Remembering Judith Liber (1940–2020)

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—by Alice Giles

Judith Liber, harpist and beloved mentor to many, passed away in Israel on 19th August.

A musician of great integrity and depth, she was considered by many conductors, including Leonard Bernstein and Zubin Mehta, to be one of the world’s leading orchestral harpists.

Born and raised in the U.S., her musical training began at age 5 on the violin and at 7 on the piano, until she heard her first harp recital at age 10 and began lessons with Dorothy Henschen. After studies at Oberlin College with Lucy Lewis, she undertook graduate studies at the University of Illinois and the Salzburg Mozarteum.

It was while studying with Carlos Salzedo at his Harp Colony in Camden, Maine, that she played for Pierre Monteux and was invited to fill the position of Principal Harpist with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO). She adopted Israel as her new home with the same passion she approached everything in life.

Her career as soloist, chamber music player and orchestra musician put her in personal and artistic contact with leading musicians of the time. Notable among these were recordings with Itzhak Perlman and J .P. Rampal, and international performances of Ginastera Harp Concerto with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra under Mehta. Her unique sound can be heard in the many recordings of the IPO from 1963 to 2000.

Judith Liber considered the invitation from Ezer Weitzman, President of Israel, to perform at the welcoming ceremony for Pope John Paul II on the occasion of his State visit to Israel in 2000 to be one of the personal highlights of her musical life.

Active in the development of the International Harp Contest in Israel from 1964, she was its tireless and dedicated Musical Director for over 20 years, where she maintained the competition’s highest musical standards and world ranking reputation. She also served on the juries of many international harp competitions, and was an Alliance High School Foundation Distinguished Alumni.

An internationally renowned teacher and mentor to many, she taught at the Tel Aviv University, Jerusalem Academy, and Accademia Musicale in Florence. For several years she led the Course for Harp and Orchestral Performance at the Scuola di alto perfezionamento musicale in Saluzzo. She gave annual master classes in Florence and in Grandola ed uniti on the Como Lake. Making Lake Como her home in the years after retirement from the IPO, she created a lasting legacy among many Italian students who are now leading professional harpists, before returning to Israel to be close to her family.

I was one of the many students who sought her out for her approach to tone and projection of sound. She welcomed me into her home, becoming a mentor and lifelong friend, as she did to so many others, generously giving everything when teaching, just as in performance. She demanded each student understand their reasons for their own musical approach, and guided them to an attitude of self  knowledge through questioning.

Judith Liber published transcriptions for harp from the Preludes for piano by Claude Debussy. Her solo CD, Recital, includes several of her own transcriptions. Other live recordings on Kol HaMusica, Israel’s classical music radio, include the Ginastera Harp Concerto, Debussy’s Danses, chamber music concerts, and solo recitals. In 2008 her book, A Method For Harp—The Power Of Music, was published in English and Italian by Ut Orpheus Editions: a lasting testament of her dedication to artistry and listening, to her special approach to music and life. She leaves her partner of 43 years Zvika Litwak, two daughters Tali and Danna, five grandchildren, and her extended family in the USA and Israel.

Read Harp Column’s feature interview with Judith Liber in our November-December 2009 issue.

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