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David Bar-Illan (Piano)

Born: February 7, 1930 - Haifa, Palestine (now Israel)
Died: November 5, 2003 - Jerusalem, Israel

The Israeli pianist, music teacher, journalist and political aide, David (Jacob) Bar-Illan, was born to second-generation immigrants in Haifa. He was a piano prodigy, graduated from the Haifa Music Institute, and in 1946 made his professional debut as soloist with Palestine Broadcasting Service Orchestra. At age 17 he won a piano scholarship at the Juilliard School of Fine Arts in New York. In 1948, he interrupted his studies to fight in the War of Independence and, after winning, returned to the USA to finish his schooling at the Juilliard School of Music and Mannes College of Music in New York. He graduated in 1950 and spent nearly four decades in the USA.

David Bar-Illan won international acclaim as a concert pianist. He made his British debut at Wigmore Hall, London, England in 1953, and his first USA tour in 1954. In 1960 he made his debut with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1961, Bar-Illan became the first Israeli artist to perform in post-war Germany. In subsequent seasons, he appeared as soloist with all of the major orchestras of the USA. He played with many of the world's major orchestras and as a recitalist in Europe, the USA, Latin America and elsewhere. He recorded six albums for Audiofon, and also for InSync. Bar-Illan was best known as an interpreter of works from the Classical and Romantic periods, and won rapturous praise for his keyboard wizardry - he was known to quirkily stress the offbeat to re-enliven works by Franz Liszt, Frédéric Chopin, L.v. Beethoven, Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky and his favourite, Johannes Brahms. In a review of one recording of work by F. Liszt and Weber, Bernard Holland wrote in The New York Times in 1982 that Bar-Illan was ''fleet, powerful and above all, energetic in all this music.'' In America, he worked with such conductors as Leonard Bernstein; the composer Robert Starer wrote works for him, and he was a close friend of Glenn Gould. Bar-Illan's were among the few concerts that Glenn Gould could bear to attend.

From 1980 David Bar-Illan taught Piano at the Mannes College of Music. He contributed articles on music in several journals. Students at the Cincinnati University Conservatory, where he also worked, recalled his generosity of spirit.

A keen linguist and devotee of archaeology and mathematics, David Bar-Illan wrote for Eros magazine in the 1960ís. His interests extended beyond music to embrace passionate views on politics, which frequency allied him with the Israeli right wing. By the 1980ís, he had become a regular contributor to American newspapers, and was a vocal advocate for Soviet Jews. But he despaired of "living in an ivory tower" while Israelis were "struggling for the survival of a nation", and, in 1987, returned home with his wife Beverly. Once he moved back to Israel, Bar-Illan began writing for the English-language Jerusalem Post. Known for his sharp intellect, deft prose and combative defence of conservative views, he was lead writer in the Jerusalem Post from 1990, edited the paper from 1992 to 1996, and returned as an occasional columnist in 1999. Bar-Illanís involvement with the Jerusalem Post consolidated the rightwing course set by Conrad Black, who bought the previously liberal paper in 1989. Though he was proud of giving space to Jewish liberals - and to the occasional Palestinian journalist - even friends conceded the acerbic tone of Bar-Illanís own pen.

David Bar-Illan was a man who never hid his political feelings and his "right-wing" views edged the pages of the Jerusalem Post. Nonetheless, it still came as some surprise when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, having defeated Labour's Shimon Peres in the May 1996 elections, made Bar-Illan his Director of Communications & Policy Planning - a testing assignment given western apprehensions about the ruling Likud party's policies. More than a mere spokesman, Bar-Illan became Netanyahu's eminence grise, writing, for example, his boss's first speech to the US Congress, which reviled the "tyrannies" of the Middle East. Bar-Illan also dismayed some ministers by formulating government strategy. Continuing the practice of his newspaper column, Eye on the Media, he harried CNN, the BBC and the Guardian for "loading the dice" against Israel by "distorting and hiding facts". If it were not for Arab economic power, he argued, western journalists would regard the Palestinians with the same neglect they showed to the Corsicans, Basques or Bosnians. It was "palpably absurd", he wrote, that Israel was blamed for all the Middle East's conflicts; instead of eradicating anti- Semitism, as earlier Zionists had assumed, "Israel itself has become the world's Jew".

David Bar-Illan died aged 73 from complications of a heart attack he suffered in February 2000. His wife survives him, as do his two sons, a daughter and two stepsons. To honour the memory and legacy of Bar-Illan, friends and family helped establish an annual event - The David Bar-Illan Conference on the Media & the Middle East - at the Ariel University Center of Samaria. The forum, held every November in Israel, is a full-day academic conference on media relations and ethics.

"Bar-Illan can storm through the loudest sections without ever making an ugly sound ... his playing expresses sheer joy as he revels in the technical complexicities." - Harold C. Schonberg, The New York Times
"One of the few superior artists to reach the level of achievement now linked with men such as Serkin and Rubinstein." - Chicago Sun-Times
"He plays with great mastery, spontaneity and drive ... he's a winner." - The New York Times

Source: Obituary in The Guardian (Author: Lawrence Joffe, November 25, 2003); Obituary in New York Times (Author: Thomas J. Lueck, November 5, 2003); Wikipedia Website (September 2011); Audiofon Records Website; International Who's Who in Music & Musicians' Directory (13th Edition, 1992/93); Bakerís Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Classical Musicians (1997)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (October 2011)

David Bar-Illan: Short Biography | Recordings of Instrumental Works

Links to other Sites

Savid Bar-Illan (The Jewish Library)
About David Bar-Illan (Audifon Records)
David Bar-illan (Wikipedia)

Blog of Death: David Bar-Illan
Obituary in The Guardian [Nov 25, 2003]
Obituaru in NY Times [Nov 5, 2003]

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