Jascha Heifetz and History of the Competition

JASCHA HEIFETZ

 

The twentieth century has given humanity a host of brilliant violinists. Jascha Heifetz is a star of the first magnitude within this constellation of artists.

Born in 1901 in Vilnius, the city much loved by its inhabitants from many cultures, and referred to as the 'Jerusalem of the North' by Jews from all over the world, throughout his life Jascha Heifetz treasured the memory of his home-life and musical atmosphere, as well as the influence of the multi-cultural environment experienced in his early days.

Heifetz gave his first public concert in Kaunas, Lithuania, in 1907, at the age of six. In 1912, Heifetz achieved European fame after his concert in Berlin, followed by international acclaim in the USA, which became his second home.

The brilliance of Heifetz‘ artistry has become a shining example for all violinists of our time. Professor Yuri Grigoryev defines the unique feature of this musician as the subconscious improvisation underpinned by the architecture of ancient Vilnius: it conveys its grandeur, classical harmony and expressive architectural variety.

Years ago George Bernard Shaw, bewitched by Heifetz‘ playing, warned him "to beware of perfection as this might excite the envy of the Gods and bring about destruction". However, fate was benevolent to the great musician. His art has become part and parcel not only of his peers but also of all the music lovers of our days, while Vilnius has earned fame as the birthplace of this genius.

Prof. Dr. Jurgis Dvarionas

 

HISTORY OF THE COMPETITION

 

  The idea to organise an international competition in memory of J. Heifetz in Lithuania was around for a long time. Over the course of time there were attemps and ideas, but the good intensions never materialised. In the Soviet period, Heifetz did not attract the attention he deserved, because he spent most of his life in the United States, and Soviet violinists were more appreciated in those times.
Right before Lithuania gained Independence, the initiative was taken by the then artistic director of the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra, professor Saulius Sondeckis. Professor cherished the memory of Vilnius born music genius during the occupation and preserved Jascha Heifetz's native house in Vilnius on Maironis Street from demolition. A few years after the death of Jascha Heifetz, the idea of the competition raised by Saulius Sondeckis was supported by Jascha Heifetz's son Robert, who lived in the United States. Almost a decade has passed since the excellent opportunity and circumstances to implement the competition occurred. 
During the first years after the restoration of Lithuanian's independence, state institutions still lacked the initiative and the resources. But with the 100th anniversary approaching of Heifetz's birth, at the initiative of Professor P. Radzevičius, the former head of the Department of Strings at the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre, the First International Jascha Heifetz Competition for Violinists was finally realised. Through that event, it was Lithuania's duty to give a meaning to the memory of this legendary violinist. Professor J. Dvarionas, at that time the head of the Lithuanian Cultural Fund, became one of the main organisers of the competition as well.
  The year 2001 was not easy for the country, and it was impossible to expect government help in organising the event. The LMTA was also cautios about this ambitious project. The organisers were aware of the limits presented by time and material resources, and their main aim was to make the competition happen, albeit on a small scale. As Vilnius was Heifetz's birthplace, where he spent his childhood before moving to the St Petersburg Conservatory, to be admitted to the class of Professor Leopold Auer at the age of ten, it was decided that the competition should reflect the years of his youth. The Ministry of Culture gave material support to the initiative, and the city of Vilnius contributed willingly as well, establishing its own prize. All were extremelyglad to have the attention of A. Zuokas, the mayor of Vilnius, who organised a reception for participants in the Town Hall. The President of Lithuania was the patronof the first ad all succeeding competitions. But the most significant achievement was the fact that Gidon Kremer, one of the most distinguished violinists in the world, accepted the invitation to be head of the competition's board of judges. When his name appeared on the poster next to that of Heifetz, the organisers finally knew that the competition really would take place.
  THe preparation for the first competition was very complicated. Material resources were slim, and all the organisation was based on public initiative. The work was directed by professors Radzevičius and Dvarionas, and by the Lithuanian Cultural Foundation. The idea attracted all the members of the Department of Strings at the LMTA, and all students on practical work at that time.
  With Gidon Kremer now heading the board, the next issuewas to attract other judges. Luckily, eminent guests from Israel, France and Russia accepted invitations to sit on the board without remuneration (only thei accommodation expenses were covered). The financial prizes were merely symbolic, and the organisers feared it would  be difficult to attract a sufficient number of participants. The Department for International Relations at the LMTA took on the task of contacting foreign educational institutions and inviting young students of prominent professors to come to Lithuania (Jaroslaw Nadrzycki of Poznan, a future first prizewinner, was the student of Professor Jadwiga Kaliszewska). To the great joy of the organisers, the competition attracted a considerable number of participants, and the quality of their playing was also high.
  The compulsory part of the contest reflects not only Heifet'z foreign period, but also his experience as a violinist during his years in Vilnius. For this reason, the programme this year includes F. Mendelssohn's Concerto for violin in E minor, op.64, with which Heifetz made his debut. A personally transcribed work by Heifetz will also be obligatory. The musician was famous for recordings of sonatas and partitas by J. S. Bach, and works by this Baroque composer are also included. One of the N. Paganini's Caprices is an obligatory virtuoso work. Remembering that Vilnius was Heifetz's home town, there has been a requirement since the first competition that in the selection stage of the contest, participants must perform a work by a composer of LIthuania created especially for the competition. This requirement has made possible the performance of original work by A. Šenderovas, V. Barkauskas, F. Bajoras, B. Kutavičius, Z. Bružaitė.
  The second competition, which took place 4 years later, faced similar problems. Due to the lack of time and resources, the organisers had to rely on private initiatives. Although the competition attracted a required number of participants, the organizers still believed that it wasn't enough for the international competition with the name of Heifetz. Especially because the 2001 event was the only one, not only in LIthuania but in all the world, bearing his name.
  


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