Saturday, November 21, 2009

Nava Semel-libretto, Ella Milch-Sheriff-music "And the Rat Laughed"

“And the Rat Laughed”, an opera, is based on Nava Semel’s book of the same name (published 2001); the music was composed by Ella Milch-Sheriff, with the reworking of the book into the libretto by both Semel and Milch-Sheriff. It was premiered April 9th 2005 at the Cameri Theatre in Tel Aviv, with the Israel Chamber Orchestra conducted by Ori Leshman, and has played extensively in Israel, Romania, Warsaw, and, most recently, in a new Canadian production by Opera York, in Toronto. “And the Rat Laughed” will be performed at the Cameri Theatre Tel Aviv December 3rd 2009, opening the Isra-Drama Festival (December 3-8), a five-day symposium conducted in Russian, in which works of some 50 playwrights will be presented, some in full.

Born in Tel Aviv, journalist and art critic Nava Semel has written 16 books, 4 plays, 70 short stories, television scripts and the libretto to “And the Rat Laughed”. Semel and Milch-Sheriff are currently collaborating on a new production - “Flying Lessons” – at the Cameri Theatre – a co-production with the New Israeli Opera and the Israel Sinfonietta Beer Sheva.

Ella Milch-Sheriff was born in Haifa. She has performed widely as a solo singer in Europe and Israel, focusing on Lieder and works of 20th century composers, and began composing at the age of 12. Her compositional oeuvre includes opera, chamber music, orchestral-, solo- and vocal music, popular music and arrangements.

“And the Rat Laughed” revolves around the Holocaust story through memory sixty years later. It centres around the story of a five-year-old girl hidden in a potato pit, and abused, by a Polish rural family. Her only source of company is a rat. The farmer’s wife eventually entrusts her to the village priest, who takes her in, risking his own life to save and heal her physically and emotionally, without his having any intentions of converting her to Catholicism. The crux of the opera is a Mass scene, in which we see Father Stanislaw’s own faith questioned by the experience. Semel asks a pertinent question; how do we remember and how do we pass on memory to the year 2099? I had the pleasure of talking to Nava Semel and Ella Milch-Sheriff November 15th, 2009.

Pamela Hickman: Nava and Ella, both of you are daughters of Holocaust survivors. Was the subject of the Holocaust discussed at home when you were growing up?

Nava Semel: No. My mother, who survived Auschwitz, did not talk about it for a long time. However, when my book “Hat of Glass” was published, a collection of short stories whose main characters are the children of Holocaust survivors in Israel – the Second Generation – people who carry their parents’ scars and suffering, she was deeply shaken. Her response to the book “And the Rat Laughed” was profound sorrow at not being able to protect me from submerging myself in the Holocaust subject and writing such a book. My father, also overwhelmed by it, could not understand how I had managed to hide my own suffering while putting pen to paper, as the experiences of the book were taking a hold on me, the fine line between reality and fiction becoming temporarily blurred.

Ella Milch-Sheriff: The Holocaust has been an integral part of my life for as long as I remember myself, but more through the silence surrounding it rather than through words. My parents passed on to my sister and me their sadness and suffering, rather than the facts themselves. I learned much more of my parents’ story from my father’s diary of 1943. “Can Heaven be Void?” (2003) for mezzo-soprano, narrator and orchestra is based on Dr. Baruch Milch’s diary. The opera I am in the process of writing at the moment reflects my own experiences as a “second generation” daughter as well as my parents’ story. My mother was present at the premiering of both “Can Heaven be Void?” and “And the Rat Laughed”. Words failed her - she could only cry - but she was extremely proud of me.

P.H: So what was the driving force behind creating an opera from “And the Rat Laughed?”

E.M-S: I read “And the Rat Laughed” in 2003. I found the book powerful and moving and, still in the process of reading it, decided I wanted to use it for the libretto of an opera. I had not previously written opera. Not knowing Nava well at that stage, I approached her with the idea.

N.S: I was most reluctant about it and thought the subject matter would not be suited to the dramatic stage, let alone to musical performance. I asked myself who would want to hear an opera on the subject of the Holocaust!

E.M-S: I requested a free hand in producing a first draft of a libretto and Nava gave me her consent. Once she had approved the concept, we then set to the task of collaborating to write the libretto together.

N.S: All the texts were taken directly from the novel itself, with Ella’s music as “lead player”.

P.H: With each of the five chapters of the book taking a different approach, how were you able to include the story, legend, poetry, futuristic fantasy and a diary as an operatic work?

E.M-S: We combined all of them on the stage: past, present and future exist together. The opera actually begins in the future and then moves backwards and forwards through time.

P.H: As in memory?

N.S: Yes. A relay race of memory. Ella’s musical vision had enabled me to choose the appropriate texts and lyrics from the five parts of the book in conjunction with the music.

P.H: Into what genre would you fit this unusual work?

N.S. Well, it is a sung work but it is, indeed, theatre; it now part of the Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv’s repertoire, directed by Oded Kotler and produced together with the Israeli Chamber Orchestra.

P.H: How did you envision its success?

E.M-S: We were not sure how the public would receive it. The Cameri Theatre and the ICO took upon themselves to give it a trial run of five performances. However, since then, we have had some 85 performances and the work is now into its fifth season.

P.H: Ella, would you like to talk about the musical style used in the piece?

E.M-S: Yes. My musical language is tonal yet, at the same time, contemporary. For me, the music must clearly express the emotional idea at hand. I make much use of contrast. For example, the music to the poems reflecting the child’s thoughts when she was locked in the cellar is sung by a girl’s choir: the harmonious sounds of their sweet, young voices create a more vivid contrast with the horrific lyrics than the most dissonant music could ever do. Actually, on reading those poems, it was clear to me that I wanted to set them to music well before the concept of an opera was born.

The concise Roman Catholic Mass for priest and choir is original music, Christian and liturgical in style. The priest does not renounce his Catholic faith, but, as the story unfolds and he becomes more involved in the Jewish question and his own deliberations, the music takes on more and more Jewish motifs.

For parts depicting the future, I make use of more monotonic motifs, “robotic” if you like.

The music is generally “user friendly”, even to people who are not familiar- or comfortable with classical music and opera. It includes contemporary styles, even pop, belonging to today’s music, thus communicating easily with people. This “cross-over” experience allows audiences to connect with the work and understand it through their own emotional reactions; many people attending performances find themselves overwhelmed by the work.

P.H: Nava, you and Ella have recently returned from Toronto, Canada, where Opera York presented four performances of “And the Rat Laughed” in Hebrew.

N.S: Yes. This was certainly a unique and deep experience. All the singers were Canadians and all sang the work in Hebrew! For two intensive weeks, Ella and I worked with the 12 wonderful artists on both language and music. Of the 12 singers, 11 had never heard a word of Hebrew before. By opening night, they not only sang with clear enunciation but were all totally aware of the texts they were singing! The opera received rave reviews. Professor Timothy McGee of the Music Department of the University of Toronto referred to the work as “a masterpiece” and “a compelling experience” and to the performance as “a wonderful triumph for Opera York”. There is now every chance that the opera will travel to other cities in Canada.

E.M-S: And I am sure that this is the first time an Israeli opera has been produced anew overseas, with different (non-Hebrew speaking) singers in Hebrew. With this production, we have joined the worldwide trend of works being performed in their original languages in countries where that language is not generally spoken. I would like to think that this will encourage other Israeli composers to do the same.

P.H: Nava Semel and Ella Milch-Sheriff, talking to you has been most enlightening. Many thanks for your time.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Michal Dworzynski conductor

Polish-born conductor Michal Dworzynski was in Israel to conduct the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in the gala opening concert of the 2009 Israel Festival on Sunday May 24th in the Henry Crown Symphony Hall of the Jerusalem Theatre. This event, closing the “Polish Year in Israel”, included works by two Polish composers - Henryk Gorecki (b.1933) and Frederic Chopin. Of the three soloists, soprano Iwona Hossa and pianist Jacek Kortus were from Poland; they were joined by Israeli pianist Dorel Golan. I had the pleasure of talking to Maestro Dworzynski on May 21st.

Pamela: Maestro Dworzynski, when did you begin learning music?

Michal Dworzynski: When I started school at age 6, I wanted to learn the piano but my father, an orchestral bassoonist, was against it, insisting that a pianist’s life was too difficult. So I took up the violin, which I studied for twelve years. But I was interested to conduct and started to teach myself the art of conducting at age twelve, watching conductors at concerts and on video films. I later graduated from the Fryderyk Chopin Music Academy, studying conducting there with Antoni Wit and took graduate studies with Christian Ehwald at the Hanns Eisler Academy of Music in Berlin.

Pamela: So here you are in Israel to conduct the IPO. Is this your first meeting with the orchestra?

M.D.: Yes. This is my debut with the IPO. Of course, I have heard recordings of the IPO and then I was present at their concert in Warsaw where they played under the baton of Maestro Zubin Mehta. I have always known it was a top class orchestra and now I have first-hand experience of the fact. Each player is a fine musician. Every orchestra has its signature sound: the IPO’s sound has a velvety, blended quality; the musicians play as “one group”. They are also friendly people.

Pamela: This is going to be a very interesting program. Would you like to say a few words about Gorecki’s Symphony no. 3, the “Symphony of Sad Songs” ?

M.D. Yes. Composed in 1976, it uses different Polish texts for each of the movements. Here, they will be sung by Iwona Hossa, with whom I have worked before. The work is very beautiful, it is almost an hour long and has three slow movements. The score itself does not appear to be difficult; indeed, the problems in it are not technical problems. The essence of the work is in its deep sadness, its sense of hopelessness. In the second movement, for example, the text is a message scratched into the wall of a Gestapo cell during World War II. It is the first time the IPO will be performing the symphony and, after two days of rehearsals with them, I am enjoying the fact that the players are getting a good and authentic feel for the work.

Pamela: There are two Chopin works on the program.

M.D. Yes. The Variations on “La ci darem la mano” in B flat major from Mozart’s opera “Don Giovanni” constitute one of Chopin’s first works for piano and orchestra. Here we have a very young Chopin, sometimes a little naïve; however, in some of the variations, his genius shines through. Some might say the orchestral score is “not very interesting”; the truth is that it needs thorough reading into to find the small musical gestures lying there and the IPO players are certainly doing that.

