Yehuda Hanani Crosses Paths with Musical Giants


Yehuda Hanani is an Israeli—American cellist who studied with Leonard Rose and Pablo Casals. Currently, he is a cello professor at the University of Cincinnati College—Conservatory of Music, a frequent soloist with major orchestras, and an international master—class teacher. He is also the artistic director of the chamber music series Close Encounters with Music,
which presents an innovative form of programming. In late August he spoke with me by phone from his home in the cool Catskill Mountains of upstate New York.

Q: Where did You grow up?

A: I grew up in Jerusalem in very idealistic times. When the new nation of Israel was born, people thought a utopian period was about to begin. Alas, that was not to be, but for a
while it seemed so. The entire atmosphere was vibrating with the arts and cultural ferment. Ancient history was back—to—back with a fresh beginning. You could walk down the street and find a biblical—era pottery shard or a coin dropped by a Crusader. It was an amazing moment when history and the present merged. Everyone I knew was a scholar, a writer, or a modern—day prophet. My next—door neighbor was the novelist Amos Oz, who used to walk me to school, and who writes about my family in his description of the old Jerusalem.

Q: Was music taught in the schools?

A: Yes, immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe who brought their culture and an incredible amount of artistic ability with them surrounded us. Israel was an island of
civilization in the desert. The atmosphere was tremendously stimulating. Can the street, you heard languages from all over the world and you could hear both Eastern and Western
music on the radio. There was, and still is, a cross—cultural stimulation that has an effect on musicians, especially composers. All my teachers had come from Europe, but they were
beginning to draw on the new Middle Eastern culture and admit it into their compositions. It was a fascinating time and place to grow up.

Q: How did you choose the cello?

A: At the age of five I was given a violin and sent for lessons. My mother was a botanist and schoolteacher. My father was a writer, and music was expected to be part of my
upbringing. After a few lessons the violin teacher came to our home and asked my parents if they were aware that I had perfect pitch. I thought that everyone who heard a note
could name it! I studied violin for three years and loved it. Then, my Russian—born aunt visited from Tel Aviv. A violinist, she was the only professional musician in the family and she
was rather autocratic. She said, “This boy will play the cello.” I will never know why. Maybe she saw something in my hands. Who knows? My parents then switched me to the cello.
Later, when I began to play concerts, she took all the credit for my success [he says with a delightful chuckle]! Behind every successful artist is either a pushy mother or an
authoritarian aunt.

Q: What did you do after high school?

A: When I was I8 I was faced with compulsory military service. Having won a national music competition, I had been heard in concert by two visitors to Israel: Leonard Bernstein
and Isaac Stern. Bernstein was treated like a god and he looked like one, too. He sent a letter to the authorities saving that I should be allowed to develop my talent as an artist
instead of being drafted. I was given a deferment that was renewed every year. Then he and Stern arranged for me to come to New York and study at the Julliard School. Stern
then became a kind of guardian. If I skipped classes in order to have more practice time, he heard about it. When I graduated, Columbia Artists, the largest artist management firm
at that time, signed me on. Before I knew it, I was traveling the world, playing concerts, making recordings, and establishing my career as an artist.

Q: Did competitions help you very much?

A: The few that I entered and won helped open some doors, such as the one that gave me the opportunity to play with the orchestra in Israel and be heard by Bernstein and Stern.
For me, however, this was not the road to maturity as a musician. My favorite artists—Casals, Szigeti, Huberman, Enescu, and Landowska—were all strongly individualistic and
original. Because they had distinctive voices and no sex appeal, they would have been flunked in the first round. It seems that the equalizing effect of not displeasing any member of
the jury results in a “one size fits all” approach to playing that carries over past the competition stage and encourages middle—of—the—road, generic interpretations. Yes, winning a
big competition may allow a young artist to make a splash for a couple of months, but to have an enduring life in music, you have to have something to say. You have to have more
than just “perfect” playing.

