American Masters — Jascha Heifetz: God’s Fiddler

(Rochester, NY) – Emmy- and Peabody-winning filmmaker Peter Rosen uncovers the story of legendary musician Jascha Heifetz (1901-1987), the first truly modern violin virtuoso. American Masters — Jascha Heifetz: God’s Fiddler premieres on WXXI-TV Thursday, April 16, 2015 at 10 p.m. and Friday, April 17, 2015 at 9 p.m. 

Setting the standard in violin playing for nearly a century, Heifetz’ name became shorthand for excellence for everyone from Jack Benny to The Muppets to Woody Allen. Through vintage performances and master classes, God’s Fiddler portrays an artist for whom only perfection would do. New interviews include other great violinists influenced by Heifetz, including Itzhak Perlman, Ivry Gitlis and Ida Haendel, former student, accompanist and longtime companion Ayke Agus, former student and master assistant in charge of his world-renowned violin class at the University of Southern California Sherry Kloss, and biographers John Anthony Maltese and Arthur Vered. They reveal how Heifetz was a mysterious, idiosyncratic, solitary figure who embodied the paradox of artistic genius: a dedication to his craft at all costs, including two failed marriages, estrangement from his children and very few friends. Characterized as serious and intense while performing and teaching, his students describe him as generous and playful when socializing.

Filmed in Heifetz’ native Vilnius, Lithuania; Saint Petersburg, Russia, where he studied with the influential Leopold Auer; and in his rebuilt studio in Los Angeles, Calif., American Masters — Jascha Heifetz: God’s Fiddler also features Heifetz’ previously unseen 16mm footage from 1917-1985, which Rosen discovered at the Colburn Music School in Los Angeles. A self-professed “camera fiend,” Heifetz’ home movies show scenes from his apartment in Saint Petersburg just months before the Russian Revolution, his immigration to America, his early social life in New York City, his family life, his travels through Europe, the Middle East and Japan, and his later years in Los Angeles. Tony-nominated actor Danny Burstein (Boardwalk Empire, Cabaret, Follies) narrates, reading from Heifetz’ personal letters.

Pictured: Jascha Heifetz
Credit: Courtesy of Library of Congress 

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