Transcript 04 - The Golden Years with Pinchas Zukerman

From the Podcast Series: Eric Friesen Presents the NAC Orchestra

Eric Friesen: Hi I'm Eric Friesen. Welcome to the 4th chapter in my history of the National Arts Center Orchestra. This one is all about the most recent decade of the orchestra, the 4th decade, the Pinchas years!

Music clip

Eric Friesen: One of the huge bonuses which comes with having Pinchas Zukerman as a Music Director, is that you also get a world class virtuoso player. Night after concert night, Pinchas not only leads the National Arts Center Orchestra, but he plays with it. As he's doing here, playing Mozart on January 3rd, 2003.

Pinchas has been Music Director since 1998, taking firm artistic control of the orchestra. In a way, this has been the culmination of a long and cordial relationship. It's like when an old friendship suddenly flares into a love affair after many years. Pinchas has been coming to play and conduct the National Arts Center Orchestra since 1976. He took the orchestra on a memorable tour to Europe in 1990. After a decade of challenges, things were now looking up at the NAC. Now was the right time for a star Music Director here. And it was the right time for Pinchas.

Many of you will know Pinchas as one of the greatest living violinists and violists on the planet. His friend and frequent collaborator, the pianist Yefim Bronfman, remembers the very first time he heard Pinchas. Fima, as he's known, had just emigrated to Israel from the Soviet Union.

Yefim Bronfman: I remember the first time I heard Pinchas come and play. I had just emigrated. I was just fourteen or fifteen years old and my parents took me to Israel for a concert. There was this violinist I had never heard of. Pinchas Zukerman, what kind of name is that? Must be a local violinist. He was twenty-four, twenty-five, you know he's exactly 10 years older than me. And he played a Beethoven concerto. I heard the performance and nearly fell off my seat. It was impeccable and produced the most beautiful sound that one hears from this instrument. It was just an amazing performance. That's how I heard him for the first time. I didn't meet him then, but I swear to you that I said, “I've got to play with this person one of these days”. I have heard people say he was born with his violin. He's the most natural player there is. You cannot imagine the kind of admiration people have for him in the world as a violinist. People regard him as the greatest violinist in the world. Which I agree, I think he's the greatest violinist in the world, no question about it.

Eric Friesen: And not a bad violist either.

Yefim Bronfman: You know now that he's of age, he's really the godfather of violin playing. When I mentioned to somebody in London, or in Prague, that I know Pinchas Zukerman they said “Really, you know him personally!” I mean he's really a great presence, especially in the world of violin. All violinists look up to him. That's a sure thing.

Eric Friesen: Pianist Yefim Bronfman. But Pinchas has always been about being more than a great violinist. He had long been interested in conducting, he had developed early on a relationship with the English Chamber Orchestra, then he was Music Director of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra from 1980 to 1987. It's a period I remember very well, I was living in St. Paul/Minneapolis at the time. Then Pinchas left the twin cities and he took a break from running an orchestra for a while. About six or seven years later, in the mid 90's, he began having serious conversations with the Board of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra about becoming their Music Director. He had been approached to replace Eduardo Mata who died in a plane crash in early 1995. Pinchas explains what happened when he began his conversations with Dallas Symphony Board Chairman Morton Myerson.

Pinchas Zukerman: So I went there and I said to them, this is what I need, this is what I think you should do. We need some education… a whole bunch of stuff. Everybody said come, when you sign the dotted line everything will work. I said Morton, I'm not doing that. I spent a whole day with him one day. Great guy. We talked about everything but the Dallas Symphony. So I thought this is good, this can work. And when he brought all of that to the board at large and he called me up and in typical Texas fashion he said, “I don't think you should show up in town again” (laughs). I said, Morton what happened? He said “I don't know it took about 25 minutes and I think you better not show up again”.

Eric Friesen: Because you demanded too much?

Pinchas Zukerman: Well I think they just couldn't deal with it. Maybe it's too much for some people but the vision was just too big at that time I suppose.

Eric Friesen: So, Pinchas scared Dallas with his grand vision, of a 10 year plan for education, orchestra development, technology, and the Dallas possibility disappeared. Suddenly Pinchas was free.