Chopin’s Concerto no. 1 in E minor for Piano and Orchestra is also quite an early work, written around the time the composer was 19 years old, still in Warsaw. Chopin had just fallen in love and was inspired to compose. So it is a very romantic work, the slow movement in particular, with young emotion running throughout the concerto.

Pamela: Maestro Dworzynski, we welcome you to Israel and wish you much joy and satisfaction working with the IPO on this interesting project. Thank you for sparing the time to talk to us.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Konstantin Keytlin - clarinetist and saxophonist

On July 2nd 2009 I had the pleasure of interviewing clarinetist Konstantin Keytlin. Keytlin was born in Dnepropetrovsk in the Ukraine and immigrated to Israel in 1998.

PH: What were your earliest musical experiences?

KK: I would say I was “born in the opera”. My mother is a choral conductor and my father sang in the Dnepropetrovsk Opera; so I spent much of my childhood behind the scenes. I grew up going to a lot of opera and ballet performances. Actually, at the age of five, I had a small part in Moussorgsky’s “Boris Gudunov”, playing the child who steals money from a beggar. At home, we heard records of Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Robertino Loretti; and my grandmother sang Yiddish songs.

PH: You certainly were exposed to many kinds of music! And when did you actually start taking lessons?

KK: At age eight I started studying the clarinet with Arkady Gurfinkel. It was my parents’ decision I should play the clarinet. Gurfinkel was the best teacher in the city and I feel lucky to have studied with him. Many of his pupils have won prizes for performance. When I was 14, Gurfinkel immigrated to Israel and I continued my studies with a student of his. At age 15 I began playing in the orchestra of the Dnepropetrovsk Opera.

PH: How did your studies continue?

KK: On finishing secondary school, I was accepted to the Donetsk State Music Academy in the Ukraine. In my first year of studies, I gave several recitals and joined the Donetsk Opera orchestra. During my second year there, I took third prize in the Rovno Competition. My mind was set on studying at the National Music Academy of Kiev and I applied to the school but they did not accept Jews there. That is when I made plans to leave for Israel.

PH: So you came to Israel in 1998.

KK: Yes. I made my home in Jerusalem and continued my studies at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance for another two years, studying clarinet with Professor Ilan Schul. I won an outstanding musician’s award in the Israeli Absorption Ministry’s competition for immigrant musicians and a Sharett Scholarship from the America-Israel Cultural Fund Grant for Young Artists. I then began auditioning with orchestras here and now freelance, playing with the Ra’anana Symphonette Orchestra, the Holon Orchestra and Mordechai Sobol’s Cantorial Orchestra.

PH: You are considered a versatile musician. Can you mention some of your other activities?

KK: Yes. Singing comes naturally to me after having heard much vocal music in my childhood and having taken part in opera chorus rehearsals. I am a member of the Musica Aeterna Choir, which was founded by its conductor Ilya Plotkin in 1996. I also sing in the Tel Aviv Philharmonic Choir and in the choir of the Great Synagogue (Heichal Shlomo) here in Jerusalem. I have conducted a children’s choir in Israel.

A few years ago, I joined the “Apropos.Art” klezmer-jazz group – violin, trumpet, keyboards, bass, percussion and clarinet. We perform at festivals of Jewish music here in Israel and we have played in Holland, Poland and Germany.

I tune pianos, play the saxophone and teach clarinet, saxophone, piano and organ.

PH: How do you see yourself as an artist?

KK: I feel I communicate with my audience, be it one person or a packed concert hall. In my ten or so years here, I have performed in symphony concerts, in the synagogue, in operas, operettas, evenings of Yiddish songs and concerts of old songs of concerts under the auspices of the Absorption Ministry. And I love Yiddish songs; that is my grandmother’s legacy!

PH: How would you like to see your future?

KK: I would like to have a permanent position in an orchestra, to become as professional as possible in all the styles I play and to give my children the musical background my father was able to give me. I teach my 10-year-old son the clarinet and he plays it in ceremonies at school.

Within myself, I am looking to find a synthesis of the various styles of music with which I have grown up, to combine them with Israeli music and perhaps come up with something new. My future is in Jerusalem. I love its unique atmosphere and climate. This is my home.

PP: Konstantin, many thanks. I wish you much joy and satisfaction in your rich musical life.

Konstantin’s email address:

Monday, September 28, 2009

Eyal Streett - Baroque bassoonist

Bassoonist Eyal Streett grew up in Jerusalem. As a boy he attended the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra’s concerts for children. At one of those concerts his attention was drawn to a contrabassoon. At the following concert, he plucked up courage and approached the bassoonist, Richard Paley, to ask what this instrument was. Today, at age 30, Streett lives in Spain and performs with some of the finest Baroque ensembles in Europe as well as with his own trio, “Rubato Appassionato”.

Pamela: Eyal, when did you begin taking music lessons?

Eyal: As a child, I learned the recorder with Etti Schwarz. I was accepted to the Jerusalem Academy High School for junior high and chose bassoon as my instrument, studying with Richard Paley. I continued recorder studies with Sarig Sella till age 14. I played the bassoon in the school orchestra and also joined the Hebrew University Orchestra, which was and is till today, conducted by Anita Kamien. It was an amateur orchestra, but there I became familiar with much orchestral repertoire. I also played in an orchestra conducted by Yevgeny Tzirlin and Ronny Porat, traveling overseas to perform. I was fortunate in attending the Interlochen Summer Arts Camp, where we performed together with some of the world’s greatest soloists, among them, YoYo Ma.

After my army service, I spent a year studying bassoon with Mordechai Rechtman, at the same time, playing in the Israel Chamber Orchestra. Rechtman, bassoonist in the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, was a very demanding teacher; he taught me much about standards of excellence and about how to listen to one’s own playing.

Pamela: What inspired your interest in Baroque music?

Eyal: It was in our teens that a friend of mine played a Baroque recorder; I asked Richard Paley about playing an “authentic” bassoon. He lent me an instrument and I got the feel of it. At age 17, I traveled to Holland to purchase a Baroque bassoon from a very fine instrument builder.

I began attending the Jerusalem Early Music Workshop, where I made contacts with Baroque players and I made a point of going to concerts in the “Authentic Music” series in Jerusalem.

Pamela: Where did you continue your studies?

Eyal: Accepted at schools both in the Hague and in Milan, I was faced with the dilemma of which to choose. I chose to study at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague, studying with the well-known American bassoonist Donna Agrell. Agrell invested a lot of energy in each of her students, appreciating the individual musical personality of each, and she was of great inspiration for me. The Royal Conservatory took a free approach to students, encouraging them to form their own ensembles. It was there that I met my wife – Spanish recorder player Antonia Tajeda. In the four years I spent there, I played much basso continuo. But it was not all early music; I developed an interest for electronic music there and took part in a contemporary ensemble. Two years into my studies in Holland, I began performing in several Baroque ensembles – under Rene Jacobs in Freiburg, in Paris and in “La Petite Bande” with Sigiswald Kujken in Belgium.

Pamela: Did you stay in Holland?

Eyal: No. We settled in Barcelona and I would travel to Milan to study with bassoonist Alberto Grazzi, spending a couple of days at a time in Milan, taking lessons with Grazzi and performing together with his other students. From Grazzi I understood the fact that a musician has the right to choose in his or her art, one of the most important lessons I have learned.

I completed my studies in 2003 and began playing with “Nachtmusique”, a woodwind ensemble directed by Eric Hoeprich, himself a performer on historical clarinets. Three or four years ago I joined Alfredo Bernadini and the Grazzi brothers in “Ensemble Zefiro”, a group based in Italy that performs a lot of wind chamber music.

In the meantime, we have moved to Seville. I have a few pupils but my time is mainly spent performing in groups around Europe Have performed in North America, and China, but most of our work is in Europe.

Pamela: Would you like to tell us about “Rubato Appassionato”?

Eyal: Yes. We are three players – my wife Antonia on Baroque recorders, Sasha Agranov on Baroque ‘cello and I play Baroque bassoon. Sasha is a friend of mine who was born in Russia and grew up in Israel. The trio began playing when we were in Holland. We had been playing in a larger ensemble but were interested to see what we could do in a group without harmonic instruments. We knew there had been ensembles such as ours in the Baroque period and the combination works well. We have played a lot of English music with grounds (bassi ostinati) but the program we have brought here is one of 18th century Spanish dance music, dances we found in old manuscripts. We create variations to them, combining our fantasy with the aesthetics of the period. Thus it is music for the concert hall and not for a royal court! We are playing three concerts on this trip to Israel. I am here also to attend a concert in memory of my sister, Tova, who died four years ago.

Pamela: What are your future plans?

Eyal: I hope to continue my work with the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, with “Les Talens Lyriques” in Paris ( a Baroque orchestra founded in 1999 by French conductor and harpsichordist Christophe Rousset), to take part in the Salzburg Festival and more. “Rubato Appassionato” will be doing recordings and performing eight concerts in Andalusia in the coming Autumn.

Pamela: Eyal, thank you for giving us of your time. We at “Living in Harmony” wish you much joy and success in your career.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Simon Wall - English tenor - sings oratorio and more

On July 27th 2009 I met tenor Simon Wall (b.1975) at Dartington Hall, Devon, UK, where he was teaching and performing. Wall, an “English tenor”, will be soloing in December 2009 with the Israel Camerata Jerusalem 2009 in Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, with the Clare College Choir of Cambridge, conducted by Tim Brown. Performances will be in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and Carmiel.

PH: Simon, how did you make your way into the world of music and singing?

SW: I was born in Ipswich, Suffolk. My father is a priest and, from a very young age, I went to church every Sunday. By the age of three I was joining in all the hymns with great fortitude. My parents, not being musicians, were not sure how to start by musical education. When I was seven or eight years old, they took me to King’s College, Cambridge to hear Evensong and I was completely blown away by the experience. We applied to several cathedral choir schools, but I was considered too old to join and had no background in playing musical instruments. We then went to our local cathedral at Bury St. Edmunds and the organist immediately agreed to take me in. There, I joined the cathedral choir, loving every minute of it, and went on to become head chorister.

