Israeli Pianist Arie Vardi Visits Juilliard

The 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 Juilliard pianists.

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 international competitions.

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, "Who's next?"

Elizabeth Morgan, a master's degree candidate in piano, is a student of Yoheved Kaplinsky.