By Lawrence Budmen 

A unique chamber music concert and series of masterclasses will light up the Florida International University main campus on February 3-5. The members of renowned Amernet String Quartet, resident ensemble at the FIU School of Music, will be joined by their teachers and mentors. These musicians are all legends of the chamber music world – violinists Zvi Zeitlin, Shmuel Ashkenazi, and Sergiu Schwartz, violist Toby Appel, and cellist Yehuda Hanani. Many South Floridians will remember Hanani from the innovative Close Encounters with Music series that he presented in Miami and Ft. Lauderdale for many seasons. 

For the Amernet musicians this festival will be a reunion. The quartet’s first violinist Misha Vitenson was taught by Schwartz, a distinguished virtuoso and professor at Boca Raton’s Lynn University. Zeitlin was Michael Klotz’s violin teacher at New York’s Julliard School. When he switched to viola, Klotz was taught by Appel. Yehuda Hanani was a mentor to the Amernet foursome when they moved to Cincinnati. Later they joined the Israeli born Hanani on the faculty of the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. 

The festive weekend will commence on February 3 with a gala concert at the FIU Wertheim Performing Arts Center Concert Hall. The program will open with J.S. Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins with Zeitlin and Vitenson, accompanied by the quartet and assisting musicians. The Amernet players will be joined by Appel and Hanani for Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence sextet. The concert concludes with all of the musicians joining for a one of a kind performance of Mendelssohn’s Octet.

Students from the Julliard School, Rochester’s Eastman School of Music, and Indiana University, the Amernet players’ FIU students and other locally gifted young musicians will take part in master classes on February 4 and 5. Joined by concert violinist and FIU faculty member Robert Davidovici, the musicians will teach solo instrumental sessions on February 4; followed by chamber music master classes on February 5.

For violist Klotz this weekend is “a special event – a singular gathering of distinguished artists. The Amernet players all have special personal connections with our guest mentors. Shmuel Ashkenazi is one of the greatest chamber music players and teachers in the business. He is our idol. An event like this does not happen every day.”

Speaking from his home in Rochester (where he teaches at the Eastman School) violinist Zvi Zeitlin said he hopes to impart “some of my love and experience in playing great music to the students.” Zeitlin is “proud to see the careers of many of my students. I am looking forward to helping them uphold the tradition.” 

At age 84 Zeitlin has had a rich, varied career in music. He gave the first New York Philharmonic performance of Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto conducted by Leonard Bernstein and later played it in Israel under the composer’s supervision. At a post performance gathering, Stravinsky toasted Zeitlin and asked him to learn Schoenberg’s Violin Concerto – a score that few had the courage to tackle. “I learned that difficult score and played it in 1964 in Buenos Aires. I performed that work a record 67 times under such conductors as Bernstein, Rafael Kubelik, Antal Dorati, and James Levine. I tell my students about these performances and urge them not to continually rehash the standard repertoire. I always try to give them an appetite to fan their artistic curiosity to play rarely heard works. That can often bring them attention in the music world.” Today Zeitlin believes young musicians “can not be good soloists without being good chamber music players. Versatility is the sine qua non.” 

Zeitlin has premiered concertos (written especially for him) by Gunther Schuller, Carlos Surinach, and Israel’s Paul Ben-Haim. With close friendships with such musical greats as Jascha Heifetz and William Primrose, Zeitlin brings nearly six decades of experience and wisdom to teaching and performance. The FIU chamber music weekend should be special indeed.

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