I went to a public school in Surrey and then won a music scholarship to St. John’s School, Leatherhead, where I spent five years. My voice began to change, dropping from treble range to tenor and, fortunately, during the process, there was no time when I was not able to sing.

PH: Having finished school, what were your next moves?

SH: I spent my gap year in Portsmouth, singing in the Portsmouth Cathedral Choir. Winning a choral scholarship, I went to study at St. John’s College, Cambridge, which has a distinguished tradition of religious music. I was reading Theology and Music, studying voice with David Lowe. The St. John’s College Chapel Choir sang the daily services during term time and, at other times, we toured the world, performing. This chapel choir was among the top five choirs in Cambridge. I began singing solos with the choir and with choral societies in Cambridge.

In 1998 I began a teacher training course but, two weeks into studies, decided it was not for me. I was doing an extra year in the St. John’s College Choir. Tim Brown rescued me by employing me at Clare College as his assistant. Since then, I have remained a soloist with the Clare College Choir. Through that job, I landed another – as John Rutter’s personal assistant from 1999 to 2002. (Rutter is a fellow of Clare College and Tim Brown’s predecessor.)

However, in 2002 I applied to study at the Royal College of Music, won a scholarship and took studies there with Ashley Stafford and David Maxwell Anderson. This led me into the solo world.

PH: Would you like to talk about your solo career?

SW: Yes. My main field at the moment is oratorio, often singing the role of the Evangelist. I love singing oratorio. I have sung the Evangelist in Bach Passions, performing all over England and in New York. Most recently, I performed the St. Matthew Passion in Cambridge with Tim Brown conducting the Clare College Choir. Not long ago, I sang it at the Snape Maltings (Benjamin Britten’s concert hall in Suffolk) conducted by Masaaki Suzuki.

The oddest oratorio I have sung in is a large piece by Sir John Tavener “The Veil of the Temple”, which we performed in the Temple Church in London. The work is actually an all-night vigil. I had to sing 15 minutes of unaccompanied Gospel at 5 a.m.! “The Veil of the Temple” is a multi-faith piece in eight cycles, with a Gospel at the end of each. We also performed it in New York’s Lincoln Center and we did a shortened version of it at the Proms in London’s Albert Hall.

PH: Do you sing opera?

SH: I have done some opera work. I have sung under Emmanuelle Haim in Opera de Lille and Opera du Rhin. Haim is a French conductor and harpsichordist with a particular interest in early music. I sang in her performance of Purcell’s “Faerie Queene”. Together with ten other singers, I took part in a recording she directed – “Lamentie” - a selection of mostly Monteverdi works.

PH: What do you consider the to be the high points in your career so far?

SH: One of them was soloing in the Three Choirs Festival (UK.) This takes place every August by rotation in the cathedral cities of Gloucester, Hereford and Worcester. I sang in Schumann’s oratorio “Das Paradies und die Peri”, conducted by (the late) Richard Hickocks.

I recently sang the role of the Evangelist in a recording (Naxos) with the Choir of Jesus College, Cambridge of “The Passion of Our Lord According to Saint Mark” (1920), composed by Charles Wood.

I am a founding member of “La Nuova Musica” – a fairly new ensemble in which we are trying to bring vocal drama back to early music, based on treatises written at the time, the main one being Caccini’s “Le Nuove Musiche” (1602), a word-led approach.

PH: So what is next?

SW: I will appear in the 2009 Three Choirs Festival in a piece by John McCabe (b.1939) called “Songs of the Garden”, a selection of garden- and wildlife poetry set for choir and soloists. Then countertenor Iestyn Davies and I will perform Blow’s “Ode on the Death of Henry Purcell” at a Prom concert in September together with the Academy of Ancient Music.

And, of course, there are the Bach Christmas Oratorio concerts in Israel in December 2009. I have been in Tel Aviv on vacation, but this will be my first performing tour of Israel.

PH: Simon, many thanks for your time. We look forward to welcoming you in Israel.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Elli Jaffe researches and collects Jewish music, composes and conducts

On April 26th, 2009, I had the pleasure of interviewing Elli Jaffe. Jaffe is known to many as the musical director and conductor of the choir of Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue, Heichal Shlomo, and as an orchestral conductor. He is also a composer and arranger. In 2007, Jaffe was awarded the Jerusalem Prize for his contribution to Jewish music.

Pamela: Elli, when did you begin your musical education?

Elli: I was born in Jerusalem. Like all Jewish children, I studied some recorder, a bit of piano and sang in a choir but it was only at age 19 that I decided to become a professional musician. I enrolled at the Jerusalem Academy of Music, where I had the privilege of studying with some of Israel’s leading musicians – with Mendi Rodan, Ami Ma’ayani, Mark Kopytman, Chaim Alexander, Tzvi Avni, Shabtai Petrushka and Nachum Amir. I completed my Artist’s Diploma with distinction in conducting and music theory, after which I spent a year studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

Pamela: How did your career develop on your return to Israel?

Elli: Back in Israel, I took master classes with Leonard Bernstein and Igor Markevich and began conducting in countries all over the world. I was offered the position of conductor of the Mexico Philharmonic Orchestra but refused it for reasons of Sabbath observance. I have, however, conducted all the major Israeli orchestras and am always interested to further young performing artists, inviting them to play with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, The Israel Chamber Orchestra and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. I usually conduct the final concert of the Young Artists’ Competition, which is under the auspices of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

Pamela: Would you like to talk about the Jerusalem Great Synagogue Choir and your interest in education?

Elli: Yes. I conduct this men’s choir in memory of my late father, who was a driving force behind the establishment of the synagogue. My aims are to create a standard of excellence in performance but also to promote a deep understanding of the piece and the composer’s ideas, to bring out the “Neshama” (spiritual meaning) of each piece. We rehearse at least once a week and there is a homey, easy-going atmosphere in the choir. Choir members come from many walks of life: many are professional people – businessman, lawyers and doctors – as well as music-lovers and some professional musicians. One of our choir members is Adrian Isaacs, a retired synagogue choir conductor himself.

We have toured much, performing in such venues as the Mozarteum Hall in Salzburg, the Sydney Opera House and with orchestras such as the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, the Prague Symphony and the Manchester Camerata in the new hall of the Halle Orchestra.

Pamela: I do know of your interest in education.

Elli: I will mention just one of my educational projects: I established a school of cantorial music, now in Petach Tikvah, in order to produce a new generation of cantors and some of my own students are teachers there. Some of the cantorial music I have written has pedagogical content and students should analyze them as they would a Beethoven symphony.

Pamela: You also write music and about music. Would you tell us something of this side of your professional life?

Elli: Yes. I both compose and arrange Jewish music, including orchestral- and cantorial arrangements of Israeli-, oriental- and Hassidic songs. My symphony, “Kaddish”, has been performed by the IPO and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and a quintet of mine has been played by the IPO Quintet. I have written a violin concerto, “Ode to Ida”, dedicated to Ida Haendel. I am hoping she will perform it.

At the moment, I am writing a book about modes of the prayer of Ashkenaz (nusach tefillah) used throughout the year. The recording that accompanies the book – 15 discs – has already been issued.

Pamela: How do you find Israeli audiences?

Elli: I have always found Israeli audiences to be warm and appreciative and, actually, not as narrow-minded as some musicians claim. Cantorial music in symphonic dress attracts many different kinds of people. If this can break down barriers between religious and non-religious people, I would be very happy.

Pamela: What are your plans?

Elli: At the moment I am composing a work commemorating 400 years since the death of Rabbi Judah Loew, the Maharal of Prague (1525-1609), one of the most seminal thinkers in the post-medieval period. The work will be scored for large orchestra, choir and soloists.

I will be conducting in the Mahler Festival in Prague in 2010.

Pamela: How do you see the role of music in your life?

Elli: For me, music is the greatest gift after Torah. It helps me raise my level in Torah and I conduct my Torah way of life through music. It promotes communication between human beings: people play and sing different voices but they do hear each other. Music can create bridges between nations and between Jews and it does it better than politicians can. I believe music is a gift of G-d. When conducting Richard Strauss’ Alpine Symphony, I claimed it was a gesture of gratitude to the Almighty for creating those monumental mountains.

Pamela: Thank you very much for sharing your experiences and ideas with our readers. We wish you continued joy in your various musical activities.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Boaz Berney plays early flutes and also builds them

Jerusalem-born Boaz Berney teaches and plays Baroque- and Renaissance flutes; he also builds these flutes and Romantic flutes. On February 4 2009, I telephoned Boaz in his Jaffa studio.

Pamela: Boaz, when did you begin taking an interest in music?

Boaz: I grew up in Ra’anana and began learning the recorder at age seven. I then changed to the flute when I was eight or nine, studying with Michael Weintraub. During my compulsory army service, I attended the Early Music Workshop in Jerusalem and there I made my acquaintance with historical instruments and early performance practice, and, as a result, spent the next three or four years studying Baroque flute with Idit Shemer.

Pamela: Would you like to talk about the time you spent in Holland?

Boaz: Yes. I was in Holland for ten years. I studied traverso (Baroque flute) under Wilbert Hazelzet at the Royal Conservatory in the Hague, becoming more familiar with Renaissance music and that of other periods. It is important for players to study music written before the Baroque. But I had also set my sights on instrument-making. At the Utrecht Early Music Festival, which attracts a variety of instrument-makers, I looked for a maker with whom I could study and I became apprenticed to recorder-maker Peter van der Poel. With him I learned all the basics about how to work with wood and the art of copying historical instruments; a year later, I began working at home. From 1995 to 1998, I worked at the Gemeente Museum in the Hague, compiling a catalogue of the Baroque flutes in their collection as well as doing conservation work on woodwind instruments there. Examining so many original instruments taught me a lot about the craftsmanship of early instrument makers. I was able to compare flutes I was building with those in the museum.

During 2000 and 2001, I researched Romantic flutes, focusing on those in the Vienna workshop of Stephan Koch (fl. 1807-1828), putting them in chronological order and studying their specific timbre and characteristics.

