A Woman of Strings: Violinist Hanna Lachert (Part II)

And what of Hanna’s career? She says has had a wonderful professional career in retrospect after 40 years with the NY Phil and 60 years on the stage, after thousands of concerts. This does not mean everything was a bed of roses. However, her experience of playing as a violinist with the NY Philharmonic and sharing the stage with greatest artists of the century standing just a few feet away, and learning so much from them, is something no school could have given her! She learned a lot from her colleagues too, whom she describes as “fantastic.” These were musicians for whom the sky was the limit, who had a quest for perfection, to play each note the way the conductor wanted –and better!

At the NY Phil, she was the 6th woman when she joined—there were 100 men!—and she described herself as “liberal and a free bird, single.” She was making the same starting salary, and had her own life. But her Continental ways raised eyebrows among her more traditional male colleagues, for this was not what they expected. Hanna suggests there were some inappropriate words from colleagues (she describes them as “a few encounters”), such as when she was told her skirts were too short!

When asked about great musicians that she played with, Hanna named Horowitz, Rostropovich, all the great violinists, and singers like Domingo, Pavarotti, Price! As to which one has been most influential, she names Leonard Bernstein. She acknowledges, despite her love for “Lenny,” that he was a polarizing figure: you either had to be in his orbit, or you could not stand him—the usual reaction! Either love or hate. Perhaps others disliked his theatrics, but Hanna said this was genuine; listen to his legacy, and one can see his genius way of seeing teaching music to both musicians and listeners.

What makes for a great musician? Hanna offers some very unique insights. For the great orchestral musicians, there is no unimportant note! This is the essence. From outside, non-musicians think it’s simple “to bang” on an instrument or play, but each single note, the color, timing, or timbre, is as important as the melody, whichever instrument is carrying it. Every single bar, articulation, or rest matters. This is evident even in a great painting—take out one color, and it’s not the same. The attention to detail, to each individual note, is the difference between musicians in an ordinary orchestra and in a great one.

How has Hanna managed to do all this, to have a good professional life, while also being a wife and a mother? She credits violinmaker David Segal from whom she had full support, a man who is her husband. Hanna describes him as a second mom! She had two kids who were also musicians, involved in acting, and she and her husband were busy taking them to activities. (Son Yaniv is a conductor and composer, and daughter Adi is a visual artist.) Hanna had a solo career too, playing 10-15 concerts a season, and was artistically happy. She performed a lot of chamber music, mostly with her New York Philharmonic colleagues.

When asked if the culture of violin playing has changed over the last few decades, Hanna says an emphatic yes. That maybe today’s schooling and pedagogy are at a much higher level than before. Schools, conservatories, etcetera are full of youngsters who play tremendously well. Technique is started early for the students, as is performance. But does it make them better violinists or artists? She does not think so. Historically, Menuhin was a prodigy and so were others, but that is a separate story that cannot be compared to the path of talented young musicians. The ultimate test, she says, is over time. It also boils down to a musician’s ability to communicate. If you can do what you wish w/your instrument, she says, it comes down to if you are able to say what you want to with it. To have a dialogue and have something to offer to the audience. Musicians have to understand their world of music and what the composer is trying to say.

Which composers does Hanna Lachert wish she could have met? What are her thoughts on composers? Composers are inspired suddenly by an idea; who knows where it comes from? Mozart’s manuscripts (she has seen many in Krakow) she says are so humbling—they are perfect from start to finish, without corrections! The process of writing the idea or divine spark varies from composer to composer: it is nice to observe this process. She could have done this w/Krzysztof Penderecki, 81, one of the greatest composers, who is a friend. Hanna concludes by noting that everyone has a different technique. Time will tell who was great and who was trying hard to be great.

Thus we have some reflections by a wonderful musician and artist. Huge thanks to Hanna for her time! Do visit her website to hear her music at http://www.hannalachert.com

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