During the course of my career, I have come to better understand the power of Music to convey the nobility of certain ideas common to the human experience. These ideas, such as Joy, Hope, Compassion, Love, Faith, Conscience, and Inspiration have undeniably served as the foundation for the overall well-being and survival of mankind throughout the ages. Yet at times, these ideas have been obscured or replaced in the concert experience by other more shallow desires such as brief, random sensory stimulation, or a performance that merely provides opportunity to “escape from reality”. I have found that the result is a fundamental disconnect between the human race and the very things that allow us to live more abundantly.
Early in my career, I was focused on establishing my “turf” within the cult of personality the performing arts has largely become today. My concerts and teaching were more about the attainment of excellence, and the appreciation my skills would bring from my audience, peers and critics. Over time, I have come to understand the more important role of the Artist as one who works to serve to feed humanity’s hunger for the things that matter at our very core. Today, I devote my teaching, performance and creative artistic activities to projects that further the expression of these things.
In 2002, while teaching at an international violin master course in Israel, I first encountered a violin that had been played by a prisoner in a Nazi Concentration Camp. This instrument, having been present at one of humanity’s darkest hours, had been transformed by circumstance into an instrument uniquely capable of conveying the power of Hope in even the darkest places. Immediately, I felt it a necessity to bring this violin (and ultimately 18 others salvaged from the Holocaust by Israeli Violin-maker Amnon Weinstein) to the United States to experience the powerful idea of Hope these instruments can convey through music. After ten years of work, the project Violins of Hope-Charlotte was the culmination of that idea.
In 2005, my wife Pianist Zaiba Sheikh and I traveled to Shanghai, China to present a lecture-recital on the topics of “Faith, Hope, and Love”. The idea was to use music that focused on these powerful ideas, reflecting on how they can be useful in overcoming even the most repressive conditions brought about by politics and government. The program included serious works that encouraged the freedoms that are inherent in all people, apart from the dictates of a collective-minded society.
In 2010, I presented a lecture-recital entitled: “Life, Meaning and Music: The Joy of the Artist” in Cordoba, Spain. In it, I forwarded the idea that as discouraging and destructive life events such as war and societal decay take their toll on human life, the need for noble ideas to be conveyed through music becomes more important than ever before. Through this realization, the role of Art and the Artist takes on even more profound importance to humanity.
Also in 2010, I presented a lecture-recital in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, France, in the very Protestant Temple where in the midst of World War II, Pastor Andre Trocme asked his congregation and those of surrounding villages to enter into a “conspiracy of goodness”, by taking in any person seeking refuge from the evil force represented by Nazism. As a result of their actions, an estimated 5,000 Jewish people were saved from certain death at the hands of the Nazis. This great and noble act is made even more notable by the fact that it was performed by people of an entirely different faith and background than the people who were rescued. This quiet and purposeful movement of peace (nearly forgotten by history until a few years ago) was celebrated in my program, titled: “The Power of Conscience”. The following year, I helped Director Stephen Burks of Goodcity Productions create a short Documentary Film of the same name, in order to further the important message of Le Chambon.
My teaching has also taken on the additional burden of passing along the awareness of the potential of music to serve a higher ideal. I have established a small violin mastercourse in the Adirondack Mountains called “Mountaintop Mastercourse” (http://mountaintopmastercourse-com.webs.com). In that course, I am free to experiment with ways to foster these ideas in my students in an environment of natural beauty (the Adirondack Park), and without the normal distractions of society-at-large. We intentionally set ourselves apart for a few weeks each year in order to rejoin the “real world” with renewed purpose, as well as enhanced performance skills.
These ongoing creative pursuits have become the primary focus of my career. It is my desire to simply remind all who will listen of the importance of perpetuating these ideas through our lives and our art. It is in my opinion the single best use of art during the time in which we live.