Music

PLAYING TO WIN

Pinchas Zukerman wants his orchestra to be as famous for its teaching as its music

JOHN GEDDES July 30 2001
Music

PLAYING TO WIN

Pinchas Zukerman wants his orchestra to be as famous for its teaching as its music

JOHN GEDDES July 30 2001

PLAYING TO WIN

Pinchas Zukerman wants his orchestra to be as famous for its teaching as its music

JOHN GEDDES

Music

To see them standing face-to-face, it looks like a terrible mismatch. Pinchas Zukerman, at 53 one of the world’s great violinists, leans towards his precocious student, 13-yearold Caitlin Tully, like a storm bearing down on a sapling. “Lots of bow,” he exhorts. “Use the whole bow.” Tully, though, is in no danger of being blown away, standing firmly rooted to the floor of a University of Ottawa rehearsal room. She gives him what he wants, swinging her right arm into the music in a way that mirrors and echoes the master standing a metre in front of her. Suddenly, the striking physical contrast between the big, darkly handsome old pro and his slight, strawberry-blond protégé means less than what they have in common: these are two wonderful fiddlers, one at the height of his •= powers and the other just learning how to | reach for hers.

Whether Tully gets to the plateau Zukf erman has occupied for about four decades TB could depend on how well she’s able to use | what he gives her in sessions like these. For | the Vancouver prodigy, the opportunity is | huge—intense, one-on-one master classes with one of the best. But for Zukerman, music director of the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa, the payoff could also be big. He is striving to build the NAC’s summer Young Artists Program, which he founded just three years ago, into a worldrenowned training ground for elite young classical musicians. The ultimate success of exceptional participants like Tully, who has attended two years running, would go a long way to securing his program that international reputation.

Zukerman will setde for nothing less. When he was appointed to take over the NAC orchestra in 1998, he stressed that education was as big a priority for him as playing. He put out the message that a new man was in charge by quickly taking the orches-

tra on the road for two major tours—across Canada in 1999 and then last year to acclaim in Europe and his native Israel. But accolades for performing come faster than recognition for teaching. The Young Artists Program started with just 12 violin and viola students in the summer of 1999, then doubled to 24 including cello and piano in its second year and finally ballooned to 33 players, most in their late teens and early 20s, this year. Zukerman also launched an annual two-week training course for aspiring young conductors in June, and has plans for adding a similar program for promising opera singers.

Those who work with him at the NAC give the appearance of scurrying along in his dust. Claire Speed, education manager

for the NAC orchestra, says Zukerman has a way of making things happen by the force of his convictions. “He tells us, ‘Do the right thing and the money will come,’ ” Speed says of his approach to launching new ventures. “And, you know, it does.” Individual and corporate patrons of the NAC have come across with scholarships for all of the Canadian students attending this year’s program. Asked about Zukerman’s plan to add a vocalmusic section to the summer teaching schedule, Speed suggests it’s only a tentative plan. Informed that Zukerman already talks of it as a done deal, she laughs, “Well, then it will happen.”

For all his confidence, however, Zukerman doesn’t always get his way without opposition. His decision to expand the Young Artists Program to students from around the world was, Speed admits, initially controversial inside the NAC. “The first couple of years, it was confined to the village. Now, it’s Canadians-plus,” Zukerman says. “People have finally come to the realization that we are a global institution.” Zukerman seems to think of musicians as holding their own special citizenship. “He talks about playing music at that level as living in a different country,” says Deborah Bennett, Caidin Tully’s mother. If there is such a place, Tully, the youngest student in the 2001 summer class, has been living there almost since birth. Even though neither of her par-

ents play instruments, she showed an unusual interest in music— particularly the sound of the violin—as a toddler. Her parents bought her a keyboard when she was 3, but it “made her angry,” Bennett remembers. For Christmas when she was just 4, she pleaded for a violin. Lessons followed, and by the time she was 6, experts were urging her parents to take her gift seriously.

Zukerman first heard her when she was 11, at a master class he was giving in Vancouver. Asked what he first noticed about her, he says, “Sound, sound, sound. I went, ‘Hi there! What’s your name?’ ” At 12, she came to the Young Artists Program and Zukerman worked closely with her. “Just being there with that sound, just hearing him play, opens up new ideas,” Tully says. Her voice is low and level for an adolescent girl, and her questions for Zukerman are precise. She does not seem intimidated. “Every once in a while you’re just, ‘Oh my gosh, what am I doing here!’ But it doesn’t seem like that in the one-on-one lessons,” she says, then takes a moment to think about how to describe this unique relationship to an outsider. “You’re doing work, you know? You absorb more when you’re not in awe.”

That professional attitude is part of what Zukerman and his faculty convey—but not at the expense of an undiluted love of music. After running Tully through a routine for mastering a tricky passage, Zukerman urges her to repeat the drill on her own.

“Do it until it is absolutely monotonous F he says with a sly grin, as if sharing an in-joke. “Until you can’t stand it anymore. Until somebody finally shouts, ‘Stop it!’ Hah, hah!” Even the gruelling part of becoming a concert violinist seems to make him happy.

But far from demanding his students devote every waking moment to music, Zukerman often strives to slow them— and their families. “Sometimes, I have to sit with the mothers and tell them off,” he says. “I tell them to get the hell out of the way—no, it’s not that simple. I will sit down with a parent and say, ‘Be careful. You’ve got a gifted child. Let’s make sure it’s a gift to all of us. It’s a long journey, a very long journey.’ ” Caidin Tully’s parents seem to agree. Bennett home-schools Caidin, and her father, Alan Tully, is a historian and the University of British Columbia’s dean of arts. Caidin doesn’t envy her peers who practise with their musician moms and dads. “I don’t think they ever get away from it at home,” she says. “My parents do anything I ask them to for music, but there isn’t any real pressure. I certainly think it makes me a happier person.” She says she practises about three hours a day—far less than many prodigies.

It seems to be working for her. When Zukerman put her out in front of the NAC orchestra at a free Canada Day concert to play two movements from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, the crowd ate it up. While performing, Caitlin’s face was all controlled intensity; only the shy smile she allowed when taking her bows during the long ovation reminded the audience of her age. The maestro beamed at her side. “To see someone mature and blossom, and do the right thing, is a wonderful feeling,” Zukerman says. “I feel full of energy when I’m doing that.” If he has his way with the NAC Young Artists Program, Zukerman will be soaking up that energy—and generating even more—for years to come. EH]