(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
In 1999, when the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance established the “Inspiration” concert series, Prof. Allan Sternfield was one of the first faculty members on the program. At that point, Sternfield had already been a cornerstone of the music department for over two decades, teaching classical piano to generations of striving young musicians.
Last summer, after notifying the university he would be stepping down from his role, Sternfield received a phone call that both surprised and delighted him.
“Each year they would ask me what I want to play in the series. But the idea that they would call and say, ‘We’re doing this year’s concert in your honor’ was really amazing,” says Sternfield over the phone.
Though he has resided in Israel for the majority of his adult life, Sternfield’s accent lets one in on a childhood spent along the east coast of the United States.
His foray into music began by chance, when his parents purchased a piano for his older sister to practice on.
“I started playing the piano when I was six years old. I was very much attracted to it. When I say I was attracted to it, I didn’t say, ‘Wow, it’s a piano, not a bassoon or trombone.’ That’s what we had in the house. Over the years, I’ve learned to appreciate the instrument that I play more and more. There were times that I thought, ‘Gee, if only the piano could do things like a violin or a flute,’ but I haven’t thought that way in many years. Eventually one comes to the feeling that the piano is perfect the way it is, it doesn’t need to be jealous of any other instruments.”
Sternfield adds that his sister’s affair with the instrument petered out after a few years.
Having shown both prowess and dedication to music, Sternfield’s parents gave him full support in pursuing the profession.
“My father let me know that if I went ahead and really applied myself to music and then decided to go on and pursue something else, he wouldn’t see it as a waste of time. It was easy to make a decision to go on with that in mind,” he says.
And though going on meant putting aside a fascination with medicine, Sternfield went on to become one of the most celebrated concert pianists and piano teachers in Israel.
Tonight, the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance’s Navon Auditorium will fill to the brim with Sternfield’s former students, colleagues and fellow faculty members. The tribute concert will include pieces by Franz Schubert and Cesar Franck, played by Sternfield and cellist Shmuel Magen.
The choice of Schubert was an easy one for Sternfield, whose love for the Austrian composer harks back to his student days.
“Musicians like to say that their favorite piece is what they’re playing right now. That’s not a cop-out. It would be silly to pretend that I love all pieces equally. Since this concert was presented to me as [being] in my honor, you wouldn’t be surprised that what’s in the concert are among some of my favorite pieces. I am very drawn to the music of Schubert, my teachers pointed me in that direction long ago and gave me a love for that style. I also really love Mozart but there won’t be any Mozart in the concert.”
As Sternfield readies himself for this last hurrah at the academy, he takes a moment to look back at his 41 years at the institution.
“I don’t know if it’s whether Israelis are different than Americans where I studied. I think that the times have changed. Sometimes, I discover this talking with colleagues of the same age, the way we worked and practiced and studied; sometimes we get the feeling that the students of today don’t have the same commitment.
“I don’t know, that may be very broad. When I was a student, I didn’t have to work to support myself and neither did most of my friends. We didn’t have to work, we didn’t have to go to the army before the academy. It’s a different lifestyle. I have had many students that were very special to me and not necessarily because they were the best pianists. Some of them that were very talented in the piano decided they wanted to do something else in life. It’s not for me to say that’s terrible.
“I’ve had lots of students that I had a joy to work with and I feel I gave a lot to, and they gave a lot to me. Teaching is a two-way street. I liked what I was doing and I’m happy to have reached a stage in my life that I can do something else.”
The tribute to Allan Sternfield will take place tonight at 8 p.m. at the Navon Auditorium of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. For more information, visit www.jamd.ac.il