Fortunate for violinist Asi Mathatias, his prodigal musical gift has been recognized at a young age. Born in Jerusalem and growing up in Herzelyah, he heard Heifetz performing on the radio, making up his mind instantly that this was, what he wanted to be doing, just as well. While his debut at age 12 with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Zubin Mehta may be deemed an impressive undertaking in and of itself, it just marked another checkpoint on the path of high expectations for the young musician, geared to master the virtuosity of the violin. The year following his inaugural performance of Mozart’s G-Major Violin Concerto No. 3, recorded as part of a BBC documentary, Mehta invited him back to perform Saint-Sains Violin Concerto No.3.
Described by Zubin Mehta as:”extremely musical, sensitive and technically accurate,” the maestro went further and personally advocated for Mathatias’ acceptance at the famed Vienna Hochschule for Musik, Mehta’s own former breeding grounds. Esteemed pedagogue Christian Altenburger accepted Mathatias as the youngest student, age 16, at time and Peter Landesman, director of the Salzburg Festival, arranged for a host family for Mathatias, who arrived to Vienna in 2004. “My parents did not believe that their spoiled, little son could make it on their own,” remembers Mathatias, but he did prove them wrong. After a couple of months with his host family, he decided it was time to move out and to keep house for himself in Vienna, during his beginning studies at the university. It was by invitation from Pinchas Zuckermann, that the next dream came true for Mathatias; to study under the wings of the legendary violinist, at New York’s Manhattan School of Music. “He is very demanding,” he says about Zuckerman, and admits:” it was a bit overwhelming at first.”
Thinking his famous teacher would be impressed by his intense schooling and self assured, prodigal technique, Mathatias was in for a rude awakening:”No one can impress him, of course, I went through a very tough regiment of “cleaning house,” he says. At first a bit rebellious, Mathatias learned to accepted the “grounding” experience, which ultimately made him a more secure and more mature musician. “It was very good for me, after my experience in Israel and Vienna, I was able to handle this new discipline, going back to the fundamentals of violin playing, like basically going back to open strings. I am not sure how it would have been, had I come straight to Zukerman,” he says. ”I was used to performing a lot, already by then. Already when I came to Vienna, I had quite a number of concerts; now I had to cancel most all of my engagements. Zukerman did not care about performing while studying, his standpoint was:” You are here to build a lasting career.”
In December he finished studies for his Masters degree at the Manhattan school of Music, and he is convinced he would follow his master’s firm yet inspirational way, should he ever be teaching himself:”You have to start with a clean slate. You are not going to become a different player, but it changes your approach completely… you become demure.”
While he was worried to lose momentum to build up his performance career, in hindsight he sees how important it was to reevaluate his early gained confidence. From day one, he also worked with Zukerman’s teaching assistant Patinka Kopec, whose persistence and strict supervision was what he needed to kill his darlings and ultimately truly progress. “I was a wild boy from Israel, a little cocky and convinced, things would continue to come so easy to me,” he smiles. After working hard for a few years, things turned around.”I developed a real work ethic, which in turn allowed me the freedom, to fully appreciate the inspirational side. Having such personal access and the privilege to hearing Zukermann play up close, is a revelation. His incredible sound, striking for a string instrument and his analytical thoughts are so fascinating. I always thought you can’t teach sound, but Zukermann always says:”Sound is your bank account, without it you make no money.” He is able to teach the abc’s of getting good sound, how to control your bow arm, how to hold the instrument properly and adjust the bow arm according to your shape and size of your hand. Even sound comes from the right distribution of the weight of your fingers and your arm. There is a method to the madness, although, having said that, there is always the individual way of what works for you. Many great musicians had quite unconventional ways of applying their own technique and still did fantastic, just think of Heifetz, whose bowing goes probably against everything we know, still succeeding with such fantastic results,” he says. “Zukerman believes in the “natural” way of playing, in order to avoid injuries. That means without straining or forcing, in any way. That means you have to build up your capacity constantly, since wanting to express something, without having the technical means, tenses you up immediately. It’s something that requires a lot of guidance, and he provided that en galore. Not every great player can teach from his own experiences, but he certainly gives you an all around approach to playing violin and its many different sound roles, when playing in a small or large environment, with or without an orchestral context, understanding its surrounding sound instead of just focusing on its melodic line. So many years of experience, performing with such ease…Zukerman’s example makes it quite clear that making music is not only a profession but a very particular way of life,” says Mathatias.
In February of 2015, Mathatias will perform his debut recital at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall with Manhattan School of Music alumni, pianist Dominic Cheli. He will then take his program of Brahms/Strauss/Saint-Saens to Europe, performing at the Berlin Philharmonic with pianist Victor Stanislavsky, view excerpts here.
For an early-bird preview of his program, visit GetClassical’s series at Zinc Bar, where he will perform with pianist Dominic Cheli on November 6, 2014.
For more information about the artist and his upcoming performance at Zinc Bar visit GetClassical’s website.