I was also performing in two ensembles I had formed – one was a wind quintet performing Classical music on historical instruments. The other, the Modena Consort – an ensemble focusing on Renaissance polyphonic music, consisting of a singer, four flutes and two lutes – still exists and we perform in concerts and festivals in Europe; see .

Pamela: When did you return to Israel?

Boaz: I came back to Israel in 2005. Two years later, I began playing in the newly-formed Barrocade Ensemble, with which I continue to be very involved. Many of the players in the Barrocade Ensemble are people, like myself, who have spent years in Europe and have returned to Israel. I am also a member of the Discantvs Ensemble, comprising of Kimberly Reine, Genevieve Blanchard and myself on Renaissance flutes, Eitan Hoffer (lute and Baroque guitar) and countertenor Doron Schleifer. The flutes played in the group were built by me.

Much of my time is spent building flutes in my workshop in an old Ottoman-style house in the inspiring town of Jaffa. Some of my clients are Israelis but most of the orders come from overseas. I frequently travel to exhibitions of historical instruments in London, Vienna, Boston, Berlin and Utrecht, where I show my flutes and take orders from players. I buy the wood in Europe and Turkey and find it important to travel there to choose each and every piece myself. Most of these instruments are made from Boxwood. The Boxwood tree grows very slowly and its wood varies. My expertise is in building Renaissance flutes but I also like making Baroque- and Romantic flutes.

Pamela: Do you teach flute?

Boaz: Yes. I have three or four adult students studying traverso with me.

Pamela: What are your thoughts on the Israeli concert audience?

Boaz: My experience performing with Barrocade and Discantvs here is positive. Till now, there have been no consorts of Renaissance flutes in this country; this kind of ensemble is new to the Israeli concert scene. The local concert public shows an interest in new groups, is curious to hear repertoire not previously heard here and is warm and communicative.

Pamela: Boaz, it has been most interesting talking to you. Concert-goers will enjoy hearing your fine performance on early flutes in Israeli concert halls and there will be plenty of opportunities to hear you and your fellow Early Music players and singers this concert season.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Amit Tiefenbrunn plays viol,violone and guitar and builds historical instruments

On September 21, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amit Tiefenbrunn. Born in Israel, Tiefenbrunn, an instrument-maker and eclectic musician, talked about his musical journey.

Pamela: How did you begin your musical training?

Amit: My family enjoyed music and, as children, the three of us took music lessons. My ambition was to play the guitar; however, at the Givatayim Music Conservatory, I studied the violin for some years. I wanted to change over to the saxophone, at the Conservatory they suggested I play the French horn and I ended up leaving and playing neither! To the horror of my parents, I bought an electric guitar and began playing music with friends, which was what I really wanted to be doing: we played repertoire such as Beatles songs, bossa nova and jazz. We performed in pubs and cafes in Tel Aviv and also at weddings. I was interested to play jazz on double bass and, at age 20, when still busy with my compulsory army service, I approached Eli Magen – a double bass player in the IPO and jazz musician – with the idea of studying double bass jazz technique with him. Magen insisted on first giving me a proper grounding in the instrument, and worked with me on techniques of bowing, positions etc. He also instilled in me the importance of having an organized practice schedule and of accurate playing and I began practising the double bass for six to eight hours a day.

The truth is that I had no intention of becoming a professional musician and studied to become a mechanic, graduating with a teaching certificate in technical subjects.

Pamela: So what happened to change your mind?

Amit: At age 21, I landed the job of double bass player with the Haifa Symphony Orchestra, then moving on to the Beer Sheba Sinfonietta. But I was still searching for my real niche in the musical world. Orchestral playing with a conductor at the helm was not what I wanted. I had a great love of Baroque music, which I see as the combination of classical- and light music. There is no Baroque music without swing!! I wanted to get back to playing in small groups again, with all players working together on interpretation.

My love of Baroque music led me to the idea of learning the viol. There were no viol players or teachers here in Israel and in 1991 I went to Holland to immerse myself in the art of Baroque music. I studied the viola da gamba for seven years with Anneke Pols at the Utrecht Conservatory of Music and the violone (a bass viol) for two years with Margaret Urquhart at the Hague Royal Conservatory. I played both instruments in ensembles, performing in Holland and other European countries and recording discs.

Through my harpsichord teacher I met Dirk Jacob Hamoen, who builds double basses and violins, and he took me on as a student. For four years, I spent three days a week in his workshop learning the art of instrument-making. This combined my love of music with my mechanical skills.

Pamela: When did you return to Israel?

Amit: I returned to Israel end of 2000 to open my own of instrument-making workshop and I had a list of orders. As a family man, I chose not to travel overseas too much to perform and, by 2002, I found myself involved in a lot of performing with the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra, the Arcadia Ensemble, PHOENIX, Spirito Barocco and Ensemble Nobile. The latter is made up of soprano Ye’ela Avital, violinist Shlomit Sivan, harpsichord player Yizhar Karshon and myself; we were in the USA on a performing tour this last April. This quartet also forms the basis of the Barrocade Ensemble, the Israeli Baroque Collective. We have just returned from taking part in the VBE Festival, “Baroque Evenings” in Varazdin, Croatia where Nobile performed three concerts which included Jewish and Israeli content, and Barrocade took part in the final concert. In a partly destroyed synagogue in Varazdin, a venue that seemed inadequate for any performance, we performed one of our best concerts, finishing it off with a Klesmer piece. I think the audience was as moved as we were; it was, indeed, symbolic for us to bring this Jewish venue back to life. As it happened, this concert was considered one of the two best events of the festival!

Pamela: The Barrocade Ensemble appears to be a different concept to most ensembles.

Amit. Without any doubt! We have no conductor, no permanent musical director. We feel that all musicians have strengths, the ability to teach, ideas and dreams. As a collective, all jobs are shared among the players – musical direction, administration, publicity…even graphics. Discussion of interpretation (this does not exclude arguing!) is open to all, placing a lot of responsibility on the part of each musician, meaning 14 or 15 rehearsals before each concert and the need to “leave one’s ego at home”. This is a process each of us in the ensemble has had to learn and internalize; it is not easy for performers to offer each other constructive criticism and even more difficult to accept it and see it as objective and positive. This approach does not suit all musicians. For me, the aspect of making music together is of prime importance: it involves the interaction of human dynamics, with musicians being objective about how we perform, seeing performance as work in process and not as one set interpretation. Barrocade is about to open its second concert season and has recently released its first CD – “Vivaldolino”.

Pamela: How would you describe the Israeli concert audience? And how do you see the Israeli music scene?

Amit: The audience plays such an important part in concerts. Israeli audiences react quickly…within minutes of our beginning to play. Peoples’ facial expressions are a yardstick for us. In fact, audience reaction has been an important factor as to how we now build our repertoire.

There is a lot of good professional music in Israel but, in my opinion, not enough amateur groups. Making music contributes so much to personal enrichment: it promotes communication between people; I would go so far to say that it is therapeutic. Music brings people together.

Pamela: Do you teach?

Amit: Yes. I love teaching…it is a calling. My pupils at the Jerusalem Academy of Music are people with their eye on a performing career. I would like to mention my pupils Alexandra Polin, who plays both ‘cello, and viol, and Alon Portal, both of whom are now members of Barrocade. Then there is the very gifted 12-year-old, Sonia Navot, who has recently won the America-Israel Cultural Foundation prize for performance.

Pamela: What are your plans?

Amit: I want to continue playing, working with people, striving for excellence. I plan to put my energies into working with the Barrocade Ensemble and with other smaller groups. Music for me is not a “job”; it is a way of life. And I continue to build instruments – viols, Baroque violins, medieval bowed instruments and harps. My instruments are shown in the Utrecht Early Music Festival every year, a meeting in which more than eighty instrument-makers from all over the world take part.

Pamela: Thank you for your time and for sharing your interesting ideas.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Ze'ev Steinberg - violist and composer

In November 2008, I had the privilege of interviewing violist, teacher, composer and arranger Ze’ev Steinberg in honor of his 90th birthday.

Pamela: Ze’ev Steinberg, can you tell us about your childhood and early musical training?

Ze’ev Steinberg: I was born in Germany in 1918 and spent the first fifteen years of my life in the city of Trier on the Mosel River, a small historic city with a long history of culture, beginning with Constantine the Great. Trier was also the birthplace of Karl Marx. My parents were both physicians but my father was also a graduate of the Cologne Hochschule fuer Musik, where he had studied violin. At the age of five, I also wanted to learn the violin and my father agreed to this on condition that I join the choir school at the Cathedral of St Peter in Trier. I am grateful to my father for this: there I studied sight-singing and sang choral works from Medieval- and Renaissance music to later periods and I loved it! However, when Hitler came to power, my parents, being Zionists, felt I should leave Germany, and so I joined the first group of Youth Aliyah and left for Palestine.

Pamela: How and where did you spend your first years in Israel?

Z.S: In 1934, I was sent to Kibbutz Ein Harod as an agricultural worker for two years, moved to Kibbutz Beit Hashita, where I met my first wife, and then to Be’er Tuvia.. We then moved to Tel Aviv, where I became an inter-urban taxi driver with the Aviv Taxi Company. At that time I joined the Tel Aviv Physicians’ Orchestra, conducted by Otto Selbach. We performed one or two concerts a year. Selbach was also the conductor of the Palestine Orchestra, the orchestra which was to eventually become the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. As a driver, I did some extra work – driving members of the Palestine Orchestra to various locations to perform; this gave me the opportunity to hear a lot of chamber music.

I went to study violin with Lorand Fenyves and with Oeden Partos. Partos later founded the Tel Aviv Academy of Music where he also taught chamber music. One day, Partos told me he was in need of a viola player; I saw this as an opportunity to study further and ended up taking part in his viola- and chamber music classes. Partos became my mentor and friend.

P.H.: You were known to many of us as a member of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. When did your many years as violist in the IPO begin?

