Kloss, Shirley

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Shirley Kloss

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Little did Pittsburgh violinist Sherry Kloss know when she first heard Jascha Heifetz at the age of 8 that he would become a lifelong inspiration Violinist continues Heifetz legacy at local school

Sunday, June 17, 2007

By Jane Vranish, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

It was a Heifetz recording of Wieniawski's Violin Concerto No. 2 that first inspired Sherry Kloss. Here he plays the work with the London Symphony Orchestra under Barbirolli in a recording from 1937 (Allegro Records).

Listen In:Violinist Sherry Kloss' musical connection to Jascha Heifetz,

Heifetz's love for transcriptions extended beyond Romantic music, to pieces such as Gershwin's Prelude No. 3 from "Three Preludes." Here performed with pianist Brooks Smith in "The Supreme Jascha Heifetz" (RCA Red Seal).

Listen In:Violinist Sherry Kloss' musical connection to Jascha Heifetz,

In transcriptions and arrangements, Heifetz did not restrain himself to works for strings. Here Kloss performs Heifetz's transcription of Debussy's famous "Prelude to an Afternoon of a Faun" (Kloss Classics).

Listen In:Violinist Sherry Kloss' musical connection to Jascha Heifetz,

Kloss performs Heifetz's transcription of Rachmaninoff's song "Daises" (Kloss Classics).

Listen In:Violinist Sherry Kloss' musical connection to Jascha Heifetz,

One day, her parents came home with a recording of Jascha Heifetz playing the Wieniawski Violin Concerto No. 2. She listened, mesmerized, and then diligently played the recording over and over and learned to play along with Heifetz -- by ear.

It was only the start of coincidences that would lead her to the legend himself, who died in 1987.

When he was a teen at the Juilliard School, fellow Pittsburgh violinist Regis Iandiorio contacted Kloss to go hear Heifetz at Carnegie Hall. Standing at the back of the hall, she heard him play the Brahms Double Concerto for Violin and Cello with Gregor Piatigorsky as the cellist.

"It transformed me," says Kloss.

While on a trip to Europe several years later, she played for violinist Franco Gulli, now a distinguished professor at the University of Indiana at Bloomington. "It sounds like Heifetz," he murmured.

Kloss took the final step when she became a winner of a competition in Palm Springs, Calif. Grant Beglarian, a member of the jury and dean of the University of Southern California School of Performing Arts, asked out of the blue in August 1974, "How would you like to meet Heifetz?"

She nervously went to Heifetz's Malibu house for an audition and was placed in his master class at USC's Virginia Ramo Music Building. "I knew I had found my home," she recalls. After three sessions, she went to his desk ("NO one approached his desk") and announced, "I love this class!"

Kloss studied with Heifetz for five years, became his assistant and has virtually dedicated her life to him. She wrote a book, "Jascha Heifetz Through My Eyes," and recorded two albums of his violin transcriptions.

"He handed me a mission, and that's what I'm doing," she says.

Part of the mission is to pass on his teaching legacy. In addition to her private students, Kloss established a summer camp 14 years ago in Oregon, the Music Institute for Development of Personal Style, in memory of Heifetz. She moved it to Pittsburgh three years ago. Now located at Shady Side Academy, it will offer more than 30 students lessons on the art form of the sonata, Heifetz transcriptions and chamber music. Faculty members will include Don Freund, Pittsburgh native and professor of composition at Indiana University; Sidney Harth, Carnegie Mellon and Duquesne University faculty member; Gerald Robbins, co-founder of the Lyric Piano Quartet and artist in residence at Queens College; Roy Sonne, former Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra violinist; and Liz Seidel, founder of Pianoforte Inc.

Voices tend to get hushed, almost reverential, when speaking of Heifetz. Robbins calls him "the greatest of all violinists of the 20th century. The reason for this is that he absolutely set the standard by which all violinists were measured -- and they were the first to admit it."

When Heifetz made his debut at New York City's Carnegie Hall at age 16 in 1917, legend has it that Elman turned to pianist Leopold Godowsky and said, "Do you think it's hot in here?" Godowsky replied, "Not for pianists."

Kloss now plays on the violin, a Tononi, Heifetz played in that debut. He designated that she have it in his will.

Heifetz brought the same talent and discipline of his solo career to his teaching studio.

"He stands alone," Kloss says.

So they come -- all ages, all levels, from all distances -- to help perpetuate the Heifetz legacy. Marilyn Hammond, 70, a retired teacher and administrator at the University of Nebraska, has attended the institute several times and is an avid Heifetz aficionado. It's important to her that "we don't forget to look backward. There is a danger today, because we are so enthralled with the latest person. He had a facility beyond belief, but [at the Institute] you learn to cultivate the gifts that you have."

Erika Pinkerton, 17, a Mt. Lebanon native who is home-schooled, plays both the violin and piano and knows about Heifetz only what she learned from Kloss' book. She will return for a second time to the institute because she likes the way Kloss works. "It's very interesting to learn how to interpret different pieces ... to think of different ways to interpret things ... to work on style. We seem to connect."

Hammond adds, "There's a little family of players that keep coming back, so it's a friendly environment. And since Heifetz has left us now, it's basically Sherry herself and the fact that she's a marvelous teacher. Sherry makes [the institute] what it is."

The public can attend half-day sessions for $7, payable at the door, at 2 p.m. tomorrow through Friday. Participants will present free concerts at 7 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. next Sunday and will participate in a service dedicated to Donald Wilkins at Fox Chapel Presbyterian Church next Sunday at 10 a.m. More info at klossclassics.com.

First published on June 15, 2007 at 8:47 am

Jane Vranish can be reached at jvranish@post-gazette.com.

Music Preview

What: Music Institute for Development of Personal Style presents a benefit concert dedicated to the memory of Jascha Heifetz. When: 7 p.m. today. Featuring: Violinist Sherry Kloss, cellist Jeffrey Solow, pianist Gerald Robbins. Where: Shady Side Academy's Hillman Center, 423 Fox Chapel Road, Fox Chapel. Admission: $10 at door.