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.

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