Play­ing with des­tiny

Raphael Wall­fisch only found out he will star in the ‘most sig­nif­i­cant’ con­cert of his life when he saw the posters. Luck­ily, he’s avail­able, he tells Rod­neyGreen­berg

The Jewish Chronicle - - Arts&books -

A ‘FRIEND TOLD me: ‘ Did you know you are pl a y i ng S c h - elomo at the Konz­erthaus in Ber­lin on May 8 ? ’ S he showed me a leaflet. I said: ‘I hope I’m free.’” Due to a va­garies of con­cert plan­ning, Raphael Wall­fisch, the in­ter­na­tion­ally cel­e­brated cel­list, found him­self on the posters for this per­for­mance — and a re­peat the fol­low­ing day in Frank­furt— with­out hav­ing heard about it. For­tu­nately, he is free. He pre­dicts it will be “the most sig­nif­i­cant and his­tor­i­cally sym­bolic con­cert” of his life.

With the Bran­den­bur­gis­ches Staat­sor­ch­ester con­ducted by Howard Grif­fiths, he will per­form Ernest Bloch’s pas­sion­ate, bi­b­li­cally in­spired work on the 60th an­niver­sary of the found­ing of the state of Is­rael. This date has fur­ther res­o­nance in Ger­many, be­ing the an­niver­sary of VE Day in 1945, mark­ing the end of the Sec­ond World War in Europe.

He feels this is the most mean­ing­ful mu­si­cal state­ment he could make. “My mother, Anita Lasker-Wall­fisch, sur­vived Auschwitz and Belsen be­cause play­ing cello in the camps saved her life. My fa­ther, Peter, was also a refugee from the Third Re­ich. He em­i­grated to Pales­tine in 1938, and be­came an Is­raeli cit­i­zenin1948.Hemet­my­moth­er­when they were mu­sic stu­dents in Paris. She boy­cotted Ger­many all the years she played in the English Cham­ber Orches­tra, but now gives talks to stu­dents in Ger­many and Aus­tria.”

Ernest Bloch, the Swiss-born com­poser who set­tled in Amer­ica in 1941, wrote many Jewish-in­spired works. He sub­ti­tled Sch­e­lomo “He­brew Rhap­sody”, and ex­plained: “One may imag­ine that the voice of the cello is the voice of King Sch­e­lomo [Solomon].”

Wall­fisch, who is 54, re­calls the part this mu­sic played in his boy­hood. “My mother was a cel­list and my fa­ther a pi­anist, so mu­sic was part of ev­ery­day life. Among our 78RPM records was Sch­e­lomo played by Emanuel Feuer­mann, with Stokowski con­duct­ing the Philadel­phia Orches­tra. The first disc was miss­ing, so for years I only knew it from side three on­wards. I was so crazy about it, I used to play the records down the phone to my friends. I’m amazed I had any friends left.”

An­other Jewish cel­list whose in­ter­pre­ta­tion he greatly ad­mires was Zara Nelsova. “Her real name was Nelson. Though Bloch had writ­ten Sch­e­lomo in 1916 be­fore meet­ing her, she be­came his favourite in­ter­preter. If I ever need in­spi­ra­tion, I just lis­ten to a few bars of Zara. In a les­son with her, I asked how I should play a quar­ter-tone that Bloch marked with a cross in the score. She said: ‘Don’t worry, life’s too short for that.’”

In 1957, the Rus­sian vir­tu­oso Gre­gor Pi­atig­orsky was to have played Sch­e­lomo with the Is­rael Phil­har­monic at the in­au­gu­ral con­cert of the Mann Au­di­to­rium in Tel Aviv. Be­ing in­dis­posed, the French star Paul Torte­lier took over, shar­ing that highly charged oc­ca­sion with Bern­stein as con­duc­tor.

Wall­fisch stud­ied with Pi­atig­orsky in Cal­i­for­nia, lead­ing to in­for­mal recitals of cham­ber mu­sic where vir­tu­oso vi­o­lin­ist Jascha Heifetz played. He re­mem­bers deputis­ing for Pi­atig­orsky when the cel­list could not at­tend a re­hearsal at Heifetz’s house. “Jascha had some fid­dles on the man­tel­piece. He took them down to show me, and they were just the backs — no fronts.”

The mu­si­cal world might have lost Wall­fisch to the theatre had he not de­cided to de­vote him­self to the cello. “I didn’t go into the Na­tional Youth Orches­tra. I got in­volved with the Ju­nior Drama League in­stead, and I loved act­ing. I still adore the theatre. I play cello in­ter­ludes in a pre­sen­ta­tion called Odyssey, about the life of Bach. The ac­tor is ei­ther Ti­mothy West, his son Samuel, or his wife Prunella Scales. I’m in awe of their abil­ity to use the stage.”

If the West fam­ily rep­re­sents an act­ing dy­nasty, the Wall­fisch one is surely its mu­si­cal coun­ter­part. Wall­fisch’s wife, El­iz­a­beth, is a vi­o­lin­ist. Their eldest son, Ben­jamin, has three ca­reers: pi­anist, con­duc­tor and com­poser, while son Si­mon started as a cel­list and is now a tenor. Daugh­ter Joanna, study­ing fine arts, also does gigs as a jazz singer.

“It’s not al­ways easy when a whole fam­ily is so busy and so much of a mu­si­cal dy­nasty,” says Raphael. “But then the re­wards make it all worth­while.”

PHOTO: BEN­JAMIN EALOVEGA

Raphael Wall­fisch: “I used to play Sch­e­lomo down the phone to my friends. I’m amazed I had any friends left”

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