Z.S.: In 1942, the IPO lost some of its string players to cafes and places offering light musical entertainment. Partos suggested I audition as violist and I landed the job as substitute violist in the orchestra. A year later I took another audition and was accepted as a member of the IPO. In 1969 I received the job of assistant principal violist and I feel I was a good leader. I have traveled the world with the IPO, officially playing in it till 1984 and, then, for another extra ten years.

I have also made many solo appearances with all major Israeli orchestras – with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, The Israel Sinfonietta Beersheba, the Israel Chamber Orchestra, the IPO, the Kibbutz Orchestra and the Ramat Gan Orchestra.

P.H.: Let’s go back to your interest in chamber music and teaching.

Z.S.: In the 1942-3 season I started a professional string quartet with another three players, and founded another quartet in 1949 - the Tel Aviv String Quartet. In 1959, I joined the Israel Quartet, in which I played till 1993. We were organized in such a way that our programs would not clash with those of the Tel Aviv String Quartet, which was led by Chaim Taub.

In 1953, Partos, then head of the Tel Aviv Academy of Music, asked me to take the position of senior lecturer there teaching viola and chamber music. I accepted and was busy with that till around 1985. After that, from 1986 to 1987, I taught chamber music at the Jerusalem Academy of Music. Till today, young colleagues come to me for tutoring, preparation for auditions, etc.

I have also engaged in chamber music activities promoting contemporary music – Israeli and otherwise. Evelyn de Rothschild provided the financing for the “Musical Evenings” series, directed by Gary Bertini. In these concerts, which took place at the Tel Aviv Museum, we performed music of Schoenberg, Hindemith, Copland and other composers in ensembles of various numbers of players. I loved this repertoire and performing in these concerts.

In around 1986, I was one of the co-founders of Musica Nova, an organization of leading musicians, most of them from the IPO and the Israel Chamber Orchestra, whose aim was to perform very contemporary music. Working with local and overseas conductors, we performed five to seven concerts of 20th century music per year, at least half of each concert being made up of works by Israeli composers. Works of mine were also performed by Musica Nova; for example, “Seven for Eleven” – seven pieces for eleven players. Ten years ago, we traveled to Houston to take part in a festival of contemporary Jewish music. The ensemble still exists and I continue to sit on its committee, but no longer play in it.

P.H.: Well, on the subject of your own works, would you like to elaborate?

Z.S.: Yes. I have composed string quartets, a few songs, but, mostly chamber music. As a leading member of the Ramat Gan Orchestra since the 1980’s, I have written a number of arrangements for strings to be played by this orchestra; for example, Mendelssohn’s “Songs Without Words”, Bach’s “Art of Fugue” and Schubert’s “Arpeggione” Sonata. The latter arrangement has been performed all over the world, most recently in Germany. I still write arrangements.

My biblical cantata, “Rahab and the Spies” (1969), scored for contralto, two recorder players, ‘cello, harpsichord, light percussion and narrator, using texts from the Book of Joshua, won me the Avraham Kartch Prize for Jewish Music. It was and continues to be a successful work.

P.H.: With what activities are you busy at the moment?

Z.S.: I continue to play with the Ramat Gan Orchestra, where I am musical adviser to the conductor. I also play in the Emeritus Orchestra, an orchestra conducted by Sam Zebba. Members are retired players from the IPO, the JSO and the Israel Sinfonietta Be’er Sheva, some fine amateur players as well as a few young musicians looking to get experience in orchestral playing. We all play in this orchestra for the fun of it, but do give some concerts; not long ago, we traveled to Cyprus to perform.

I would like to mention one more of my musical interests: for some 30 years, I have been a member of both executive- and musical committees of the International Harp Contest, a competition that takes place in Tel Aviv every three years. In October 2009, the contest will celebrate its 50th anniversary and I will have the honor of being one of the judges. I do enjoy my involvement in this prestigious competition.

P.H.: Ze’ev Steinberg, thank you for sharing the many inspiring facets of your musical life with us. We wish you much joy and good health on the occasion of your 90th birthday.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Eldad Lidor - composer, soundtrack designer

Israeli-born Eldad Lidor is a prolific composer and sound-track designer in high demand. He has created over 1000 compositions for theatre, films and television in Israel and overseas, infusing eclectic elements from ethnic music, jazz and other styles into his works. The recipient of several awards, he has also worked in Europe. I had the pleasure of interviewing Eldad on May 17th, 2009.

Pamela: When did you begin studying music?

Eldad: As a child I played the recorder and the accordion. Then, as a teenager, I took up the guitar, dabbling in rock-and-roll and accompanying myself in French chansons translated into Hebrew, a genre that had became popular in Israel in the late 1950’s. Apart from going to the occasional concert with my mother, I did not have much experience with classical music at that stage of my life.

Pamela: When did you begin to compose?

Eldad: At age16 or 17, I started to compose, mostly setting to music poetry by Yehuda Amichai and Natan Zach. I have always really loved Yehuda Amichai’s poetry but more about that later.

My family spent time in Paris and there I went to study electronics in order to be an electronics technician to see me through my army service. While serving in the IDF as an officer, I began to realize that what I really wanted to study was music, and began taking lessons in music theory and piano. My army service was extended due to the Yom Kippur War but in 1974, I was accepted to the Jerusalem Academy of Music to study composition and electronic music under Professor Tzvi Avni. As a music student, I supported myself by working in Kol Israel, the Israeli radio, as a technician.

Pamela: What did you decide to do on completing your music degree?

Eldad: Actually, I went back to Paris in order to study “Musique concrete”, a form of electro-acoustic music that utilizes recorded “non-musical” sound as compositional material, an aesthetic developed by Pierre Schaeffer from the late1940’s. It did not make a lot of sense to me and I returned to Israel a year later and took a job in Israeli radio in Tel Aviv, but, this time, in the sound effects room. That was where I really started to work with music in the drama milieu and learned much about studio sound. I worked with some of Israel’s best stage directors and we had unlimited time to produce work that was of a high artistic- and professional level. At that time – end of the 1970’s – the radio was an important artistic medium here, offering a variety of radio plays that featured Israel’s best actors and actresses. I would say it was an important “laboratory” experience for me and it was there that I met many of the people with whom I still work today. One important radio production was “The Queen of Sheba’s Visit”, compiled from poems by Yehuda Amichai.

Pamela: Eldad, would you like to talk about your own independent work?

Eldad: Yes. One of my early projects was “Shira’s Suiters”, a musical production of classical-style arrangements of poems and theatre pieces. Amichai, who claimed I was the best interpreter of his works, would take part in some of the performances, most of which were in kibbutzim.

An important production in 1989 was “Shakuf” (Transparent), a work Albert Amar and I wrote and arranged together, on the subject of Amar’s personal fight with drug addiction. That was the only time I actually took part on stage in my own work. We ran some 200 performances of “Shakuf”, it was one of the events in the Israel Festival and the various songs from it have become popular.

In 1986, I opened Q-Sound, my own studio; by the time I left Kol Israel in 1990, I was devoting my time to producing music for theatre, feature films, advertisements and animated films. Gil Zimmerman edits and mixes the sound. In animated films, an expertise of ours, we design all the sound and the music. Today I work with a MacIntosh computer, using a “Logic” program which has revolutionized our work: all sound and information is stored in it and is produced from it! I do, however, still work with players, most of whom have been with me for many years. I give them a musical idea and they use it in what might be called a “jam session”. Arranging it is what you might then call a jam session between the computer and myself!

Pamela: Can you mention some of your many successful theatre projects?

Eldad: Yes. I have produced work for all Israel’s major theatre companies – Beit Lessin, Habima and the Cameri Theatre, to name a few. With stage director Gadi Roll, I have worked on theatre projects in London and Poland. Some of my biggest successes are Shmuel Asfari’s “Wife, Husband, Home” and Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie”, both Cameri productions and Ionesco’s “The Chairs”, and Arthur Miller’s “A View From the Bridge”, both Habima productions.

Pamela: You are the recipient of several prizes.

Eldad: Yes. I won the Margalit Prize for the music and sound design I created for Manuel Puig’s “The Kiss of the Spiderwoman”, staged by Itzik Weingarten and an Acco Festival award for the music for “Tonight We Dance”, a play about the life of a café. I produced and played the music for the Zik Theatre’s unconventional production “Charakruk”; we all received an Acco Festival prize for that job.

Pamela: And your other activities?

Eldad: Actually, I have branched out into two new fields. The first is education. I began teaching at Tel Aviv University and now teach students of stage production at the Kibbutz Seminary about music for theatre. We perform exercises in class with texts and music to get the students to react emotionally to the written word. Music is feeling. I also see them through their personal assignments in the subject and teach them how to work with musicians.

Another different, new field is designing sound for museums – for video, films and for the museum “space”. My most recent project of that kind was for the Rabin Museum. I have also designed for the Holon Children’s Museum and the “Harishonim” Museum in Zichron Ya’acov. I am presently busy with a sound-and light project for the Herodian Quarter in Jerusalem’s Old City.

Pamela: Tell us about your discs.

Eldad: I have put out three discs. The first two focus on pieces from my work with theatre. In my latest, “Closer”, all the pieces on it are instrumental and were composed specifically for the disc. It is an inner journey, also a journey of landscapes – I love nature.

Pamela: What are your future plans?

Eldad: To put together a stage production of my works and to be its stage producer. To travel….and to go to the sea for some early morning fishing!

Pamela: How do you see and connect to the medium in which you create?

Eldad: Music is like a drawing. I often think in terms of sound color rather than melodic lines. It is a story. My time in France has added a Parisian flavor to some of my pieces. I do not try to surprise myself; I work directly through my emotions, with no thought as to whether the result is good or not. I search for the right feeling. I have a need to be out in nature as well as a need for city life. Finally, I am much assisted by my wife, Shoshi, whose vocals are heard in my works.

Andrew Parrott - conductor and scholar

On July 30th 2009 I had the pleasure of talking to British conductor and scholar Andrew Parrott. Maestro Parrott is known to Israeli audiences as honorary conductor of the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra.

PH: When did you begin your musical training?

