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Pinky on the Brain

June 13, 2011

  The official concert season is over now, and very soon the glitz and glamour and echoes of another stellar year will begin to fade.  Eventually, the musical memories that have carried me through the dismal winter months will be replaced once the sunshine (should it ever arrive in my fair city) lures me out into the mountains again and my musical distractions shift from the concert hall to God’s cathedral.   

However, one memory that won’t be disappearing so quickly is the night of my dream concert – an all-star line-up of a small handful of my most favorite pieces, guested by Pinchas Zukerman, a violinist whose performances command respect from audiences and peers no matter where he tightens his bow.  I run to get tickets whenever he’s in town.

The program looked like this:
Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, Op. 84, followed by
Beethoven’s Symphony No.7 in A major, Op. 92 , all topped off with
Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61, performed by Pinchas Zukerman.

These pieces are “home” to me, the musical haunts of my childhood, and are as comforting to me as the lazy Saturday afternoons we used to spend as a family gathered around the radio listening to CBC broadcast live performances of Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic from across the ocean.

And the night of this concert, not even the white star-inducing headache I was battling could compete with the magic being created on stage.

I should confess that my expectations in seeing Pinchas the first time several years ago were pretty low, considering that I was basing my attendance at the concert solely on having heard his name in sentences with other A-list musicians I greatly admire (Jacqueline du Pré, Daniel Barenboim, Itzhak Perlman, Yefim Bronfman, to name a few).  I figured, if he was pals with them, how bad could he be – I’d at least get my money’s worth…  It never crossed my mind that it might be possible that the guy could play.  Like, seriously play!

It’s easy to take excellence for granted when you go to as many concerts as I do, but, every now and then, someone comes along who redefines your previous hallmarks and becomes the new standard.  Enter Mr. Zukerman.  After an illustrious 45+ year career, you’d think he might allow himself to sit back and let concertizing take a back seat for a bit while he focuses on his work with the National Arts Centre Orchestra (not to mention his long list of other commitments…), or maybe prepare to enjoy his retirement years.  Nah, not Pinky.  Instead, he still plays over 150 concerts a year around the world.  And it’s kept him at the very top of his game, even in the company of artists 2 generations younger.

“Youth sticks with some people… Zukerman seems the forever-young virtuoso: expressively resourceful, infectiously musical, technically impeccable, effortless.”  (The Los Angeles Times)

This youthfulness has a few years of experience and swagger under its belt now, and so, when Pinchas walks on stage, he knows he’s earned the right to simply let go and play – the beauty being that he’s no longer held hostage by the technicalities of the music or the media game, but is free to engage in the creative interchange between artist, orchestra, and audience where the voice and experience of each is valued for what they bring to the overall conversation.  In a world where the performer gets the glory, the orchestra plays a mere supporting role, and the audience is mostly a passive spectator, this is a rare joy.  One that makes for a concert you don’t quickly forget.

Here’s what I’m talking about.

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