Pinchas Zukerman: I had no psychological, musical connection to another orchestra. And it felt pretty good. You know, I said wow, this is like opening a window. I can breathe. Not that I didn't want to be in Dallas, but it would have been a tremendous undertaking, which I was willing to do because it was a fantastic instrument. The Dallas Symphony was amazing. It was like a Lamborghini, it was phenomenal! We had great chemistry, it was wonderful. I then came back here at that point. I hadn't been here for about six or seven years for different reasons. And I liked what I saw, I liked what I felt. As Dick Sizek said, “See we have a way of getting you back into that position as Music Director”. They kind of came up to me a little bit. I laid down again what I thought we should do, size of orchestra, education, and of course technology. And I didn't hear a no from anybody. And I thought, wow, this is not bad. Maybe we'll give it a chance. See if we can go somewhere together. The city had grown tremendously. I was rather desponded with what was happening in the States at the time.

Eric Friesen: What was happening in the States?

Pinchas Zukerman: Well the Music Directorship. I felt… a lot of people, it wasn't just me, it was just so hard to put through any kind of artistic endeavor. It cost so much money, and all the rules and regulations. I just didn't want to deal with it anymore.

Eric Friesen: And it was different here?

Pinchas Zukerman: Yeah.

Eric Friesen: How?

Pinchas Zukerman: It was an orchestra in flux. The center's different. Of course I didn't know what I know today. Maybe if I'd known what I know now I would have said bye-bye. But no, it's a terrific place because it has a certain significance. The idea that it's the Art Center of a country. I think so far we've done very well with it.

Eric Friesen: It's so interesting to me that Pinchas was too extravagant for Dallas, but not too extravagant for Ottawa. Ottawa was ready to embrace him, and all kudos to the management of the time, Board Chair Jean Therese Riley, and Chief Executive John Cripton, who had the courage and largeness of vision to appoint Pinchas Zukerman.

Pinchas' appointment as Music Director in April, 1998, made a big splash. Music lovers in Ottawa were thrilled. Evelyn Greenberg speaks for them.

Evelyn Greenberg: Well, I thought, you know if dreams come true. I remember when Pinchas first came here, he played and conducted many many years ago, he was very young. There was a small reception for him afterwards. I remember saying to him, “I wish you had played more,” because we didn't know him as a conductor. And he said, “I'll play, I'll play”. I know the orchestra, they were in awe naturally, you could see the string players staring at him in the cadenza. I wished for it because I thought well here's a man with a huge heart. I had met him several times, and he's sometimes like a rough Winnie the Pooh teddy bear, but deep down inside he's got a huge heart. You have to play like that. I was hoping that a person of that persona, with a lot of warmth inside. He would be good for our orchestra and our orchestra would be good for him. And I thought Ottawa would be good for Pinchas as well. I dare to say that because we are very down to earth here, we're not the New York elite. I thought this would be good for him. He's one of the foremost violinists in the world and probably the foremost violist on the planet.

Eric Friesen: Ottawa Music Lover and long time National Arts Center Orchestra supporter, Evelyn Greenberg.

Now the critics also were thrilled. Le Droit's Jean-Jacques Van Vlasselaer.

Jean-Jacques Van Vlasselaer: I was very happy. Very happy that one could bring in one of the absolute stars, you know there are about ten people in the world… there are many other musicians and soloists that are at that level, but to bring in someone, an absolute violin player and viola player. In my opinion there are two players in the world that are at that level, and he's the other one. For me also, I thought that his idea of chamber music, and his playing of chamber music is top level. When he came I said Ottawa is going to get great chamber music playing.

Eric Friesen: Music critic and Carleton University academic, Jean-Jacques Van Vlasselaer.

Well, what about the players in the orchestra? What did they think? Pace Sturdevant, who was Principal Trumpet at the time, was not surprised. He knew Pinchas was keeping his eye on them, and that the musicians were keeping an eye on Pinchas.

Pace Sturdevant: But for me it was meant to happen. It wasn't a surprise. I thought it was the perfect transition after Trevor.

Eric Friesen: Why?

Pace Sturdevant: Because the quality of the orchestra had not been diminished and we'd survived. And the orchestra, I guess we are a group of survivors if you look at the history. It was worthy of Pinchas, and a conductor who was a performer.

Eric Friesen: Why is that a good thing?

Pace Sturdevant: For me, on a personal level, you learn so much from watching a conductor perform as a musician. You learn how they think so that when they ask for something you know where it's coming from. Pinchas, he can walk into an orchestra and size up the string section in just a matter of minutes. That kind of knowledge, as a conductor on the podium, it's intimidating for some musicians in some orchestras, but the incredible expertise he brings… just at the performance aspect. It sounds better if you do it this way. If you do it this way it's more generic either to the time or the composer. It's more idiomatic.

