[Correction: Sept. 7, 2015. The article originally stated Jacques Israelievitch came to the Toronto Symphony under Jukka-Pekka Saraste. Saraste didn’t come to the TSO until 1994.]
He was a force of nature in his native France, and for 67 years, Toronto-based violinist, conductor, and pedagogue Jacques Israelievitch made critics swoon. On Saturday, September 5 he died after a battle with cancer.
He had been diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer in February 2015, and presented with the Order of Canada just a few weeks ago, on August 14.
Born in Cannes, France, Israelievitch graduated from Conservatoire of Le Mans at age 11, and was the youngest graduate in the history of the Conservatoire. He went on to become the longest-serving concertmaster at the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.
The TSO stated, “With deep sadness we mourn the passing of our dear friend and former long-time Concertmaster Jacques Israelievitch. Tributes coming soon as he made immeasurable contributions to the orchestra during his tenure. Our deepest condolences to his family from all of us at the TSO.”
He started his orchestra career at age 23 as assistant concertmaster at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under conductor Sir Georg Solti. After Chicago, he was named concertmaster of the St. Louis Symphony, a position he held for 10-seasons. In 1988, he was named concertmaster of the TSO under Gunther Herbig. After moving to Toronto, he established himself in the Hillcrest area and quickly fell in love with the city.
Alongside his wife Gabrielle, he credited the diversity and openness of Toronto in fostering his ability to plant deep roots. He had three sons: David, Michael and Joshua and two grandchildren, Aya and Bennett.
Israelievitch had a profound love of chamber music and had performed with luminaries Emanuel Ax, Yefim Bronfman, and Yo-Yo Ma. He also founded the Toronto Symphony Quartet, the ISA (Israelievitch/Smith/Ahn) Trio and the Israelievitch Duo with his son, percussionist Michael Israelievitch. He regularly performed in masterclasses and served as music director of the Koffler Chamber Orchestra.
Israelievitch retired in 2008 and joined York University as professor of violin and viola. “His gifts and achievements as a musician and educator, and his collaborative spirit in sharing them with us, were an inspiration to us all.” said York U Dean Shawn Brixey.
Israelievitch produced a vast discography of more than 100 recordings including, JUNO-nominated Suite Hébraique with pianist John Greer, Tchaikovsky: The Ballets with the St. Louis Symphony, Beethoven’s Romances with the TSO. Notably in 2006, he released the first complete recording of 42 Studies for Solo Violin by Rodolphe Kreutzer.
Most recently, he teamed up with pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico and launched their first CD of Canadian music titled “Fancies and Interludes”. The duo also initiated a marathon concert in May 2014, performing all 28 Mozart Sonatas for Violin and Piano.
Israelievitch’s last public appearance was in July at the Chautauqua Festival, with Christina Petrowska Quilico. “Jacques was such a role model for me as an inspirational and motivational musician and a friend,” Quilico stated. “He helped me climb Mount Everest in our wonderful Mozart project. I will always remember the fun and laughter we had rehearsing and recording. What a great way to make music!”
While struggling with illness, Israelievitch was determined to complete the recording of all 28 Mozart sonatas for violin and piano with Quilico, which concluded in May. The multi-CD set will begin releasing in early 2016.
Donations in memory of Jacques Israelievitch may be made to the Jacques Israelievitch Endowment for Violin/Viola and Interdisciplinary Arts at York University.
The family has asked not to send flowers, but rather plant something somewhere in his memory.
A funeral service will be held at Benjamin’s Park Memorial Chapel (www.benjaminsparkmemorialchapel.ca), Monday, 1 p.m. A memorial concert will be announced at a later date.