Heifetz DVD Fleshes Out the Man Behind The Myth
‘God’s Fiddler’ explores the life of the enigmatic violin virtuoso
Twenty-five years after his death, virtuoso Jascha Heifetz retains his status as the greatest violinist of the 20th century. Yet, until now, there has been no film documentary telling his amazing story. Emmy Award–winning filmmaker Peter Rosen—whose past films have spotlighted composer Aram Khachaturian, the architect I.M. Pei, and the contestants at the Eighth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition—has delivered an intimate portrait of the towering artist that Itzhak Perlman has called “the first true modern virtuoso.”
The film premiered this spring at the Colburn School of Music in Los Angeles, which has preserved Heifetz’s practice studio.
Rosen employs on-camera interviews with Itzhak Perlman and other top string players and teachers, former colleagues and friends, and Heifetz biographers Arthur Vered and John Maltese, along with rare film footage and photos, and innovative animation, to capture the complexity of this influential, but enigmatic, performer and recording artist. The film includes home movies shot by Heifetz, an avid photographer and film maker, who preferred playing with a camera to rehearsing the violin.
The tales of his storied childhood, including Heifetz’s studies with Leopold Auer at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, are brought to life through sequences shot in the school’s marbled hallways and around the cramped apartment in which the young Heifetz lived with his family. His early encounters with anti-Semitism, his departure from Russia on the eve of the Bolshevik Revolution, his arrival in New York, his fabled debut at Carnegie Hall at age 16, and a scathing review that left him first devastated and then determined to excel, all are covered in detail. But Rosen also goes to great length to flesh out not only the details of Heifetz’s ascent, but also the flawed man behind the myth.
Rosen strips away the impression that Heifetz—a child prodigy who had his first professional gig at age five—was superhuman, as many believed when he came on the scene. Rather, it’s the music—and Heifetz’s hard work and unquenchable passion for perfection—that captivate in this exemplary portrait.