Q: Who were the teachers who exerted the most influence on You?

A: The last and most influential was Pablo Casals. Without question, he left the strongest imprint. Of course, by the time any student got to him, technique was taken for granted.
He did not even mention technical issues. His teaching was all about the music. He talked about nuances and interpretation, about articulation and shaping a phrase, about
understanding the structure of the piece and following its harmony.

These are aspects of making music that you can learn from any fine musician, not just a cellist. In fact, many of my mentors were not cellists. One was Artur Schnabel, whom I
heard posthumously via recordings of his Beethoven sonatas. The structural intelligence and passion of his approach, his placing the instrument entirely at the service of the music,
and his close identification with the text were exemplary and inspirational. Then there was Fischer—Dieskau, whose expressive intonation, intimacy, unfailing musical instincts, and
manipulation of the voice were something to emulate on the cello. What I gleaned was that having the instrument under control is just the beginning, not the end of the process.
The objective is not to drive the car but to know where you want to go with it. Too many people turn mastery of the instrument into an end in itself. From the start, my early
influences were marked by a holistic fusion of literature, art, music, nature, history, and the realization that everything was interconnected.

Q:. Can you mention a few of the formative experiences or powerful turning points in your artistic journey?

A: The most formative experiences involved intersecting with giants. One was playing the New York premiere of the Quartet for the End of Time with Messiaen while his wife, Yvonne
Loriod, sat teary—eyed in the audience at the 92nd Street Y. Another was spending a week with Aaron Copland when I was his soloist in the Schelomo in San Antonio and he
conducted. He was the philosopher—composer conducting a portrayal of the philosopher—king {Solomon}. There were some memorable and intimate Italian dinners during which I
tried to get him to add to the cello repertoire. It was then that he revealed to my astonishment that he had not written a note in over 40 years. He said, “I don’t know why I get
invited to conduct my music. Lenny does it so much better!”

I had an encounter with Lukas Foss, whose Capriccio for cello and piano I recorded for the first time for Koch. He was most generous in his praise. I befriended Leonard Rosenman,
the legendary Hollywood composer, who had been the great friend of James Dean and who had written the scores for his American classic films, East of Eden and Rebel Without a
Cause, as well as 90 others. This ultimately led to a new work in homage to him, Hollywood Variations, by the fabulous composer Jorge Martin. It has recently been released on
Albany Records with Walter Ponce, whom I consider to be one of the piano titans, and myself.

More powerful experiences include my introduction to the world of jazz by my son, which eventually led to collaborations with distinguished jazz musicians like accordionist Bill
Schimmel and members of the Ahmad Jamal Ensemble. In general, cultivating openness to the world, to happenstance, to the unexpected as material for musical exploration bring
about these experiences. I met one of the world’s great pipa plavers, Liu Fang, at the Beijing airport, and we are now collaborating on the world premiere of Pulitzer Prize—winning
composer Zhou Long’s piece for cello and pipa. Recently I collaborated with the great Georgian prima ballerina Nina Ananiashili at Jacob’s Pillow, and now there is an adventurous
new work for narrator, percussion, and cello that I commissioned for Sigourney Weaver and myself.

Q: How do you feel about old instruments vs. newly made ones?

A: The great Italian stringed instruments were made to deliver a particular quality of sound, not excessive volume. Sometimes when you hear one of these played, the sound is of
such exquisite beauty that it makes you want to cry. They were designed to be played at concerts in palaces and salons, not in today’s huge concert halls. The idea that instruments
should produce loud sounds came along much later. Of course, the old Italian instruments were eventually adjusted to make bigger sounds. The bridges were raised and gut strings
were replaced with metal ones. Bows had to be made much stronger. The piano grew in size and volume at the same time. For the most part, quality of the sound was unaffected,
so today we can have both great sound and ample volume.

