New Plans at the 92nd Street Y
Director Hanna Arie-Gaifman has plenty of ideas for Tisch Center
Czech-born Hanna Arie-Gaifman is full of plans in her new role as director of New York’s 92nd Street Y Tisch Center for the Arts. Long before she arrived, former director of classical music Frederick Noonan had programmed four Czech quartets, the Panocha, Prazák, Skampa, and Wihan Quartets. Arie-Gaifman confesses, "Had someone asked me to pick the four best Czech quartets, I’d have chosen the same ones anyway." She finds that the Czech ensembles retain "a pleasure in joint work, of being together and making music." The Czech Philharmonic, in her opinion, also shares in this unique joy in collaborating for artistic ends.
Her old friend and colleague, the late Sandor Vegh, with whom she founded the Bohuslav Martinu Chamber Music Academy at Dobris Castle near Prague, was a fount of anecdotes about less joyful collaborations: "Mr. Vegh would tell Bruno Giuranna to please tell Mr. Csabo to play something," because the players of the Vegh might not be on speaking terms on a given day. By contrast, there looks to be plenty of intercommunication at Arie-Gaifman’s 92nd Street Y, where a series of Young Europe recitals will attempt to break through the difficulties younger foreign artists have imposing themselves on audiences. Citing the difficulty for any solo Czech fiddler since Josef Suk to build up a strong career, she explains, "During the Communist era there was a political-social atmosphere that said you shouldn’t attract too much attention to yourself, whereas in an ensemble, you’re more covered. So the Czech tradition of musical ensembles grew." Even today, she finds, there is in Czech culture "an exaggerated modesty, where even talented string players take time to project themselves. They lack self-assurance and sometimes by the time they have it, it’s too late for a career. Some Czech kids are almost apologetic about going on stage."
Two gifted and unapologetic artists to be presented this fall are the Norwegian duo of violinist Henning Kraggerud and pianist Helge Kjekshus, who debuted at Weill Hall two years ago. This season will be a mixed effort of Arie-Gaifman’s and Noonan’s, to try to defeat what she terms "the prejudice some New Yorkers feel. People need encouragement to hear people who aren’t famous locally. Although groups like the Emerson and Guarneri Quartets do well here, when a group appears like the Hagen Quartet, quite famous in Europe, they are not guaranteed a full house here."
Describing herself as a "failed pianist," Arie-Gaifman is deeply interested in literature as well as music. She wrote her doctoral dissertation in Prague on the concept of "Homo Ludens" (playful man), the title of a noted book by Dutch scholar Johan Huizinga. Contrasting a modern Czech comic classic, Hasek’s The Good Soldier Svejk, with older humorous masterpieces such as Don Quixote, Arie-Gaifman concluded, "I believe the ludic part of art should be allowed. You can take art seriously and enjoy it at the same time." With this interest in playful elements in literature and music, audiences at the 92nd Street Y can expect some intriguingly entertaining programming.
Arie-Gaifman plans a series, "Music of the Jewish Spirit," in which unexpected juxtapositions will occur, such as the music of George Gershwin next to that of Holocaust martyr Erwin Schulhoff. It turns out Schulhoff wrote a Concertino that appears to be heavily influenced by Gershwin’s American in Paris—except that it was written two years before the Gershwin work appeared. Arie-Gaifman theorizes that both composers drew from the same tradition of Eastern European themes to create their melodies.
Other musical interests range from Les Six to a program of Zionist songs composed by Kurt Weill, Leonard Bernstein, and Darius Milhaud. Arie-Gaifman retains her ties to Europe and still serves as dean of the Sandor Vegh International Chamber Music Academy; it is directed by noted French oboist Maurice Bourgue, who collaborates with Arie-Gaifman and pianist Alexander Lonquich. One of its main objectives is to establish a dialogue between various European creative and performance traditions. This dialogue looks likely to continue and expand to include America in the quotient as the 92nd Street Y, too, becomes a place where creative cultural exchange will especially flourish.