Zukerman and Forsyth, partners on stage and off

By David Fleshler

Many wives learn to tolerate their husbands’ irritating habits. And then there is the unique burden borne by Amanda Forsyth, wife of the eminent Israeli-born violinist and conductor Pinchas Zukerman.

“On the airplane he drives me crazy, because he puts on his headphones and waves his arms to the score like a lunatic,” Forsyth says from the couple’s home in Ottawa. “He hums … often quite loudly … even at night when the lights on the plane are out.”

Yet this is one of the high-profile marriages in classical music, a bond between a world-renowned virtuoso and the beautiful, younger cellist who has established herself as a concert and chamber-music performer. According to both, the marriage is a highly successful melding of the personal and the professional.

Their musical partnership will be on full display Wednesday and Thursday in concerts with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra at Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach.

As one of Ottawa’s few glamour couples, Zukerman, 61, and Forsyth, 43, attracted a lot of attention in the Canadian press when they began dating. And when they got married in 2004 … on Anguilla with Here Comes the Bride played on steel drums … the Toronto Globe & Mail ran a long article on Ottawa’s Society Wedding of the Year,” describing the guest list, the health-conscious menu of fish, vegetables and fruit, the bride’s “slinky $7,000 white beaded gown” and the groom’s refusal to wear a tie with his white suit. The wedding was her first and his third. His first marriage, to the flautist Eugenia Zukerman, ended in divorce as did his second, to Tuesday Weld.

“A lot of people thought this marriage wouldn’t work out. She’s so young and just starting her career,” says longtime Miami concert promoter Judy Drucker, a wedding guest and longtime Zukerrman friend.
“But it’s the warmest relationship in the world. She looks up to him as if he’s a king, and he does his best to make her happy. She’s an exceptional cellist. She wouldn’t be playing all over the world if she wasn’t.”

Forsyth grew up in Canada in an intensely musical household. Her father is the composer Malcolm Forsyth, and she began playing the cello at 3. Like Zukerman, she moved to New York to attend Juilliard. Although she didn’t achieve his level of stardom, she became a highly respected musician, joining the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and then becoming the youngest principal ever selected by the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra before moving on to lead the cello section of the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa.

The child of Holocaust survivors, Zukerman was born in Tel Aviv in 1948, the year of Israel’s birth. After Juilliard, he went on to establish himself as one of the leading concert violinists of the last 40 years, with more than 100 recordings and 21 Grammy nominations.

“He’s got his own voice, which is rare,” says violin virtuoso Robert McDuffie. “He’s got a ping to his vibrato. You know it’s Zukerman when you hear him.”

Although often paired in listeners’ minds with Itzhak Perlman, the other great Israeli violinist of his generation, Zukerman has roamed more widely in the musical world. He concertized and recorded on the viola, a larger instrument that seems made for his dark, throaty tone. And he embarked on a second career as a conductor, becoming music director of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and, in 1998, taking over similar duties for the orchestra in Ottawa.

At the couple’s South Florida concerts, Zukerman will conduct, while he and Forsyth share solo responsibilities. Their unusual program consists of Haydn’s Symphony No. 83, known as The Hen; Haydn’s Violin Concerto in C Major, with Zukerman handling the solo part; Max Bruch’s Canzone for Cello in B-flat Major; Bruch’s Adagio on Celtic Melodies for cello and Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture.

Only the Tchaikovsky shows up often on South Florida concert programs. Despite his eminence, Haydn rarely appears here. And Bruch shows up usually by way of a single overplayed work, his First Violin Concerto. The cello works Forsyth will play are almost completely forgotten.

“I found them on an old recording of a cellist I’d never heard of in a bargain-basement box,” she says. “I’ve asked around, and no cellist has ever heard of them.” The Adagio on Celtic Melodies, is “very Bruch, very lush,” she says.”I call it the Scottish Fantasy for cello, except it’s not as hard.”

In South Florida Forsyth and Zukerman imbibe the South Beach life. They stay at a hotel near Lincoln Road, stroll the streets with their scurrying Maltese, Yoji, and poke around in boutiques. They practice, with Zukerman donning the violinist’s version of the hairshirt for scales and Paganini caprices.

Unlike many stops on Zukerman’s world tours, Miami is one place he knows and cares about. One of his first professional engagements was a 1969 booking at a Miami Beach synagogue for Drucker’s fledgling concert series. He returned many times for the now-defunct Concert Association of Florida.

Not every married couple would want to work together. But, speaking with the practiced articulation of those used to questions on the subject, Forsyth and Zukerman insist their musical bond has strengthened their relationship.

“There are really no challenges,” Zukerman says. “We’re very, very open about our ability to say what we don’t like. When we like something we tell each other, too. When you have a partner in life who actually understands the inner workings of all this, our personal relationship has grown stronger because of our professional bond.”

Adds Forsyth, “It’s not a challenge at all, because I’m playing with the greatest violinist in the world. We understand from the inside of our souls what we want to portray. Having him next to me on stage is such a support system. A lot of stuff goes between us without saying anything.”

Pinchas Zukerman, Amanda Forsyth and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra perform Dec. 16 at 8 p.m. at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and Dec. 17 at 8 p.m. at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach. For the Arsht Center performance, call 305-949-6722 or go to www.arshcenter.org. For the Kravis Center performance, call 800-572-8471 or go to www.kravis.org.

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2 Responses to “Zukerman and Forsyth, partners on stage and off”

  1. Posted Oct 03, 2010 at 2:00 pm by Boboo

    is she trying to be Tuesday Weld ?

  2. Posted Nov 10, 2013 at 7:33 pm by Gertrude Slany

    I heard them in concert y’day without knowing that they are a couple – they are a genuine musical partnership; even the giant talent of Pinchas does not overshadow his wife’s amazing beauty of her playing and effortless technique – they work well together – it is a seamless musical partnership.
    Perth, 11/11/2013 – thankyou to both of them for a once in a life-time musical experience and the wonderful WASO as well.

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Sun Dec 13, 2009
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