Pinchas Zukerman & David Aaron CarpenterThe selection

Published in 2007clockTime to read: 4m40s
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One of today’s most respected violinists, Pinchas Zukerman, has a special love for the viola. In choosing as his protégé the highly gifted string player David Carpenter, Zukerman has found someone who can benefit, as he has, from the rich interchange between the two instruments.

by David Patrick Stearns 2007
  • Pinchas Zukerman
    The Mentor
  • David Aaron Carpenter
    The Protégé

The questions that ultimately confront any young musician considering a mentorship with Pinchas Zukerman is “How much do you want it?” and “How much is it worth to you?”

One of the premiere violinists and violists of his generation, as well as the charismatic music director of Ottawa's National Arts Centre (NAC) Orchestra, Zukerman offers a calibre of wisdom best appreciated by those entering artistic maturity. Such were the three candidates selected by the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative for his consideration – two violinists and one violist, each of them extremely talented, none of them strangers to strong-minded instruction, but still knowing that the more self-regenerating knowledge they have at the beginning of their careers, the longer their creative lives will be.

“The big question,” says 59-year-old Zukerman as he considered the difficult task of choosing who would be his protégé, “is how far that person can reach.”

In order to find that out, Zukerman invited the three finalists to play for him in two periods separated by several months, meaning that the selection process was longer than in other disciplines of the Rolex Arts Initiative.

Ultimately, he chose violist David Aaron Carpenter, who at 21, is already an intense performer and impressive technician. He won the 2006 Walter W. Naumburg Viola Competition, which has launched numerous high-profile careers. Carpenter’s intellectual curiosities are such that his senior thesis at Princeton University is on comparative democracies in Turkey, France and Romania. What creates a natural connection with Zukerman, though, are Carpenter's years in the Juilliard School pre-college division leading a double life as a violinist and violist. Zukerman has done much the same, claiming that one instrument informs the other.

“The first time I met him (through Rolex),” says Carpenter, “everything clicked. And after two weeks with him in Ottawa, I felt a huge difference in my playing. Everything he did just fit.”

The mentoring method

“Mentoring string players is a journey,” says Zukerman. “How long? A lifetime! It's a combination of knowledge, knowledge, knowledge and knowledge. It comes from tradition. For example, we look back at Leonardo da Vinci again and again. How else do you learn? The students have to have patience. I say, you live to be 85. What's three years? What's the percentage? It's nothing! It's two per cent of your life'.”

Zukerman takes pupils back to fundamentals, such as discussing how a string vibrates, or the simple act of opening the instrument's case, which he likens to starting off on the right foot. “We have four to six weeks of basics,” he says. “And it works.”

From there, the Zukerman method includes eight or so face-to-face lessons between September and May (whether in Ottawa, where the NAC Orchestra is based and where Zukerman makes his home, on the road during his tours, on weekends or in country houses), plus four to five video-conferences, which Zukerman recommends strongly. Because they're recorded, they can be revisited numerous times. Any learning relationship with him also involves work with his like-minded colleague, Patinka Kopec, at the Manhattan School of Music. The process, he explains somewhat abstractly, entails analysing the particular province of left- and right-brain activities – splitting them apart, in a manner of speaking – and then putting them back together. Zukerman uses tennis analogies. “The brain will tell you what the arm has to do both in the backhand stroke and the forehand. But in music, the end result isn't a ball going over the net. It's an incredible, complete, physical manifestation that's totally indigenous to who we are as people,” he says. “Everybody will sound a little different, synonymous with your DNA, language, environment and everything we know.”

Zukerman realizes he is asking a lot of his students. He even asks them to cut back on hard-won music engagements for the simple reason that absorbing changes is difficult when they are under pressure to prepare for recitals. It's just for a year or two, Zukerman says, “though if you've got the Berlin Phil, you'd better do it.” Too many concerts is not a problem for Carpenter. He does not have a calendar full of recital engagements.

Carpenter says Zukerman is offering precisely what he needs. “I've relied more on talent than musical knowledge. Especially for the viola, he has so many great ideas – what the sound production should be,” he says. “When [Zukerman] played the Beethoven Violin Concerto with the New York Philharmonic in the spring of 2007, I felt like there was a boom box inside his instrument. I've never heard a sound like that. The bow, the fluidity, it just worked. My brother and I were in the audience; we just looked at each other the whole time and said: `Wow! This is what we should aspire to be'.”

Extracted from an article written by David Patrick Stearns for Mentor & Protégé, a magazine documenting the 2006/2007 cycle of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative.

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