Pinchas Zukerman and the Next Generation of Musicby Crystal Chan
/ October 1, 2011
Flash version here.
Pinchas Zukerman has
been presented the National Medal of Arts by then-American president
Ronald Reagan, the Leventritt Competition Award, the King Solomon Award,
the Isaac Stern Award for Artistic Excellence, two Grammys (out of 21
nominations), an honorary doctorate, and many other prizes. But today
he is eagerly anticipating holding another type of reward: “Today
is a very auspicious day,” he says giddily. “In about three hours,
I’m going to have a little baba in my hands!” He is driving
with his daughter Natalia, a folk musician, to visit his daughter Arianna,
a soprano. And he will meet her new daughter, born on September 8, 2011,
for the very first time.
Zukerman has been
Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra conductor since 1998 and is
also principal guest conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
He has recorded well over 100 works. Continuing to perform on violin
and viola, he has played with top orchestras and famed musicians including
fellow string players Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, Lynn Harrell, and Jacqueline
du Pré (including conducting her last ever public performances). He
also has a string quintet named the Zukerman Chamber Players.
Born in Tel Aviv
in 1948—the same year Israel was born as a country—Zukerman started
on clarinet before switching to the violin at age eight. Isaac Stern
and Pablo Casals heard him play on a trip to Israel in 1962 and were
so impressed by the teenager that they arranged for him to begin studying
at Juilliard that same year. By age 21, his playing could be heard on
a disc of Tchaikovsky concerti with the London Symphony Orchestra under
Antal Doráti as well as a disc of Mendelssohn with the New York Philharmonic
under Leonard Bernstein. In 1970, he made his conducting debut with
the English Chamber Orchestra.
What Ottawa Needs
National Arts Centre
Orchestra conductor Pinchas Zukerman loves Ottawa, his adopted hometown.
But he does have a wish list for change. At its top: “What we need
is what [Montreal] just got: a new hall, a new education centre. It’s
a question of putting four or five federal institutions and individuals
together to come up with a good civic artistic plan. [This is] not only
for Ottawa, but for the country, since Ottawa should represent—it
must represent—the country because of its capital existence.” What
does the current hall need improvement on? “It needs to be refurbished,
allocated in a different way; it needs a ceiling, it needs everything!
It needs lighting, it needs better parking conditions. It should be
part of a whole arts complex. There are some political problems, financial
problems, but mainly vision. Now I think all three elements are beginning
to work together. So hopefully by 2017, for the 125th anniversary,
there will be a real refurbishing of the capital city and the capital
Forty years later,
Zukerman is still in high demand. His 2010-2011 season included over
100 performances all over North America, Europe, and Asia. His wife,
NACO principal cellist Amanda Forsyth, has described how Zukerman makes
use of all his travel time... rather eccentrically: he waves his hands
wildly, conducting to music on his headphones, all while loudly humming.
(Amanda is the daughter of composer Malcolm Forsyth; Zukerman’s daughters
are from a marriage to flutist Eugenia Zukerman; and Zukerman was also
married to Oscar-nominated actress Tuesday Weld.) He studies a score
intermittently over several months before a performance. “Preparing
to be a conductor is a life journey,” he says. “You have to give
yourself an enormous lead time to absorb the notes.” For him, you
“have to be able to lead, you have to be able to absorb, you have
to be able to also get out of the way as a conductor. These are all
elements that have to do with humanity, actually—not just conducting.
Learning to beat is not a difficult thing; it’s like learning how
to drive. But the question is: how do you drive? What car do you have?”
in music education—he founded the National Arts Centre Young Artists
Program and the Manhattan School of Music’s Zukerman Performance Program
and participates in the Rolex Artistic Mentorship program—Zukerman
emphasizes that “until we convince the government and the private
sector that the arts must continue to be the resource of the life cycle,
we’re going to become a jungle. You’ve got to have the next generation
learn the arts in the schools.” He is at his most passionate while
describing this better future for the next generation; perhaps he has
his new granddaughter in mind. He believes in the power of outreach
(such as NACO’s school concerts) and the potential of technology to
not just reach the young, but also the isolated elderly and everyone
in between. “Sooner or later, instead of just 1,500 people sitting
in a venue in a given city we might have 15,000 or 25,000 that are able
to hook up just from pushing a button on their PC,” he says. “I
hope that happens soon. Music does unite us as a power like nothing
Pinchas Zukerman in concert:
• On violin with pianist
Angela Chang. Mozart’s Sonata in G major, Beethoven’s Spring Sonata,
Brahms’s Sonatensatz and Sonata in D minor, Montreal: Oct.
10, 8:00 p.m. promusica.qc.ca
• On violin, viola,
and conducting the NACO in Ottawa. Russian Festival until Oct. 6; after
Oct. 6: 15 other concerts as part of the 2011-2012 season
• On violin, viola,
and conducting the NACO on tour in Atlantic Canada: Nov. 14-25 nac-cna.ca
Classical music can
This June, I spent three
weeks with incredible young classical performers, conductors and composers
who came to the National Arts Centre’s Summer Music Institute from
across Canada and around the world to learn from me and a world-class,
international faculty. And you know what? Before they even set foot
in my office, these kids already knew every single thing I’ve ever
How, you might
One word. YouTube.
“Why are you
doing that on the downbow?” I said in a lesson with a young violinist.
did it on the downbow with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1982,” she replied.
We can argue about
whether that’s good or bad that students now experience learning this
way, and it’s probably a little bit of both. But it is a perfect illustration
of how fast information moves, how badly people want it, and how quickly
they can get it. These students grew up in the information age.
studying how the information that floods our screens each day is affecting
our brains, with some already suggesting that our quick-clicking addiction
is changing the way our brains actually work.
What will never
change, however, is our need to come together in a place and experience
something that is beyond us, and for me that thing has always been music.
Music is my connection to life, and above everything else—upbow or
downbow - that is what I try to communicate to my students. In the Summer
Music Institute and in all the teaching I do, I’m not trying to find
the next great concertmaster, or the next great soloist. I’m there
to help them make beautiful music, because it gives them better lives
and makes them better people. This is what all of the performing arts
do for us as a society.