With larger concert halls and more listeners came a rise in pitch and the call for a brighter sound as well as more volume. Tuning is often higher in Europe than it is in the United
States. Beyond a certain point I find it disturbing. The A in Bach’s time was almost a half—step lower than what is often used today. That puts more tension on the instrument and
the sound can be pinched or tight.

Q: Who made your cello?

A: David Tecchler, an Austrian who moved to Rome and constructed instruments in the Italian tradition, made my cello in 1773. It was commissioned by the Pope for his liturgical
music ensemble. Later, it passed down to the Mendelssohns. I like to take the cello out of its case and know that Felix Mendelssohn laid his eyes on it. It gives me a connection with
the music and with history.

I have several bows. One is modern and was made for me a few years ago. The others are older and they are French. It’s a peculiar thing. The best cellos are Italian and the best
bows are French. Each of my bows had a slightly different voice so I switch from one to another depending on the piece. Sometimes it’s exciting to make the change.

Q: What are your thoughts on learning a new piece from recordings?

A: Despite the instant availability of any recording, when you do that, you surrender your own relationship with the composer. You are not in dialogue with him or her. Your
relationship is with the interpreter of the piece on the recording and you are removed from the original score. That diminishes your ability to find anything that has not yet been
discovered in the music. When I give a guest master class for students who are not my own, I can easily identify which recordings they have been listening to because they imitate
slides, portamenti, vibrato, or fingerings in inappropriate places. Sometimes, perhaps to fiatter me, they copy a performance of mine. Then they are playing it the way I did some
years ago, not what I would be doing currently. Since, when I asked a student to change something, she countered with “But that’s not what you did on your disc.” I said that this
was her lesson for the day. Music is alive and changing. Today I want you to play it differently from the way I played it on my CD. Just because I did it that way some years ago does
not mean I can’t change it.

Whether the composer is alive or dead, you are collaborating with him. You cannot take a piece of great music and use it to show off your technical ability unless it was designed for
that purpose. You can play Paganini or Wienawski’s showpieces and they will make you shine as a virtuoso, but they are not overly profound. When you play Bach or Schumann you
should forget about how well you are playing and concentrate on the music. The cello is merely a tool, just as a screwdriver is. The music is the purpose. You need to have your
technique so well under control that no one notices it.

Q: What repertoire have you explored, and where do your musical affinities lie?

A: I like to embark on two types of adventures—to commission new works, and to uncover lost ones, like the Alkan Sonate en Concert, as grand and eccentric a work as you will
find. I made the pioneering record of that after a midnight visit to the New York apartment of the pianist who first championed Alkan’s works, Raymond Lewenthal, who was almost
as eccentric as Alkan himself. When he brought the score, he arrived in a black cape and insisted we close the curtains, in case anyone else out there might be thinking about
recording this monumentally difficult piece.

The Turkish composer Ilhan Mimaroglu, who was also a producer for Atlantic Records, introduced me to Nicolai Miaskovskv and I made the first or second recordings of his two cello
sonatas. I championed the works of Leo Ornstein, another genius, who died recently at the age of 108. Among the new works are Bernard Rands’s Cello Concerto, which we
premiered in Aspen and in Europe with the BBC Welsh Orchestra, and the “Jamestown” Concerto, commemorating the 400th anniversary of the first American settlement. That
came about when composer William Perry told me about the discovery of the original, fully orchestrated version Virgil Thompson Cello Concerto, which surfaced in the Yale
archives. So we coupled that with the William Schuman Song of Orpheus and Bill wrote a narrative in sound of the Pocahontas story. I recorded it with Ireland’s RTE National
Symphony Orchestra. One of Osvaldo Golijov’s signature works, How Slow the Wind, for string quartet and soprano, was written for me and premiered at Ozawa Hall with Dawn
Upshaw. It has entered the repertory and Golijov liked it so much he orchestrated it and rewrote it for other instrumental combinations.

