Drucker’s 44-year impresaria career to come full circle with return of Pinchas Zukerman
It’s fitting that the job of reopening the concert series of the legendary South Florida impresaria Judy Drucker should fall to Pinchas Zukerman.
A lifetime ago, as a 19-year-old violin virtuoso who had just won the prestigious Leventritt Competition, Zukerman performed on the very first concert of her series, a modest 1968 affair at Miami Beach’s Temple Beth Sholom. Since then, Drucker’s Concert Association of Florida went on to larger halls and brought in stars like Luciano Pavarotti, Itzhak Perlman, Evgeny Kissin and a parade of world-class orchestras.
Then came her ouster as president, the organization’s bankruptcy and unsuccessful attempts to affiliate with other arts organizations.
Now Drucker has revived her concerts as the Great Artists Series. The first of two events is taking place next Tuesday night at New World Center in Miami Beach, with a performance by Zukerman, cellist Amanda Forsyth, and pianist Angela Cheng. And no one is more delighted—besides possibly Drucker herself—than Zukerman.
“I love it. I think it’s fantastic,” he said in a telephone interview from Munich, where he was performing chamber music. “I’m so glad she is doing what she’s doing again, what she loves to do. She’s given so much to South Florida, not only in her capacity as impresario but her love for music and people, and that’s just wonderful to see her back in the driver’s seat.”
As Drucker brought classical music to the then-frontier territory of South Florida, Zukerman fulfilled his early promise by establishing himself as one of his generation’s leading violinists. He toured the world’s concert halls, made more than 100 recordings, received 21 Grammy nominations (and two wins), married three times, fathered two daughters, grew and shaved a beard, acquired a second career as a violist and a third one as a conductor. Since 1991 he has served as music director of the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa, where Forsyth, his wife, is principal cello. He just announced plans to leave the job in 2015 and says he’s not sure what he’ll do next.
“I have no plans,” he said. “It’s a combination of different things. But I think it was the right time. So instead of waiting another year or year and a half, I thought this would be a good time to give the management and the National Arts Center enough time to start searching [for a successor].”
Like many musicians on Drucker’s series, Zukerman kept coming back. He estimates he has performed for her audiences about two dozen times. This procession of regulars contributed a clubby, at times somewhat in-bred tone to the series, particularly as some of the familiar names began declining to emeritus status. But it also shows the style of a presenter for whom performers were friends, treated with the personal touch Zukerman finds absent from the large institutions that have come to dominate the business.
“Usually she’s the one who picks us up because she doesn’t trust anybody,” he said. “She is a breed that’s gone. When she comes and takes us to Joe’s Stone Crab, and people say ‘Judy, we’ve got a table for you,’ and there’s 400 people standing outside trying to get a table, well, that should tell you a lot.”
Since his 1968 performance in Miami Beach, when Drucker drove him across the Rickenbacker Causeway so he could see Stiltsville, Zukerman has learned his way around South Florida. He acquired a taste for Cuban food. He went to the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise for hockey—where he cheered for the Ottawa Senators against the Florida Panthers. He goes to the boutiques of Bal Harbour. “He loves to go shopping,” Drucker said. “He’s always buying things for his wife.”
One day they were in a car and Drucker mentioned her 25th anniversary season was approaching. Zukerman announced that he and Itzhak Perlman would perform. Impossible, thought Drucker, considering the cosmic coincidence required to bring two ferociously scheduled musical giants onto one stage at the same time. “Then he picked up the phone—they had phones in cars in those days—and said ‘Itzhak you’re coming with me to play for Judy’s 25th anniversary.’ And they did and they wouldn’t even charge me.”
Zukerman credits her with laying the foundation for today’s thriving South Florida classical music scene, the success of which ironically would ultimately serve to undermine the preeminence of the Concert Association and topple her. “We’re talking about 1967 and 68,” he said. “You know, Key Biscayne was out of town. I mean far out of town. Think about what there wasn’t, in comparison to 40 years, 45 years later.
“And she’s one of the people that really made it possible for the Arsht Center to take place, for music to be there, for the Cleveland Orchestra to come down, for Michael Tilson Thomas, etc., etc. These are all part of the same thing.”
As large institutions took hold, as performing arts centers such as the Arsht Center rose and developed the capacity to assemble their own classical music series, Drucker seemed to become less relevant. Her organization filed for bankruptcy protection and voted her out as president. She spent two unsuccessful years trying to work with Florida Grand Opera and since then has labored to revive her organization. Although she’s 83, well into the age when many people give up work for watching television, restaurants and golf, she longed for the conversations with agents, post-concert dinners with famous musicians, the music, the applause.
“It was like missing a child,” she said. “When I stopped this, I didn’t know what to do with myself.”
Her new series has had a shaky start. She was forced to cancel her first two concerts, featuring the baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky and the pianist Vladimir Feltsman, for reasons she attributed to failing to get her corporate and tax paperwork settled in time. But now she says her documents are in order, she has a new board, and she insists the Zukerman concert will go forward. The concert will consist of duos and trios by Mozart, Kodaly, Mendelssohn and Schumann.
“I’ve got everything now, and I’m back in business,” she said. “I feel like a new person. I’m sitting here with two desks and computers. That’s what I do. I wouldn’t know what to do without it.”
Pinchas Zukerman, Amanda Forsyth and Angela Cheng perform 8 p.m. March 27 at New World Center in Miami Beach. newworldcenter.com, 305-673-3331.
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Thu Mar 22, 2012
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