Eric Friesen: Pace Sturdevant. Now he mentioned how Pinchas' coming to the National Arts Center Orchestra was intimidating to some of the players. That was certainly true of veteran violinist Elaine Klimasko.

Elaine Klimasko: Oh, complete intimidation. You know, this had been someone I had idolized for my life. To think of him coming as a conductor and being able to look down the section and be able to see my inadequacies as a violinist, whether it be something in the bow or the shift, I was terrified. Absolutely terrified. But after that tour in 1990, when we went on tour with him, I realized that he wasn't that kind of person. He sees everything. He missed nothing.

Eric Friesen: I know.

Elaine Klimasko: He can sit here and tell you what every single member of the orchestra plays, what their strong points are, what their weak points are. He's just… he's looking. Not as a police man, he's looking because he wants to make it as good as he can. But I was really nervous.

Eric Friesen: And how did it go the first couple of rehearsals and concerts?

Elaine Klimasko: Well, I don't have a strong memory of anything being negative. That's for sure. It took me a little while to get used to looking at this good looking superstar in front of me realizing he too was also a human being, besides being the greatest violinist in my opinion. That sort of took a little time to come down to earth and work with him as a colleague, you know.

Eric Friesen: Violinist Elaine Klimasko.

Music clip

Eric Friesen: Pinchas Zukerman, leading the National Arts Center Orchestra playing the viola this time, as he does so brilliantly. That was the slow movement from a concerto by Georg Philip Telemann.

I'm Eric Friesen, and you're listening to part 4 of my series on the history of the National Arts Center Orchestra. We're in the most recent decade - the Pinchas Years.

So, Pinchas came to Ottawa to be Music Director in 1998, and not only did he take the job, he moved to Ottawa and became firmly rooted in the city.

Pinchas Zukerman: Well, I wanted to move somewhere for part of the time, for part of the year, outside of the United States. I was looking at possibly Europe, possible some other places in the world. But not without any musical connection, just to live somewhere else for awhile. But as it always turns out in my profession, things come to me somehow. I didn't look for a place to live here, but it somehow came around. When Amanda and I became entangled and - it was obvious. I was already being separated anyway from my previous marriage, so things seemed natural. As you know, I've known this country for a very long time. I have a tremendous warmth inside my tummy, you know, about this country. Specifically because my parents… my father couldn't get a green card in the States, when he came in 1963/64, and after two years they came to Montreal. So I know the country through my own growing up and evolution of what's happened between Montreal, and then moving to Toronto in the late 60s, and of course friends like Walter Homburger and so on.

Eric Friesen: Pinchas Zukerman, who has embraced Ottawa and Canada, just as it welcomed his parents 40 years ago, and which is now home to him and his wife, Amanda Forsyth, who's the principal cellist of the National Arts Center Orchestra. And I can tell you that I've known Pinchas for a long time, he doesn't say these things to be nice. He's a truth teller. He means what he says, he says what he means, and you can hear it in his voice when he talks about his love for Canada.

And he brought with him his ambitious program - the program that was too much for Dallas - and set about to implement it. Expanding the orchestra in size and repertoire, touring, exploiting new technologies and education, education, education. Pinchas is a big engine, he's always pushing to do more. He puts it this way.

Pinchas Zukerman: I mean if you come to a stop sign in a car you have a choice. You either stay at that red light and just dream, or you see green and you go - I can go here and I can go there, and that's it. So I have always seen the periphery to some extent. Sometimes it got me in a hell of a lot of trouble. But I'm still here. I think the proof of the pudding so to speak, is the ten years in which we have really done some amazing stuff, and will continue to do. Our education program is second to none. In a sense of, not only in the center, but as an orchestra and what we have derived at in teaching and the ability to give young people the knowledge, I think, is a duty of every person that feels that they can offer something. It's a duty.

Eric Friesen: But Pinchas you don't approach it as a duty. I've seen you in education, it's probably the thing that gives you the most pleasure in your life.

