Students near and far share fond memories of professor Berick.
The University of Ottawa’s music community has spent the past two weeks grieving the sudden death of professor Yehonatan Berick, 52, a violinist and violist as well as a dedicated pedagogue. Berick died on Oct. 31 after a battle with stomach cancer.
Berick, born in Israel and educated in the United States, was a musical force to be reckoned with. A key member of the U of O music department, Berick was instrumental in implementing the uOttawa Summer String Academy, an incubator for emerging string artists. Berick also maintained a busy performance schedule as well as a full teaching studio, touching the lives of not only classical music fans but emerging string players themselves.
Berick was a featured soloist with ensembles all over the world, ranging from Winnipeg to Jerusalem. Here in Ottawa, he made regular appearances with ChamberFest and the NAC Orchestra. A lifelong fan of Bach, he made a splash when he first arrived at the U of O in 2013 and was presented with an antique Italian violin: the University requested only that Berick play it in concert as frequently as possible, which he did with great joy.
Berick was known especially for his performances of the Paganini Caprices; a former student from the University of Michigan, Daniel Winnick, sang these performances’ praises in a commemorative post on Facebook, remembering them as “beautiful – not always immaculate, but pretty darn close, and always richly energetic and utterly captivating.” The Herald Times, too, “marveled” at Berick’s mastery of these pieces, hailing that he had “aggressively and convincingly negotiated his way through chords, trills, string crossings, ricochets… and what have you” in performance.
Berick is remembered not only for his sheer musical ability, but for his infectious joy and passion for his artform. Since his passing, his students have taken to Facebook to remember the professor and his jovial demeanor, including moments in which he would “dance around his studio getting [a former student, Helinda Ho] to feel the rhythm.”
Berick was known for his sense of humour, as well as his ability to coax out the best in his students with a joke or a particularly effective metaphor; his partner, cellist Rachel Mercer, remembers his jokes, which often “increased to the point that none of us could play the music anymore and were just doubled over with tears of laughter streaming down.”
Known to students and colleagues as “Big Y,” Berick was a beloved figure in the North American classical music community; former Ottawa Citizen music critic, Natasha Gauthier, remembered Berick fondly on Twitter, calling him an “all-around mensch.” The University of Ottawa music department also took to social media in the aftermath of his death, mourning “a musician of the highest calibre, a generous and devoted teacher, a cherished peer of the utmost integrity.”
Professor Berick will be deeply missed by all who had the pleasure of knowing him both on and off campus. The University of Ottawa music department is planning a live-streamed memorial for Berick in partnership with the Embassy of Israel (details forthcoming).