Heifetz as seen by the new generation
June 1, 2001
t is tricky to define the Israeli school of violin playing because, like the country itself, it is made up of different traditions. Several aspects can be linked, though. Musically and artistically, there is a freshness and flexibility to the Israeli school, mainly because of its relatively young age. However, one usually opts in favour of clarity and emotion over subtlety and abstraction.
“Heifetz represents many things to me, but most strongly the uncompromising level of polish that a concert artist must bring to the stage. Heifetz was, as I was growing up, the unattainable that you were encouraged to achieve. The strongest feeling I get listening to him today is how his impressively flawless playing sometimes blinded the listener from realizing the beauty and simple clarity of his interpretation. He never put his personality before the wishes of the composer. When I was younger, I found distateful the fact that you could clap along with his Sibelius concerto. As I grow older and therefore wiser, I hope, I connect better to his music making.
“His technical superiority was important to him personally, as a tool to establish his superiority. That was evident in masterclasses. If a violinist came to play Zapateado (by Sarasate) and played it badly, Heifetz would say, ‘Let's work.' If he played well, Heifetz would ask him to do all kinds of tricky bowing that for him was easy. If the student could do it, Heifetz would get upset and give him even harder tricks to attempt. Once the young person succumbed to his limitations, Heifetz would say, ‘Let's work.' A telling example. I sometimes think he may have been blinded by his own mastery, but that does not take anything away from the success of his music making.”
Yehonatan Berick was born in Israel and was a prizewinner at the 1993 Naumberg International Violin Competition. He now holds a teaching position at McGill University. He will perform in three of the Connoisseur Concerts Series of the Montreal Chamber Music Festival this month. He shared a few thoughts about Heifetz and the Israeli school of violin playing.