Much has been written about Jacques Israelievitch and his remarkable career since his untimely death on September 5, 2015. Instead of repeating his extensive biography, I want to write about him from the heart, as a dear friend and esteemed colleague. His wonderful qualities as a kind, gentle and spiritual man made him an extraordinary musician and artist. He was a loving and devoted husband, father and grandfather.
I loved the way he called his wife, Gabrielle, “angel” and held her hand. I loved the way he beamed with pride when speaking about his three sons and two grandchildren. I loved the way he cared about his students, musical friends and artists. I loved the way he Skyped his mother in France almost every time we rehearsed. I loved the way he always encouraged, supported and inspired me during concerts and recording.
As a musician, Jacques was always “on.” When we met to sight-read for fun, he expected concert tempo. Every rehearsal and performance was expected to be at the highest artistic level. He knew when to push and be demanding as a concertmaster, soloist, collaborator and conductor. He was just as critical of himself, always expecting as much from himself as from others. I was fortunate enough to have also been soloist in two piano concerti with Jacques conducting. It was his strength, leadership, warmth and camaraderie that elevated all the performers.
What really made Jacques unique and stand out in my memory in these last few months, while facing such devastating illness, was his ability to continue performing at such an unbelievable level. We were in the midst of giving concerts and recording the complete Mozart violin and piano sonatas, all 28 of them, at York, when he learned about his illness. It didn’t stop him. We also released a CD of Canadian repertoire on Centrediscs, Fancies and Interludes, which we had recorded live in one take a few years earlier. We gave a performance of selected works from the CD for the launch party on June 11 at the Canadian Music Centre. This was one of his last performances. Jacques had wanted to perform as much as possible in the last months. In spite of pain, Jacques never complained, never questioned, and made sure that every rehearsal, every concert was the best musical experience we could have.
Both of us were mad for Mozart and wanted to enjoy every opportunity to make music. He didn’t even complain when the piano in a concert hall was digital. He said that we would concentrate on the marvellous Mozart. He told me, and his family, that this was the happiest summer of his life. He savoured every note, every phrase that he played. Jacques also made sure to play chamber music with as many friends as he could. He never lost his sense of humour, and our rehearsals were filled with joy and fun. If either of us made a mistake, we would laugh. He was never judgmental and we were both open to trying out new musical ideas. Never one to gossip, he still did enjoy a good story. During breaks, we would take turns venting or trading jokes. In spite of the extreme pain and fatigue, he insisted on finishing our marathon of recordings and our mood was bittersweet when we finished. He kept asking me to record more, even a few days before his death. He called this project our Mount Everest. What a gift and legacy these recordings will be. We played the sonatas with love and affection for Mozart, who has been in our souls and heart throughout. I couldn’t have asked for a better musical partner or colleague. He cherished every musical line and nuance of the sonatas. It was inspired playing. Jacques and I appeared together July 11 at Chautauqua, performing the last four Mozart sonatas. Nobody realized that this would be his final concert. The experience was magical. His playing was moving, heartfelt, strong and always honest and true to the score.
It was so difficult to say goodbye to such a dear friend. Gradually, a sense of joy returned, as I became overwhelmed with the beauty of the music and Jacques’ extraordinary playing. I realize now that we will never really lose him. His artistry and musicianship will live forever in his recordings and our memories of the wonderful person that was Jacques Israelievitch.
Christina Petrowska Quilico