Israeli teen cello prodigy makes Toronto debut

Israeli teen cello prodigy makes Toronto debut

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Danielle Akta, left, and Maestro Vladimir Spivakov

Fourteen-year-old Israeli cello prodigy Danielle Akta is coming to Toronto on June 8, as part of a whirlwind North American tour with the Moscow Virtuosi, under the direction of Maestro Vladimir Spivakov. Besides Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto, the tour includes stops in Boston, Washington, Chicago and New York.

Nothing seems to faze Akta, not even the largest concert of her career to date: performing in front of a crowd of 18,000 at last year’s AIPAC convention in Washington, D.C., which included then-presidential candidates Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Akta was born into a family of musicians in 2002. Her parents met playing trumpet in an Israeli army orchestra and Danielle’s older sister, Estelle, plays the oboe. Danielle chose the cello at age four, because her father was composing some music for the instrument at the time and it “looked like fun.” She started out on a quarter-sized cello.

Akta still adores playing, saying that “playing the cello for an audience gives me an opportunity to speak from the heart in the most honest, clear way possible.”

Her tour of North America is just a brief slice of her busy life, which includes flying to Berlin twice a month for training at the Barenboim-Said Music Academy.

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In a recent interview with Israel’s Channel 2 news, her mother, Limor Akta, insisted that, “She pushes us, we don’t push her. For every concert request, every invitation we receive, we ask her, ‘Do you want to do it?’ Most of the time, she’s really happy to do it.”

Danielle, who speaks Hebrew, English and German, told The CJN that she’s particularly excited because this tour will take her to Carnegie Hall – the highlight of any professional musician’s career, and one which she is reaching at the age of just 14.

Her Canadian stop, the following day, will be a brief but meaningful one for Danielle and Limor. The pair will visit The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto to thank staff there, including Dr. James Rutka, who cared for Danielle’s sister Arielle six years ago when she needed complicated surgery to remove part of her brain, in order to alleviate daily seizures. Today, despite Arielle’s residual intellectual deficiencies, she is an ebullient and loving part of this close-knit family.

Despite Danielle’s jet-setting lifestyle, her family, who live in Ra’anana in central Israel, is not wealthy. Danielle shares a small bedroom with Arielle, and her family has struggled to pay for all the expenses associated with her training and travel.

While her cello, worth 3 million ($4.5 million), is on loan at no charge from the prestigious Florian Leonhard Fine Violins in London, it requires care and attention at every stop on the tour, which is very expensive. It also needs its own seat on planes. Unlike young sports stars, who are often sponsored by the Israeli government to travel to international competitions, music prodigies must pay their own way. Akta is now supported by private sponsors and she receives a discount on flights from El Al, as well as a full scholarship for her studies in Berlin.

She began playing with the Moscow Virtuosi two years ago, after she played Tchaikovsky at the Russian embassy in Tel Aviv. She was invited to come to Russia to play two concerts and she has been travelling with the Moscow Virtuosi ever since.

The ensemble previously visited Toronto in 2014, and the Toronto Star once called Spivakov “one of Russia’s foremost violinist-conductors,” due to his 1960s wins in the Montreal International Violin Competition and the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow.

When Akta isn’t playing, practicing, traveling or studying, she loves just hanging out with friends – outside of school hours, since she receives private tutoring – or going jogging with her family. And although it may seem like she’s good at everything, she admits that singing and dancing aren’t really her forte.

Beyond appearing at Carnegie Hall, Akta still has a few musical goals on the horizon: “I really want to play with Maestro (Daniel) Barenboim, Zubin Mehta, with the Berlin Philharmonic.”

But she hasn’t lost sight of the basics. “Right now, I’m concentrating on practicing a lot, trying to get to the highest level technically, musically,” she said.
“A lot of children who are musicians don’t do that – they concentrate on concerts. I want to get deeper into the music.”