(photo credit: Andrew Eccles )
Eugene Drucker has - pun notwithstanding - more than one string to his bow. Over the last three decades or so the multi-Grammy Award winning violinist has toured the world, recorded prolifically and garnered almost every kind of kudos available for his classical instrumental prowess, both as a soloist and as a member of the acclaimed Emerson Quartet, which he co-founded in 1976. Unusually for a musician, Drucker, who will be in Israel next week for a couple of concerts with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra (JSO), also has the ability to produce quality literature.
His haunting 2007 novel, The Savior, is set in the waning days of World War II and relates the experiences of a German violinist who is "conscripted" by the SS to perform for the inmates of a labor camp. As an American-born Jew of German extract and a professional musician it sounds like the writing might have been an emotionally exacting experience. In fact, even though Drucker's father - on whom the book is loosely based - managed to escape from Germany just before Kristallnacht and no close relatives perished in the Holocaust, the author still had some issues to deal with in getting his tome out. "It was difficult technically and emotionally for me to find the right way to tell this story," says Drucker. "But I kept coming back to it, because I felt that if I ever succeeded at writing any story convincingly, it would have to be this one."
The Savior is, indeed, convincingly told. The storyline wends its way through passages of lyrical beauty, but there are also stark descriptions of Nazi brutality and shocking labor camp scenes. Drucker says he was aiming for a broad appeal, and to avoid alienating the public. "A number of readers have referred to my protagonist as unsympathetic," he admits. "What I intended was just in the middle: an anti-hero, an unwilling witness who is neither hero nor villain, with whom I hoped the reader could not help but identify, at least to some extent. I wanted to write of the human capacity for good and evil, for self-protection and yet for empathy with the plight of others."
BUT DRUCKER is not coming here next week to promote his book, which, as yet, is not available in Hebrew, although it has been translated into Chinese and, poignantly, a German edition is due out next year. Here, he will stick to his daytime job - the concerts with the JSO, which feature Brahms's Violin Concerto and Symphony No.4, as well as a work by late nineteenth-early twentieth century Austrian composer Robert Fuchs.
Still, bearing in mind the pallet of sensibilities addressed by The Savior, there is, possibly, some emotional common ground between Drucker's approach to his writing and his instrumental work. "Brahms is one of my favorite composers," he says. "His music is so well-crafted, often the product of a struggle for perfection. There is a wide spectrum of emotions, as in any great composer, but there is a tinge of melancholy and yearning embedded in his harmonic progressions that sounds like no other composer's voice."
Drucker is almost as equally enamored of Fuchs's work. "With my Emerson colleague Philip Setzer, I recorded 20 duos for two violins by Robert Fuchs. This was paired with our recording of the famous 44 Duos of Bartok. The Fuchs duos are lovely, and the harmonic language sounds remarkably similar to that of Brahms. But the rhythmic invention and overall inspiration are not quite on the same level as in Brahms. I've sight-read the Clarinet Quintet and heard a few other pieces by Fuchs; it's hard not to think of Brahms, but then one becomes aware of the difference between talent and genius."
It must be said Drucker had a head start to his eventual career path. His father, Ernst Drucker, enjoyed a long berth as violinist with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in New York, and before that he spent a couple of years with the Busch Quartet. The latter ensemble was founded in Germany by Adolf Busch in 1918, but Busch upped and left shortly after Hitler's rise to power, moving across the Pond to Vermont. Meanwhile, Drucker Sr. had a later run-in with the new powers that be.
In the Author's Note to The Savior, Drucker relates that in 1933 his father discovered his name had been removed from the program of a graduation concert at the Hochschule music university in Cologne. It was only thanks to the intervention of his teacher Bram Eldering, who also taught Busch, that Ernst was allowed to play in part of the concert. Afterwards Ernst really stuck his neck out when, in response to a racially slanted write-up of the concert which ran in the Nazi party's newspaper Volkischer Beobachter, he wrote a letter to the editor pointing out that Brahms had dedicated his "immortal German Violin Concerto" to Joseph Joachim, a Jew. That incident may in some form resonate in Drucker's performance of that work next week.
DESPITE A DIET composed almost exclusively of classical music during his formative years, Drucker was not entirely oblivious of more contemporary musical endeavor, and even appreciated some it - albeit with something of a time lapse. "We listened to records of a lot of the great violinists, like Heifetz, Kreisler, Oistrakh, Francescatti, Menuhin, Grumiaux and Szeryng. We also listened to chamber and orchestral music, and to a lesser extent to opera. I was very excited when I got my first recording of the Beethoven Symphonies," Drucker recalls. "In school and on the streets, people were more interested in pop music, just as they are today. I was aware of it when the Beatles hit New York in 1964, but didn't jump on the bandwagon. In more recent years I've come to realize how innovative they were within their world."
This is Drucker's second visit to this part of the world in the last year, having performed with the Emerson Quartet at the YMCA in Jerusalem in January, and he is delighted to be back. "I feel my Jewishness more in Israel than elsewhere. Unfortunately I can't speak Hebrew, but I have relatives in Israel and feel a connection to the history both ancient and recent."
And Drucker wouldn't mind coming back here sometime to promote a Hebrew version of The Savior. "Since there are parts of the story that allude to Palestine, and the protagonist imagines himself going there, it would also be gratifying for me to see it come out in a Hebrew translation. The most significant reason for a Hebrew translation would be that the novel is focused on the most traumatic event in the recent history of the Jewish people. "
Eugene Drucker will perform with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra at the Henry Crown Hall of the Jerusalem Theater on December 9 and 10 at 8 p.m..