George Zukerman, O.C., O.B.C
George Zukerman has long and widely been recognized as bassoon virtuoso and skilled community concert organizer.
He was also celebrated for his community leadership as Artistic Director of White Rock Concerts and for his pioneer work throughout the North of Canada.
He quit the national and international touring circuits in 2012, after 52 years of peripatetic worldwide concertizing.
His Remote Tours Canada project which served schools in the isolated North, was merged into the National Arts Centre’s Music Alive programme in 2013.
In 2015, he retired from his leadership of White Rock Concerts which he launched in 1956.
Until 2017 he was still actively organizing tours and developing new audiences in small communities throughout the West.
For his contributions to Canadian touring and performance, both at home and abroad, he was named to the Order of Canada in 1993, to the Order of B.C. in 1996. He was also recipient of the1995 National Arts Centre “Award for Distinguished Contribution to Touring” and was appointed a Surrey Civic Treasure in 2011 and a City of White Rock Community Inspiration in 2013.
Artist - Performer - Soloist
The High Priest of the Bassoon
As performer, George Zukerman was one of the few artists in the world to achieve celebrity on the bassoon outside the Symphony Orchestra. Universally recognized as a leading virtuoso soloist, he has been credited with rescuing his instrument from what he termed “penal servitude in the back ranks of the orchestra”, and has earned the sobriquet “The High Priest of the bassoon"
Elsewhere critics have referred to him as “Master of the bassoon” (Durban); “The Casals of the bassoon” (Singapore); “Heifetz of the bassoon” (Perth) “Segovia of the bassoon” (Hong Kong); “The Great Magician of the bassoon” (Munich) The American Record Guide (NY) said of his early recording of the Mozart concerto K 191, “He is, on the showing of this record, one of the leading bassoon soloists of the world....a devastating display of bassoon playing.” Zukerman’s favourite review, however, came from Northern BC, where the Prince George Citizen declared him “the Eddie Van Halen of the bassoon”.
After orchestral stints with the Israel Philharmonic [1950-1952] and the Vancouver Symphony and CBC Chamber Orchestra [1953-1963] he embarked on a solo career, appearing in every Canadian Province and Territory, broadcasting frequently for the CBC, playing for concert societies, universities, and for countless schools from Coast to Coast to Coast.
Simultaneously, on the international stage, he achieved the distinction of being the first bassoon soloist ever invited to the former Soviet Union, to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and China. During six decades of touring, he also undertook 45 European tours, becoming, arguably, one of the world’s most widely traveled solo artists.
At the height of his international touring, he searched out audiences in exotic locations, and gave unlikely recitals in Banda Seri Begawan, Brunei; Suva and Lautoka, Fiji; Mauritius, Ile des Pins, New Hebridies; Lilongwe and Zomba in Malawi; Sitka, Alaska; Papeete, Tahiti; Malta, Gibraltar and even Kabul, Afghanistan (audience 300 plus 2 camels.) It was this penchant for performing in isolated and remote communities which later flourished in his development of concert activity in the Canadian North.
In the world of chamber music, Mr. Zukerman formed the Cassenti Players [a mixed ensemble of winds, strings and keyboard] which toured extensively during the 60’s and 70’s and represented British Columbia at Expo 67 in Montreal. In 1998, with leading Canadian colleagues including Andrew Dawes, Angèle Dubeau, Amanda Forsyth, James Campbell, Rivke Golani and Joel Quarrington he formed Octagon – an all-star Canadian group - which toured extensively across Canada featuring the seldom heard Beethoven Septet and Schubert Octet. More recently, distinguished soloists Martin Beaver, Mark Fewer, Rachel Mercer, Katherine MacLean and Kenneth MacDonald have joined the ensemble which is still touring nationally as a bright star in the firmament of Canadian chamber music.
The Hurok of the Hamlets
As community organizer George Zukerman specialized in arranging concerts for smaller centers from Coast to Coast to Coast. Dubbed by the late Jack Wasserman as “The Hurok of the hamlets” his Overture Concerts in its 1970’s heyday was the second largest concert network in North America, presenting over 400 concerts each year in over 100 small, rural and often isolated communities throughout the West and North of Canada. His tours proved that these cross-Canada tours were economically feasible for Canadian artists and groups, and became the model for much of today’s prolific Canadian touring market.
In the 50’s and 60’s of the last century, most touring in Canadian happened when American managements extended their artists’ tours Northward. Determined to show that the entire West of Canada was not an artistic suburb of North Dakota,
Zukerman turned to the growing pool of Canadian artists and groups to fill the needs of his thriving network of “organized audience” communities. It soon became clear that it was possible to plan cross-country and regional Canadian tours with Canadian resources. Canada had declared its touring independence, and Maclean’s magazine chortled that Zukerman had “outsmarted the Americans at their own game”.
As well as providing a ready platform for emerging Canadian artists, the new network created opportunities for substantial Western itineraries for established Canadian touring ensembles. The Canadian Opera Company, La Pieta, National Ballet of Canada, Tafelmusik, Violons du Roy, Elmer Iseler Singers, and many others counted on the Overture network to make viable their Western tours.
Many emerging Canadian ensembles such as the Borealis Quartet, Vancouver Wind Trio, Cassenti Players, and Foothills Brass started touring careers with Zukerman’s guidance. While he did not actively assume their management, he steered them towards competent managers who could actively cultivate Canadian and international careers.
