Before we move on to the not insignificant matter of his upcoming festival, Pinchas Zukerman, phenomenal violinist, viola player and conductor, wants to talk about that wedding – and the weather.
“Henry and Meghan: we watched the whole thing. It was so joyful. And the weather... It was beautiful.”
Pinchas says that last bit in a shockingly convincing Bronx accent, by the way.
“And why not? I’ve lived in New York for almost 40 years – I should be good at it!” he exclaims.
Seventy years young this year, he appears to have the energy of a man at least half his age. The violinist’s conversation fizzes with recollections and anecdotes but, that wedding and the Great British weather out of the way, the subject this great musician, and since 2009 principal guest conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, most wants to talk about is his RPO Summer Music Festival.
“Each of the three days is exactly how a musical day should be: a wonderful chamber concert in the early afternoon, followed perhaps by a light lunch and a pleasant walk, and then back to the concert hall later on for some orchestral music. What could be more perfect?”
What’s more, by largely concentrating on a handful of composers – Mozart and Mendelssohn dominate but there is also music by Bach, Bartok, Haydn, Schubert and Shostakovich – this two-concert approach, says Pinchas, presents a slightly fuller picture of the composers’ output.
“Audiences are so used to the traditional model of an overture followed by a symphony but we’ve a chance to ring the changes with one that offers more variety and which shines a light on music often heard only on special occasions.
“Not only that but the chamber concerts also allow the audience to see familiar faces from the orchestra performing in different formations and on a more intimate scale.”
As an example of what Pinchas means, take the festival’s second day (Thursday 28 June). Mozart and Mendelssohn dominate the day’s two concerts but just marvel at the richness and variety each contains.
In the chamber concert at 1pm, some of the RPO’s principal players leave their usual posts to perform Mozart’s Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in A major. But first, the festival’s star soloists, the cellist Amanda Forsyth and pianist Angela Cheng perform Mendelssohn’s Song Without Words for piano and cello. Rising young soloist Fumiaki Miura joins them for the same composer’s Trio No.1 in D minor for violin, cello and piano that follows.
Having had a taste of these composers’ more intimate pieces, later the same day the audience is offered a sample of their larger works in the second programme. Now the intimacy of the chamber concert gives way to the impressive sight of the RPO’s massed ranks as the orchestra performs two Mozart symphonies (No.35 ‘Haffner’ and No.36 ‘Linz’), Mozart’s Serenade No.6 in D major and Mendelssohn’s violin concerto, performed by Fumiaki Miura.
“The breadth of music aside, what audiences will experience in all six concerts over the three days is the RPO’s remarkable musical camaraderie,” says Pinchas. “There’s a unanimity of thought between the orchestra’s members and, I am pleased to say, between themselves and me. I have a huge respect for these musicians; people I have lived and worked with for a very long time.”
Pinchas’s choice of soloists shines a light not only on the astonishing range of his musical associations but also on his championing of, and support for, young artists.
For example, he has performed with violinist Fumiaki Miura, before, most notably at the young violinist’s debut in Ottawa. Meanwhile, violinist Viviane Hagner, who you can hear on 26 June in both concerts (in the first she performs Bach’s Chaconne in D minor from Partita No.2 and Bartok’s Sonata for violin, and in the second, in Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante in E flat major), he first met when she came to study at the Manhattan School of Music, where Pinchas has been teaching for the past 20 years.
“I’m proud to say she’s doing so well, not only as a great musician but also as a great teacher,” he says. “When I meet talents like Viviane and Fumiaki, I get such a thrill.”
The mock Bronx accent he used briefly at the beginning of our conversation has long ago been replaced by his natural voice, now brimming with excitement but laced with a note of caution.
“I hope I never stop making music but I never forget that the moment you wake up and think you’re good enough, you’re dead in the water.”
For those fortunate enough to be present at Pinchas’s Summer Music Festival, it’s a conviction that means they’re in for a musical treat like no other, capisci?