Zemach, a Brother, Bach, and a Cello

World Premiere of Monde Biblique

Last year I visited Israel where my older brother died several years ago. I went to see his grave and was stunned by the cold and solitude it radiated. No pretty shrubs, no flowers, no intimate inscription.
When I was approached by the Emeriti Association in April 2010 to play a piece for our Spring meeting I immediately thought of Vico, who was not only my brother but also a composer. His grave came again before my eyes and I had the urge to resuscitate his essence through his music, to praise him and not to bury him.
Vico Zemah (sic) composed a piece in 1949 entitled Moment Biblique, which was never performed in public. I thought of my emeriti colleagues as the perfect audience for its world premiere.
My family – parents, sister and brother - left Bulgaria in 1944 for the then British mandate of Palestine. Vico had a good education and played well the piano on which he loved to improvise. However, the Yishuv, (the Jewish part of Palestine) needed sturdy farmers, competent plumbers and not talented pianists.
The same rationale applied to me too and to my own interest in music. But being younger than Vico, only 15 at the time, I didn’t have to enter the work force yet. Instead I was “placed” in a kibbutz which allowed me to take cello lessons in nearby Haifa.
Eventually I got luckier than my brother. The Israel Philharmonic needed cellists for its upcoming tour of the States and hired me as a result of an audition. The audition was before the then conductor of the Boston Symphony - Serge Koussevitzky – who was to conduct the orchestra in its first international tour.
As an add-on to Moment Biblique, I had chosen the 1st Suite for solo cello by J.S.Bach. One of the many reasons for this choice was my Cappa cello. Cappa carved my instrument at about the same time that Bach composed his suite -1720 - and I thought a reunion of these complementary contemporaries would be in order.
However, a mini-catastrophe took place the week before our musicale when my 1720 cello slipped from my fingers and crashed on the floor. The reunion of Bach with Cappa had to be postponed and Bach’s suite had to make do with another, younger, cello whose maker – Gabrielli - didn’t breath the same air as did the Master of Cöthen and Leipzig. Bach’s smart and genial manipulation of the instrument made up for the failure to showcase the quaint coincidence the way I intended.