One time when my wife and I were battling the building of a cement plant in the Hudson VaIIev, we commissioned John Musto to write River Songs, a piece about man’s relationship
to nature. Whether it was the power of music or a brilliantly mobilized community, the plant was defeated. And now, I have taken up the cause of Eduard Franck. My dear colleague
James Tocco told me about Franck, one of Mendelssohn’s few students. A distinguished composer and teacher, Franck came from a most interesting family. His brother had been
one of the most central intellectuals of mid lath—century Europe, a friend of Chopin and Wagner.

Eduard Franck had the singular privilege of dining with Mendelssohn every day for a few years in Dusseldorf. His great—great grandson sent me a copy of his ancestor’s
compositions, some of which hadn’t seen the light of day in 150 years. We gave the Franck trio its first performance in 2009, along with a marvelous sextet, and in 2011 we
premiered his cello sonata at the Frick Museum in New York. It’s such a high—level work I’m sure it will soon be part of the cello repertoire. James, Shmuel Ashkenasi, and I just
recorded an all—Franck CD for Naxos. It’s thrilling to resurrect works that have been overlooked by history.

Paul Schoenfield is another composer whom we have commissioned. I first met him when we were both students at the Marlboro Festival and he was a fabulous pianist. Now he is one of America’s major composers. He wrote the dazzling clarinet, cello, and piano trio called Refractions in anticipation of the Mozart anniversary. He ingested the basic Mozartean
vocabulary and then went spinning off into Klezmerland and beyond. We have since recorded it for Naxos with James Tocco and Alex Fiterstein. Paul also plays his Six British Folk Songs with me.

Q: Where are your former students now?

A: They are all over the world. Some are soloists like Alban Gerhard. The more individual players with an intellectual bent are professors of cello at universities. Some former
students are in major orchestras. Cine just became first cello in the Buenos Aires Philharmonic. Many are in chamber groups and a few have opted for other professions but maintain
their proficiency as amateur players. A Tokyo student is a jazz cellist. Linda Ronstadt’s nephew, Michael, did his master’s degree with me at the University of Cincinnati College—
Conservatory of Music, but professionally he plays country music on cello and guitar and sings. Julie Adams, the well—known crossover cellist, was a student. I encourage students
to do anything creative that appeals to them with no boundaries set down.

Q: What is Close Encounters With Music?

A: It’s an innovative concert series that I founded over 20 years ago when I realized today’s audiences, less musically knowledgeable than in previous generations, would be
receptive to having “curated“ concerts where a theme was woven into the fabric of the program with commentary to lead them through. At the time, it was a novel format. We are
based in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts and have presented concerts in cities across the U.S. and Canada including Chicago, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Omaha, Calgarv,
Kansas City, and the cities of South Florida.

Currently, Close Encounters presents concerts each season in Scottsdale, Arizona; in the Berkshires; and at the Frick Collection in New York City. The themes aren’t necessarily
musical but they are explored through music. One of the programs for 2012 is The Roaring Twenties: Berlin, Paris, New York. There we explore the Entartete artists, composers
whose “degenerate“ music was banned just a few years later by the Nazis and whose careers and lives were interrupted by the cataclysmic events that followed.

Q: Do you manage to have anything of a private life?

A: Yes, I do. My wife, Hannah, is a former journalist who has written for many important publications including the Los Angeles Times. In the past, she covered events and profiled
artists. Now she helps me organize Close Encounters with Music series, with our commissioning program, educational arm, research, and publications. Our themes involve many
different fields, not just music. She does not come with me everywhere, but we try to be together as much as possible. We have a grown son who is a good amateur pianist. He
saw how crazy the life of a professional musician is and decided to go in the opposite direction! We are former urbanites who now live in the country surrounded by deer, wild
turkeys, and the occasional bear or coyote.

Q: How do you see the future of classical music?