Pinchas Zukerman: I don't mean duty for myself, I mean as a concept. It's our obligation I should say, to give back or to tell the younger generation, all those younger colleagues of what I don't know. If I know, then hey, take it. But what I don't know is what's interesting because you then see how much you can absorb from that young person and their ability to absorb what you might be able to give them. So, as you know, I love talent. Talent is the greatest invention of all time, because it's layers and layers of ability in thinking, in physical eye-hand coordination, in all sorts of spheres that we only see if we spend time working with that youngster. You know, somebody that can really play. And what a pleasure it is to see someone really do wonderfully in their life. It will coincide with their own being, how they will proceed over the next foreseeable future for themselves. That's the concept of what teaching is really about. Sure you have to learn to drive properly, you have to walk properly, you have to do all those things. So the scales are important, and beautiful sounds and how it works, but after that is what it is really about. I think what we've done here is put in motion the IOS program for example, the orchestral program. It's amazing to do that in today's world, in North America with all its constrictions.

Eric Friesen: That Institute for Orchestra Studies that Pinchas refers to is a unique program: each year 5 young players come to be mentored by members of the orchestra, and they also get to play with them, side-by-side in some regular subscription concerts. It's an incredible opportunity for young talent to be nurtured by seasoned veterans.

And then there's the NAC's Summer Music Institute - which is now an ambitious summer program of training players from all over the world, as well as young conductors and young composers.

I asked orchestra violinist Elaine Klimasko about this:

Eric Friesen: I mean he's not just a great player and a conductor, but he's also a teacher and he had this love for being with kids. It's amazing to watch because he goes from being a superstar to being… I don't know… I sometimes think of him as uncle Pinchas.

Elaine Klimasko: Well I was going to say, that's very true what you just said. I think of it as fatherly sometimes. I remember once we were sitting in the opera stage and we were listening to some students on stage. I wanted to hear a student of mine. He turned around, and with all this exuberance he said “Elaine, isn't talent wonderful!”. Like he's happy to hear talent, he's not threatened by it. I know people in their 60s who are threatened by fabulously talented younger people. How silly is that, you know (laughs). It's sick, you know. Like our time is not over, but because of my passion for teaching, I feel no intimidation by these young superstars in our orchestra. I think we make each other play better. They have our experience, we have their energy. Together, it's a perfect match. I think one of the reasons the orchestra sounds as well as it does now, and as good as it does now, is because of that.

Eric Friesen: So it's not just teaching kids as an education thing, but it's also helping the orchestra?

Elaine Klimasko: Oh, absolutely. I mean the Institute for Orchestra Studies which I'm quite involved with, these kids are coming in… well they're not all kids, I mean some of them are doctoral students and whatever, but they're coming in saying these experiences are just so important to them at this time and it's helping them so much to gain confidence and experience to go on and get a good job as soon as possible. With Pinchas, you think he's exhausted his ideas for education… he comes up to me a week later, “Hey Elaine, I've got a great idea!” He's got something else fantastic to share. Something else he wants to implement here to make this an education haven for custom musicians around the world. I think it's just so unselfish of him, and so wonderful of him to be as committed to this as he is because it's really really important. It just doesn't exist in other places to this extent.

Eric Friesen: Elaine Klimasko, who's one of the original members of the National Arts Center Orchestra, and still here playing.

Here's one of Pinchas' young protégés, the Munich-born violinist Viviane Hagner, who in May, 2005, came back to the NAC to play with the orchestra. This is the finale of the fiendishly difficult Violin Concerto No. 4 by Henri Vieuxtemp.

Music clip

Eric Friesen: Violinist Viviane Hagner dazzling in the Vieuxtemp Violin Concerto No. 5, with a proud Pinchas Zukerman leading the National Arts Center Orchestra.

At the same time that Pinchas was charging ahead with his ambitious program of education, he was working on the acoustics of the hall, Southam Hall, which at his urging were improved significantly by an electronic system called ACS.

Pinchas Zukerman: The one thing we changed dramatically is the acoustics. When we came on, I heard of a system in Jacksonville, Florida, called ACS. The ACS is an offshoot of Philips Records at the time. They actually were coming to Halifax. The main office became Canadian. So hey, guess what, we can go and ask for some money. I really said I can't do this in this kind of a hall. So they put in the ACS. ACS has been a life saver. The sound, there's not even a comparison. There's no way to compare it. It's like sitting in the dark and all of a sudden you get not only the light opened, but you get windows open… ah!”

Eric Friesen: Another advantage in having a virtuoso player as a music director - he knows how much good acoustics mean to the rest of the orchestra, to the players.

