Arie Vardi Visits Juilliard
Juilliard Journal Online
"There is a lake...maybe frozen...and
it is early morning, very still. Nothing is moving, except there are
little waves on the surface of the water, rocking back and forth.
Suddenly something happens."
Thus Arie Vardi set the scene for
Debussy's Ondine, from the composer's Preludes, Book 2. Pianist
Spencer Myer, who had just performed the work for the eminent pedagogue,
sat captivated, as did the audience who packed Morse Hall for Mr.
Vardi's master class. As he continued his narrative, the crowd fell
further under his spell. "It was obvious why he told his story of Ondine
in such detail," Andrew Le, a pianist in the doctoral program, explained
when he left the hall. "He wants us to know just what this piece is
about for him. But he also wants us to realize that we can be just as
precise and passionate about our own, different, interpretation."
The task of simultaneously guiding
students yet inspiring them to embrace their own individuality is
certainly a difficult one, and no one could be more devoted to the task
than Arie Vardi. Renowned as a pianist and pedagogue throughout the
world, Mr. Vardi managed to find two weeks last month to spend at
Juilliard, giving private lessons and teaching a master class on April 2
and a seminar on the Chopin Polonaises on April 10. His visit was the
first in the Visiting Artist series funded by Friends of Piano at
Juilliard, a group formed by Susan Rose, a trustee and longtime
supporter of the Juilliard piano department. The program, initiated by
Yoheved Kaplinsky, chair of the piano department, will continue to
invite esteemed pianists and teachers from around the world to work with
A native of Israel, Arie Vardi has
concertized extensively throughout Europe, the United States, Latin
America, the Far East, and Australia. After winning the Chopin
Competition in Israel and the George Enescu International Competition in
Bucharest, he made his concert debut with the Israel Philharmonic,
conducted by Zubin Mehta, and gave recitals throughout Europe. He has
performed the complete Bach and Mozart concertos in the double role of
soloist and conductor, and he includes in his repertoire the complete
piano works of Debussy and Ravel. His recordings for RCA have won
international acclaim and prizes. Mr. Vardi is known throughout Israel
for his television series Master Classes, as well as his family
concert series with the Israel Philharmonic, for which he acts as both
host and conductor. During the 1999-2000 season, Mr. Vardi directed,
conducted, and played five concerts with the Israel Chamber Orchestra in
a series titled The Piano Concerto, featuring 12 concertos ranging from
Bach to 21st-century composers.
Mr. Vardi teaches at the Rubin Academy
of Music of Tel Aviv University (where he has served as director and
piano faculty chair) and at the Hochschule für Musik in Hanover,
Germany. More than 30 of his students have won major prizes in
Juilliard students who were lucky
enough to secure lessons with Mr. Vardi during his stay responded to his
efforts to encourage their individuality. Following a lesson on
Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto, Brian Hsu, a second-year
undergraduate, said: "He described the concerto as abounding with
Russian energy. Once I felt this patriotic energy, the decisions were up
to me. I thought perhaps I was too fast in one section. Mr. Vardi told
me that if my brisk tempo made me feel this certain energy, then I
should go to town with it!"
"It's not a problem if a student has
an interpretation entirely different from my own," Mr. Vardi said. "I
remember always that for a given passage, there are, say, 20 ways to
play it—20 interesting, individual ways! And meanwhile I remind myself
that there are not 21."
Spencer Myer, a second-year master's
student who took a private lesson with Vardi after his master class
performance, agreed. "He knew we only had one session together," said
Myer, who played three Debussy preludes in his lesson. "He used the time
to present his ideas on Debussy and the preludes in general, to enhance
my mindset and to inspire me in my own thinking. I had told Mr. Vardi
that I'm learning the whole second book of Preludes, and I think he
adjusted his teaching with that in mind, so that he could help me
overall as much as possible, even with our limited time together."
Mr. Vardi recognizes the importance of
adapting to each situation and student. "In a master class, for
instance, you have the very tricky task of teaching the students and
offering something interesting to the audience simultaneously," he said.
"I tried to make the class at Juilliard a bit like a very fine meal with
four small courses, each one very different from the others." But a
lesson with a student you've worked with for years is a very different
matter, he added. "With my own students, I try truly to teach each as an
individual. I teach to the personality."
Whatever situation he finds himself
in, Arie Vardi strives to serve the music and the student as best he
can. His reputation certainly preceded him to Juilliard. The 40
available lesson spots on a sign-up sheet posted on the fifth floor
filled up before some of us could even find a pen to write ourselves in.
The students' enthusiasm surely means a lot not only to Mr. Vardi, but
also to the creators of the Visiting Artists series. Now the buzz is,
Elizabeth Morgan, a master's degree
candidate in piano, is a student of Yoheved Kaplinsky.