On Target for Carnegie Hall

By Ashkenazy, Daniella | The World and I, March 1997 | Go to article overview

On Target for Carnegie Hall


Ashkenazy, Daniella, The World and I


AT A KIBBUTZ IN ISRAEL, LESSONS GLEANED FROM ARCHERY GROOM ASPIRING STRING SOLOISTS FOR THE STAGE.

"Here--like this," said Alex Lachter softly, almost in a murmur. Leaning slightly forward, he gently placed his hand on Jaana Ronkko's elbow, adjusting her arm to form a perfectly perpendicular angle to her torso. The young woman stood poised, feet slightly apart and lips lightly pursed in quiet concentration, her whole being centered on mastery of perfect form.

Twenty-year-old Jaana Ronkko is an aspiring soloist from Finland, Alex Lachter an ex-Olympic archery coach from Odessa. The paths of the two could have crossed--physically and philosophically--only in Israel.

The event that brought Lachter and Ronkko together was the Keshet Eilon master course (keshet being the Hebrew word for bow). An annual affair, it is held under the auspices of virtuoso violinist Shlomo Mintz every August and hosted by a farming village in the Galilee, Kibbutz Eilon (pop. 800).

Perched on a pine-covered hill overlooking the Mediterranean, Eilon resembles the 240 other cooperative communities that dot the Israeli countryside. Clusters of tiny, whitewashed apartments with red tile roofs hug the hillside. Asphalt paths link them to the village center, dominated by a lowslung, modern dining hall, spacious lawns, and communal day-care facilities.

But no country bumpkins here. Cultural activities in Israeli coop communities are as much an integral part of kibbutz life as the farm and factory buildings and orchards located on the village periphery. The kibbutz's decision to host the two-week master course was an extension of a well-entrenched musical bent in Eilon's cultural fabric. The program emphasizes individual instruction rather than group playing, with archery assisting as a unique tool in grooming soloists.

As I watched Ronkko, Itzhak Rashkovsky of the Royal Academy of Music in London drew an arrow from the black quiver dangling from his belt. For a moment one could almost touch the intense concentration that filled the air--broken only by a terse snap as the bowstring sprang forward, followed instantaneously by a dull but distinctive thump as the professor's arrow dug deep into the gold.

I had first heard about Keshet Eilon's innovative program from the renowned violin maker Amnon Weinstein when I visited his cramped Tel Aviv workshop four years ago. Finished and unfinished violins hung side by side from the ceiling like sausages, the air permeated by a scent of mothballs mixed with aged wood and fresh varnish. When Weinstein told me about Keshet Eilon--teaching violin with bows and arrows--I wasn't sure if he was pulling my leg.

"The archer's bow was the first harp. And from the harp, the first violin developed," Weinstein told me. Bending over his workbench, he rubbed the umpteenth coat of varnish on a new violin. "What's a violin, after all? Two archer's bows--one with strings tightened across it, the second with which one plays."

Both violin and archer's bow produce and release energy totally disproportional to their size. A topnotch arrow will leave a first-class bow at the speed of a bullet. A wood violin, weighing in at a little over half a pound, can shake the walls of a five thousand--seat concert hall. "While the `object of the game' is different--sending an arrow into the gold or producing a pure tone--both boil down to control of this extraordinary energy," stressed Weinstein.

Mintz, founder of the program, concurred. "The link between shooting and playing is not explicit, but it exists. Some speculate that the primordial archer, after hunting his prey and returning home, played on the same instrument," the maestro said. "Both spheres are very exacting and transcendent. In archery there is the same purposeful self-alignment--mental tuning of instrument and self. The kind of control demanded in both cases is akin to a stream of bullets flying through the air.

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