But meantime, Pinchas was working on the orchestra itself - You can't have a string player of his caliber as a Music Director without him having a serious effect on the sound of the band. So I asked his old friend, Itzhak Perlman, the other great violinist of their generation, whether he has heard a change in the sound of the NACO in Pinchas' time.

Itzhak Perlman: Well the sound of the orchestra is what he hears. Pinchas has the most amazing sound, you know, not only on the violin but you've heard him play the viola many many times. He's not only a great violinist, but a great viola player. He hears a particular way. And when you hear a particular way, the orchestra plays a particular way. I think it's very simple. What you hear with the strings, is what he hears in his head. Not just the string section, but the whole orchestra. It's a question of what you have in your head. It translates itself. So the orchestra sounds beautiful.

Eric Friesen: So in a way the orchestra echoes his sound, what's in his head?

Itzhak Perlman: Yeah, I think so. I think that's what's supposed to happen, and that's what happens.

Eric Friesen: Itzhak Perlman. Pianist John Kimura Parker agrees. He's had the advantage of also playing chamber music with Pinchas, and that's given Jackie a new perspective on how the orchestra's sound has developed under Pinchas' leadership.

John Kimura Parker: Hearing his sound that close and working with him in that light really made me understand pretty quickly what Pinchas has tried to do with the National Arts Center Orchestra, which is to really change their concept of sound. That's a very different kind of approach that they are now experiencing, then at any other time in their history. Where richness of sound, bigness of concept, you know a kind of a large personality, which are all things of Pinchas Zukerman, are things that he wants to be part of the orchestra. That's probably been difficult for some of the players, and it's probably been welcomed by many of the players I would imagine. It's a very different approach to what they've had. In a certain sense, although Pinchas has had a lot of experience with chamber orchestras, he likes a big sound. I suddenly got from where I used to play mostly Mozart and Schumann and those kinds of works with NACO. I've now kind of graduated to works like the Beethoven Emperor and Tchaikovsky, a slightly different type of repertoire, which in many cases has required more players.

Eric Friesen: John Kimura Parker. Another pianist, Yefim Bronfman, agrees about the change in the sound.

Yefim Bronfman: Oh, they're playing beautifully. They just finished a rehearsal for Rachmaninoff 3rd concerto, which is probably a piece they wouldn't have dreamed of playing 10 or 15 years ago. They have this lushness and beauty of sound they didn't have before. I always say that the sound has a glow to it, you know something that the orchestra didn't have, but now they do have it.

Eric Friesen: Yefim Bronfman. Now, Pinchas himself is a little more elusive on the subject. I had to ask him about it several times before he responded directly to my question.

Eric Friesen: But I want to hold you to something, I mean you have changed the string sound of the orchestra. They sound more like you do.

Pinchas Zukerman: You know why, because I'm a string player. Hello! Everybody always says that, it's nonsense. It's because of where I work, absolutely. You don't think I've changed the wind sound? I think I have. It's because of hiring certain people, how we want that, and it's in the so called principal secondary positions. I don't like to call it secondary positions because they're not. A second bassoon is not a secondary position. Oh my god, if you don't have that you're in deep doo doo. There's a whole bunch of stuff. There's intonation, there's constant moving around, let's create this, let's create that. I think there's more of an outgoing personality to the orchestra. They ask more questions, maybe sometimes too many. But it's nice, it's nice camaraderie. I think people like to say, hey, I hear this, can we try that. Sure, let's do it. Where before it was um, maybe let's not do that. So positions change, people come in. Sometimes it's better, sometimes it's the same. These are all very important things.

Eric Friesen: Well you've hired a lot of players over the 10 years. Young players have come in, veteran players, Chris Millard, Joel Quarrington, people like that. What do you look for in a player, when you hire someone into NACO?

Pinchas Zukerman: How much they love hockey (laughs). If they don't like hockey, they can't come to this orchestra, that's it.

Eric Friesen: They've got to talk hockey with you?

Pinchas Zukerman: They don't have to be a Sens fan. JQ, I mean oh my god, he's still with the Leafs. But I think maybe he's swaying away. He's not going to become a Sens, because he's very disappointed in how they play. And Chris, well Chris is a very good chef by the way. Did you know that?

Eric Friesen: Yes, I did.

