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.

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