Serving the music

Master violinist conveys dedication to composers' visions.

Ida Haendel 311 (photo credit: MAXIM REIDER)
Ida Haendel 311
(photo credit: MAXIM REIDER)
Ida Haendel, one of the greatest violinists of our time, is coming to Israel as the distinguished guest of the International Master Course for Violinists Keshet Eilon. The course takes places at the picturesque Kibbutz Eilon in the Western Galilee between July 25 and August 12 and celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. The program features individual lessons, masterclasses and concerts, and culminates in a gala concert on August 4 at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center. Most of the activities are open to the public; country lodging is available in Eilon and other kibbutzim in the area.
“I think I’m well,” the 81-year-old Haendel responds to a “How are you?” greeting from The Jerusalem Post over the phone from her Miami home. “I try to breath, to walk and to play my fiddle. Yesterday I rehearsed from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m., I have quite a few concerts in New York.”
Born in Chelm, Poland, Haendel was a child prodigy. At the age of 3 she picked up her older sister’s violin and with the words “I’m the one who is a violinist here,” she played a song that her mother had just sang. A few years ago, she reconnected with her first teacher, Estera Greenboum, after the latter moved to Los Angeles.
“I remember her beautiful, with long beautiful fingers – and she is the same! We speak on the phone all the time.”
The Haendels later moved to England, to advance Ida’s studies. By the age of 12, she already knew most of the major violin repertoire and in Paris she studied with Carl Flesch and George Enescu.
“Carl Flesch was a person who had all the cures and all the answers for people who had problems on the violin – like a fantastic physician, who knows how to cure many illnesses,” Haendel said. “In my case, thank God, I never had problems on the violin, maybe until this day. Musically, he was very helpful: he explained certain things, which were very relevant and very intelligent. The real great art of music-making was that of George Enescu.
He was a composer, fantastic pianist, marvelous violinist – until this day I cannot forget the encounter with this genius.”
What is good schooling about?
To be a wonderful musician, who understands the composition profoundly – its structure and the whole literature of music – which is not given to too many.
This is not a criticism – many musicians think of how to play an instrument. But you have to master your instrument and then forget about the technique. For me the core of it is how to play a composition, to please not the specifically the audience, but the composer. I want people to say after the concert not “Oh, how beautifully Ida Haendel plays,” but “What a wonderful piece of music that was.”
SO IT is not by chance that Maestro Zubin Mehta, who admires Haendel’s “honesty towards her music and her great command over her instrument,” said in an interview that “When she plays the Beethoven concerto, you can imagine Beethoven wanted it that way."
Do you yourself teach?
Only when I’m asked to. I don’t see myself as a teacher. I’m a performer and I don’t want to impose my opinion on other performers, because the only right way to play a piece is that of the composer, and not mine. Not long ago a student asked me how to interpret the piece. “But you already have the greatest interpreter in the world in front of you!” I replied. “You mean you?” “No, the score!”
When playing for your students, you always look intensively straight into their eyes, why so?
Of course, not to hypnotize, but to penetrate and to accentuate. But anyway, if somebody is blind, does it mean you cannot reach him? It is all about sound.
What is unacceptable to you in a performance?
Show-off, body gyrations, as I call it. It has nothing to do with music. If you are pretty and this is the most important thing for you, you probably should act in a theater. Granted, out of respect to the audience and out of self-respect, you need to look good on the stage, and I always perform in my best dresses – (laughing) this is my privilege as a woman.
You’ve been around for so many years – has anything changed in the world of music?
Nothing much. The great composers, who were the first to bring to us wonderful music, such as Palestrina, Handel, Beethoven, as well as our contemporaries, are still with us and I keep learning from them till this day.
HAENDEL’S PERFORMANCE has always been intense and moving. She agrees that, nowadays, there are far too many musicians, whose performance, while being technically infallible, is lacking emotion.
“When they say ‘Practice makes perfect,’ I’m not quite sure this is true,” she says.
“Because some people practice 12 hours a day and they still are not perfect. Granted, you need practicing hours, and also you need to have a teacher, but the main thing is what we call talent and you are born with it. Either you have it or you don’t, so practicing is not going to make a difference, because you cannot fabricate what does not exist.”
And what is it that brings Haendel to Keshet Eilon year after year, no matter the security situation in Israel? “The dedication that they have,” she says. “Everybody who goes there is dedicated to serve the music, including the professors [course patron] Shlomo Mintz, [Artistic Director] Izhak Rashkovsky and others. I also call myself a servant, a servant to the music.”
For reservations: (04) 985-8131 or (04) 985-8191; for a detailed program: