The Israeli pianist/teacher/festival founder Idith Zvi will be in Philadelphia this month to help students competing in the Philadelphia Young Pianists Academy.
One could say Idith Zvi was born knowing how to play the piano.
Sure, that is a little hyperbolic — but only a little. Her mother was a piano teacher and Zvi picked it up from a young age — so young that it predates her earliest memories.
“I don’t remember learning piano; I just know that I knew to play it,” the Israeli native said of her longtime affinity for the instrument. “Most of the time, not all pianists chose to play the piano — their parents chose what instruments they played, like with me. So I didn’t know any other instrument; that’s the instrument I knew, and I liked it very much.”
Since then, she has built an impressive career as a pianist and coach for chamber music performers, served as a radio producer for 30 years and created a chamber music festival in Israel, which just finished its 30th year last week.
And now, Zvi, 70, will be in town as part of the Philadelphia Young Pianists’ Academy, which will develop 17 young pianists’ talents through solo recitals and master classes from Aug. 9 to Aug. 16 at the Curtis Institute of Music.
Zvi will be teaching multiple master classes throughout the program and will present a seminar on Aug. 10 at 4 p.m.
She is eager to work with the pianists during the program — two of whom are also coming from Israel at Zvi’s recommendation — and helping them develop their skills.
“Piano is a vehicle to express what the composer wanted us — performers — to express,” she said.
Though she has moved away from playing, Zvi said teaching is a rewarding experience for her because she can watch the pianists become more comfortable with both the music they play and their identities as musicians.
“Teaching is forming out of clay another musician,” she said. “You have to be capable of analyzing and verbalizing what you want from the pupil — to convey what you want to convey and see it come out in their playing.”
Her role as a teacher and coach has become more prevalent as she has gotten older, she said. Playing the piano was something she always enjoyed, but she has done it less as the years have progressed, given the long hours of practice required. (“But I love teaching and making others practice,” she joked.)
Instead, she helps young pianists hoping to make names for themselves as skilled musicians.
She coaches chamber music and piano performance students at the Buchman-Mehta Music School at the Tel Aviv University and encourages the students to give each other feedback — which is perhaps not so easy when dealing with such artistic types.
“They get together once a week — all grades — and they play for each other, and I try to help anybody’s problems, starting with technical problems and ending with psychological problems,” she said. “They learn how to play for an audience. But they’re all pianists playing for each other — they’re the worst critics.”
Although the piano has been her whole life for almost her whole life, there was another area she studied before truly immersing herself in chamber music. During her time in the Israel Defense Forces, she worked with a radio station as a producer, which introduced her to journalism and communications.
This will not be Zvi’s first visit to Philadelphia — she spent one semester taking communications classes at Temple University in 1968, until one of her professors told her, “You’re too good a pianist to be a journalist.” And so, she went to graduate school in music at Mannes College in New York and became a piano teacher.
But she didn’t completely let go of her journalistic dreams. She worked at an Israeli classical music channel starting in 1985 as a producer — the same year that she started what is now known as The Voice of Music in the Upper Galilee Chamber Music Festival, modeled after the classical music-focused Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont that she had once participated in.
“I wanted to have a pretty place where musicians could eat, sleep and play — but not in that order,” she added, stressing the importance of practicing and rehearsals and the scenic elements of the mountains in the Galilee.
Before her PYPA appearances, she will be making a pit stop in New York to visit with the American Friends of the Arthur Rubinstein Music Society, which is having a concert in Carnegie Hall.
Zvi has been the artistic director of the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition in Israel since 2003, which PYPA executive director Ching-Yun Hu won in 2008. The competition awards young pianists who show promising skill, and after she won, Hu was able to go on a tour of Israel and play with its philharmonic orchestra.
Hu invited Zvi to participate in this year’s PYPA, calling the musician one of her close friends.
“Idith has a versatile personality,” Hu wrote in an email. “Her role as the artistic director of the Rubinstein International Piano Competition is especially valuable to PYPA, because she can share her knowledge of the international competition scene with our young artists and music professionals in Philadelphia.”
Zvi is very much looking forward to PYPA, she said. Her seminar will focus on competition and what it means to win, highlighting three main areas: timing, character and motivation.
“I hope I can enlighten the young people about what it means to be in a competition,” she said, adding it is important to remember it isn’t always about winning.
Hu is excited Zvi will be participating, and hopes the young musicians learn from her and from their experience in PYPA as it heads into its third year.
“PYPA creates a community and provides the stage for masters and prodigies to perform, excel and be inspired,” she wrote. “It is an opportunity to pass the torch of wisdom and knowledge from one generation to the next. For me, this is a beautiful thing.”