do a concert with both orchestras together at the Royal Festival Hall.” In that concert on 27 October, the ensembles combine for Beethoven’s Symphony No.9, which concludes with the ‘Ode to Joy’.
During his 15 years at the NAC – this is his final season – Zukerman has shaken up the orchestra, expanding it to more than 60 players and implementing a pioneering programme of education and outreach work, including experiments in video-conferencing and distance learning.
“When you are lucky enough to have the kind of education I had and the kind of exposure to the great figures of music, then if you’re capable of it, you have to give back what you received,” he says. “I was fortunate to encounter the greatest musicians, not only as mentors and teachers, but also as players: Isaac Stern, some of the Budapest String Quartet’s members, the list is huge. You absorb information that you can’t really write down. You have to show, you have to play, you have to exhibit yourself, so to speak, to the youngsters – and they eat it up.”
Nor are his efforts restricted to advanced students. He recalls an occasion when he played the Brahms lullaby to a children’s music class taken by a former pupil of his wife (the NACO’s lead cellist Amanda Forsyth, his third marriage). “Afterwards one little boy said: ‘I’m on fire!’. God, that was fantastic.”
And he has encouraging words for those struggling to keep music education alive. Teaching effectively and transforming a pupil “takes time, proper teaching and follow-up,” he says. “We need to create coalitions, work together and share information. But we’re not only teaching them to be good players. We’re teaching them to be good people.”
Pinchas Zukerman and the NAC Orchestra perform with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on 27 October at the Royal Festival Hall (0844 875 0073), and at Salisbury Cathedral (01722 320 333) on 29 October
The young American pianist Christopher Falzone has died at the age of 29, taking his own life. To say that the long story behind this is tragic is not saying enough - but for the moment, please simply listen to him for a few minutes in tribute. Above, he plays his own transcription of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No.3.
I would like to quote a poem by him that appears on another Youtube video in which he improvises a polonaise (the sound quality is not great).
At last Ricki and Cosi decided to sit for their official portrait by Lord Thingy.
Cosi on the left, Ricki on the right. As you can imagine, it's not easy to get much work done with these little characters around. They're busy exploring...
Luckily it was last week, not this week, that I went off to Formigine in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy to visit the extraordinary chamber orchestra Spira Mirabilis on its home turf. I listened to them rehearsing for four hours (most UK orchestras wouldn't fancy one minute over three - and this was four hours in the afternoon, following a similar quantity that morning). With that span of intense hard work punctuated only by a brief break for Italian coffee, they covered all of about nine minutes - if that - of Colin Matthews.
And here is a bonus bit. This is what Lorenza Borrani, leader of both Spira and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, said when I asked her if she'd ever thought about becoming a conductor - because I reckon she has the drive, the personality and the expertise to carry it off, should she so wish.
"It sounds a bit superficial, but the figure of a
woman conducting doesn’t drive me. Maybe because I haven’t been amazed by one: I have pictures of great conductors, men, I have never seen one
inspirational woman. I'm trying to speak very honestly: you have concerts by Claudio [Abbado], Harnoncourt...but nothing so strong happened to me in my life
to make me say 'wow, that’s really so'. When you are young you have
inspiration and you think 'Wow, I would like to be like that', and this it didn’t
happen. Not that you have to have examples from the same sex as you, but to
have the wish, if I want to have inspiration... I felt sometimes, since I direct
COE, that they need to know the job because it would make my life easier; I
wouldn’t like to stand in front of the orchestra, not being part of the group. And actually conducting studies in
school is something every musician should do, and I'm happy that here [at Spira] we do it." So you see the importance of role models. This is why we need to encourage more women to become conductors, and give opportunities to the ones there are to shine, because otherwise the lack of role models becomes a self-perpetuating situation. As for dumping the maestro altogether, Spira can pull it off - but it takes a great deal of doing. If you know a young conservatoire musician aged 16-19 who feels she would like the chance simply to give it a go, I can heartily recommend the course at Morley College started last year by Andrea Brown and Alice Farnham. More about it here.
Ricki and Cosi are Somali cats. A bit like longhaired Abyssinians. I met some Somali cats about 16 years ago and thought they were the most wonderful animals in all the world. Have harboured a secret longing for a Somali of my own ever since.
They are pedigrees, and consequently highish maintenance. (They even have official Pedigree names: they are "Somantikks Siegfried and Isolde"...don't ask...) When Solti "crossed the rainbow bridge" a few months ago, life without him was so dismal that we knew we'd need someone very, very special in his place...and here they are. They are now three months and one week old. The biggest challenge is getting them to keep still for long enough to have their pictures taken.
Cosi is a "usual silver" girl. Ricki is a "chocolate silver" boy. (I had to have a chocolate cat, didn't I?). Top photo: settling in with the help of a stalwart favourite kitty-toy - scrunched-up foil. Bottom: at mummy-cat's home, me with Ricki.
Nobody guessed their names. They could have been Harnoncat and Dudamiaow, or Darius Mihau and Germaine Tailfur, or many other musical permutations. But the best thing we've done all year is go to Bayreuth, so go figure.
Ricki is a small cat with a loud miaow and a very big personality. Cosi is the larger of the two, shyer but very soft and adorable. Their favourite game so far is chasing each other and they are settling in very quickly.
I'm not sure how I will ever be able to get any work done again.
In other news, I very much regret to say that the planned Hungarian Dances concert at the Bishopsgate Institute on Thursday evening is now not happening, due to circumstances beyond our control.
And due to other circumstances beyond our control, the 23 November Alicia's Gift concert for the International Wimbledon Music Festival, originally planned for the Orange Tree Theatre, has been moved to the Rutherford Theatre of Wimbledon High School, Mansel Road, London SW19 4AB. There will now be just one performance, at 2.30pm. Please contact the festival box office for further details, and there are some special offers available. http://www.wimbledonmusicfestival.co.uk/boxoffice.html
Apparently Mercury is in retrograde and there's also an eclipse due on Thursday. I couldn't possibly comment.