Now I realize that I’m getting on a bit in years. Anniversaries, one after the other, starting this year, and the others in advance:
1962 − 50 years since I started my violin studies, 14½ years old, with Sven Karpe at the Musikhögskolan in Stockholm.
1972 − 40 years since I received my diploma with André Gertler at Koninklijk Muziek-Conservatorium in Brussels with the assessment of the jury ”La plus grande distinction et les félicitations du jury”. According to the Conservatory officials such a distinction was very rare, perhaps even unique.
1972 − I won the international violin competition in ARD Munich with 2nd prize. Strangely enough two earlier brilliant students of Gertler’s had also ”only” won the 2nd prize. Fie for these intrigues!
1973 − I won the TV-competition TENUTO in Belgium (CD IV, track 4).
1973 − I got the 1st prize in the Joseph Szigeti International Violin Competition in Budapest. Unfortunately Szigeti died a few months before the competition began. As a prize I also received six LP records with his recordings, from the hand of his daughter.
1973 − Two months after the competition in Budapest I won the 3rd prize in the Vianna da Motta international violin competition, with an almost completely new program, and a loss of several kilos because of a too difficult program and too much practicing.
1975 − Finalist and prizewinner in the Sibelius competition in Helsinki.
1976 − 1st prize in the international competition J S Bach in Leipzig.
1977 − My last competition was the TIJI UNESCO (Tribune Internationale des Jeunes Interprètes) in Bratislava, with four prizewinners in different categories.
1977 − On January 17, I was appointed docent in violin at the Muziek-Conservatorium in Maastricht, NL. From now on the competitions were only for my students, who continued in my tradition by winning violin competitions.
2012 − The 2nd of October I celebrate my 65th anniversary by issuing this new CD-box, with a selection of my best concert- and radio recordings from 1973 to 1985.
When I was appointed docent in Maastricht I found it very interesting and rewarding to teach. It was the most important task for me. But my own concerting suffered of course, which I regret, looking back. Furthermore, as a foreign woman, successful both as a violinist and a teacher, there were many intrigues around me, with many difficult years, until I decided to retire, after 24 years. Instead I founded the André Gertler Violin Academy in Brussels. However, I have wonderful memories of most of my students and their brilliant results at their diploma examinations. They tell me that they are now happy practicing our fantastic profession: violinists in the world of music.
In January 1978 a man from Westdeutcher Rundfunk phoned Gertler and asked if he had a student who for one night could replace S. Gavrilov in Alban Berg’s violin concerto in Frankfurt HR on Mars 17. Yes, was his answer, and he asked me to learn it. I had never heard nor seen the music before, but two months later I played it in Frankfurt, by heart, too. It was the first and the last time I was lucky enough to play this wonderful concert. Fortunately it was preserved in the HR archives. When I returned to Brussels I found a bunch of flowers with a note from Gertler on my door: ”Le vieux serviteur de Alban Berg félicite de tout coeur la plus jeune, bravo!!… noch so weiter!!!”
My participation in the Bach competition in 1976 was a pure coincidence. I would have preferred a revenge for the less flattering place in 1971 in Le concours musical international Reine-Elizabeth-de-Belgique, where I ”only” reached the second round. But landing among the last 24 participants was no catastrophe. My preparations were not optimal. I had only studied at the conservatory seven months – new teacher, new technique, new life and new language. Furthermore I had scheduled a long concert tour in Sweden the month before the competition, with a totally different program, so the final preparation was not what it should be before such a big and difficult challenge as this competition. Now it was 1976 and time for the next Elizabeth competition.
This time I chose, in spite of inner protests, the Bach competition in Leipzig. My good luck, for I won the first prize! The preparations were fantastic. Besides the standard works, which are part of all competitions, like e.g. Paganini caprices, a Mozart concert, new compositions by the country’s leading composers, a Bartók concert etc., I practiced Bach of course. He was the center of every round: one solo sonata, one partita and one violin concert. It was rewarding and instructive to practice Bach every day, entering deeply into his complicated but beautiful music. After this personal ordeal with Bach’s fugues I can declare, that if you master Bach’s solo sonatas and partitas, you can really play the violin. This meant a development for me, not only as a violinist but also as a human being. My teacher always said: ”You play as you are”.
I regret to admit that there are intrigues and foul play in all sorts of competitions, even at musical ones. Before you enter a competition you must be aware of this, and only see the advantages, in the intensive training with your teacher, and having to learn long, difficult works that you need to keep in your head and your fingers the short duration of the competition; a program of two and a half hours, played with perfection in front of the jury for you to have a chance to pass on to the final round. All by heart, of course! If the result is not what you had wished for, the most important thing is to have done your best for the time being − better luck next time with the jury! And to be pleased with any progress you have made on your instrument. In the Élizabeth competition the points of the jury are secret. This explains why the best participants often don’t reach the finale, they are simply too dangerous.
What can you do when the president of the jury, Henryk Szeryng, at the Vianna da Motta competition in Lisbon tore apart his paper with my points when he realized that I was going to win the first prize? Jean Fournier from Paris sat next to him and saw it and later he told me about it (see photo of the jury votes p. 18). The first prize was shared between the Portuguese and the Armenian violinists, the latter thus also winning the Gulbenkian prize. They are now both teachers in the USA, the Armenian in The Juilliard School in New York.
A few months before Lisbon, I won, without intrigues, the First prize by a unanimous jury in Budapest in the Szigeti competition. In the Sibelius competition in Helsinki the intrigues were back, however. I had two former teachers in the jury and they were not allowed to vote for me, but had to make do with the average point of the rest of the jury. That was a drawback because all the four members of the Finnish jury agreed and gave me the lowest possible points. Little did it help that the Romanian member placed me second. But it was after all good to be a finalist and prizewinner.
But shame upon her that gives up! In1976, a unanimous jury gave me the First prize in the Bach competition in Leipzig. Several years earlier, David Oistrach and André Gertler were both in the jury in Leipzig. Both the members of the jury and the competitors were staying at the same hotel. The two violin masters one day walked down the corridor, listening furtively to the different candidates practicing and giving them ”points”. She will pass, he won’t…etc. Later they compared the notes they had given for the practicing with the final results of the competition: they all coincided. That’s how decisive it is how you practice.
My last competition was in 1977 in Bratislava at the TIJI Unesco international competition with different categories of instruments. There were four prizes: violin, piano, wind quintet and piano duo. I played in my folk costume (yes, already then – see photo p. 5). The Norwegian member of the jury commented: ”We would have won if we had appeared like that.”
Parents can interfere with the studies of their children in a devastating way. A parent should support the child with positive encouragement. My mother Sonja did just that; she was there for me from my early youth at concerts and later at competitions both in Munich and in Budapest. Here follows her report in a letter to my sister in the U.S.A. from the competition in Munich 1972.