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Anat Malkin-Almani performed her final Juilliard recital on painkillers, the result of a horrific car accident that nearly destroyed her hand and dreams of becoming a professional musician. Ten years and 12 surgeries later, however, the violinist's hands will produce nothing but music as she takes the stage at Stricker Auditorium tonight in Tel Aviv.
The daughter of Tajik immigrants to Israel, Malkin-Almani says she's a better musician today than she was at the time of her accident, which came just a day after the rising Juilliard senior had decided to pursue a career in music. En route to her grandfather's birthday party in upstate New York, Malkin-Almani's car veered sharply and then flipped over as the result of an exploded tire. The resulting crash caused extreme damage to her hand, tearing away flesh and exposing bones that were themselves among Malkin-Almani's most important music-making instruments.
Now in Israel for her sister's wedding, the 29-year-old Malkin-Almani tells her story in a manner that seems to reflect the qualities behind her comeback. With humor and hints of an acute sense of determination, the Israeli-American musician describes her dozen surgeries but concludes with a laugh, "Yeah, it's been fun."
Malkin-Almani first held a violin bow as a three-year-old in Israel, and was playing music by the time her family moved to California two years later. The family relocated again when Malkin-Almani was 11, this time to Queens, New York. Hours of daily violin practice didn't prevent her from completing high school at 16, an accomplishment she built upon with two years of study at the Manhattan School of Music. At 18 she transferred to Juilliard, and it was the fateful following summer, between her junior and senior years, when she decided to pursue music professionally. The decision was followed almost immediately by the car accident - and what was potentially the end of her promising young career.
She vividly recalls the support offered by one of her Juilliard instructors not long after the accident - and the subsequent discouragement directed at her from other faculty members. "I came to my teacher and said, 'Look, I can't play.' He said, 'No problem. Once your cast comes off, we'll figure out what to do,'" she said. "I decided not to listen to those who told me I couldn't continue.
"I didn't believe other teachers when they said I wouldn't be able to play. Doctors said, 'What do you need this for? You can do something else.' But I dismissed what they had to say and went on being stubborn."
Her refusal to give up has been among the factors guiding Malkin-Almani's long and arduous comeback. Her final, painkiller-aided recital at Juilliard nearly a decade ago ensured her graduation from one of the world's most prestigious music academies. Today's concert is the second of her current trip to Israel, following a recent performance with her younger sister, Bracha Malkin - also a professional violinist - and members of the Israel Chamber Orchestra.
But while she's preparing for a busy 2006 concert schedule - she'll play in Florida and Alabama and tour eastern Europe - Malkin-Almani says one of her major goals is eventually to make Israel her professional base.
"I'm working to establish myself abroad, and at the moment New York is the best place to be. But," she adds, "my husband and I want to raise our family here."
Fluent in Russian, Hebrew, French and English, Malkin-Almani will achieve a dream of "years and years and years" with tonight's solo performance in Tel Aviv, where she'll play sonatas by Mozart and Brahms and works by Kreisler and Ravel. How did she arrive at this particular combination of composers and pieces? "I just like 'em," she laughs.
After years of playing for others, Malkin now trains without an instructor, though she occasionally still receives input from her father, himself a musician and violin teacher. She believes her playing has benefited from her musical independence, and that she's a stronger violinist despite her years of surgery and uncertainty. She's hopes one day to play in the main auditorium at Carnegie Hall, and for now is excited about an upcoming performance alongside her sister at Carnegie Hall's smaller Weill Hall.
"I actually think I'm a lot better now," she says. "Yes, I missed all those years of building my repertoire, but mentally I've had so many years to develop. When I was younger I played more on talent, but I never really thought about what I was playing. I'm working on style and form now, things I thought about less when I was younger."
Her 12 surgeries still haven't restored full feeling to Malkin-Almani's left hand, but she's pleased with her current playing abilities and says she's glad she never listened to those who discouraged her.
"All these years, I felt like I had missed my chance," she said. "I'm very proud of myself. Denial is such a wonderful thing."