AP: It actually began when my sister and I played at being piano teacher and pupil. She was the teacher. At age 8 or nine I began piano lessons with a neighbouring teacher and proceeded to study with a number of other piano teachers. I did not receive my musical education through the Anglican choral tradition and I believe this has left me more open in my views. I studied various instruments, attended a good local grammar school and, from there, went to Oxford University. I enjoyed my time there: the courses did not dominate my life and I had been thrown into a world of interesting brains.

PH: How did you make your way into the world of conducting and early music?

AP: It was quite by chance. One of the first concerts I heard at Oxford was a performance by the Schola Cantorum of Oxford, where John Tavener was master of choristers. I applied to join it and, despite knowing nothing about singing at the time, was accepted as reserve second bass and pianist. My first conducting experience came about when someone was needed to rehearse the choir.

At Oxford I was studying music history – Bach, Handel and Mozart and those composers following them - but was very interested to learn about earlier music. I began putting on concerts of the music about which I was supposed to be writing my assignments – Tallis, Byrd, etc. - as I felt the need to be within the music and there were not many recordings available at the time. For me, this seemed to be the sensible approach and that was the beginning of the two sides of my professional life – research and performance. These two disciplines are kept separate in most institutions, my opinion being that academics and performers do not learn enough from each other. And it always surprises me that hearing Baroque music performed properly is controversial. The professional musical world is more narrow-minded than its audiences!

PH: Your book “The Essential Bach Choir” (2000) presents interesting and important research regarding Bach’s performance of his choral works. What are you writing at present?

AP: There are three projects occupying me at present:
1) The Bach saga continues – my research on Bach’s one-to-a-part choirs – and it is entering a new phase. I fail to understand why certain musicologists do not face the evidence we have regarding Bach’s choir!
2) I want to write up work I did a long time ago on the misconceptions of falsetto singing and
3) I am working on finishing a book that was commissioned 25 years ago and that is now at the editing stage. It is an anthology of short extracts of writing about music before 1770. It focuses on (i) music in society, (ii)music and ideas and (iii)music in performance. What will finally emerge is a book to be browsed, a book that will not go out of date, a reference book and a useful teaching aid. It should make enjoyable reading for amateurs, professionals and listeners. It really is about what people thought and did at that time. Working on it these 25 years has been most interesting!

PH: And your performing schedule?

AP: I have always freelanced. I recently conducted a Haydn opera in Bratislava, this being Haydn territory. I am conducting “Cosi fan Tutti” for Opera North (UK) this September – I have not conducted it before. Then, in October, I travel to Canada to perform a Gluck opera with Tafelmusik. It is unusual for me to conduct three operas in one year!

In June I conducted the New Haifa Orchestra in a program of works by Britten, Haydn, Beethoven and John McCabe.

Another interesting project is the recording of all Beethoven’s works for piano and orchestra - in Sweden with Dutch pianist Ronald Brautigam; these include Concerto Zero (pre Concerto no.1). Brautigam did the orchestration of the latter as it had only existed as a piano score.

There are certain works I want to record, but not for the sake of recording. I enjoy the challenge of it but find the freshness of live performance problematic to infuse into a recording.

PH: Would you like to talk about your experience with the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra?

AP: Yes. I have been its honorary conductor for approximately two years, but have also worked with the orchestra before that time. I am aware of the fact that Israel has some fine musicians. In the field of Baroque music, David Shemer has done much good work, encouraging his players to study in Europe at the cost of some not returning. The players all need to have other jobs, making rehearsal schedules tricky. I would like to help the orchestra perform some larger scale works. The JBO players are good, they work hard and seriously, investing time and emotional energy in their playing. And the ensemble has a pioneering spirit. (I, myself, have experienced a lot of opposition as a pioneer but this, nevertheless, has never detracted from the excitement of pioneering work.)

Jerusalem is a magical and inspirational city and I respect its historical associations. However, when I conducted the St John Passion with the JBO (March, 2009), potent as it was from the human element, I, nevertheless, endeavoured to enter Bach’s spiritual and musical world in performance. Some Israeli performers may feel they lack the background to be playing and singing Christian sacred music, or that it presents a personal obstacle, but I find that conducting church music in Israel allows me to project my new ideas of a work and there is less undoing of preconceptions in the task.

PH: Maestro Parrott, many thanks for giving us of your time. It has been most interesting talking to you and I know that Israeli audiences look forward to many more performances with you at the helm.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Gilad Hochman - composer

27-year-old Gilad Hochman was born in Herzliya. Today he spends most of his time in Berlin, Germany. I interviewed Gilad in September 2009.

PH: Gilad, would you like to talk about your early music education?

GH: My parents are not professional musicians, neither, for that matter, are they amateurs. My mother was born in Paris and my father, in Odessa. My father studied the piano when he was young as part of his general education and encouraged me to start at age six. So I began learning the piano. At age nine, I felt I could write better works than those I was learning to play and began writing small works for piano. I have been composing ever since. At 14, I enrolled in the Herzliya Conservatory, studying composition with Ilya Heifetz. I completed my studies there with distinction and went on to Tel Aviv University, taking composition with Gil Shochat and conducting with Vag Papian. I graduated with honors.

PH: What was your work schedule on completion of your studies?

GH: At age 22, I was appointed composer in residence of the Ra’anana Symphonette. I was already receiving a lot of commissions –among them being for the Tel Aviv Soloists’ Ensemble, from Musica Nova, Naked Voices, Ensemble Meitar. Most importantly for me, I was working with a lot of young soloists in their 20’s – ‘cellist Shira Mani, violinist Moshe Aharonov, flautist Kiril Aginsky and pianist Yael Manor, to mention but a few. I find young players good to work with: they go into works in depth, they are curious, they have time and they listen intently to what they are playing. However, experienced musicians are a pleasure to work with, especially when it comes to the matter of interpretation in my music.

In 2007 I won the Prime Minister’s Prize for composition, being the youngest composer to receive this award. This prompted me to look for new challenges further afield.

PH: So in 2007, you moved to Germany. That was a weighty decision.

GH: Yes. Actually, I had applied to study to start a PhD in the USA and, despite a most generous offer on their part, decided to go to Germany. In 2007, I moved to Berlin, not knowing a single person there and not being a member of any institution. I am in the process of finding my way in this new environment and I am aware and ambivalent of the various sides of this country. I find the quality of life high in Berlin. In Germany, I find much emphasis on the fact that art, and music in particular, is a phenomenon created by human beings, and people are proud of that. However, living in an environment means relating to its past and its future. I can not stand in judgement of Germany, nor can I ignore its past. This makes for an interesting situation, one not without conflicts. I am not indifferent to what Germany is, neither am I waiting for life to “happen”. I can only add that today Germany is interested in tolerance and dialogue because of its past.

PH: What projects do you have in Germany?

GH: There are many exciting projects in the offing. I recently received a commission to compose a work for the Frankfurt Opera Children’s Choir.

Ensemble Modern, based in Frankfurt, has commissioned a work for solo French horn. It will be recorded on disc on Ensemble Modern’s own label. The French horn player is Sahar Berger, an Israeli living in Germany. This is a great honour for me as this is one of the world’s best ensembles of this kind

Then there is a full-length concert of earlier chamber works of mine as well as a song cycle commissioned for the program. We will be taking it on tour in West Germany. So, I am happy with the way things are shaping up.

And, of course, I continue to have commissions and performances of my works in Israel. This is extremely important to me.

PH: What else is important in your life?

GH: For many years, I was involved in karate and was the Israeli champion twice. I have read far-eastern philosophy, Jewish philosophy and European philosophy. I am discovering that there is much in the field of “knowledge” we are not able to understand and am trying to examine the place of the human being in this world.

It is important for me to live in an environment where I can develop as a person and a musician. I place great importance on personal development and self-awareness. As a musician, it is imperative to work with good artists, to create new works and take on interesting projects. That is my own modest contribution in this world.

On September 20th 2009, my own site will be up and running: .There will be much music on it and it will offer anyone who wishes the possibility of downloading my scores free of charge. I have learned the importance of not holding onto them exclusively for myself. They will be free for the use of those who wish to express themselves through my music.

PH: Gilad, I wish you much joy and continued success in your career.

GH: Thank you. It was a pleasure talking to you.

Friday, September 11, 2009

David Shemer - harpsichordist and Baroque music specialist

On December 7th I had the pleasure of interviewing conductor, harpsichordist, teacher and musical director of the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra, Dr. David Shemer.

Pamela: David, would you like to tell us about your childhood and early musical training?

David: Yes. I was born in Riga. My parents were not musicians; my father loved music but had never taken any lessons. It was clear to people close to me that I was musical and, like any good Jewish child, I began learning the violin when I was five and a half. This went well and I was sent to the school for musically gifted children run by The Riga Academy of Music. I enjoyed school as well as studying in small classes. But the violin was not what I really wanted to play and I decided to make Music Theory my major, graduating in theoretical subjects in 1970. I applied to study at the Rimsky Korsakov Conservatory in what was then Leningrad, but was not accepted for reasons not connected with music. I was, however, accepted to the Riga Academy of Music to study Music Theory and Musicology; I was a student there from 1970 to1971. In 1971 we applied to make aliya to Israel and ended up being refuseniks for two years, during which I was not officially studying at any institution. But a group of us at the Academy had formed a chamber orchestra and I was interested in finding music suited to an ensemble of that kind. What I came across was Baroque repertoire – J.S.Bach and Handel – and, for the first time in my life, I played the continuo part, but on the piano, as there was no harpsichord there.

Pamela: So in 1973 you migrated to Israel.

David: Yes. I arrived in Israel in August 1973, two months before the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War. The academic year was to begin later that year, due to the war and I, with my poor Hebrew, was enrolled to study Musicology at Tel Aviv University. It soon became clear to me that Musicology was not what I wanted to be studying: I wanted to be conducting and went to discuss the matter with Maestro Mendi Rodan in Jerusalem. My friend Valery Maisky was teaching harpsichord in Jerusalem and I decided to go there to study with him. However, as fate would have it, by the time I had moved to Jerusalem, Maisky was no longer teaching there. I did study harpsichord with Professor Haim Alexander. The instruments available at the time were what were called “plucking pianos”, built by William de Blaise. At the time I had no idea how far they were from beingthe real thing, but there were no other instruments…and, anyway, I had, by now, fallen in love with the harpsichord. After graduating in theory, conducting and harpsichord from the Jerusalem Academy of Music I was conscripted into the army to do my compulsory service.