Pinchas Zukerman: Yeah. So that's great, very important to me (laughs). So, I say Chris, how about some dinner? What do I look for? Oh my god, I don't know really. I think I look for, well the ability first of all, the talent of course. The knowledge, the talent, the ability to change course very quickly, adjustability… If it's a solo instrument, like with Chris Millard, you're looking for a solo personality in a way. But then also how does he do things within the section, because he's got to be one of 10 or 12 people that play together. How does it work with JQ, how does it work with that bass and in tune? These are things that you instinctively hear. Knowing Chris of course over the years, there wasn't a big question mark in my head. And it still takes some time for them to adjust. I mean even though he had been here a few times filling in, it takes some time to adjust to what's going on. But he's a fanatic about instruments as you know. He builds things, and he fixes things, and Kimball depends on Chris now for the clarinet, to fix his clarinet and things. They themselves experiment. These are all things you get to know more as you're sitting and playing and working together. They get to know me of course, and I get to know them, and of course, we play chamber music. Forget it, I play a lot of chamber music, with the winds as well. That's why the orchestra sounds different. It's not just because you work on the podium in a certain way. Sure those are very important elements, you've got to mark your parts. If you don't mark your parts, you're out of the ballpark as far as I'm concerned. No conductor should ever come to an orchestra without their parts. I have over 500 of my whole pieces in the library here at the NAC. And Margot, god bless her, she's… and Greg, they've fixed some of my old parts and…

Eric Friesen: Patched them up?

Pinchas Zukerman: Of course, and in some cases did some redoing of stuff. You turn those pages so many times, you know it becomes like toilet paper, you can't even touch it. It just falls apart.

Eric Friesen: It's all Scotch Tape.

Pinchas Zukerman: Yeah. So they send parts of mine to other orchestras. When I visit those libraries they say, you're so lucky you've got Margot and Greg. I said, tell me about it! So these are all parts of why the orchestra sounds different. I'm telling you, it's not one or two or three, it's a whole totality of stuff.

Eric Friesen: Pinchas Zukerman, bobbing and weaving on the question of how the sound of the National Arts Center Orchestra has changed and developed under his leadership. In that answer you hear a very important clue to Pinchas' leadership - it's direct, it's personal, it's visceral, and completely professional. There's a huge camaraderie to Pinchas' professional life, just as there is to his teaching life. He's a mensch, he's fully human, and he's there right with you.

His most important hire has come recently. In June 2007, Pinchas appointed only the 2nd concertmaster in the history of the orchestra. After Music Director, this is the most critical position in any orchestra. After a long audition process, the National Arts Center Orchestra chose a young Japanese American, age 30, named Yosuke Kawasaki. I put the question to Pinchas.

Eric Friesen: Probably one of the most important decisions you've made, is you've hired this second concertmaster in the history of this orchestra. Yosuke Kawasaki.

Pinchas Zukerman: And what a concertmaster that is.

Eric Friesen: What was it about him, personality, playing, that attracted you, because it's a really important role?

Pinchas Zukerman: His work ethic. Forget the playing. The playing is absolutely obvious. You can tell immediately what he does. It's unbelievable. I'm lucky in a way, because I've known his father for a very long time. And his mother of course as well, she's a wonderful flute player. He was, Methaose (father) still teaches at Julliard, he plays fantastic viola. So I didn't even know there was a son playing the violin. I was told that in Japan when I was first asking about someone Japanese. Is there someone I can audition and so on. So his whole ability of being aware of what's going on, that's work ethic. It's not him, it's what's happening around him. And his discipline, his self discipline is wonderful. He's got a beautiful sound. It's just great. Lucky.

Eric Friesen: So revealing of Pinchas' personality as a Music Director. His need for the right chemistry in his relationship with an important player like the concertmaster, which is made up of family knowledge, recognition of work ethic, and his appreciation of how well this young man plays the violin. The one thing about Pinchas, and you've heard it in a number of comments throughout this program, he's incredibly generous in recognizing great talent in others, young or old, and quick to give others recognition and credit.

Earlier, Jon Kimura Parker referred to the change in repertoire under Pinchas. Pinchas has enlarged the orchestra. He has done it through a clever combination of giving extra players a partial contract and benefits. So that, while the core remains at about 50 players, he can also call on anywhere from 10 to 35 extra players when the repertoire demands it. And so, Southam Hall has been hearing a lot more romantic repertoire under Pinchas: Dvorak, Mahler, and some of Pinchas' beloved Brahms.

