It was thanks to Bronisław Humberman that Ivry Gitlis left his native Israel to study at the Paris Conservatoire in his early teens. The legendary Polish violinist heard the young Gitlis play and began a fundraising effort to send him to France. Soon after his arrival in Paris, Gitlis – who changed his name from Isaac to Ivry – was soon winning prizes for his playing.
Born to Russian parents in Haifa, he was five when he first picked up a violin, and ten when he gave his first concert. He enjoyed post-grad studies in Paris with Enescu and Jacques Thibaud before moving to England when War loomed in 1939.
In England he more than did his bit for the war effort, serving in the British Army’s entertainment unit and working in a munitions factory.
After the war he eventually returned to France, where he began making a name for himself professionally. This led to interest from America, to where he moved in the 1950s, undertaking extensive tours and concert engagements with the country’s great orchestras and conductors.
The 1960s saw Gitlis return to France, where he lived until his death. The decade saw him become the first Israeli violinist to perform in the Soviet Union, an event only adding to what was becoming something akin to cult status. Indeed, he appeared in The Rolling Stones film Rock & Roll Circus in 1968, performing with Yoko Ono.
In the ’70s he founded his own festival and settled into his life as an in-demand concert performer and musical communicator; masterclasses became a staple of Gitlis’s later life and he continued to make concert appearances well into his 90s.
The studio was somewhere Gitlis wasn’t to be found too often; his relatively small recorded legacy is acclaimed, admired and some of it remains gold for collectors.
He was named a Goodwill Ambassador by UNESCO in 1990 and played a 1713 ‘Sancy’ Stradivarius.
Words by Michael Beek