World-renowned musician, Emanuel Vardi dies at home in North Bend
February 1, 2011
A glittering star of the music world, violist Emanuel Vardi died Jan. 29 at his home in North Bend after a fight with cancer. He was 95.
Vardi was one of the world’s leading viola players for decades; he endeavored to elevate the instrument’s status in the music world. He was also a devoted painter his entire life, especially after two accidents in 1993 left him unable to play the viola.
Vardi was born in 1915 in Israel, then part of the Ottoman Empire. His parents, Joseph and Anna Joffa Vardi, were musicians and teachers. He began playing violin and piano at age 3.
When Vardi was still a young child, the family moved to New York City, where he soon received attention as a gifted musician. He enrolled in the Institute of Musical Art, today known as The Juilliard School.
However, the 21-year-old left school before graduating when he was recruited to play the viola for the NBC Symphony Orchestra, led by renowned conductor Arturo Toscanini.
Switching from violin to viola, a larger-stringed instrument with a lower range, was not a choice most musicians would have made. The instrument was often looked down upon in the music world, but its sound grabbed Vardi’s attention and did not let go.
He was inspired to take up the viola after hearing a recording of William Primrose, a famous violist whom he later played with at NBC.
“When I heard that and how a viola could be played, I said ‘That’s for me,’” Vardi told the SnoValley Star in a previous interview. “I decided that I was going to go into viola.”
The viola lacked the prestige of its cousin, the violin, and there were fewer solo pieces written for it. Vardi’s father was dismayed at his son’s decision.
“When I switched to viola, he almost disowned me,” Vardi said. “When I became famous, he introduced me as ‘My son, the violist.’”
During World War II, Vardi served in the U.S. Navy, playing in its band. His performance at a recital in Washington, D.C., caught the attention of Eleanor Roosevelt, who asked him to play for President Franklin Roosevelt.
Vardi’s career was filled with accolades and rare accomplishments. He is one of two violists to perform a solo recital at Carnegie Hall.
Because fewer soloists played the viola, Vardi found himself creating new pieces for the instrument.
“I created a lot of solos, because the viola repertoire was very limited,” Vardi said. “I changed the attitude of the viola into a solo instrument by creating solo pieces for the viola.”
In addition to playing, Vardi also was a teacher, imparting his knowledge and passion for the viola to others. In 1977, a young, talented player, Lenore Weinstock, came to him to further learn the instrument. The two developed a deep relationship that eventually led to their wedding in 1984. It was Vardi’s second marriage.
The duo played together in many movie scores. Their stringed instruments can be heard in “Sleepless in Seattle,” “Kramer vs. Kramer,” “Tootsie,” “Aladdin,” “Fame” and more.
Two accidents in 1993 ended Vardi’s playing career.
“It was devastating,” Lenore Vardi said.
Vardi focused his creative energy on painting, which he had taken up as a child. He had used the G.I. Bill to study in Florence, Italy, for two years after World War II.
The couple moved to North Bend in 2007 and lent their support to the local arts community. They helped organize the Snoqualmie Valley Music Festival in 2010.
“I feel privileged that we were able to walk the same earth as someone of his greatness and accomplishments,” said Harley Brumbaugh, a local musician and organizer of the Snoqualmie Valley Music Festival.
Vardi is survived by his wife Lenore; and his daughters Andrea Smith, of Fairfield, Iowa, and Pauline Normand, of Montreal, Quebec.
Dan Catchpole: 392-6434, ext. 246, or firstname.lastname@example.org.