Music clip

Eric Friesen: Pinchas Zukerman leading the National Arts Center Orchestra in Brahms Serenade No.1, from a performance in June of 2003.

There has been such a track record of expansion and development in these first 11 years of Pinchas' time with the orchestra. But Pinchas is not just a big presence inside the National Arts Centre. He looms large in the city of Ottawa itself. I asked the NAC's CEO Peter Herrndorf, what kind of an impact Pinchas has made in our capital city?

Peter Herrndorf: Well (laughs), I think that Ottawa is an unusual city in that the stars tend to be politicians. So the stars tend to be the Michael Ignatieffs, and the Stephen Harpers, and the Jean Chrétien. What I like about the role that Pinchas has played, is that in the last ten years, the stars have been musicians and hockey players. So that Daniel Alfredsson of the Senators and Pinchas Zuckerman from the National Arts Center are exciting figures in this community. This has always been a kind of company town. This town is about politics, and what I love about the role that Pinchas plays is that it adds a kind of texture to this community that makes it much more interesting. People now talk about coming to Ottawa as a cultural destination. You, Eric Friesen, came to Ottawa to create a wonderful show about classical music. So to some degree, Pinchas has been a catalyst in changing the way Ottawa sees itself and, I think, in the way the rest of the country sees Ottawa.

Eric Friesen: Peter Herrndorf. Now, Pinchas talked earlier of his love for Canada and of his attraction to the city of Ottawa to make his home here. A little later in our conversation he made the point that the pluses of living in Canada and Ottawa actually contribute significantly to the health of music making here at the NAC.

Pinchas Zukerman: You know, living in Canada lends itself to elbow room. And for the life of me, I don't know why, every time I come back here and I feel like ah, yeah, I've got time.

Eric Friesen: Time and space?

Pinchas Zukerman: Space in a kind of horizontal way.

Eric Friesen: Well it's a big country with fewer people.

Pinchas Zukerman: Maybe. Also the elements, don't forget. The elements bring you more to understand maybe what that person down the streets needs, even if they're not asking.

Eric Friesen: More sense of community do you mean?

Pinchas Zukerman: Maybe. There's something about that. You know, when I tell people you know we got 5 feet of snow, they go, what! I said but yeah, you know it's really amazing how beautiful it is. They go, how can it be beautiful? I said, well you have to come and see it. How do you explain that? In the middle of the night, when you see the light… now spring is coming you have light till 8 o'clock already. When you see that moon coming up and the sunset has just happened, and wow! I'm sure other places have the same, but maybe in New York you can't see it because of those damn high rises. You only think of those poor people in elevators, and they're going back to a cubicle. There isn't much room there. It's an island, you know. And that's what I know, I lived there for so many years. So it's a good feeling. It's a very good feeling. Not that I would want to live in prairie land, I mean that's not my wish in life. I don't want to live on some farm, I don't have that ambition. Besides, I wouldn't know what to do with a cow anyhow. I mean I'd play a few scales, you know, Moon River. That's it. It's kind of amazing; I think sometimes we forget how lucky we are. Also, the beauty of the city, it's a very beautiful city. Some people call it European. What's European, you know? Just because it's beautiful you call it European (laughs)? You know, I call it little Ben, the clock here.

Eric Friesen: The Peace Tower?

Pinchas Zukerman: Yeah. Nobody ever thinks of it as little Ben but me. They say what are you crazy? It's not little Ben, it's a clock. I said, okay, it's a clock (laughs). It's not little Susie! So, we have changing of the guards, it's not exactly the same but you know, what the hell. So it does remind you a little bit of that English thing, which I like personally.

Eric Friesen: Yeah, because you've had a lot of relationships there.

Pinchas Zukerman: Anyway it's very nice, I like it.

Eric Friesen: As I sit and listen to you, it's almost like you become poetic. You tell me you never speak in poetry, but you do. You just did.

Pinchas Zukerman: Poetry? (laughs)

Eric Friesen: More lyrical.

Pinchas Zukerman: Lyrical? Well sometimes it's okay, you bring it out of me you know.

Eric Friesen: Now I let that part of our conversation go on a little bit because it gives you a better sense of the way Pinchas thinks, that peripheral vision of his taking in his complete surroundings in describing his successes in Ottawa, and always deflecting away from himself to give full credit to the complex web of people and circumstances that make up his life as Music Director of the National Arts Center Orchestra.

