Tuesday, April 6, 2021

"A Tribute to Alexander Tamir" - from Vilna to Jerusalem - a new film chronicling the influential Israeli pianist's life, times and career

Prof. Alexander Tamir (© Ein Kerem Music Center)

Alik Volkoviski was born in Vilna on April 2nd 1931. He began studying music at the age of five. In early 1943, the Jewish Council of the Vilna Ghetto held a music competition. The winning entry was a melody composed by 11-year-old Alik, the boy already well known for his remarkable talent as a pianist. His song  “Stiler, stiler” (Hush, hush), to words written by his father, with lyrics later added by the ghetto poet Shmerke Kaczerginski became one of the best-loved songs of the ghetto. The lullaby, first performed at one of the last Jewish Council concerts before liquidation of the ghetto in 1943, is still frequently performed in memory of the Jews murdered in the Holocaust. With the liquidation of the ghetto, Volkoviski and his mother were sent to a concentration camp, where they were two of the few Vilna Jews to survive the war. After the liberation, Volkoviski moved to Israel in 1945, where, now known as Alexander Tamir, he studied piano in Tel Aviv with Eliyahu Rudyakov and composition with Yitzhak Edel. After graduating Geula High School. In 1948, he fought in the War of Independence.


Bracha Eden and Alexander Tamir met in 1951 as students of Prof. Alfred Schroeder at the New Jerusalem Conservatory (now the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance). Schroeder suggested they play as a duo.  In 1955, the Eden-Tamir Duo received a scholarship to participate in the Aspen Festival and study with the Vronsky & Babin Piano Duo. Two years later, they won 1st prize in the Vercelli Duo Competition, Italy. Eden and Tamir were the first artists to play Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski's "Variations on a Theme by Paganini" outside of Poland and the first to play and record Igor Stravinsky’s "Rite of Spring" arranged for two pianos - an adaptation by Alexander Tamir under the guidance- and with the consent of the composer. Eden and Tamir were instrumental in promoting Israeli works, many of which were written for them, including those by Josef Tal, Haim Alexander, A.A.Boskovich, Marc Lavry, Mark Kopytman, Karel Salmon and Ari Ben Shabtai. Senior faculty members of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, Prof. Eden and Prof. Tamir taught generations of students, many of them active today in music in Israel and abroad. Bracha Eden died in 2006.


In 1968, Tamir and Eden founded the Targ Music Center, Ein Kerem, Jerusalem, with the aim of enriching Jerusalem’s musical life and providing a platform for young talent and immigrant artists. Now known as the Eden-Tamir Music Center, the venue, nestling in a tranquil, exotic garden, functions as a recording studio and busy concert hall. The Music Center was also Alexander Tamir’s home till his death.


Alexander Tamir died on August 15th 2019. On April 2nd 2021, the date of what would have been his 90th birthday, a short film on Tamir and his life’s work was shown for the first time. Sponsored by the Association of Vilna and Vilna Vicinity Jews in Israel, the film was directed and edited by pianist Ofer Shelley (founder/pianist  Atar Trio), and produced by Hadassah Virshup (Association for the Lithuanian Jews in Israel); camera - Ariel Weiss, sound - Avi Elbaz. A view of the gates of the Eden-Tamir Music Centre, Ein Kerem, Jerusalem, with Bracha Eden and Tamir playing a Poulenc Waltz on two pianos sets the scene for “A Tribute to Alexander Tamir”, in which colleagues and friends talk of Tamir. Speaking to Ofer Shelley were Ms. Mickey Kantor (head of the Association of Vilna and Vilna Vicinity Jews in Israel, Beit Vilna, Tel Aviv),  Prof. Mordechai (Motti) Zalkin (Ben Gurion University of the Negev, researcher of the cultural, social, religious and economic history of the Jews of Lithuania), Avi Hanani (Voice of Music - Israeli radio, Israel Music Institute, Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra), Vilna-born concert pianist, pedagogue, cultural- and social researcher Dr. Zecharia Plavin (Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance),  Vilna-born violinist, conductor, composer and teacher Prof. Motti Schmitt (Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, concertmaster Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra), Dr. Dror Semmel (artistic director Eden-Tamir Music Center, member of faculty of the Edward Aldwell Institute) who was a student of Prof. Bracha Eden, Prof. Yoram Eden (director Eden-Tamir Music Center), recording engineer Avi Elbaz and Rachel Schwarz (producer of “Ponar”, a film documenting Alexander Tamir’s life.) Consecutively, the above speakers assembled a rich and comprehensive picture of Alexander Tamir - the person, the artist - pianist, accompanist, teacher - his radio programs, the prestigious Eden-Tamir Duo and the Eden-Tamir Music Center.


“A Tribute to Alexander Tamir” is the initiative of the Israeli Vilna Association. Growing up in the Ein Kerem neighbourhood, Ofer Shelley's piano teacher was Bracha Eden. Then, at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, he studied under Eden and Tamir. Many short film clips woven through “A Tribute to Alexander Tamir” - of Vilna in 1930, of Warsaw, of industry, migrant ships and scenes from Israel in the 1940s - call attention to the background and historic events of Tamir’s life. Of the musical items, Nechama Lifschitz’ moving performance of “Stiler, Stiler” and works (filmed at the Eden-Tamir Music Center) for two pianos of Dvořák, Poulenc and Z.Plavin, superbly performed by Zecharia Plavin and Ofer Shelley, make for a fitting tribute to Prof. Tamir and his profound influence on musical life in Israel and beyond. Beautifully made, this film is enriching and inspiring.


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