A birthday gift for music lovers

Pianist Oxana Yablonskaya performs with family and friends to celebrate more than 75 years of playing.

OXANA YABLONSKAYA will celebrate her 80th birthday with concerts in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, along with her former students and friends (photo credit: Courtesy)
OXANA YABLONSKAYA will celebrate her 80th birthday with concerts in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, along with her former students and friends
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The renowned Russian-American-Israeli pianist Oxana Yablonskaya celebrates her 80th birthday with two concerts in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Rich, beautiful, pure, singing old-school sound, not-so-often heard nowadays, virtuosity and utmost dedication to the music score, coupled with a distinct music personality – this is an emotional experience which no classical music lover would like to miss.
“I play the first concert with the Jerusalem Symphony, which means a lot to me, since I’ve managed to make aliyah in this age and now I feel like an Israeli in full meaning of this word,” says Yablonskaya, who moved to Israel with her family four years ago. Another concert, a recital, in which Yablonskaya will be joined by her former students and musical friends who have come to greet her from all over the world, will take place in Zucker Chamber Hall in Tel Aviv.
Born in Moscow, Yablonskaya studied at the Moscow Central School for the Gifted and then pursued further studies at the Moscow Conservatory with prominent teacher, pianist, and one of the founders of the Russian school of piano playing, Alexander Goldenweiser, among others. She went on to win top prizes in the Long-Thibaud-Crespin Competition in 1963, Rio de Janeiro Piano Competition in 1965 and the Vienna Beethoven Competition in 1969. Her performing career in the USSR was flourishing, but she was never allowed to accept the engagements from the West. In 1975, along with her father and son, she applied for a visa to immigrate to the United States, a move which caused her to be fired from her post at the Moscow Conservatory and which blacklisted her from all concert venues in the USSR. She waited for more than two years to obtain a visa, which was approved largely due to a petition which had been organized by American composers, conductors, musicians, movie actors, writers and senators such as Elie Wiesel, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Katharine Hepburn, among many others.
A critically acclaimed recital at Carnegie Hall launched her career in the West, and she went on to appear with many of the world’s finest symphony orchestras. She also joined the faculty of the Juilliard School of Music in New York, where she taught for 25 years. She now teaches at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance.
“I’ve been teaching music from age 17, and I enjoy sculpturing a musician from a talented child,” Yablonskaya says. “We meet not only in classes in front of the piano, but they come to my home and we talk a lot. I had great teachers, who taught us to play with noble sound, to be respectful to the score and never allowed familiarity in music. But as much as you respect the score, your personality will show itself – if you have any. All prominent students of my most demanding and pedantic tutor, Alexander Goldenweiser, played differently.”
She goes on to explain that “sound is your individuality, you need to want to produce the sound, because this is what you are. While mothers want children to play huge pieces because this is what is needed for competitions, children should play what is apprehensible for their mind, like, Mendelssohn’s ‘Songs without Words.’ This is wonderful music, without big tragedies of Chopin or Rachmaninoff, but it gives them an idea of sound and phrasing.”
When asked about her repertory, Yablonskaya says that it has been changing for her entire life.
“I grew up in a loving Moscow family, mine was a very healthy spirit, I did not like sad things, I played Beethoven and other composers of the classical period,” she says. “But although for the most of my life I preferred major forms, I now found myself performing a lot of Chopin mazurkas, nocturnes and more. But on the whole – I love most what I am playing today, because it’s impossible to play without putting your heart into it. When I play Chopin, Tchaikovsky, whatever, I discover the amazing beauty and intriguing ideas behind the music and feel that there’s no more beautiful music in the world.”
Yablonskaya concludes: “Until now, after playing piano for 75 five years, I cry and my heart is being torn into pieces. I always say that we musicians are lucky. We always hear music, whatever we are busy with. You can’t get out of it – I remember the tragic moment when my mother was dying – and I was hearing Mozart’s Second concerto. You are born with music and with this you probably die – only this is how you can be a musician.”
The concert with the Jerusalem Symphony takes place December 6 at Henry Crown Hall in Jerusalem, with the pianist’s son, successful cellist-turned-conductor Dmitry Yablonsky, on the podium.
“Playing with him is most convenient. We understand one another without words, as if we had a joint blood circulation system,” smiles Yablonskaya.
She goes on to explain that the program “features a concerto, which was just lately written for me by Israeli composer Alex Wasserman. I know him for many years, since he worked on his doctoral degree in the Juilliard School of Music and my students performed it. I will perform one movement from the concerto, which is based on various on Happy birthday tunes, including those which are popular in Israel. Other pieces are Concerto No. 2 by Chopin and Concerto No. 2 by Tchaikovsky.”
While December 11 at Zucker Hall (the Israel Philharmonic chamber hall) Yablonskaya will perform a recital, with her former students and friends joining her on stage.
“We will play together and then they will be playing in four, six and eight hands,” she says. “My friends and colleagues are coming from all over the world to greet me – this is so moving!”