A: There will always be music as a reflection of human experience. It is a deep need and has been with us since prehistorv. Some instruments will get antiquated, new ones will be
invented, concert formats will change, MP3s will be succeeded by some other technology. But the thirst for organized sound as an expression of our striving, our desires, our
imagination, and our dreams is inextinguishable.

E. FRANCK Piano Trio, op. Cello Sonata, op. 42. Violin Sonata, op. 23 James Tocco (pn); Shuel Ashkenasi (vn); Yehuda Hanani (vc) NAXOS 8.572480 (79:54)

Eduard Franck {1817—93) was born into a wealthy and artistically motivated Prussian banking family. He took music lessons from childhood and often met the famous musicians who
were guests in his parents’ home. When he was sufficiently advanced as a pianist, he studied with Felix Mendelssohn. Eventually he began to play concerts and to teach. He taught
piano and music theory at the Rhenish Music School in Cologne. He also directed a chorus there, and his presentation of the Beethoven piano concertos captivated local critics. In
1BSS he resigned his position in Cologne and tried unsuccessfully to succeed Robert Schumann as Kapellmeister in Düsseldorf. Moving to Bern, Switzerland, he became director of a
new conservatory. Later, he moved back to Prussia and became a professor at the Stern Conservatory in Berlin.

Franck seems to have had a difficult personality and it probably accounts for his failure to publish many of his compositions until the last years of his life. He was a perfectionist who
would not allow the light of day to illuminate any piece of music that did not meet his demanding standard. If he thought a note was out of place he laid the work aside for later
perusal. He felt no pressure to be prolific. Thus, his output was small but most carefully constructed. He didn’t advance the formats of his time but used his fertile imagination within

Although you have no difficulty in knowing that his music belongs to the Romantic era, you can recognize his individuality when you are hearing one of his pieces for the first time.
Because he has such a good command of musical structures, his imagination can fly freely within them. He makes use of both simple as well as more unusual melodies and he
develops them in such a manner that his listeners’ attention is propelled into the core of the piece. He never seems to fail in getting his message across.

The opening movement of the op. 29 Piano Trio is marked allegro moderato con espressione, and emotional expression is what James Tocco, Shmuel Ashkenasi, and Yehuda Hanani
give it. The strings play deliciously melodic lines while the piano weaves its harmonies around them. The second movement, a scherzo, begins with a bright, sunny theme announced
by the piano. After some intricate designs by the strings, Franck introduces a very simple melody. He seems to enjoy taking very easy first statements and working them into
tapestries of aural design, as is heard in the following movements. He never writes easy music for more than a minute, however, and his piano line, in particular, is extremely difficult.
Not that it bothers Tocco, for whom the most intricate music seems easy.

The second of the three pieces played on this disc is the Cello Sonata, op. 42. Audite has a rendition of it played by cellist Thomas Blees and pianist Roswitha Gediga, who do not
seem to have the total command of the entire work that Hanani and Tocco do. Also, the Naxos sound engineer, Chip Reardon, made sure the players were truly equal partners in
both this piece and the following sonata for violin and piano. The 2008 Bella Musical release with violinist Florian Meierott and pianist Thomas Hans has some rather choppy playing in
the faster sections, so I much prefer the unfailingly smooth tone production of Ashkenasi and Tocco.

All the instrumentalists on this excellent Naxos recording play with consummate artistry. Ashkenasi maintains his opulent tone throughout even the most difficult passages. Hanani,
playing a cello that once belonged to Mendelssohn’s brother, may be repeating music that his instrument had played more than a century earlier. In any case, he brings out the
bottom line with full rich tones and he soars into the higher notes with exquisite finesse.

The engineering was well thought—out and provides the listener with the ambiance of a small, not overly resonant concert hall. This composer’s music has been overlooked for much
too long and his chamber music belongs in any fine collection. Maria Nockin

This article originally appeared in Issue 35:3 (Jan/Feb 2012) of Fanfare Magazine.