Renowned viola player Yuri Gandelsman recalled meeting the legendary Isaac Stern in New York in 1990 while on tour in New York with the Virtuosi of Moscow Chamber Orchestra.
“I was told that Stern was busy and can spend only 15 minutes with me, but after two and a half hours of playing and talking, he said that the New York Philharmonic needs a concertmaster and that if I wanted, I was welcome to come to auditions. To Isaac’s great surprise, I replied that the Israel Philharmonic needs a concertmaster, too, and this is where I want to live,” Gandelsman told The Jerusalem Post.
In Moscow, Gandelsman was one of the most sought-after classical performers. Coming to Tel Aviv as a tourist a few months prior to his immigration in 1990 with his pianist wife and their two violinist children, he auditioned for the Israel Philharmonic and was accepted by artistic Director Zubin Mehta as the concertmaster of violas.
After 10 years with the Israel Philharmonic, Gandelsman, currently holding a position of a viola professor at Michigan State University, quit the orchestra to pursue his career as a chamber musician and a soloist. “We separated as good friends and I am grateful to the orchestra for everything it has done.”
At that time, he received an offer from the Milwaukee-based Fine Arts Quartet, which is “one of America’s oldest. I played and recorded with them in the past, but I’ve never been a quartet member, while playing in a quartet is the most challenging form of music activity. This was how we have moved in the US.”
Gandelsman continued: “They say that playing in a quartet is like marrying it, and for a good reason – you spend a lot of time together, you interact.
For me, seven years with the Fine Arts [Quartet], rewarding as they were, were enough, and I accepted an offer from the Michigan State University. I have wonderful students there and I enjoy teaching.”
While in Israel, Gandelsman combined his worked for the IPO and chamber performances with teaching at the local music academy and conducting master classes internationally.
“Playing with the philharmonic under Mehta, with all these wonderful soloists, was great. But when you quite the orchestra, it is all finished. Yet through teaching you can leave something after you. My former students play in all Israeli orchestras, which makes me so happy,” said Gandelsman. “I’ve just visited the Ra’anana Music Center – they make marvels there! They have more than 1,000 students, talented Jewish kids. My former viola student Marina Ziskind is the head of the string faculty.
She introduced me to her students as “my professor” and I suddenly realized that in a way they are my students, too, and this made me feel so well,” said Gandeslman excitedly, his signature expansive smile on his face.
“You know, even after 17 years in America, when boarding a plane to Israel, we always say – we are going home.”
“Life is good, said Gandelsman. “My daughter Natasha is the concertmaster for the Israeli Camerata orchestra, and a happy mother of three, while my son Jenia – turned Yoni in Israel and later Johnny in the US – is an Emi winner and makes a great international career; and yes he is a father of two. Once they used to say – this is Yoni, Yuri Gandelsman’s son, while now the things have changed and I am related as Johnny’s father,” laughed the musician happily.
On January 1 at Eden Tamir Jerusalem Music Center, the new Kontakt chamber ensemble will host Gandelsman in a special Viola Muses New Year concert.
“Eden Tamir Music Center was the first venue we performed at back in 1990, soon after our arrival from Moscow,” recollects Gandelsman The Kontakt ensemble was founded in January 2018 by Einat Fabrikant and Dikla Baniel, who are musical and artistic director respectively. According to Fabrikant, the idea behind the ensemble is “to unite leading Israeli chamber players in various programs and to get in contact with audience (hence the ensemble’s name) and to bring him closer to chamber music and to the performers themselves.”
Depending on concert programs, the ensemble appears in various chamber groups, which include pianists, string and woodwinds players and singers. “This makes the programming more flexible and more interesting for the audience,” said Gandelsman.
The ensemble’s repertoire features both famous chamber pieces and less known works, along with pieces by contemporary Israeli and international composers and pieces that are written especially for the Kontakt. The Viola Muses concert program features pieces for viola in combinations with other instruments such as Ron Zelka, clarinet and Shahar Lavi, mezzo soprano, and includes music by Brahms, Schumann, Frank Bridge and Max Bruch.
“I know the members of the ensemble, I used to perform with them in the past and I see what a great progress they have done. I was told that the ensemble performs a lot and I am so happy for my friends, because it is not so easy to be a classical musician nowadays. Granted, a musician’s life has never been simple and maybe salary-wise it’s better to work with computers, but each time when you go on stage you feel blessed – so it’s worth every moment of this!” The Viola Muses concert takes place January 1 at Eden Tamir Music Center in Jerusalem at 20:00. For reservations *9609 or Fabrikantzhang@gmail.com.