Sunday, October 2, 2011

Pinchas Zukerman and a Circle of Friends

Written by Andy Fein, Violin Maker and Owner, Fein Violins, Ltd.

My life has brought me many interesting intersecting circles.

The neighborhood I grew up in, Haddontowne in Cherry Hill, NJ, was filled with working musicians and artists. Many of my neighbors and parents of my friends were in the Philadelphia Orchestra. It was through neighborhood gatherings that I first met Herb Light, a violinist with the Philadelphia Orchestra and his wife, a fine pianist Yoheved (Veda) Kaplinsky. Veda is now a piano professor and chairperson of the piano department at Juilliard. When I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, I knew her as a really, really good piano teacher and performer.

Veda is from Israel and knew Pinchas Zukerman from their days as young star musicians in Israel. I first met Pinchas through Herb & Veda. But, honestly, I was a somewhat oblivious kid and it didn't really register on me who I was meeting.

When I was in college, Herb casually told me about a great violin maker in the town next to ours. Sergio Peresson was working in Haddonfield, NJ. Many famous musicians were commissioning instruments from him. At the time, he was working on a violin for Pinchas Zukerman. I was interested in violins and violin making and Sergio graciously let me visit him in his workshop. While I was there, I watched him work on the violin that would become Pinchas'.
Sergio Peresson chatting with Jacqueline du Pre



I graduated from Wesleyan University in 1977 with a degree in music (Cum Laude! How'd that happen?) and started at what is now the Chicago School of Violin Making in the fall of that year.
I made instruments, learned a lot about fine old violins from Kenneth Warren, Sr., studied fine bows and bow making, and played lots of music. It was three and one-half years of an intense introduction into the world of violins and violin making.

After completing the school, I worked in Toronto and Chicago and travelled extensively. I visited and learned from several makers and restorers in Europe, the U.S. and South America. In 1982, I opened my own shop, first in Minneapolis and then all the way across the river in St. Paul. Who was conducting the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra at that time? Pinchas Zukerman.

I soon came to know several member of the SPCO and had some very good business dealings with them. The principal second violin at the time was Tom Kornacker. Tom is a warm and friendly guy, a wonderful violinist and musician, and played in small ensembles with Zukerman. Through Tom, Zukerman asked if I could help sell some of his violin collection. I first sold some very nice contemporary American violins for Pinchas. Then one day, Tom brought in a beautiful contemporary violin with the label (In italian): "Made for the preeminent violinist Pinchas Zukerman, Sergio Peresson, Haddonfield, NJ." I almost burst with joy, "Hey, I know this violin! I mean I really know it! I saw it being made." I fairly quickly sold that violin and everyone was happy. The new player, Zukerman, and me!

A few months later, Pinchas and Tom were heading to Israel for some concerts. They told me about a great violin maker and restorer in Tel Aviv they were friends with. In fact, Tom owned one of his violins. His name is Amnon Weinstein. While they were in Tel Aviv, Pinchas selected a few violins from Amnon's collection to bring back to St. Paul. I offered them from the shop as very special instruments. Endorsed and selected by Pinchas Zukerman. Wouldn't you like to have a violin selected by Pinchas Zukerman? Yes!
Amnon Weinstein

That began a long and close working relationship with Amnon Weinstein which has blossomed into a close friendship. I have visited him a few times in Tel Aviv and he and his wife have travelled with me through the U.S. Through Amnon, I was able to offer Chaim Taub's violin for sale in the U.S. Chaim Taub was the concert master of the Israel Philharmonic. He played this particular violin from the time he was thirteen until his retirement. Amnon has also sent other fine instruments to sell through my shop.

Beyond the business relationship, my connection to Amnon means I have a connection to the land of my people, Israel. Through that, I have made other wonderful connections with distant family and friends. Incidentally, Amnon's wife, Assiela, is the daughter of Chaya and Assiel Bielski. The movie "Defiance" tells the story of the Bielski partisan group surviving the Holocaust. Those heroes are her family.

A few years ago, Amnon asked me to loan a cello to the granddaughter of his closest friend,  Dr. Kaplinsky. The granddaughter was a fine cellist, living in Boston and studying with Yo-Yo Ma. One day, Dr. Kaplinsky was in Amnon's shop and called me to thank me for loaning the cello to his granddaughter. In the midst of our chat, I had a thought (we call it Jewish Geography!). "Dr. Kaplinsky, are you related to Veda Kaplinsky, the pianist?" I said. He laughed and said. "I'm honored to be her brother." What!!?? Amnon's best friend is the brother of my neighbor in Cherry Hill? Ah my life, full of circles.

Did you follow that circle? From Herb Light and Veda Kaplinsky to Pinchas Zukerman to Sergio Peresson to Amnon Weinstein to Dr. Kaplinsky, Veda's brother. Over about 30 years and 3,000 miles!

I blog this out not to brag about my connections (although it never hurts to have friends in good places!). Rather, it's to encourage everyone reading this to be open to new situations, to remember who you have interacted with, and to embrace the people that will carry you along in life. I believe the "six degrees of separation" is really only about two degrees if you really pay attention.

Amnon has enriched the world with his artistry and dedication to telling the story of the Jewish people through violins. There is a movie about his project resurrecting violins from the Holocaust, "Amnon's Journey".

Pinchas Zukerman & his 1742 Guarnerius del Gesu violin, the 'Dushkin'

Pincahs Zukerman continues to concertize and conduct. Any time you have the opportunity to hear him, soloing or with the National Centre Orchestra of Canada, take it! He is one of the foremost violinists, violists, and conductors of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries! Zukerman plays on one of the finest Guarnerius del Gesu violins I have ever heard. And to hear him play it is an absolute dream.

Pinchas Zukerman & his  1742 'Dushkin' Guarnerius del Gesu violin

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