Pinchas also gives great credit to the administrative leadership of the NAC. To the man who was board chair during much of Pinchas' time in Ottawa - David Leighton. And to the CEO of most of that time, and who still is, Peter Herrndorf. Pinchas begins by talking about what Peter Herrndorf has meant to this 4th decade of the NAC.

Peter Herrndorf: I think he's been amazing, coming in here and giving the confidence to all of us that we can do it. That's a unique ability. Again, we are very fortunate to have David Leighton who understood that. When Mitchell said, David, you're going to become the chairman. He had to come out of retirement, whatever that meant. It didn't mean a thing. He wanted to do it anyway. But, he always said, oh I have to come out of retirement. I don't know if I can deal with coming back and everything. And bingo, the next day you know what he did, he said I think I have the person who should run this as CEO. And sure enough… So he came, and one of the first things he did, I remember he met with all sorts of groups of people. He said, I want to hear from you. I want to listen to what you have to say. And that's a great gift. That's music, that's music making. So it works hand in hand. It's good.

Eric Friesen: It's not just good, I can say it - it's been a fantastic run of 11 years so far when you fill in the whole picture. In fact, CEO Peter Herrndorf makes the case that this time, right now, is the best it's ever been for the orchestra.

Peter Herrndorf: Even though those days in 1969 and 70, and 71 were heady days, I would make the argument that probably the best times for the National Arts Center Orchestra happen now, have been in the last few years. I think that this has been a kind of golden age for the National Arts Center Orchestra. As nice as it is to be nostalgic about 1969, 70, 71, if you looked at some of the things the orchestra's been doing in recent years, I think you'll have a sense that we are, the orchestra has really been going through that kind of a positive period.

Eric Friesen: Peter Herrndorf. It's a positive period that still has an unwritten ending. We've come to 40 years in the life of this orchestra, from a magical beginning, to some great mountains and some deep valleys over the decades, to now. But the Pinchas years are not yet finished. I asked him how long he might still be here, in Ottawa, with the National Arts Center Orchestra. In his usual way, Pinchas wandered around the question, here and there, and then came to a musical image and answering my question in the way that only he does.

Pinchas Zukerman: In a way I think I'm very lucky because I've got the C major scale that goes right around. It's a perfect circle, it comes right back to the beginning (laughs). That's lucky for me. I'm very lucky, and I can still do it on my own without interference from somewhere else. So I feel very fortunate. I think that's why sometimes I'm hardnosed or adamant about aspects. What happened I think here, for me mainly, is that people wanted to listen to that, and wanted to be a part of that. That's great; I've had a fantastic journey. How long will it take to get off that journey? As long as I can hear and do what I need to do, I'll stick around. I don't know if it's two years, or four years, or six years, I have no idea. I don't know, but we'll see. It certainly has nothing to do with money, I can tell you that. It has nothing to do with money. People always say, oh he's making so much money, he's going to stay because he's making so much money. Rubbish! I think there is a divine aspect and comedy at the same time, and I want to finish by telling a story. This is a joke kind of. Moses apparently had a stutter. There's a biblical town called Canaan. When he got the tablet, you know the ten commandments, God say hey, where do you want to go now? And he says I want to go to Ca, Ca, Ca… he wanted to say Canada, but he came out with Canaan (laughs). There you are. So here I am.

Eric Friesen: Pinchas Zukerman, still here in the Promised Land, and it sounds like he'll be here for some time to come. While he laughs, he worries about the effect of this current recession on the future of the orchestra and on the future of classical music around the world. But for a man who's come through tougher times, as did his parents before him, he knows that he'll still always have the music, and will still always be giving us the music at its highest level.

Music clip

Eric Friesen: Pinchas Zukerman leading the National Arts Center Orchestra in the finale from Sergei Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2, that was at Southam Hall, September, 2004. You can hear all the music that we've been listening to on this program, and more peak performance, some 150 live recorded performances by the National Arts Center Orchestra, and here's how you can hear them. You go to the website,, then to the NACmusicbox. That's where you'll be able to access these live recorded musical performances.

On the next program, I'll be looking at the national part of the mandate of the National Arts Center Orchestra. Very important: touring across Canada, broadcasting, commercial recording, the Internet, and the orchestra's commitment to Canadian composers.

I'm Eric Friesen. Stay in touch. It's good to know that you're out there listening.