Vilnius celebrates the centenary
of the birth of Jascha Heifetz


by Živilė Ramoškaitė

Today Litvaks (Lithuanian Jews) who are scattered all over the world still call Vilnius the Jerusalem of the North. However, expressions of culture related to old Jewish Vilnius have sunk into oblivion. Thus every new attempt to bring back this cultural heritage is welcome.

The art of Jascha Heifetz, the great twentieth-century violinist, which has been a part of the history of world culture for a long time, may also be associated with Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. The famous violin virtuoso was born a hundred years ago in Vilnius, and made his first steps in music here. He started playing the violin at the age of three under his father's supervision; at five he started going to music school; and when he was seven he made his debut in Kaunas performing a Mendelssohn violin concerto. Soon he gave concerts in his native Vilnius, in the newly built City Hall (currently the National Philharmonic Hall). When the violinist J. Nalbandian, who arrived from St Petersburg, heard about the infant prodigy, he said he would not leave without him – such a talent had to be educated in the capital city. Leopold Auer, one of the most prominent Russian pedagogues, taught Heifetz at the St Petersburg Conservatoire. In 1911, Heifetz triumphantly made his debut in St Petersburg; in 1912 in Berlin. From then his international career took off.

At Maironio gatvė 27 in Vilnius the house in which Jascha Heifetz spent his childhood still stands. The building of the music school that he attended has also survived. Some musicians, including Professor Saulius Sondeckis, know the places of the violinist's childhood and cherish the hope of acquainting the wider public of Lithuania and of the world with them. The hundredth anniversary of the violinist's birth is the best opportunity to realise that idea.

In commemorating the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Heifetz, an outstanding and solemn event "Vilnius Violin Days Dedicated to the Memory of Jascha Heifetz" was staged in his native town. From 31 January to 17 February 2001, events were held during which the life and career of the celebrated peformer were discussed; an exhibition of photographs from the Library of Congress in Washington was shown; memorable places were visited; a plaque was unveiled on the building where he studied (Vilniaus gatvė 25); and a concert was given, with his former pupil Pierre Amoyal taking part, with the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra conducted by Saulius Sondeckis.

An International Violin Competition, held from 13 to 17 February at the Music Academy and the National Philharmonic Hall, concluded the event. It was the idea of the Department of String Instruments of the Music Academy to hold the contest.

Though it was the first such competition, its standard was high and in its requirements it equalled similar contests held abroad. Regardless of the modest budget, which was reflected in the small prizes awarded to the winners, the contest attracted a number of participants. It goes without saying that they were drawn by Jascha Heifetz's name and, as one of the winners said afterwards, also by the fact that the chairman of the jury was the famous violinist Gidon Kremer. The number of applicants was enormous; however, finally only twenty-two contestants took part. They came from eight different countries: Estonia, Latvia, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, France, Japan and Lithuania. The group of Lithuanian violinists was the largest, at twelve performers. The jury, consisting of accomplished musicians from various countries, assessed the participants. Among the members of the jury were: Khalida Achtiamova from the Gnesins Academy of Music in Moscow; the violin professor Robert Canetti from Israel; Jurgis Dvarionas from the Lithuanian Music Academy; Boris Garlitsky from the National Conservatoire in Paris; Vladimir Ovcharek from the Conservatoire in St Petersburg; Petras Radzevičius of the Music Academy, and head of the Department of String Instruments; and the chairman of the jury, Gidon Kremer. His consent to participate in the work of the jury raised the prestige of the whole competition.

The contest was held in two rounds: the jury had to select five violinists from the first to play in the second. The final, held at the National Philharmonic Hall, attracted a full house. The five violinists who took part played the compulsory Mendelssohn or Sibelius violin concerto with the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Robert Shervenik. The audience had to select the winner. Before announcing the names of the laureates, Gidon Kremer spoke about the problems that judges usually encounter at contests, namely, what is to be judged: musicality, the handling of the instrument, or a talent which inspires hope. The judges' decision showed that they sought to answer all these questions. Jaroslaw Nadrzycki (Poland) came first, and was awarded the prize provided by Vilnius Municipality; the second prize went to Hanako Uesato (Japan). Three performers were awarded the third prize: Maria Krestinskaya (Russia), Rūta Lipinaitytė (Lithuania) and Marija Nemanytė (Lithuania). Two more prizes for merit were awarded to Monika Urbonaitė and Julija Okruško from Vilnius; and the diploma for the best performance of the work composed specially for the contest by Anatolij Šenderov was conferred on Cecil Peyrol (France). The audience voted for Jaroslaw Nadrzycki; thus its decision coincided with that of the jury.

The International Violin Competition held in Vilnius to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Jascha Heifetz was the first contest in the world to be held under his name. All the guests and participants supported the idea enthusiastically, and urged the musicians of Lithuania, cultural institutions and everyone who venerates the memory of the celebrated violinist, to do everything they can to support the contest and repeat it in the future.

© "Vilnius"
© Logium Visi Numeralis