Internationally renowned violinist Zvi Zeitlin, who performed with and cemented friendships with some of the greatest artists of the 20th century, and who was a beloved teacher and Distinguished Professor of Violin at the Eastman School, died Wednesday, May 2, of complications due to pneumonia. Zeitlin was 90 years old.
“We were old friends,” says world renowned violinist and conductor Itzhak Perlman. “Zvi was a wonderful musician, a terrific fiddle player, and was also a very thinking kind of musician. His thought processes went not just in music, but in other areas. He was an extremely dedicated teacher, which is part of what makes somebody a complete musician.”
In February, Zeitlin gave a full recital on the eve of his 90th birthday, a feat that few violinists have attempted beyond their seventies. It was his final recital as a full-time faculty member; Zeitlin was going to retire at the end of the academic year after 45 years of teaching at the Eastman School.
“Zvi Zeitlin was one of those rare artists whose honesty and depth were direct reflections of his profoundly authentic humanity,” says Douglas Lowry, the Joan and Martin Messinger Dean at the Eastman School of Music. “His knowledge, not just of music but life, was a marvel to behold, drawn out of deep roots in values, family, and artistic purpose. He was a legacy at the Eastman School; indeed, the world of music. We mourn his passing but celebrate the wisdom and poetry that he passes on.”
Considered one of the important violinists of the 20th century, Zeitlin led a career that spanned almost eight decades. At age 11, he became the youngest scholarship student in the history of the Juilliard School. After receiving a diploma and postgraduate diploma from Juilliard on the eve of World War II, Zeitlin returned to Palestine, began concertizing, and attended the Hebrew University in Judaic Studies. He joined the Royal Air Force in 1943, performing for British, American, and Soviet troops throughout the Middle East.
After the war, he returned to Juilliard in the fall of 1947 and continued his studies with Sascha Jacobsen, Louis Persinger, and Ivan Galamian. He gave his professional New York debut recital in 1951. In the ensuing years, he performed with most of the great orchestras of the world.
Zeitlin’s pedagogical activities reached across borders as well. He taught hundreds of students, many of whom hold leading positions in orchestras, chamber groups, and universities around the globe. Zeitlin joined the Eastman School faculty in 1967 and was named the school’s first Kilbourn Professor in 1974 and Distinguished Professor of Violin in 1998. In addition, Zeitlin was on the faculty of the Music Academy of the West since 1973. He held annual master classes in Great Britain at the Royal Academy of Music, Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and Yehudi Menuhin School.
Says Jamal Rossi, executive associate dean of the Eastman School, “Distinguished Professor of Violin Zvi Zeitlin has been regarded as one of the major violin artists and pedagogues of the last century. His recording of Arnold Schoenberg’s violin concerto is still considered the definitive recording of this major work. Zvi is truly the last of an era of great violin pedagogues that included Dorothy Delay at Juilliard and Josef Gingold of Indiana University. He lived an incredibly rich life, both musically and personally, and he will be deeply missed.”
Zeitlin is survived by his wife of 61 years, Marianne; children, Hillel (Karen) Zeitlin, Leora (Dr. Stuart) Kelter-Zeitlin; grandchildren, Gavriel (Ellisheva), Ariella (Chezky), Pnina, Shlomo, Jacob and Amalia; great-grandchildren, Dovid Nachshon and Eliora Sara Toba; and sister, Anba Kantor.
University flags were lowered May 4 in his honor. Donations in Zeitlin’s memory may be directed to Zvi Zeitlin Scholarship Fund at the Eastman School of Music, Office of Advancement, 26 Gibbs St., Rochester, NY 14604; or Zvi Zeitlin Scholarship Fund at the Music Academy of the West, 1070 Fairway Road, Santa Barbara, CA 93108.