Huffpost College
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

David Witten Headshot

Walter and the King

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

February 29, 2012 -- Two men are standing on the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, posing for a photograph. On the left is a dapper, well-dressed man, age 63, leaning slightly on a cane, but smiling with a twinkle in his eye. On the right, another man of about the same age stands with an open, friendly grin. The man on the right is Ilan Schul, the Director of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. The other man is King George Tupou V, the reigning monarch of the Kingdom of Tonga in the South Sea Islands of Micronesia. In Israel, astonishing coincidences are commonplace, yet this meeting seems especially unexpected. [Photo] How do these men even know each other? And what is their agenda?

The missing link is the remarkable, talented, well-traveled pianist Walter Hautzig.

Forget about the usual six degrees of separation. Whenever pianist Walter Hautzig is involved, five of those separations melt away. The gregarious, 90-year-old Maestro Hautzig has met thousands of people in his many world-wide tours, and it seems that he stays in touch with all of them.

Walter Hautzig, a Viennese-born Jew, managed to escape Nazi-infested Europe in 1938 because of his musical talent. Emil Hauser, the Director of the Jerusalem Music Academy, invited a select group of promising teenage music students, including Hautzig, to travel from Vienna to Jerusalem to study at the Academy, which was already developing as a prestigious center of music. Hautzig managed to stay in Israel and thereby escape what might have been his death in Europe. Later, after immigrating to the United States and becoming a U.S. citizen, Hautzig never forgot the kindness and generosity of his mentors in Israel. Even while pursuing numerous concert tours around the globe (Hautzig's recent autobiography is Playing Around ... the World), his fee for concerts in Israel is always one Shekel.

In 1980, already a frequent performer in New Zealand and Fiji, Hautzig knew a businessman and his wife who had just been transferred to Tonga. They arranged for him to travel to Tonga and perform for the Tongan Royal Family. During his few days in Tonga, Hautzig had a chance to meet the young Crown Prince. A very cultured and educated man, Crown Prince Tupouto'a had studied in New Zealand, Great Britain, and Switzerland, and showed a keen interest and knowledge of Western classical music. He and Hautzig became fast friends and stayed in touch all these years. In 2006, the Crown Prince inherited the throne after the death of his father King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV, and insisted that the Kingdom become a Constitutional Monarchy.

On October 2, 2011, in a demonstration of their strong friendship, King George Tupou V, King of Tonga, flew to New York from his South Pacific islands with his entourage to be present at the 90th birthday celebration of pianist Walter Hautzig. Maestro Hautzig was celebrating his own birthday by performing a full recital at Steinway Hall in New York City.

And what about the agenda of the two men in the photograph?

Tonga, and in fact, all of Micronesia, have long been staunch supporters of Israel. During voting in the UN, they are one of the few countries that can be relied on to vote in favor of Israel. When Walter Hautzig learned about the King's upcoming visit to Israel in early 2012, Hautzig simply picked up the phone and called Jerusalem Academy Director Ilan Schul; that phone call led to a meeting in Jerusalem between the two men. The King of Tonga explained to Director Schul about his very strong interest in creating a music academy in Tonga for the study of Western music. The King intended to invite young graduates of the Jerusalem Academy to come and teach music in Tonga. He was laying the groundwork for a new and wonderful collaboration between the Jerusalem Academy and Tonga.

The end of this story is unfortunately sad. King George Tupou V of Tonga died from a series of health problems on March 18, 2012. Apparently, he had been suffering for a number of years from diabetes, leukemia, and the loss of one kidney. His trip to Israel had included a medical visit to Weizmann Institute for stem-cell treatment that is not available anywhere else in the world. But apparently his condition was beyond the point of recovery. He died closer to home, in a hospital in Hong Kong.

The King's younger brother [now King Tupou VI] has inherited the throne. It is not yet known if those wonderful plans for a music academy in Tonga will come to fruition -- they were just in the early stages of planning. But regardless of what happens in the future with the Jerusalem-Tonga partnership, this story captures brilliantly the power of connection: the magic of Walter Hautzig -- a man with profound musical talent who is equally talented at connecting people... and the creativity and commitment of a King from the South Pacific -- who cared deeply both about music and creating connections for his people.

This blog is written by pianist David Witten, a former student of Walter Hautzig, who is proud to say that they stay in touch.