Play­ing for time to save clas­si­cal mu­sic

One of the world’s great­est mu­si­cians is work­ing to cre­ate a new gen­er­a­tion of prodi­gies. And he has an idea for Mid-East peace too

The Jewish Chronicle - - Features - BY JENNI FRAZER

HE MAY have just turned 60, but not very far be­low the sur­face, the in­ter­na­tional mu­si­cian Pin­chas Zuk­er­man is still the fire­brand en­thu­si­ast audiences all over the world have grown to know and ad­mire since his 1961 de­but as a prodigy vi­o­lin­ist. Now he is bring­ing some of that white heat to Lon­don. He has be­come the prin­ci­pal guest con­duc­tor of the Royal Phil­har­monic Or­ches­tra, an ap­point­ment made af­ter the mu­si­cians of the RPO unan­i­mously asked for him to fill the post. And for the Is­raeli-born Zuk­er­man, it is some­thing of a re­turn — he made his con­duct­ing de­but 35 years ago, with the English Cham­ber Or­ches­tra.

Talk­ing to Zuk­er­man is en­ter­tain­ing — you pretty much wind him up and let him go. Speak­ing from his Ottowa home, where he has been mu­sic di­rec­tor of Canada’s Na­tional Arts Cen­tre Or­ches­tra since 1998, the vir­tu­oso mu­si­cian makes it clear that he has two pas­sions — mu­sic and ed­u­ca­tion. And he hopes to use his RPO post­ing to pro­mote both.

“I’m ex­tremely pleased and hon­oured to be part of the RPO team — and it is, in a sense, com­ing home. I spent half a year based in Lon­don in the early ’70s, so it’s fa­mil­iar ter­ri­tory. But I have watched Bri­tain change, and I think that to­day mu­sic has be­come once again a very strong el­e­ment of what peo­ple strive for in their life.

“And I’m very glad to be part of it. With the or­ches­tra [the RPO] there’s a cross-sec­tion of in­tel­lects, mu­si­cians from Bri­tain, from over­seas, that makes for a won­der­ful mu­si­cal mix. It’s very nice — I just feel com­plete, some­how. I can’t say enough about the mu­si­cians and how the pulse of the or­ches­tra man­i­fests it­self.”

What does be­ing guest con­duc­tor mean? There is a typ­i­cal Zuk­er­man guf­faw. “It means I’m a guest! It means they don’t give me din­ner… Ac­tu­ally, of course they give me din­ner!” He goes on to make it plain that his idea of be­ing prin­ci­pal guest con­duc­tor is not that of other mu­si­cians. He is de­ter­mined to put his stamp on the or­ches­tra by de­vel­op­ing its ed­u­ca­tional ac­tiv­i­ties, and he ad­mits that he has drawn deeply on his own ex­pe­ri­ence as a not ter­ri­bly happy teenage prodigy in 1960s New York.

Zuk­er­man, whose Holo­caust-sur­vivor par­ents were both mu­si­cal, was first picked out as a tal­ent when he was still a young boy in Tel Aviv, by the vi­o­lin­ist Isaac Stern and cel­list Pablo Casals. Stern ar­ranged for the then 14-year-old to go to New York to study at the renowned Juil­liard School of Mu­sic.

He was not, he freely ac­knowl­edges, the ideal stu­dent, fre­quently duck­ing classes to roam around Man­hat­tan. “But yes, I was brought up short, and I was told, un­less you com­mit to a long-term dis­ci­pline, it’s not go­ing to hap­pen. And you know what? It hap­pened. Yes, I learned on the streets of New York. I was lucky to ab­sorb that in­for­ma­tion, and not from a text­book, be­lieve me. I went to more re­hearsals and con­certs than sit­ting in a damn class­room. I couldn’t sit in a class­room. I have a hor­ri­ble, hor­ri­ble… I re­ally can’t stand it, some­one telling what ‘2x ’means –— I

PHOTO: PAUL LA­BELLE

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