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100 New Yorkers of the 1970s By Max Millard Characters: 5082

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


"Travel is not fun anymore," sighs world-renowned violinist, violist and conductor Pinchas Zukerman. "It used to be. Now there are all the checks and securities at airports, and the hotel standards have gone down. The old-style luxury hotel is gone. Now it's a businessman's Ramada Inn, kind of hit-and-run hotel. But you learn to live with it."

Since making his American debut with the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein 11 years ago, he has been a soloist with every major orchestra in Europe, and acted as both conductor and soloist for most of the leading orchestras in America. His schedule of 120 concerts a year is solidly booked until 1982, and he has a discography of several dozen recordings on four labels. For personal credits, Pinchas - or "Pinky," as he prefers to be called - has lived on the West Side for 17 years, been married to Eugenia Zukerman for 12 of those years. They have two daughters, one of whom is a skilled pianist.

The New York Times has called him "one of the world's leading violinists," the London Times has said he is "absolutely without peer," and the Washington Post has labeled him "the most versatile of all major musicians." Born in Israel, the son of Polish survivors of Auschwitz, he was invited to perform at the White House last year for Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. "I want to tell Sadat he should set up a recording studio inside the pyramids," he joked before the event. This year, Pinky's greatest honor was his appointment as music director of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the only full-time chamber orchestra in America.

But the most astonishing thing about this burly, muscular man who speaks nostalgically of the "old days," may be his age. He's 31.

"I think I had as normal a childhood as one could expect from a talented boy that had to work," he muses in his living room overlooking the Hudson River. Serious one moment, clownish the next, he frequently punctuates his remarks with loud belly laughter. Pinky's sense of humor is one of the things that endears him to his close friend, violinist Itzhak Perlman, who lives six floors above. They were born three years apart, grew up a few miles from each other, and both came to New York with the help of violinist Isaac Stern to study at Juilliard.

The pair sometimes travel together for concerts, and according to Eugenia Zukerman, "they do things like imitate apes at airports." Eugenia herself is an extraordinary woman. Besides being a wife and mother, she i

s a flutist with an international music career of her own, frequently appearing in recitals with her husband. In addition, she is a highly talented writer who has written free-lance articles for many leading publications, and now devotes three or four hours a day to her first novel.

On October 19 at 10 p.m., and for the next three Friday evenings, Channel 13 will present a series called Here to Make Music, which documents Pinchas Zukerman's musical collaborations with Perlman, Stern and others. Zukerman's life story is told through the use of recordings he made before the age of 10, old photographs and candid interviews, producing a portrait that is often fascinating.

"I think music on TV is getting definitely better in America. They're ahead of the game at the BBC and in Europe, but they're quickly catching up here," he notes. "Sometimes they overcompensate with pictures for the sake of making a so-called 'interesting' show for the guy sitting with his slippers in the living room, drinking a glass of beer. They're afraid to leave the camera on the same musician for three minutes. That's why you've got this flute playing, and you see this horn player picking his nose."

When I ask Pinky about critics, the color rises in his cheeks. "Don't get me on critics," he warns, before launching into an unrestrained diatribe. "First of all, they're not critics as far as I'm concerned. They should be reporters. But they never report what goes on in the concert hall. The public stood up and clapped for 10 minutes. Say it, damn it! Don't say that bar 56 was not right in the Beethoven G Major Sonata. Who cares? It's so stupid!

"I'm a great fiddle player. They all say that. Fine. It's understood, it's granted. It's there. Okay. So instead of criticizing my fiddle playing, they say I'm becoming aloof, and this and that. … One week they tear me to shreds for my conducting. The next week I get these rave reviews. Now, how can one person be that different in one week? What do they think, that I'm a duet?"

Asked how much time he spends practicing, Pinky replies: "As much as I need to. I don't think about time. You either live music or you don't. … Music is an unending art form which demands your complete attention and perfection at all times. What a wonderful thing to be able to say - I'll be able to say it in maybe 15 or 20 years - that I have gone through all of Schubert's works. What an incredible achievement that is! I can tell you, it's a lot more satisfying than flying an airplane."

- THE END -

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