Legendary Israeli violinist Ivry Gitlis dies age 98


Ivry Gitlis, arguably the last great 20th-century violinist, died on December 24 in Paris aged 98.Born in 1922 in Haifa into a family of immigrants from Ukraine, he got his first violin at age five.At eight, as a child prodigy, he was introduced to the founder of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Bronislaw Huberman. The latter prompted a fundraising campaign, which allowed him to study in France.At 11, Gitlis entered the Conservatoire de Paris. He later studied with outstanding violinists such as George Enescu, Jacques Thibaud and Carl Flesch.During World War II, he went to London where, after working at a war factory, he was assigned to the artists branch of the British Army and gave numerous concerts for the Allied soldiers.After the war he made his successful debut with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Since then his career soared. He performed all over the world with the best symphony orchestras around (but also with the Rolling Stones), appeared in the movies, presented a popular classical music program and was designated UNESCO goodwill ambassador. In 1963, he became the first Israeli violinist to perform in the USSR.THIS DRY information still does not explain why, just as the news of Gitlis’s death started to spread, social networks exploded with passionate memories about encounters with the veteran musician.

“To say that Ivry Gitlis was a charismatic person would be a gross understatement,” says professor of the Royal College of Music Itzhak Rashkovsky, the founder and music director of the Keshet Eilon Music Center’s international master course, which takes place in the Western Galilee’s Kibbutz Eilon. “He was simply unique – sharp-minded, with a fantastic sense of humor, unpredictable and unconventional, passionate about the violin, music and life. He looked and behaved like a klezmer who just stepped out of a Chagall painting.”Speaking over the phone from his London apartment, Rashkovsky says that “for many years Ivry was a member of Keshet Eilon’s distinguished faculty. There was a special aura about him, which drew young violinists toward him. He was never too tired to teach or to engage in conversation till the early morning hours.“But he was not just a teacher who was saying to the student ‘Do as I do.’ Creativity and freedom of expression were his main aims in teaching, as well as in his playing.“Once he was asked: ‘What is your motto?’ He answered: ‘To be alive, to be aware, to hear, to know, to feel, to see, to love and to be loved a bit sometimes.’“The worldwide outburst of the tributes to Ivry is the testament that this eternal child, an enfant terrible, was truly loved by so many people! This was Ivry, an old Jewish philosopher, for whom music and life were expressed by a violin.”Rashkovsky adds: “As for his playing, at his prime, Ivry played with breathtaking virtuosity, an instantly recognizable ‘Gitlis’ sound and highly individual, at times chaotic interpretations. You could agree or disagree with him, but you would never stay indifferent!”A citizen of the world, Gitlis cherished his Jewish identity. A Russian-born Israeli pianist recollects how 30 ago on board a Budapest-Tel Aviv flight that brought new immigrants to Israel, among the guests of honor there was a modest man with a violin – Gitlis.“For four long hours, standing in a cramped aisle between the rows of chairs, Ivry, with incredible inspiration, played for us Jewish songs, and it seemed that the entire universe was crying and rejoicing together with his violin.”As a music journalist and photographer, I was lucky and privileged to interview and photograph Gitlis, as well as to attend his open lessons. And this is my most vivid memory of Gitlis, when he touched the very essence of music-making.At the end of a master class, Gitlis took a violin in his hands and said to his student: “I ask myself, why are we so much preoccupied with this crazy thing at all? What is that we are trying to achieve?“You know, one day I was sitting in my room in Paris. It was rather cold outside. I had just separated from my girlfriend – this was my first separation ever, and I was very sad.“A phrase from the second movement of Brahms’s second sonata was repeating in my head, the same phrase for hours. I was crying. Then I took my violin and started playing this sonata, suddenly finding colors which I never found before – and which I could not find later.“You know, in the gas chambers of Auschwitz you see these scratches: when people realized they were about to die, they started to scratch the walls.“I think this is about the walls – not physical, but the ones we have inside us, and we try to get through them.”


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