An astounding display of musical talent was offered to guests and supporters at the festive 77th America-Israel Cultural Foundation Gala last Tuesday evening, held at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater under the auspices of Israel’s Consul General in New York, Dani Dayan. (Photo: Ilona Oltuski -Prize ceremony David Stern for Ivry Gitlis )
Honoring the memory of Vera Stern, the musical program unified three generations of virtuosi, all of whom had received support from AICF at the start of their careers. The partaking artists were friends, colleagues, students or protégés of the influential music power couple Vera and Isaac Stern, and included world-renowned performers Itzhak Perlman and Yefim Bronfman. The Sterns’ three children, David, Michael and Shira, guided audiences through the program, which was compiled according to Vera’s musical taste spanning works by Prokofiev, Schubert, Beethoven, Mozart, Bloch, Chopin, Bach and Brahms; the trio of siblings shared personal remarks and historic memories in between performances by ensembles of interchanging sizes and configurations.
After saving Carnegie Hall and inspiring its development as one of the premier music institutions under his presidency, Isaac, the great performer and educator and the ever-energetic Vera, left their cultural legacy and a remarkable imprint that still holds its impact on today’s classical music scene.
Vera became involved with AICF in 1960, realizing the dire need for support for local talent in Israel. Through AICF’s dual corresponding activities in Tel Aviv and New York, American patrons are able to actively support music and art education in Israel, making it possible to train aspiring talent “chuz la aretz,” outside of Israel, ultimately introducing new artists to international audiences, while helping them to forge the networks careers are built upon.
In turn, some of its great artists return for performances in Israel, keeping the cultural exchange fluid.
Although the opportunities to develop their talents and continue to build careers abroad represent an ideal for many capable Israeli musicians, the musical import of Israel’s talent – many of Russian heritage – to the US and Europe has also created a bit of a newly exiled generation. Less obvious perhaps in a profession that requires so much touring, but Israeli talent still aims to prove career-worthy outside of their native borders, which of course in Israel’s case spans a comparatively minuscule region, creating a difficult scenario for a performer.
Given its small population, the amount of talent emerging in Israel is quite impressive, and many of the artists serve as Israel’s “ambassadors,” taking on the responsibility of presenting Israel’s strong embrace of international culture, while others rather distance themselves from being labeled.
Under the leadership of its New York director, David Homan, AICF has expanded its outreach into all creative areas, including dance, fine art, theater, and to the media and production side of curating and performance, which made this year’s inaugural ‘Vera Stern King Solomon Award’ especially meaningful.
Photo; Ilona Oltuski Alon Goldstein ( piano) Vadim Guzman ( violin)
The prize was presented by Peter Gelb, General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera, to media expert, producer, and President and CEO of WNET, Neal Shapiro, to reward visionary programming in support of the arts. The other award this evening, the ‘William A. Schwarz Aviv Award’ named for AICF’s previous longtime president William Schwarz, was presented by Vera Stern’s son, David, to a much-beloved figure of the music world, the violinist and perpetual enfant terrible, Ivry Gitlis, who embraced the audience saying: “Je vous aime le plus (you are my very favorite),” bringing the evening’s sentimental touch into the foreground.
The opening work of the evening, Prokofiev’s Overture on Jewish Themes, op.34 provided an early ample outlook on the caliber of the evening’s performers, with Alexander Fiterstein (clarinet), Vadim Gluzman and Itamar Zorman (violins), Shmuel Katz (viola), and Yefim Bronfman at the piano.
Other highlights included a perceptive rendering of Ernest Bloch’s From Jewish Life – Baal Shem: Nigun by pianist Alon Goldstein with Vadim Guzman, a velvety performance by soprano Rinat Shaham in Bach’s Erbarme Dich from St. Matthew Passion, with a trio accompaniment by Itzhak Perlman (violin), Amit Peled (cello) and Alon Goldstein, as well as the scorching finale of Brahm’s Piano Quintet in F minor with Yefim Bronfman, Itzhak Perlman, Vadim Guzman, Shmuel Katz, and Amit Peled, closing with another Opus 34.
Pianist Tomer Gewirtzman represented the new generation of young Israeli artists. As winner of the Young Concert Artists International Auditions, Gewirtzman makes his New York recital debut on December 13th at Merkin Hall. He received the Audience Price at the AICF Aviv Competition in 2013.