One of the premier musicians to emerge in the second half of the twentieth century, Pinchas Zukerman (born 1948) was not only a brilliant instrumentalist on the violin and viola but a chamber musician and conductor as well. In 1998, nearly thirty years after its founding, Zukerman was named music director of Canada's National Arts Centre Orchestra.
Zukerman was born on July 16, 1948, in Tel Aviv, Israel, son of Yehuda (Juhda), a professional violinist, and Miriam (Lieberman-Skotchilas) Zukerman. His parents survived the Nazi concentration camps and moved from Poland to Israel in 1947. It was a musical family, and when Pinchas was only five, he began to study music with his father. He first learned to play the recorder and clarinet and later the violin, his father's instrument. At age eight, Zukerman began studies at the Academy of Music in Tel Aviv with Ilona Feher, a noted violinist who had immigrated to Israel from Hungary.
While visiting Israel in 1961, Spanish-born cellist Pablo Casals and Russian-born violin virtuoso Isaac Stern heard Zukerman play. So impressed was Stern that he helped to guide the teenager's musical education. In 1962, with the support of Stern and the Helen Rubenstein and America-Israel Cultural foundations, Zukerman came to New York to study at the Juilliard School with Ivan Galanian. Galanian, born in Iran in 1903 and educated in Russia and France, was one of the best-known violin teachers of the 20th century. With Galanian, Zukerman first studied violin and later the viola. While studying at Juilliard, Zukerman lived with the parents of pianist Eugene Isotomin and rounded out his education by attending both the Professional Children's School and the High School for Performing Arts.
Zukerman's studies with Galanian did not always go smoothly. The prodigy bristled under Galanian's tutelage, resisting his teacher's insistence that he maintain a rigorous practice schedule and concentrate on the basics. He later admitted to an interviewer that he often skipped school and roamed the New York streets. Disappointed by Zukerman's attitude, Stern, his mentor, told him to take his studies more seriously or risk being sent back to Israel. The young musician buckled down.
Performed and Conducted
In 1967 Zukerman shared with Kyung Wha Chung of Korea first prize in the 25th annual Leventritt International Competition. On the strength of his Leventritt win and the added exposure he received when he replaced Stern, who had fallen ill, in a series of concerts, Zukerman's solo career was launched. In an interview with David Hawley of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, he later said of his student days: "I knew I had something in me, something on the violin I had to say. And I knew that eventually I was going to say it. With the guidance of these people [Stern and Galanian] it luckily worked out." In 1968 Zukerman married Eugenia Rich. The couple had two daughters, Natalia and Arianna, but later divorced.
Although his studies at Juilliard focused on instrumental instruction, Zukerman was exposed to the fundamentals of conducting as well. He first became seriously interested in conducting in the late 1960s when he played with the English Chamber Orchestra, which was conducted by Daniel Barenboim, a fellow Israeli. As the lead violinist, or concertmaster, of the orchestra, Zukerman was given an opportunity to conduct selected works by Bach and Vivaldi, from the first violinist's chair, a tradition that developed before the emergence of the modern-day conductor. In 1974 he made his official conducting debut with the English Chamber Orchestra. In the years that followed he served as a guest conductor with some of the premier symphony orchestras of the United States, including the New York Philharmonic, the National Symphony, Boston Symphony, and Los Angeles Philharmonic.
In 1980 Zukerman took over as musical director of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, a position he held for seven seasons. During his stay in St. Paul, he was credited with increasing the number of musicians, tripling attendance at local concerts, and leading the drive for the construction of the Ordway Theatre, the permanent home of the orchestra. Under his direction, the orchestra made eight albums on major labels and toured extensively throughout the United States and South America. Although his focus at St. Paul was on conducting, he did not abandon his solo career, performing occasionally and conducting from the concertmaster's chair. While in St. Paul, Zukerman married actress Tuesday Weld in 1985. They later divorced. His decision to leave St. Paul in 1987 was motivated largely by his growing dislike for the administrative side of his responsibilities as music director.