While in the army, I completed an M.A. in choral- and orchestral conducting and took lessons from pianist Boris Berman on the harpsichord. I learned so much from Berman, played on a more satisfactory harpsichord and began to broaden my knowledge about historical instruments. Boris Berman is one of the most brilliant people I have come across and a wonderful person, too.

Pamela: What were your plans after your release from the army?

David: On completing my army service, I was fortunate to win a British Council scholarship and left for England to study at the Guildhall School of Music in London. The truth is that I was not sure what I really wanted to be studying there - probably harpsichord, probably conducting. My heart was already set on historical performance, not so much for historical reasons, but because I just loved it! Hearing so much wonderful early music in England made me want to bring it back and establish it in Israel. At the Guildhall School of Music I studied harpsichord with Christopher Kite, the first authentic harpsichordist under whom I was to study; then with David Roblou, taking performance practice with Philip Pickett (of the New London Consort) and French Baroque style with Stephen Preston. We also had lessons in Renaissance and Baroque dance, which I loved. Staying on in London to continue private study, I took a job with El Al as a member of their security staff and went on to study harpsichord under Trevor Pinnock; however, the harpsichord teacher who was to have the strongest influence on my playing was Jill Severs. Severs, not a performer herself, has taught many harpsichordists of repute; I have never learned as much about playing the instrument as I did with Severs.

Pamela: When did you return to Israel?

David: I returned to Israel end of 1982. On my return, I gave a lecture-recital at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and was consequently invited to join the teaching faculty. At the Academy I teach harpsichord, Baroque performance practice, theoretical subjects and musical forms and analysis.

Pamela: You have recently finished a doctorate. Can you tell us about that?

David: Yes. From 2003 to 2004, I spent a year at the State University of New York at Stony Brook to pursue their DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts) program. I studied harpsichord under Arthur Haas. Haas and I really got along well and the year was a very stimulating one for me. During that year and in the year following that, requirements were to perform six recitals, to do the programming, write program notes and to take a colloquium. One of the concerts was a lecture-recital on harpsichord music by Israeli composers. I graduated in 2007.

Pamela: It is almost twenty years since the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra was founded. Can you tell us about this illustrious ensemble and its history?

David: Yes. In the 1980’s there were already quite a number of Baroque orchestras in Europe and the U.S.A. The American harpsichordist Laurette Goldberg in collaboration with the Jerusalem Music Centre endeavored to set up a Baroque orchestra here. Goldberg brought out some excellent musicians for the project, but it did not work out. Some local musicians then claimed that if I did not take the opportunity to set up a Baroque orchestra in Jerusalem, nobody would. So, somehow, the chance to combine my two predilections - Baroque music and conducting - just fell into my lap! I began to look for suitable players – not an easy task. There certainly are more Baroque experts around now than there were then. Some musicians started their careers of playing Baroque music with us and, consequently, went overseas to continue their studies in the field, to return some years later; some did not return. With so much interest in playing and listening to early music now, there are players of modern instruments who want to experience playing Baroque instruments. Running the JBO has been a hard financial struggle, but we are about to celebrate the twenty years of our existence with a festive concert on June 29 2009. Our very first concert was June 29, 1989 and that was a year and a half after we had begun to rehearse together.

We have come a long way in the twenty years. With Andrew Parrott as honorary conductor, the JBO hosts many fine guest artists, broadening its repertoire and attracting new players and larger audiences. One of our aims is to add more wind players, enabling us to perform a larger selection of works. The ideas behind the programming are mine and I am happy with the results: audiences are hearing Baroque works that are new to them and developing a taste for this elegant body of music. These twenty years have taught me that that our continuing existence and progress are not to be taken for granted!

Pamela: And the Israeli audience?

David: I love the audience and Israeli audiences in particular. They are such an adrenaline booster! Playing for audiences makes you perform as you would never do without them. So the audiences are an important part of the JBO and we are happy with them, especially with our subscribers. Israeli audiences can be conservative at times, but they are warm and supportive.

As an audience member myself, I see music as an adventure, its enigmas forming much of its fascination. One of my most enjoyable pastimes is sitting in libraries and chancing upon some little-known gem of a work. I like to hear new musical approaches and, of course, to hear new works being performed.

Pamela: Talking of musical adventures, you have been performing Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” in recent years.

David: Yes. However, at a certain stage of my professional life it became clear to me that, not being a keyboard player from early childhood, I would never perform the “Goldberg Variations”. Then, in 1990, when performing in Hanover, Germany, I went to see harpsichord builder Tilman Skowroneck at his workshop in Bremen and had my name added to his waiting list. I wanted him to build me a two-manual harpsichord and knew it might mean waiting for ten years. It actually took eleven years and I took delivery of this wonderful instrument, my first two-manual harpsichord, seven years ago. It stood to reason that I should now begin working on the “Goldberg Variations”, (which calls for a two-manual harpsichord); one of my performances of it was for the doctoral program. Each time I go back to working on the mammoth work, it means taking a fresh look at it. Two months ago, I recorded the “Goldberg Variations”. With the number of recordings of it to choose from on disc, one could ask why we need another one. Individual players have very different interpretations of it; this one is mine!

Pamela: David, it has been very interesting talking to you. Thank you for giving our readers a glimpse into your professional life. The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra has greatly enriched Israel’s concert life. We at “Living in Harmony” offer you our congratulations on twenty years of fine Baroque orchestral performance and look forward to many more years of JBO concerts.

Michael Melzer - flute,recorders

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing flautist and recorder player, Professor Michael Melzer. Melzer, a Jerusalem resident teaches and performs and has been deputy head (today – vice president) of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance for the last 11 years.

PH: Can you tell me about your musical education?

MM: I grew up in Haifa. My parents had come from Poland and ours was a musical home. My father loved listening to music. However, it was my mother who was the driving force behind my learning to play music. I began recorder lessons in grade 3 at school, continuing my studies with private teachers: recorder lessons with Gad Bodenheimer and Shlomo Tidhar and flute with Chana Gal and Uri Shoham. In my undergraduate studies at the Tel Aviv Academy of Music, my teachers were Shlomo Tidhar and Uri Shoham, but pianist Boris Berman was my musical mentor. We studied chamber music under his guidance – his curiosity and openness to a variety of musical styles, his profound understanding of chamber music and his standards of excellence were definitely instrumental in shaping my own ideals of musicianship.

An important musical meeting for me came about when I had the opportunity to perform Telemann’s double concerto for flute and recorder with the Israel Chamber Orchestra together with the great Dutch recorder player Frans Bruggen. On Bruggen’s advice I went to Holland to study at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague for two years, mainly under Barthold Kuijken, with whom I studied Baroque flute, sometimes referred to as “traverse” flute.

PH: How did your career proceed on your return to Israel?

MM: On returning to Israel, I continued to perform with the various Israeli orchestras as well as developing a variety of projects which were aired at festivals overseas, such as the Barcelona Festival and the Cervantino Festival in Mexico. One of the projects of which I am proudest is “The Wandering Lily” – Israeli musicians on a “journey” to the Golden Age of Spain. Featuring singer Netanella, the East-West Ensemble and instrumentalists of my Renaissance ensemble, it included my own arrangements of Ladino songs and featured as one of the events of the 1990 Israel Festival as well as in other prestigious festivals.

Another Early Music project I enjoyed directing was “The Renaissance of the Baroque” concert series that ran for seven years in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem; taking part in it, in cooperation with me, were some of Israel, Europe and the USA’s finest Baroque artists, all playing on authentic instruments. This was the first time Israeli audiences were exposed to historically-oriented performance.

For the last nine years I have been artistic director of the “Voice of Music in the Upper Galilee” Festival, which takes place every year at the end of July in and around Kibbutz Kfar Blum. This takes a lot of my time and energy throughout the year and I have experienced huge satisfaction watching it develop and reach out to more and more people. The public loves auditing the open rehearsals as much as the concerts themselves; seeing and hearing artists rehearse gives people a sense of involvement and they learn to listen more actively. A thrilling new development of the 2008 festival was a series of concerts for children: 900 children, aged four to eleven, sat on the grass together with their parents, listening to Yoni Rechter performing some of his most beautiful songs with a children’s choir and string quartet as well as the second movement (labeled “Dumka”) of Dvorak’s Piano Quintet in A major.

PH: How do you perceive your role as a musician and as a musician in Israel?

MM: As to the former, it was not as simple as it might sound. I was on my way to becoming a graphic artist! Up to age 18, I was painting and winning prizes for my art. My painting of Samson placed me among the three prize-winners in a worldwide competition organized by the Emperor of Japan for young artists painting biblical subjects.

But I ended up deciding on music for its educational value. Music is a form of deep communication in what it expresses. I had opportunities to build a career in other countries, in Europe in particular, but am here in Israel by choice. For me, Israel is the most fascinating mix of eastern- and western culture. We Israelis need to learn to listen to each other. Perhaps I am a dreamer, but I believe that this is what music can teach our society. So many performers here find themselves influenced by the public. My mission is to guide the concert public in the art of listening, whether it is to the “language” of 17th century music, to Impressionistic music, to Sasha Argov’s chansons, to Yoni Rechter or to Ladino romances. I want to remind my audience that music has much to say in pianissimo tones, often communicating a message more important than crescendo- and fortissimo effects. I will probably not be able to influence communication among Israelis to a very large extent, but I would like to think what I am doing might help slow down the gradual breakdown in communication in our society.

PH: Have you made changes in the way you run your professional life over recent years?

MM: Most definitely. Up to ten years ago, I was performing around 250 concerts a year. For example, my “Birds in Music” program, for recorder quartet with soprano singer, was performed 175 times in Israel and Europe. In those days, quantity carried importance. Nowadays, I choose fewer projects and put my energy into those most meaningful to me. My contact with the Jerusalem Camerata Orchestra is one of them, and, of course, work on the Kfar Blum Upper Galilee Festival is always very time-consuming.

