The musicians that make up the WSO spend decades and thousands of hours perfecting their skills.
Their journey involves countless teachers and mentors, some of whom have a bigger impact than others. Many of the WSO string players have one particular mentor and teacher in common, and the very tragic news of his passing earlier this month made them want to share some of their memories.
He was violinist Yehonatan Berick. Just 52 years old, the University of Ottawa School of Music violin professor passed away suddenly from cancer. Besides Ottawa, the 1993 Naumburg prize winner previously taught at the University of Michigan, McGill University, the Eastman School of Music and the University of Toronto, amassing a large community of colleagues and proteges along the way.
I had a few lessons with Yehonatan at McGill: he was fun and serious, generous and intimidating, sweet, insightful, knowledgeable and oh so musical. We were in the same circle of friends where he loved telling jokes and discussing politics. I kept in touch with Yehonatan and his family over the years and saw him when he would come to Winnipeg to play or teach. Last March, Yehonatan announced that he would teach for free every day as long as COVID lasted to anyone interested… and he typed again ANYONE :):):)… former students as well of course!
Why not? I thought… what have I got to lose? It’s COVID, the world is in chaos, I can surely have someone, once, a colleague, critique my playing and come out semi-intact. Well it wasn’t just once, and it wasn’t just someone. Thank you, Big Y, your inspiration carries on in my teaching studio. We will all miss you!
– Élise Lavallée, Assistant Principal Viola
I spent seven summers at Domaine Forget, where Yehonatan Berick was a regular on the faculty. Even though I was a viola student, I saw him regularly in the hallways, checking the news and cracking jokes with the students. There was no denying all the violin students and faculty appreciation towards him and his good mood was contagious on campus. During those years, I also had the chance to hear Yehonatan perform all 24 Paganini Caprices in Quebec City. As a student, and even now as a professional, this was a highly impressive feat and it became even more so when I myself started to learn some of the caprices later in grad school.
This summer, after the pandemic hit pretty harshly the artistic world, Yehonatan generously offered his time to both students and professionals for lessons online. I am so grateful to him for the enthusiasm he shared with me this summer about playing the viola. He helped me stay motivated in learning new things and experiment, and once again his good-humoured nature helped alleviate the overall stress that a lot of us experienced. I will forever be thankful for the motivation and knowledge Yehonatan shared with me this summer.
– Marie-Elyse Badeau, viola
I was so lucky to know Big Y: lucky to work with him as a student, when he was at McGill and I was pursuing my MMus. He was a young teacher (only five years older than me, we were both under 30), and even then he had a natural and infectious way of relating to his students, and steering them in the right direction technically and musically. After I graduated I was luckier still to watch him grow as a teacher, and see him develop incredible studios in multiple cities.
Eventually, as I began to teach, I would send him my own students, if they were ready to pursue a performance degree. And I was lucky again, to play and work with him in Winnipeg (at Rosamunde and the WSO). Yehonatan’s abilities as a violinist were astounding, of course, and his ability to embrace his former students as colleagues was wonderful, giving me yet another boost, validating the years of work to succeed in a difficult field.
I will miss our emails and texts, as I would plot who from my studio was ready to audition for his. I look at my current crop of students and feel like they have suffered a loss as much as I have; I can’t send them to Big Y anymore. Thank you, Yehonatan, I was lucky to learn from you, lucky to make music with you, and lucky to call you my friend. I will miss you.
– Simon MacDonald, former WSO first violin
I always immensely enjoyed the opportunities I had occasionally to play and to chew the fat with Yehonatan! One thing I remember him playing with the WSO was Ravel’s Tzigane. It was the first time I had ever encountered him, and I was overwhelmed by the creativity and passion and beauty and wildness and sweetness in his playing. I also remember having a lot of fun playing a Corelli Concerto Grosso at Rosamunde!
– Yuri Hooker, WSO Principal Cello
Yehonatan taught at Michigan when I was there and his studio was across the hall from my teacher’s. I had the pleasure of getting some chamber coaching from him while I was there and got to see him perform a number of times in faculty recitals. He always had a giant smile to greet me and had so much to offer as a coach. His performances were always an inspiration. I feel lucky to have met him and to have been afforded the opportunity to work with him.
– Emma Quackenbush, cello
Yehonaten Berick (1968–2020) performed with the WSO in March 2003. Our condolences go out to Mr. Berick’s family, friends, colleagues and students.