The return of Israeli pianist Elisha Abas

Elisha Abas (above) turned away from the piano at the age of 14 and pursued a career as a professional soccer player in Israel; Child prodigy Abas, age 9, with Arthur Rubinstein  (photos courtesy of Elisha Abas).

Elisha Abas (above) turned away from the piano at the age of 14 and pursued a career as a professional soccer player in Israel (photos courtesy of Elisha Abas).

When he was 11 years old, Israeli pianist Elisha Abas performed at Carnegie Hall. The legendary Arthur Rubinstein was in the audience. Rubinstein was so impressed that, after praising the boy, he gave him a gold Rolex watch engraved with the inscription, “Elisha – Good luck. Arthur Rubinstein.”

But the critic from The New York Times who heard the concert wrote, “One hopes that he will be allowed his remaining years of childhood and not pushed far too quickly.” Perhaps Abas’ parents did not read the review. Pressure from them turned Abas away from the piano, at the age of 14. Instead, he pursued a career as a professional soccer player in Israel, which he did successfully through his 20s.

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Child prodigy Abas, age 9, with Arthur Rubinstein

Child prodigy Abas, age 9, with Arthur Rubinstein

Eleven years ago, Abas says, “an inner voice called me back to my music again,” and he resumed his work at the piano. He still wears his Rubinstein watch. He has since played in Israel, Russia, Germany, Cuba (he often poses for photos with a cigar) and the US, in repertoire ranging from Mozart and Brahms concertos to much of Chopin’s solo work. Last June Abas played Khachaturian’s Piano Concerto – a great hit of the 1940s but now a rarity – in Miami.

On Saturday, August 8, Abas comes to Woodstock for a performance at the Kleinert/James Gallery. His repertoire for the concert includes works of Chopin, Rachmaninov, Schumann and Scriabin, who was his great-grandfather. “When I play his pieces,” Abas says, “my fingers almost lead their own way through the passages as if I know the music already from within.” He is joining in the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Scriabin’s death in 1915.

The Kleinert/James has scheduled Abas’ concert for 8:30 p.m., so as not to conflict with the Maverick Concert taking place on the same evening at 6. That program, consisting of two long string quartets by Beethoven and Schubert, should end by 8 p.m. Save me a parking space!

 

Pianist Elisha Abas, Saturday, August 8, 8:30 p.m., $20, Kleinert/James Gallery, 36 Tinker Street, Woodstock; (845) 679-2079, ulsterpub.staging.wpengineguild.org/elishaabas.html.

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