Back to Solo Career
Although Zukerman again focused on his solo career after leaving St. Paul, he continued to direct frequently. For several years, he limited his conducting career to seasonal events. He served as music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Summer Music Fest, conductor of London's South Bank Festival, and conductor of the Dallas Symphony's International Summer Music Festival, each for three years. He also was named principal guest conductor of the Dallas Symphony for two years.
Throughout the late 1980s and into the 1990s, Zukerman appeared as a solo performer with some of the world's finest orchestras. He also collaborated frequently with some of the music world's best-known musicians, sharing the stage with such notables as Stern, violinist Itzhak Perlman, cellist Ralph Kirshbaum, pianist Yefim Bronfman, pianist Marc Neikrug, cellist Jacqueline Du Pre, flautist Jean-Pierre Rampal, and the Guarneri and Cleveland string quartets.
Zukerman recorded extensively, and his discography grew to more than 100 titles by 2002. He won two Grammy Awards for his recordings—Best Chamber Music Performance in 1980 and Best Classical Performance by an Instrumental Soloist without Orchestra in 1981. Through 2001, he had been nominated for a total of 21 Grammy Awards. Zukerman joined cellist Ralph Kirshbaum and pianist John Browning to record the Brahms Double and Beethoven Triple Concertos with Christoph Eschenbach conducting the London Symphony Orchestra, released in 1998 on BMG Classics/RCA Victor Red Seal. Other recordings for BMG included the complete violin/piano and viola/piano repertoire of Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, and Schumann, performed with pianist Marc Neikrug. Decca released a recording of Schubert's Piano Trios performed by pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy, cellist Lynn Harrell, and Zukerman. Zukerman's earlier recordings were on the Angel, CBS, Deutsche Grammophon, London, and Phillips labels.
In the late 1990s, Zukerman returned to conducting. In April 1998, he was named music director of the National Arts Centre Orchestra of Canada. Based in the Canadian capital of Ottawa, the orchestra was founded in 1969 as the resident orchestra of the newly completed National Arts Centre. His association with the orchestra stretched back to 1976, when he first appeared with the group as a soloist. In 1990 he led the orchestra on a successful tour of Europe.
Young Artists Program
As the beneficiary of the mentoring of Stern, Casals, and other great musicians, Zukerman devoted a good deal of time and energy to sharing his expertise with promising young musicians. A year after taking over as music director of the National Arts Centre Orchestra, he founded the orchestra's Young Artists Program, a summer training program for talented young classical musicians. The program began in the summer of 1999 with only 12 violin and viola students and expanded to 33 within two years. In June 2001, he launched an annual two-week training course for young would-be conductors, and he hoped eventually to begin a program for promising young opera singers. When it was first launched, the Young Artists Program was open only to musicians from Canada, but Zukerman opened it to promising young performers from around the world. "The first couple of years, it was confined to the village," he told Maclean's in 2001. "Now, it's Canadians-plus. People have finally come to the realization that we are a global institution."
In July 2001, Maclean's profiled Zukerman's work with 13-year-old Canadian violin prodigy Caitlin Tully, the youngest student in his 2001 Young Artists Program. Zukerman first heard Tully at a master class he was giving in Vancouver, her hometown. The following year Tully came to Ottawa for her first summer in the Young Artists Program. "Just being there with that sound, just hearing him play, opens up new ideas," she told the Canadian magazine.
Although his position in Ottawa kept him extremely busy, Zukerman also found time to serve as music director of the Ilona Feher Music Center in Holon, Israel, which he founded, and as chairman of the Pinchas Zukerman Performance Program at the Manhattan School of Music in New York City. He was also artist in residence of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.
Complete Marquis Who's Who, Marquis Who's Who, 2001.
Contemporary Musicians, Gale Research, 1990.
Maclean's, July 30, 2001.
"About Pinchas Zukerman," Pittsburgh Symphony, http://www.pittsburghsymphony.org/ (January 28, 2002).
"Pinchas Zukerman: Biography," Kirschbaum Demler & Associates Inc., http://www.skassoc.com/BioZukerman.htm (January 22, 2002).