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.