Portrait of the Artist as an Ambassador of Canadian art

Ellen Bialystok


Jacques Israelievitch was a continual and active presence in the Canadian arts for almost three decades as he had been in the US for the two decades prior. He enriched our lives and elevated the status of Canadian musicians and visual artists at home and abroad. He was an enthusiastic promoter, a dedicated patron, and an internationally- acclaimed performer, truly defining what is meant by the concept “lifetime contribution to the arts”.

Mr. Israelievitch arrived in Canada in 1988 to take up the position of Concertmaster of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. It turned out to be an inspired appointment as the impact of his arrival in Canada was felt beyond the world of music; it resonated equally through the entire arts community. Passionate about the visual arts, he, along with his wife, Gabrielle, endeavoured to learn about Canadian art and celebrate it fiercely. He was soon a central member of both music and art circles and defined a unique position for himself as the synthesizer of these cultural spheres. His involvement was personal: he commissioned works from Canadian artists, he employed Canadian craftspeople to build objects, and he inspired and requested musical works from Canadian composers.

As important as his contributions to art and music in and of themselves, he brought these worlds together. He achieved this synthesis in diverse and imaginative ways. He frequently played recitals in art spaces, as when he premiered his CD “Hammer and Bow” with his son Michael at Charles Pachter’s Moose Factory, played a recital with Yefim Bronfman in Sandra Ainsley’s Glass Gallery, or conducted his Koffler Chamber Orchestra in a Russian program in conjunction with the opening of the Chagall exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario (pictured above). He played his violin as a ‘model’ in Greg Murphy’s painting class at the Ontario College of Art. He arranged for the exhibition of an artist’s work (Will Petersen) in the lobby of Roy Thomson Hall where he was playing a concerto written for him by a composer (Murray Schafer) that had inspired the work. He was the first member of the Gardiner (ceramic) Museum and was its unlikely artist-in-residence with a recital series for a number of years. He improvised music with Michael Snow and with Reinhard Reitzenstein, both of whom are most known as visual artists;. Often he played for artist-friends at their openings, e.g. at Prime Gallery for Bob Archambeau, at the Gardiner for Jean-Pierre Larocque (with Michael on marimba), at Gallery One for Douglas Haynes— and he invited visual artists to the musical salons in his home. He was, in short, someone who celebrated and championed the interplay of Canadian art and music.

The soul of a society is its culture, and societies are judged by their respect for those who create that culture. Jacques Israelievitch contributed to Canadian culture for almost 30 years and firmly established himself as a precious natural resource. He received the Order of Canada in August 2015 which recognized him for bringing his musical gift to Canada, sharing it with us, and making our society a lot richer. At his death, the National Arts Centre in Canada’s capital city hung the flag at half mast.