"I am the Violin", "I am the Violin" a documentary about Ida Haendel, classissima, classissima.com, director Paul Cohen, Ida Haendel, Ida Haendel violinist, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Smith Kirsten, violinist

“Jerusalem of Gold” led me to a violin treasure

Yesterday, I decided to record Nemer’s “Jerusalem of Gold” to prepare for a luncheon appearance at an East Bay Jewish Community Center.

Little did I know that after reviewing my you tube upload, that I’d spot a right column of videos with Ida Haendel, a near 90-year old violinist who proved to be a gem of a musical artist. Her 2006 performance in Israel of Sarasate’s Gypsy Airs captured my attention.

The age old thinking about fiddle players, is that they decline in the technical arena, at about 60 or so. But the stereotype is undermined by a feisty “character” who’s demonstrated virtuosity and prowess well into her 80’s and beyond.

In a six-part documentary, I am the Violin, written and directed by Paul Cohen, viewers obtain a long-delayed glimpse of an ageless musician whose playing, like fine wine, has mellowed and ripened with time.

Part one provides the backdrop:

“Born in Chełm, (1923) a small city in Eastern Poland, to a Jewish family, Ida Haendel has taken up the violin at the age of three. At seven, she’s been admitted at the Warsaw Conservatory and later studies with Carl Flesch and George Enescu in Paris.” (Her father, a fine artist has given up his own career, to nurse along his daughter’s musical development)

“During World War II Ida plays in factories and for British and American troops, having ignited a career that develops after the war’s end.”

We learn that she currently lives in Miami, Florida and is actively involved with the Miami International Piano Festival but still jet sets around the world in the good company of her Strad and adorable pooch


In part 5, Ida complains that more than a few big name conductors, like Zubin Mehta and Simon Rattle had stopped working with her because they were seeking youthful, fresh faces. (“mediocrities,” in many cases)

“Why don’t they discover the ones who are already there,” she proclaims, in repudiation of pervasive age discrimination combined with sexism that feasts on the “new and young.” (She still snugly fits into a snazzy concert dress that she wore at 18–It’s “cherry”-colored, purchased in Madrid during one of her European tours. She holds it up for a camera close-up earlier in the documentary)

The complete film minus crackling popcorn and other distractions is recommended because Ida’s interspersed performances deserve undivided attention.


Finally, one comment posted by a you tuber sums up the scope of the maestra’s artistry:

“It’s hard to tell whether she’s an extension of the violin strings or the violin is an extension of her heart!”

I’d say she’s both, and more….

May she live to well past 100, sharing her gifts with a vast, appreciative audience!

Brava, Ida Haendel!


The complete documentary:

TRAILER to This is My Heritage, another well-produced tribute.

arioso7, Bach D minor piano concerto, Beethoven Violin Concerto, Berkshire Music Festival, Boston Symphony, Boston Symphony Orchestra, chamber ensemble, Charles Munch, classissima, classissima.com, Isaac Stern, James Stagliano, Journal of a Piano Teacher from New York to California, Lenox, Lukas Foss, Massachusetts, memoir, Merrywood Music Camp, pianist, piano, Pierre Monteux, playing the piano, playing the violin, Ruth Hurwitz, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, Tanglewood, Tanglewood Music Festival, violin, violinist, word press, wordpress.com

A Long Lost Concert Program turns up on a dusty grand piano

One of the fringe benefits of tidying up a piano room filled with unsorted piles of music and the rest, is finding a gold mine of goodies that have been missing for months, if not years.

Have you ever experienced lost this, found that–found that, lost this?

It’s embarrassing, but as we age, more of the latter occurs. (found/lost, found/lost, ad nauseum)

At least one happy hunting ground experience, however, produced a recovered memento of a Tanglewood concert. The embracing story surrounded the late Isaac Stern who stole my heart playing the Beethoven Violin Concerto with the Boston Symphony. It was during a music camp summer spent in Lenox, Massachusetts.


Tracking my 6 or so years as a violinist, I found myself in the throes of two music camp experiences. The one at Merrywood acquired a memory bank of richly woven anecdotes.

Its unique proximity to the Tanglewood Festival afforded weekly trips to Sunday morning BSO rehearsals, and interspersed jaunts to chamber music and orchestra concerts. These were the bread and butter of our musical lives.

The singular concert carved into my memory, besides one where Lukas Foss played the Bach d minor concerto, was Isaac Stern’s appearance under Charles Munch. (During the summer, 1961 there were a host of guest conductors ascending the podium.) A uniquely compact maestro, Pierre Monteux, climbed up a solid oak stool, looking like an elf, though he conducted like a giant.

After Stern’s riveting performance under the stars with a shell embracing soloist and orchestra, I should have had consideration for my fellow campers who were squeezed into carbon-emission fuming buses awaiting a missing teen. Who could that have been? (Was I a runaway- in-progress or just a love-sick adolescent hounding an autograph?)

I was off and running from the brood of Merrywooders who were bound for Ruth Hurwitz’s quaint camp-site bordering the property of French Hornist, James Stagliano. A well-known imbiber, it was a well-circulated legend that BSO Jim took a swig from his horn right smack in his orchestra seat. Was it NOT saliva he was shaking from his mouthpiece?

Stagliano’s early-morning horn calls started our day following a blaring Bach “Brandenburg” 5, piped into the second floor where we campers slept in tightly-squeezed cots.

Our daily schedule included practice periods, ensemble rehearsals, private and group music lessons, choir singing by the fireplace, and campfires. But these activities were no match for our tour de force trips to the Berkshire Festival concerts.


The night of one sweltering July, Isaac Stern outplayed himself igniting my immediate impulse to race after him for a morsel of human contact plus a time-honored autograph.

I found him standing regally in the Green room wearing his signature silk scarf. An adoring mom was beside him. He looked worn by fatigue, but signed my program in a gesture of kindness. I will always remember his generosity.

Tears had flowed down his cheeks during his performance making it even more emotionally poignant. Or might those droplets have been beads of sweat contoured by sizzling hot lights? It’s fascinating how the memory creates its own staging. A tender pouring would have added a nice effect.

The aftermath:

Following my autograph-seeking coup with Stern, I was hunted down by camp authorities and grounded for a week. Punishment was meted out: no s’mores at the Saturday campfire. (chocolate-covered marshmallows) and a suspension of attendance at chamber music concerts in the shed. (not a venue for paddling)

That’s not all that happened at Merrywood.

An August camp concert provided a breath-taking finale!

Read more!