On the Record: Canadian Jewish Musicians of Note

Nov. 17, 2020

Ofra Harnoy – (Jan. 31, 1965 – ) Cellist

By DAVID EISENSTADT

Listening to Ofra Harnoy, the Israeli-Canadian cellist’s new album, On The Rock, brought back a memory.

In the spring of 1998, I was working on a Temple Sinai Brotherhood fundraiser with Lew Rasminsky, Allan Kalin and Frank Berns. We were fortunate to book Harnoy, then a young cellist with a serious pedigree. She delivered an extraordinary concert that left the Temple Sinai audience breathless.

“The only time I really feel that I’m making music,” Harnoy told Tim Janof at cello.org, “is when I’m performing. I love the vibrations of the audience, when they hold their breath through the silences, which is when I really feel a bond. It’s an incredible experience.” 

Her family immigrated to Canada from Hadera, Israel in 1971 for her father, Jacob Harnoy, to enroll in a master’s of engineering program at the University of Toronto. 

Harnoy began her studies at six with her violinist father. When she was given her first student-size cello, she thought her legs were supposed to go through the instrument’s F-holes.

As a teenager, she studied with respected masters Jacqueline du Pré, Pierre Fournier, Vladimir Orloff, William Pleeth and Mstislav Rostropovich.

Her soloist debut with an orchestra came at 10, and at 17, she won the International Concert Artists Guild award at Carnegie Hall in 1982.

She has performed on five continents and played for princes, presidents and prime ministers. A five-time Juno Award winner as Best Classical Soloist, she received the Grand Prix du Disque. In 1995, she was named to the Order of Canada.

Harnoy has collaborated with Jesse Cook, Placido Domingo, Loreena McKennitt, Igor Oistrakh, and Sting. 

About her recording Ofra Harnoy & The Oxford String Quartet Play The Beatles, she said: “The album is a compilation I recorded when I was 16 or 17. The arrangements are beautiful sounding, somewhat like Schubert string quartets with a cello solo. I was hesitant when [the] CD first came out, since many people concluded that I must not be a serious classical musician.”

By the early 2000s, she had recorded 43 albums and was touring 10 months of the year. From 2004 to 2011, Harnoy focused less on music while raising her two children and caring for her mother, who died of leukemia in 2011.

Her last performance included scheduled concerts with pianist Anton Kuerti in 2011. But the rigours of touring and recording had taken their toll. Harnoy battled an acute shoulder injury and required reconstructive surgery. During that period “many felt she’d fallen off the classical radar,” wrote Classical MPR’s Julie Amacher.

In 2017 and 2018, she reconnected with childhood sweetheart Mike Herriott, a multi-instrumentalist, arranger and co-producer whom she married and who helped in her recovery. Harnoy returned to the stage with an official comeback performance in November 2018. She released her 44th album, Back to Bach, in early 2020.

“One day when I was in the stage of coming back to playing, Mike pulled out his trumpet and we took some music and said, ‘Let’s see what it feels like to play together,’” she told an interviewer. “And neither of us could believe the musical connection that we had. We think exactly the same musically. We breathe the same musically. And that was like, ‘Wow. We need to do something like this.’”

As TheWholeNote related, “In bringing her vision to life, Harnoy also wanted to experience with using brass instruments instead of the traditional string or pipe organ accompaniments, so Herriott created complex brass arrangements and performed all the parts himself – piccolo trumpet, trumpet, flugelhorn, French horn and trombone. There are literally only a handful of individuals in the world who could have accomplished what Herriott has so deftly done on the remarkable project. This recording is a triumph and a must-have for any serious collector.”

Harnoy now lives in St. John’s, Nfld. where her husband grew up. In September, she released On The Rock, celebrating the sounds and spirits of Newfoundland.

The album features many Newfoundland musicians, including Alan Doyle formerly of Great Big Sea; fiddler Kendel Carson; vocals by Ofra’s daughter, Amanda Cash; vocalist Fergus O’Byrne; and St. John’s jazz chanteuse Heather Bambrick, the morning JAZZ.FM91 host. 

“The more I explore this beautiful island and get to know the people, food and the culture, the more I feel Newfoundland is becoming a part of me,” she said. “Through these songs, I can really express the wonderful connection I have with my new home.”


David Eisenstadt
David Eisenstadt

David Eisenstadt is Founding Partner of tcgpr.com, the Canadian Partner firm of IPREX Global Communication. He’s a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary.