On the Record: Canadian Jewish Musicians of Note

Nov. 17, 2020

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


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.

On The Record: Canadian Jewish Musicians of Note

Nov. 10, 2020

Morris Eisenstadt (Nov. 6, 1926 – Nov. 21, 1991) – Saxophonist, Clarinetist, Flautist, Composer, Teacher

Morris Eisenstadt


Earlier this year, Toronto lawyer Michael Fraleigh’s generous acknowledgment of one of my columns inspired me to write about my woodwind player and composer uncle, Morris Eisenstadt.

“Your tribute to Ben Steinberg (CJR, June 15, 2020) was really appreciated,” he wrote. “As an active Temple Sinai lay leader, it was nice to see Ben get the recognition he deserves. Speaking of recognition, as a teenager, I took up clarinet in senior public and high school. At the same time, my parents thought it would be good for me to take private lessons, which were arranged through the Royal Conservatory. I was taught by Morris Eisenstadt. I remember him to be a kind, compassionate, very accomplished player. He had endless patience, which I suppose was important for someone teaching teenagers. I look back on those years fondly and while I stopped pursuing the instrument after I entered university, his passion for music was something that I have carried with me throughout my life.”

Morris Eisenstadt taught saxophone at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto for three decades, starting in 1959. From 1966 to 1968, he also taught at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music. Uncle Moe called these his “pin money gigs.”

The youngest of my grandparents’ Harry and Toba (Frankel) Eisenstadt’s four sons, Morris (Moe) studied the saxophone and in 1941, at age 15, joined the Calgary Musicians Local 547.

In 1950, he moved to Toronto. His career took off as a tenor and alto saxophonist, playing both for well-known band leaders. He continued studying and working on his clarinet skills with Herb Pye, on composition, and orchestration with Sam Dolin, John Weinzweig and others.

On Oct. 15, 1953, a string quartet by Morris Eisenstadt was performed at the Composers Festival at the Juilliard School of Music in New York. More of his works were performed on CBC Radio.

He played tenor and alto sax under the iconic Moxie Whitney, leader of Canada’s then-gold standard dance band, based at Toronto’s Royal York Hotel during the 1950s and 60s. They played all the CN and CP railway hotels’ ballrooms, including the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa, the Palliser Hotel in Calgary, Banff Springs Hotel, and the Chateau Lake Louise.

Morris Eisenstadt, on right, seated (Canadian Science And Technology Museum Archives; X-44112)

During this time, he came to a career crossroads. His friend, the renowned flautist Moe Koffman, urged my Uncle Moe to consider playing on jingles and commercials, at a time when work for studio musicians was growing. 

But he declined, choosing instead to pursue orchestral composition. He composed the Suite of Three Canadian Dances in 1952, “which includes one movement of Indigenous and one of Inuit-based music,” according to the Canadian Encyclopedia.

I’ll never forget how proud our family was when he sent us sets of his three vinyl LPs. We listened for hours to his orchestral music on my grandparents’ RCA Victor record player.

From 1950 to 1960, he joined the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps Band under Lieut. J. Alan Wood in Toronto. During that decade, he also played theatre and artistic performer engagements at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, Ice Capades at Maple Leaf Gardens, and the Canadian National Exhibition.

That led to landing a permanent woodwind chair in 1961 under O’Keefe Centre Musical Director Dr. William McCauley. For 26 years, he was one of the longest tenured members of that orchestra. He faced some challenges and explained that when McCauley retired, buget cuts meant the new conductor was tasked with downsizing a number of musicians.

“I was told that if I wanted to keep my chair, I’d have to learn to play the flute,” he recalled. So like the pro he was, he did, at age 62, and kept his chair until health issues forced his retirement just before he died.

Before enrolling at grad school in Ottawa, I spent a week in Toronto in September 1966 with Uncle Moe. I watched him perform in the O’Keefe Centre’s orchestra pit, met the fellow who made his saxophone and clarinet reeds, and got to see Moe Koffman at George’s Spaghetti House. He also took me to Honest Ed’s and to two musicians’ haunts for lunch and dinner: Mars on College St. and Bassels on Yonge St.

My dad, Max Eisenstadt, unable to attend his brother’s funeral because of his own health battles, wrote a eulogy. “I remember how Morris’ lifelong dream was to play with a big band and how one of his first gigs was with a four-piece group about a block and a half from where he lived in Calgary. I recall the pride he had after coming home with a $5 pay cheque for three hours work.” 

A passionate and respected woodwind musician, somewhat under the radar, he is remembered as a “nice guy” who never fussed over that sometimes elusive big payday. In our family, Uncle Moe will never be forgotten.

David Eisenstadt
David Eisenstadt

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