70 Hungarian postcards to the 70-year-old Israel

A master is letting her legacy live on.
Ilona Fehér – violin soloist, music pedagogue

By Sándor Silló - 2018-03-10
Translated from the Hungarian original: Bea Sara Goll

In the binary world of zeros and ones, I’ll make a strong statement:


In the art world, the personal relationship between master and pupil is the one that transports the tradition, that is, the knowledge.  In music, a solid instrumental skill or manual dexterity are just a base to give you confidence; but the wisdom of a successive line of masters, the entirety of their knowledge shapes the talent into an exceptional artistic achievement.

Shlomo Mintz - photo by Yonathan Weitzman / Wikipedia

Shlomo Mintz had said that Bach and the great composers of the past are all our contemporaries. If we accept the hereditary chain of masters and pupils, it is an everyday statement and not a world star’s sound bite to the press.

1933 Ilonka Fehér violinist has performed with great success on the radio

Photo: Sefad Memorial Museum

Shlomo Mintz became a student of Ilona Fehér at the age of six. His master had been a student of József Joachim, a great Hungarian violinist at the turn of the century, and Miklós Hubay (student of Joachim), who had raised a number of world stars and virtuosos. And, in addition, he started a series of violin teachers in the '20s and' 30s at the Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music. Among them we find Ilona Fehér. She had a substantial  soloist career with famous European orchestras, including the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra under Willem Mengelberg ...

Photo: Gramofon archive

But as it was the case with many other Jewish artists, her career, too, was interrupted by the war. She and her daughter were deported to a camp, but managed to get away. They were fighting against the Nazis among the Czech partisans until the end of the war. (There is hardly any mention of this episode). Then the first years of peace in Prague followed. Instead of the ever-narrower possibilities of the Eastern Block, she chose to make aliyah. She had arrived with nothing but her violin in her hand in 1949. “She played for soldiers during her first Israeli concert, at an old cinema in Sefad. The Israeli music culture disappointed her; as well as her financial problems have contributed to her giving up on actively performing and devoting her time to teaching , following  Moshe Weinstein, a violin maker's advice” Yuval Shaked says. Thus, her new life began: teaching. Rigorousness and a sense of humor - these two words are included in every interview. At the end of the 20th century, a long line of great violinists, Shmuel Ashkenasi, Pinchas Zukerman, Shlomo Mintz, Hagai Shaham, Ron Efrat, Yehonatan Berick and Yoel Levi had started their curriculum vitae: I was a pupil of Ilona Fehér. Even Itzhak Perlman was almost anxious to mention that, although he had not been a pupil of Ilona Fehér at the Tel-Aviv Academy, but he tried to audit all her courses.

Ilona Fehér was the pedigree of a cultural "bloodline" in Eastern Europe; the intersection of Jewish and Hungarian musical traditions in an apartment in Holon. She used to recommend her small pupils to a great master: Isaac Stern listened to the young Shlomo Mintz and endorsed him to the New York Juilliard School of Music ... and the rest is history. A virtuoso in the world of concert halls, with all the knowledge of the inherited tradition.

Shlomo Mintz with Ilona White - photo: Holon Museum and Historical Archive

The posterity is not ungrateful. The renowned students commemorate her. A street has been named after her in her city, and her pedagogical work is being carried on by the Ilona Fehér Foundation in New York. Its founders, curators, teachers are her students’ students.

With Yehudi Menuhin - photo by hagaishaham.com

In Hungary, an International Violin Competition was named after Ilona Fehér, where the youngest musicians can compare their skills in front of a jury of with well-known professionals. The president of the jury is Shlomo Mintz, to close the circle. Thus, a real master is letting her legacy live on.

An excerpt from a documentary about Ilona Fehér:

The title of the film is “Ilona Fehér, the master of a genius” (1982). Shlomo Mintz, her pupil talks and remembers his first experiences with Ilona.

The street called Ilona Fehér in Holon - photo: Sándor Silló

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