Miriam Hartman, first viola in the orchestra, recounts how she almost became an English literature teacher, how she viewed Hannah Senesh as a model, and why Toscanini figures in nearly every corner of her home which is also located in Toscanini Street. A proud violist? A proud Israeli? One cannot separate the two.
Miriam owns two violas. The first is one which her father bought for her when she was only six months old and the second is one which the Italian Giovanni Battista Ceruti made in 1808 and which Miriam bought in an auction, in 1989, on behalf of the IPO (it was the largest viola in the orchestra until recently).
To the question, what is the origin of her personal/spiritual connection with the viola, Sharon answers with a broad smile: “The viola is Everything, there is no other instrument that can sing like the viola. The viola has a human voice. I once dreamt that I was playing the viola with great emotion and suddenly, without the bow, the sound emerged from my arm through the viola and continued to sing, without a bow and without movement. The viola is the medium, the means through which man’s inner soul is revealed.”
Miriam, why did you choose to play the viola?
“As if I had a choice …” (she laughs). “When I was six months old, my father looked at my hand and decided that I was going to be a violist. At the same time, he bought me the viola which accompanied me until the current one I am playing, which was bought by the orchestra .”
“I began to play the violin at the age of five because a small child cannot hold a viola, but only dream of playing the instrument that awaits her under her bed. I was waiting to become a violist. I still have scores of a Mozart quartet with signs on each note, because one has to learn how make the transition from playing a violin to playing a viola. We performed as a quartet in many places.” At this point, one should note that Miriam’s father, aged 88 today, practices the violin every day, performs once a week with a string quartet and once a week with a pianist.
Why did you decide to immigrate to Israel?
“Already at the age of 10, I knew that I would make aliya. I wanted to be a parachutist like Hannah Senesh and make aliya at 18. Before I made aliya, I visited Israel in 1968 (I played in a course led by Rami Shevelov at the Weizmann Institute), in 1971 (I played in the Youth Corps Orchestra) and in 1973 (I performed in a festival at the Targ Music Center in Jerusalem).“
Do you remember how you felt when you performed for the first time in the United States as an Israeli?
“From the very first moment I performed as an Israeli with the Philharmonic and as a representative of Israel, I knew that I would never return to the U.S. At that moment, I realized the meaning of what I had done when I made aliya and what it means to represent Israel culturally.”
What are your sources of inspiration?
Toscanini is one of Miriam’s greatest sources of inspiration. “He conducted Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony very fast. When I was tested for the Julliard orchestra, I was asked to perform this work and I played it at a fast tempo. Then I stopped, apologized and told them that I was used to Toscanini’s tempo and did they want me to play more slowly? The conductor appointed me first viola because his father had been a violist in Toscanini’s orchestra and he admired my ability to play every note and my upbringing.”
To what extent does the Philharmonic Orchestra represent Israel abroad?
“If you look at the number of threats against us and the number of time we have had to evacuate the hotel at three in the morning because of alerts, the number of times we had to leave the stage, the safety briefings that accompany every trip and the demonstrations outside concert halls, yes the Philharmonic is associated with Israel. In the eyes of the world, we represent Israel.”
Is there a particular concert with the Philharmonic which is etched in your memory?
Miriam remembers many memorable concerts and conductors but the ones she remembers most were accompanied not only by strong emotions but also by great pain.
“I will not forget how Daniel Barenboim came and conducted a rehearsal after his mother died. The music was the funeral march from Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony. It was the only thing he was able to do in order to express his sorrow and grief. This explains the power of music. Instead of being at the shiva, he had to conduct and express himself through us.”