Raphael will celebrate his 60th birthday with concerts

FOR someone born into a prominent musical family, it was not obvious that Raphael Wallfisch was going to take the same path.

"My parents did not dissuade me, but they were keen that I should try something else," the cellist said.

Raphael's late father Peter was an eminent pianist, while his mother Anita is a well-known cellist.

"I wanted to be an actor until I was around 14, then I had a moment of complete revelation," he said.

"I listened to Brahms' Double Concerto and realised that was what I wanted to do.

"But my parents told me not to have any illusions about the music world - they told me it was very, very tough and not glamourous."

Raphael, however, pursued his dream and went to study music in Rome.

He later studied with the great Russian cellist Gregor Piatigorsky in California.

And, while there, he was chosen to perform chamber music with Jascha Heifetz in the informal recitals that Piatigorsky held at his home.

At 24 Raphael won the Gaspar Cassadó International Cello Competition in Florence.

Since then he has enjoyed a worldwide career playing with such orchestras as the London Symphony, London Philharmonic, BBC Symphony, English Chamber, Hallé, City of Birmingham Symphony, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Berlin Symphony and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Both his parents were born in Breslau, Germany - now called Wroclaw and part of Poland.

Raphael's father escaped Nazi Germany and moved to Jerusalem and then Paris before heading to Britain.

Anita was sent to Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps and is a surviving member of the Women's Orchestra of Auschwitz.

She arrived in Britain in 1946 and co-founded the English Chamber Orchestra.

"My mother did not speak about her experiences," Raphael, whose sister Maya is a psychotherapist, said.

"They actually knew of each other before they were married, as they both lived in Breslau.

"My parents were fantastic at getting on with their lives and they didn't refer to it at all.

"It was only in later years that more information came out, bit by bit."

Like many Jewish refugees from eastern and central Europe, the Wallfischs ingratiated themselves into British life - and became extremely assimilated.

Not brought up with Judaism, his parents asked him if he would like a barmitzvah - which he did.

Raphael recalled: "I went to synagogue classes, but felt like a fish out of water.

"I didn't particularly feel any kinship with them - I felt like an outsider.

"Today, I am very aware of life in Israel and the divisions between Jews there, and all the stresses and strains.

"I do feel 100 per cent Jewish, without being religious."

Born in 1953, Raphael will mark his 60th birthday on Saturday, June 15, by launching a season of celebrations, starting with a showcase concert on his birthday at Wigmore Hall, London, followed by his return to the BBC Proms on July 24.

He will give the Proms premiere of Sir Granville Bantock's little-known work, Sapphic Poem, with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in a concert conducted by Jac van Steen at the Royal Albert Hall

Raphael's appearance at the Wigmore Hall will see him perform Edward Grieg's Andante con moto, to mark the 170th anniversary of the composer's birth, and Schuberts' Piano Trio No. 1 in Bb, with his acclaimed Trio Shaham Erez Wallfisch, made up of Raphael and two Israelis in Hagai Shaham and Arnon Erez.

Wallfisch will be joined on stage by his long time duo partner John York, for a performance of Robert Schumann's Adagio and Allegro in A flat Op. 70, originally written for horn and piano, but with the solo part transcribed for the cello.

The trio will then be joined by Raphael's wife Elizabeth on viola for a performance of Brahm's Piano Quartet in C minor Op 60.

"I love music so much - the comradeship and playing chamber music is particularly fantastic," Raphael explained.

"I am learning all the time and constantly learning new pieces and discovering old pieces which have never been played."

Raphael, who plays a 1760 Gennaro Gagliano cello, this month released a disc of works by the French Impressionist composers Ravel, Faure and Debussy with Trio Shaham Erez Wallfisch on the Nimbus label.

With a discography of more than 70 CDs, he also recently released two discs, one of the complete works of Liszt, Dohnányi and Kodály for cello and piano with John York, and the other of the romantic English composer Cyril Scott's Cello Concerto, which is a recording premiere.

The Wallfischs' aptitude for music is being passed on, as Raphael's children, Benjamin, Simon and Joanna are all in the business.

And the three of them will perform a cabaret at a party being held after Raphael's performance at Wigmore Hall.

© 2013 Jewish Telegraph