PARIS (Dec. 21)
Arthur Rubinstein, one of the world’s greatest concert pianists, died at his Geneva home last night at the age of 95. His companion and friend, Annabel Whitestone, said this morning that the maestro caught an infection. Funeral arrangements have not yet been completed. Ms. Whitestone said Rubinstein did not want any religious service after his death.
Rubinstein was a towering artist, a storyteller and a philanthropist who never refused to give a gala performance on behalf of charity, Israel or a Jewish cause. One of his last public concerts in the 1970′s was in London on behalf of the Organization for Rehabilitation Through Training (ORT).
At the beginning of 1976, in his last year of public performances, the maestro flew to Tel Aviv to record Brahm’s D Minor Concerto with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Zubin Mehta. He later wrote that this “turned out to be by far the most satisfying of all my previous attempts.”
ARDENT SUPPORTER OF ISRAEL
Rubinstein, an ardent supporter of Israel, gave frequent concerts there — appearing, as well, with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra — from the early days of the Jewish State. To encourage and support talented young pianists, he initiated the International Piano Master Competition, held in Israel, which bears his name.
His musical association with Israel dates back to 1924. On a concert tour that took him from Egypt to Greece, he found a way to make an unscheduled stop in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, which he had longed to visit. “It made me happy to see the old soil where my Jewish brethren, in the Diaspora for 2,000 years found a place again in their homeland,” he said.
Upon his arrival in Tel Aviv – Jaffa, Rubinstein was immediately recognized and pressed into playing. There was no concert hall large enough to hold the great number of people who wanted to hear him, so one was hastily improvised in an empty hangar at Lod (then Lyddo) airport. The audience of 2,000 people was “standing-room only”–literally, because there were no chairs to be found in the hangar.
In talking about that concert in a recent taped interview with David Frost, the noted television journalist, Rubinstein said that it was “a very extraordinary concert. I never forgot it.” He recalled that Tel Aviv at that time “was just … three little streets and the desert behind it.”
FRIENDSHIP WITH ZIONIST LEADERS
The maestro also told Frost in the interview, which was screened at the gala dinner in his honor by the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City last October 18, that he had been a friend of Dr. Chaim Weizmonn, who sparked his interest in the limitless vistas for scientific research — and the crucial role it could play –in a revitalized Jewish homeland.
As the Weizmann Institute took shape and flourished in Rehovot, Rubinstein’s support of its research work deepened. The Institute awarded him an honorary Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1976 in recognition of this support.
The maestro also related that he also knew other great Zionist leaders, among them Max Nordau and Nahum Sokolow, who arranged one of his first concerts in pre-state Israel. It took place outdoors, in front of the King Dayid Hotel in Jerusalem. “I knew Sokolow from childhood,” said Rubinstein, “because he edited a Hebrew paper in Warsaw — Hatzfira — and my father contributed articles to that paper.” Rubinstein carried on his father’s commitment to Israel and was a passionate champion of the Jewish state and a strong supporter of its cultural life. He gave concerts there on the average of once a year until his retirement in 1976.
Rubinstein told Frost he never was the kind of musician who spent all his time practicing and had no time left to enjoy life. Many young pianists, he continued, have an “incredible technique because they work it out to the last minute … sitting at the piano practicing eight hours a day … and they have no life … I would rather become … a dishwasher.”
He confessed that there were perhaps 50 beautiful pieces of music he never performed publicly because he had been too lazy to practice. “I never was a great worker at the piano,” he said. “But what the public liked was that music was in me, it sung in me, everything I played I was singing inside.”
Even in his retirement, in his 90′s, the maestro remained active in public life, meeting people, helping the young and taking a deep interest in civic affairs. In December, 1978, he was presented by President Carter and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis with the Kennedy Center’s Distinguished Award.
KEEN INTEREST IN JEWISH TRADITION
Born in Lodz, Poland, in 1887, he first studied in Warsaw and then in Berlin. From his early days in East Europe he maintained throughout his life a good command of Yiddish and a keen interest in Jewish traditions and Jewish lore.
Rubinstein gave his first concert in Berlin when he was II and first appeared in the United States in 1906 with the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. By that time, at the age of 20, he was already a world reputed pianist.
At the outbreak of World War I he volunteered for the Polish Legion and served as a military interpreter in London, then gave a series of concerts for the Allied cause and the Red Cross.
During World War II and the Nazi occupation of Paris, where he had had his home, Rubinstein settled in California and became an American citizen in 1946. He was given the world’s most prestigious medals and awards but on his 90th birthday he told an interviewer, “What really pleases me most is to play the piano.”