Striking his own chord

Accomplished musician Yossi Gutmann performs original adaptations and contemporary music for solo viola.

Yossi Gutmann 270 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Yossi Gutmann 270
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Yossi Gutmann, a fine violist and composer with a life story that could be described as a never-ending quest for the true meaning of music, for ultimate ultimate self-expression through music, as well as for his Jewish identity, returns to Israel for a recital in Tel Aviv. The concert, entitled “Viola – Adaptations and Reconsiderations,” which will take place on Saturday night at the Felicja Blumental Music Center, features original adaptations and contemporary music for solo viola with works by Avni, Bach, Morley, Schubert, Byrd and Handel.
Born in 1947 in Tel Aviv, Gutmann was first attracted to music at the age of four when he heard renowned cellist Yoachim Stutchevsky playing for children in the kindergarten.
His desire to become a cellist was immediate. The violin and later the viola became his instrument, but the way to music was dramatic and the price was to leave his native country.
Gutmann’s Lithuanian-born father (who was blessed with perfect pitch) vehemently opposed his son’s attraction to music. “A man has to work hard and not to play violin, for sure not the music of gentiles! We did not come to Israel for that!”
He even vowed to send the police to anyone who would dare teach his son music.
“Those were still idyllic times in Israel,” recalls Gutmann. “Musicians of Stutchevsky’s caliber played for kids, and you could go to a person and say, ‘I want to study music but I have no money to pay for the lessons,’ and people taught you!” In Israel, he studied with the likes of Noam Sheriff, Odeon Partos and Daniel Benyamini. In his early teens, Gutmann met Yehudi Menuhin, who encouraged and supported him.
“He said I had to move out to not be distracted from my music studies, and he gave me money. I rented a room and also bought a lot of LPs,” he says. At the age of 16, with Menuhin’s support, he left the country.
“I went to Europe because I thought I would find a lot of culture there, but over the years I realized that things are different from what I imagined. True, there is culture, but quite often people go to concerts only out of habit.”
Gutmann continued his studies with William Primrose, Nadia Boulanger, Tibor Varga, and Sergiu Celibidache and made a career playing in orchestras, serving as principal violist for the Hamburg Symphony, the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Bayreuth Festspiel Orchestra. He was also a member of several chamber ensembles and is a founding member of the Melos Quartet and founder of the Stradivari Sextet Habisreutinger. Attracted to new music and to experimental and avantgarde circles, Gutmann worked with Peter Eotvos and Karlheinz Stockhausen.
“I once thought that playing in an orchestra was the ultimate in music making, but later I found it difficult to obey some conductors, as I saw that my understanding of the score was more profound than theirs. I started to play more chamber music; but again, over the years I started to feel that I did not want to play with other people but rather to play my way.”
Now Gutmann devotes his time to the viola. “I want to learn more about its possibilities and to rehabilitate this instrument,” he says.
He admits that in his youth he wanted to become a composer and not a violist, and he studied composition more than he studied viola. But he does not define his work as composing but rather as recomposing.
“I take pieces for the viola and other instruments or just orchestral pieces and I see that there are connections between instruments, which I recognize due to my knowledge in composition but which I do not hear in performance. And I play these lines without changing a note in the score. This gives me an opportunity to play pieces as I hear them and not as somebody tells me to play.”
Going to Europe as an aspiring youth, Gutmann was not really interested in his Jewishness. It was in Germany that he realized that he was Jewish.
“I tried to be German there, and it did not work for many reasons. Not only could I not become a German, but the Germans did not want to see me as such, either. This caused me to think of who I really am and to realize that after all, I am a Jew. Now I prefer to be among Jews. I find them to be the most open minded and swift in making decisions, unlike conservative Europeans.”
The Yossi Gutmann concert takes place on March 17 at 8:30 p.m. at the Felicja Blumental Music Center in Tel Aviv. For reservations: (03) 620-1185