PH: Can you mention some of your past and future projects?

MM: Yes. In January 2009, there was a repeat performance of my new and fascinating project, in which medieval dances and my arrangements of Ladino songs of the Jewish Golden Age of Spain were performed by a wonderful ensemble of musicians I have handpicked. The two singers were Ofer Callaf and Esti Keinan. The performance took place at Beit Avi Chai, Jerusalem.

On February 27 2009, I and some of the Jerusalem Academy of Music’s finest students performed a concert of recorder music at the Targ Centre in Ein Karem, Jerusalem..

At a concert of the Israel Chamber Music Society in mid-June, Yael Melzer and I together performed the Telemann double concerto as well as other works.

And the “Voice of Music in the Upper Galilee” Festival will celebrate its 25th year of concerts end of July 2009, about which I am most excited.

PH: Michael Melzer, thank you for giving us of your time. I am sure our readers will find this most interesting and enlightening, as I have.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Roy Amotz - flautist

On Friday August 21st 2009, I met with Jerusalem-born flautist Roy Amotz. The 27-year-old musician is back in Israel after a number of years spent studying and performing in Germany.

PH: Roy, when did your begin your musical training?

RA: Like so many children, I began learning the recorder at the age of eight. At age 13, I changed to the flute, studying with Vladimir Silva of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra for four years. I proceeded to study with Moshe Epstein and Yossi Arnheim. I had won the America-Israel Cultural Foundation scholarship four times and went on to serve in the army as an “outstanding musician”. During my compulsory army service, it became clear to me that what I wanted was to study overseas and make a performing career.

PH: On completing your army service what was your next move?

RA: The very day I was released from the army, I traveled to Madrid with the Israel Young Philharmonic Orchestra and, from there, to Stuttgart where I was enrolled to study at the Stuttgart Academy of Music and Arts with French flautist Jean-Claude Gerard. Two years later, I moved to the University of the Arts in Berlin, Studying flute with Roswitha Staege.

PH: Aside from studies, were you performing at the time?

RA: Yes. While finishing my degree in Berlin, I began playing with the Radio Orchestra of Southwest Germany, Freiburg Baden-Baden. This orchestra specializes in the performance of contemporary music, appearing in festivals such as the Darmstadt- and Donau-Eschingen Festivals, both of these festivals being known for the premiering of contemporary works. At that time, I also joined Ensemble Meitar –a group aiming at giving high quality performances of modern Israeli classical works. For me, being only an orchestral player doesn’t give me complete artistic satisfaction. I find combining it with the performance of chamber- and solo music much more fulfilling. Symphonic repertoire is magnificent but the orchestral player doing only that might risk becoming a small cog in a big machine, making music without being personally involved.

However, since July 2005, I have been a member of the Verbier Festival Orchestra of Switzerland, an orchestra composed of young musicians from all over the world. In winter, Verbier is a ski resort; in summer, it hosts this festival, one of the world’s finest festivals. Today I play in the Chamber Orchestra of the Verbier Festival, an orchestra that performs during the year in other locations. This is very inspiring as all its members are young and committed and the work provides a change from daily routine.

PH: So after spending five and a half years in Germany, you returned to Israel in the summer of 2009. What plans do you have?

RA: My plans are many and varied. I have always held onto my professional ties in Israel, both as a soloist and as a chamber musician. I continue to play with Ensemble Meitar – six players and two singers –where I am personally involved in performance repertoire and organization. We perform works by young composers. Many young people are among the audiences that come to hear our annual concert series at the Stricker Conservatory in Tel Aviv and at the Teiva Hall in Jaffa. Ensemble Meitar is the first of its kind and I see being part of this pioneering project as a “calling”. It is exciting to take part in the premiering of a new work as well as working together with composers on their own pieces, observing the development of the piece through the work process.

For the last two years, I have been a guest player with the Israel Contemporary Players, under the baton of Zsolt Nagy, an ensemble giving highest quality performance of modern music in interesting programs. In February of 2009, we performed Fausto Romitelli’s (1963-2004) opera “An Index of Metals”, in which the composer makes use of video film and electronic music. “An Index of Metals” (2003) is Romitelli’s final work, a synthesis of his style and high point of his oeuvre.

I also enjoy playing with the Israel Revolution Orchestra, a Jerusalem-based orchestra of young musicians seeking new combinations of music with other arts. Our most recent project is a performance of music of young Israeli composers together with animated films created by graduates of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design.

PH: You are very involved in the performance of contemporary music. What problems does it present?

RA: There are many problems. Deciding which contemporary works constitute good music or not is no easy task. You sometimes only form an opinion about a work after three performances of it. It is imperative that the listening public come to these concerts with an open mind and be willing to trust its own judgement. Listening to music demands a lot of concentration and, with the speed of stimulus changing so rapidly nowadays, young people are too impatient to sit and concentrate for an hour. I believe classical music is as relevant today as ever. Perhaps it is time to change the concert format in accordance with the spirit of our times. Lecture-concerts create interest but what about eliminating the barriers between classical and popular music in the concert hall? That might attract a younger concert-going audience. Programming needs to be more daring!

PH: What other plans do you have?

RA: In addition to working with the above-mentioned ensembles, I will be taking part in projects of the Israeli Opera Orchestra, at the same time completing my masters degree at the Jerusalem Academy of Music, studying flute with Maestro Avner Biron.

And then there is the Jerusalem Harp Trio – Sivan Magen-harp, Maya Rasooly-viola and myself – all Jerusalem-born artists. We are interested to explore repertoire for this combination and to commission new works for performance.

PH: How do you see your role as a musician?

RA: A good musician provides a connection to something greater than himself. I want to play music I believe in and to provide audiences with a meaningful listening experience. People should be more aware of how much joy music can give them and that they really need music in their lives for their own well-being.

PH: Roy, welcome back to Israel. We wish you much joy and success in all your various projects and musical activities.

Roy's website:

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Alon Sariel performs on mandolin, lute and other plucked instruments

On June 21st 2009, I talked to 23-year-old mandolin- and lute player Alon Sariel.

Pamela: Alon, when did you begin studying music?

Alon: I grew up in Beersheba. At the age of eight I started learning the mandolin at the local conservatorium. The mandolin is a popular instrument in Beersheba, thanks to its well-known mandolin orchestra. My teachers were Dora Bartik and Lev Khaymovich. There I played a lot of violin repertoire – works by Saint-Saens, Tchaikovsky, Wieniawsky and Sarasate. Also, very central to the repertoire played at the school were Bach’s sonatas and partitas for solo violin, which I continue to play morning and evening. I played in the orchestra until it was time for my compulsory service in the Israeli army.

Here I should mention the illustrious Israeli Mandolin Quartet, established in Beersheba in 1999, the members of which are Lev Khaymovich and Jacob Reuven, Shmuel Elbaz and myself.

Pamela: Is your family involved with music?

Alon: Not so much. My father was an amateur recorder-player and my sister played the piano very well. However, my parents have been very supportive of my interest in making a career of music.

Pamela: How did you manage serving in the army and continuing your music studies?

Alon: I was included in the “outstanding musician” project of the army, and this gave me the privilege of studying at the Jerusalem Academy of Music while completing my army service. Studying there with Professor Motti Schmidt, I was still playing mostly violin repertoire, for example, when I won first prize in the string-players’ competition with a program that included works by Ysaye, Khachaturian and Prokofiev.

I was one of the founders of Education Corps Folk Orchestra of the Israeli army. We played a series of “Cultural Sunday” concerts, the idea being to give soldiers the chance to start the week with a concert of music before returning to their bases. I also played in a world music ensemble in the army.

Pamela: When did you begin to play early music?

Alon: It was Professor Michael Melzer, at the Jerusalem Academy of Music, who drew my attention to the fact that I was really playing one of a large group of early plucked instruments, instruments such as the lute, the theorbo, the mandora and the cittern. By the time I began my second degree, I was ready to branch out and play more of these instruments. I was the recipient of an Erasmus student exchange bursary, which took me to Brussels for a semester, where I studied lute with Philippe Malfeyt and orchestral conducting with Ronald Zollman. On my return, I continued studying both disciplines – lute with Bari Moskovich and conducting with Evgeny Tsirlin. During this past academic year, I won first prize for conducting at the Academy of Music.

Am very interested in the Baroque mandolin, also known as the mandolino Cremonese or the mandolino Bresciano. Not an instrument known in Israel, I have taught myself to play it. The instrument I am playing on is an authentic Baroque mandolin loaned to me by Alex Timmerman (Holland), a part of whose collection is in the Utrecht Museum of Instruments. I am hoping to have an Israeli luthier make replicas of it so Israelis can have the opportunity to play Baroque mandolin.

Pamela: Do you perform Israeli music?

Alon: Yes. I am very interested in performing Israeli music and recently premiered a work written for me by Gilad Hochman. For a disc of Israeli harpsichord music (Albany), I joined harpsichordist Marina Minkin and guitarist Hanan Feinstein in a recording of Paul Ben-Haim’s “Sonata a Tre”.

Pamela: How do you see Israel’s place in the world early music scene?

Alon: Israeli early music specialists need more opportunities to be heard. For that reason, I founded the “Israeli Early Music Project” in order to promote Israeli artists performing here and abroad and put Israel on the early music map. We have performed in London and Brussels, and, of course, all over Israel, and we place emphasis on education. We will be performing in the 2009 Voice of Music Festival in the Upper Galilee (Kfar Blum.)

I would like to see early music in Israel under one central organization. This will involve cooperation between the various ensembles. Recorder-player and teacher Drora Bruck is doing much for the cause with her Israeli early music forum.

Pamela: Now that you are completing your masters in music what plans do you have for the near future?

Alon: I have just returned from Germany where I was accepted to study lute with Konrad Junghanel at the Cologne Hochschule fur Musik und Tanz and with Hans Michael Koch (lute) and Paul Weingold (opera conducting) at the Hanover Hochschule fur Musik und Drama. I have to choose between these two schools but, really, I would like to attend both! I love conducting!

Pamela: Alon, we wish you much joy in your future studies, your various musical projects and in your own very busy performing schedule.