In the mid-seventies and eighties, George Zukerman took the musicians of the CBC Chamber Orchestra with its conductor John Avison on a series of extraordinary tours. On one occasion, the workhorse freighter, Northland Prince served as transport, rehearsal hall, floating hotel and dining room while the orchestra traversed BC’s coastal fjords. On other tours, in the arctic they often travelled on ice roads and by chartered aircraft to reach a myriad of isolated villages. There, they played by the light of the midnight sun in school halls, churches and pingos.
Although Overture Concerts was sold and disbanded in 1996, Zukerman continued, well into the present century, to organize tours for celebrity Canadian artists to smaller and more isolated communities throughout the West. Tours were planned for Ben Heppner, Richard Margison, Russell Braun, Isabel Bayrakdarien, New Orford Quartet, Elmer Iseler Singers, Cappella Artemisia, The Bergmann Duo, The Arc Ensemble, Quintessence, Violons du Roy, National Broadcast Orchestra, Pentaedre, Winds of the Southern Cross, Anton Kuerti with the Thibaud Trio, Ensemble Caprice, and most recently for the Canadian Guitar Quartet.
George Zukerman was a past Chair of the Canadian Association of Artists' Managers and a Board Member of CAPACOA [Canadian Association of Arts Presenting Organizations]. Born in Great Britain, his early education was at the University College School. In New York he attended the High School of Music and Art and Queens College.
Ambassador to the North
Between 1998 and 2012, his Remote Tours Canada programme brought more than 800 instrumental concerts to school audiences in countless isolated and scattered communities throughout the North.
With the assistance of the Canada Council and the Music Performance Trust Fund of the Musicians’ Union, George Zukerman launched Remote Tours Canada to take groups of nomadic colleagues to isolated settlements in Nunavut, Nunavik, Labrador, Northwest Territories and the northern regions of each of Canada’s
Provinces. In countless remote first-nations fly-in communities - settlements with such splendid names as Qikiqtarjuaq, Kuujaarapik and Kangisuallajjuaq - students would often hear and see professional musicians for the first time in their lives. Proclaimed the “Musical Ambassador to the North” he played for virtually every child who wasn't home sick in bed with the flu! It is fitting that his final career performance took place among Northern friends in the remote community of Ft. Smith, NWT. The Remote Tours Canada project has now been adopted and expanded by the National Arts Centre as part of the nation-wide Music Alive programme.
RESEARCH AND THE GREAT MOZART HUNT
Will the Real W.A. Mozart Please Stand Up
To expand the repertoire for his concerts, Zukerman turned every international tour in an historical treasure hunt for long lost works. In his search of libraries, Chateaus, Schlosses, Museums and private family estates, he unearthed more than 100 concertos and dozens of early sonatas for the bassoon.
Scouring one such European library in 1967 George Zukerman discovered an anonymous F Major concerto which had been lost since 1812, and had at one time been attributed to Mozart. It became the core of The Great Mozart Hunt, a “dramatized concert” which Zukerman wrote in 1991 on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the composer’s death. The show was presented more than 100 times in Canada and the USA, as well as overseas in Australia, Russia, South Africa and Ireland. Actor Ron Halder collaborated with Zukerman in all of the productions, and created memorable multi-roles as Mozart, Salieri, publishers Breitkopf and Hertel, musicologist Alfred Einstein, patron Thaddeus von Durnitz, a modern-day Impresario and a Micky Spilane era private eye.
COMISSIONS – NEW CANADIAN WORKS
Mr. Zukerman was also considered responsible for a late 20 th century renaissance in Canadian composition for the bassoon. Among works written, and dedicated to him are compositions by Jacques Hetu, Murray Adaskin, John Weinzweig, Jean Coulthard, Malcolm Forsythe,Theo Goldberg, Elliot Weisgarber, Robert Turner, Arthur Polson and Imant Raminsh.
During his playing career, Mr. Zukerman recorded the major concerto repertoire for the bassoon for the Vox-Turnabout label with the renowned Wurttemberg Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Jörg Faerber. His European best-seller recording of Mozart, Weber and Stamitz concertos was reissued in 2003 in a special digitally re-mastered edition of “Bassoon Concerto Classics”.
He has recently published a new “retrospective” CD of works for bassoon and piano, consisting of recordings of radio broadcasts made on tour in Canada, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and South Africa.
Both CDs are available here:
As Artistic Director of White Rock Concerts he led the debt-free suburban concert series for 59 years, presenting a steady array of national and international soloists and ensembles to an enthusiastic sold-out audience.
Currently, under the aegis of Special Travel International [a boutique Vancouver based travel agency] George Zukerman is musical director for a series of classical music cruises on the great rivers of Europe. Trips on the Danube the Rhone and the Douro were completed last year. A musical tour of the Elbe from Prague to Berlin takes place in May 2018, and a return to the Danube is being planned for October, 2018.
Renowned as one of Canada's best known musical raconteurs, George Zukerman can often be heard in CBC Broadcasts and interviews. Based on a lifetime of touring and involvement with concert organization he is compiling a book of fond memories, provisionally entitled “Bassoon as you are Ready”
He lives with his partner, violinist and teacher, Erika Bennedik, in White Rock/South Surrey, B.C. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .