Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Meeting with Hed Sella, executive director of the Jerusalem Music Centre

On September 12th I met with Hed Sella, executive director of the Jerusalem Music Centre. The building is situated in the leafy Yemin Moshe quarter in a position offering a view to the Tower of David, the Old City walls and the Judean Desert.

PH: Hed, let’s start with your own personal music experiences. When did your involvement with music begin?

Hed Sella: You may be surprised to hear that I am not a professional musician, have never studied music on an academic level nor have I ever had my eye on a musical career.

PH: What is your academic background?

HS: I graduated with a B.A. in Linguistics from Tel Aviv University. This was followed by M.A. studies at the Hebrew University (Jerusalem) in Communications and Translation. I proceeded to work in that field – translating, editing, teaching, etc. I taught at the Hebrew University and worked there as a research assistant; at the Open University I was the science editor of materials for Mass Media studies. (I may well return to that area of my professional life one day.) But, early on, I was already spending some of my time and energy in directing musical projects

PH: So when did you start managing music projects?

HS: Inspired by my great love of the world of music and my experience as an amateur player, I had begun directing musical projects and organizations. After completing my compulsory army service, I was approached by the person directing the Yuval Café in Ramat Hasharon. This was a venue where much chamber music was played in an intimate and informal setting, with those attending events seated around tables sipping a glass of wine or a cup of coffee. A great number of Israeli artists performed there: some were beginning musical careers and looking for performing experience, others were among Israel’s best-known and most experienced chamber- and orchestral musicians. The artists received no payment – they just enjoyed the atmosphere and the audience’s interest. There were unforgettable evenings at the café when musicians sat down and spontaneously sight-read works. Café Yuval was a vibrant centre of musical activity, with some 100 concerts taking place there every year! I directed the venue’s musical program for four years, during which time I got to know many of Israel’s performing musicians.

PH: To where did this lead?

HS: In time, the organizational projects I took on were larger and more time-consuming and my professional life was focused around them. I organized musical activities at the Tel Aviv Museum, an important venue for chamber music- and chamber orchestra concerts. After that, I spent two years directing the Givatayim Music Conservatory. This conservatory, with a history of excellent teaching, has produced some of Israel’s finest musicians. From 1993 to 2000 I was director of programs at the JMC. Then, at the end of 2005, I was offered the job of directing the Jerusalem Music Centre itself.

PH: How did you see taking on the running of the JMC?

HS: I saw my role as furthering and continuing existing projects as well as broadening and developing new ones. The JMC has achieved much and is an important institution contributing to the enrichment of Israel’s musical life. I have been concentrating much effort on the Outstanding Young Musicians Program; a highly successful project that has been going for some 30 years, geared mostly to 14- to 18-year-olds, a program placing emphasis on the playing of chamber music and the theory of performance, it has nurtured tens and hundreds of young players from all over Israel. Many of our graduates have gone on to make fine concert careers – take, for example, the Jerusalem Quartet, the Ariel Quartet, the Jerusalem Trio, to name just three ensembles. I have been working on developing this program and we are fortunate in having recently received generous support for it from the Goldman family (UK).

PH: And the JMC’s educational outreach programs?

HS: We do much of that. We work in schools. We finance a program teaching violin and ‘cello to 500 2nd-, 3rd- and 4th grade children in different parts of Israel. We are, however, witnessing how difficult it is to persuade a child to try learning an instrument and then to persevere with it. With popular taste currently not pointing in that direction, it is our job to think of how we can encourage children to learn to play music and make this program work smoothly. I want to stress that we do not work alone: we always have a number of partners in educational projects – orchestras, conservatories, the academies of music, schools. We try to work with other institutions so that the end result is more meaningful. In this way, we wish to educate the younger generation and provide the necessary opportunities for outstanding pupils.

PH: Would you like to talk about new projects at the JMC?

HS: Yes. We have “adopted” the Young Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Actually, this was quite a natural move as many of its players – string players in particular - are young people who have received their chamber music training here at the JMC. Several sponsors have helped to make this new strategy a reality – the Marc Rich Foundation, Bruno Landesberg, the Hanan Szuz Foundation, other organizations and, of course, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra itself. The IPO is interested in offering these young players the opportunity to enjoy playing orchestral music, not just solo- or chamber music. The Young Israel Philharmonic Orchestra meets two or three times a year for intensive rehearsal sessions under the baton of top visiting- or Israeli conductors. They work on a full-scale orchestral program for a week or two and perform it at the Mann Auditorium (Tel Aviv) and in the Henry Crown Symphony Hall (Jerusalem Theatre), or sometimes at the Jerusalem YMCA. (Nowadays there are several European orchestras and ensembles who work in this way.)

In connection with this, I have established a department of wind playing at the JMC. There had always been sporadic activities for wind players here: some of the best-known wind players have held master classes at the centre – flautists Jean-Pierre Rampal and Aurele Nicolet, clarinetist Mitchell Lurie, and more. However, I enlisted the help of Yossi Arnheim, principal flautist of the IPO and previous head of the wind department at the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music (Tel Aviv), to join us and to head the JMC’s department of wind playing on an on-going basis. We had never addressed wind-playing in a methodical way till then. Isaac Stern, who founded the JMC in 1973, was a violinist. His focus was on chamber music – strings and piano. The truth is that wind instruments play fewer roles in chamber music. However, with our new project with the Young Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, nurturing young wind players had taken on greater importance. I am really happy and proud of this project. When we established the wind department at the JMC five years ago, the standard of the young wind players was much inferior to that of the string players and pianists, but, year by year, we have been noticing a huge improvement in the wind players’ tone, their intonation and their ability to play with others. The department has set its sight at excellence and we and the YIPO are enjoying the results. Also, it is important to encourage young people to play instruments of which there are not enough players – bassoon and French horn, in particular. We are offering teenagers who choose to learn these instruments, and show promise, as much professional guidance as possible in the form of workshops, master classers and opportunities to play with others. This is a real “grass roots” effort, concentrated on young people from all over Israel, the results of which we are already hearing in the concerts of the Young Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. There is no greater satisfaction than hearing them, for example, performing Schubert’s 9th Symphony at the Mann Auditorium. There were people who, on hearing the concert broadcast on the radio, said they would not have guessed they were listening to a youth orchestra! This is the greatest compliment.

Another new project of ours is in the field of Arabic music, offering musical and cultural dialogue between Arabs and Jews in Israel. Our connection here is with Professor Taisir Elias, a musician and violinist of outstanding quality. We have collaborated with Elias, the Jerusalem Academy of Music and the Israeli Jeunesses Musicales to establish an ensemble of young Jewish- and Arabic musicians. Despite our not having large funds for the project, the ensemble is doing well and Elias brings together players from all over Israel to rehearse twice a month. The group performs in concerts and in festivals of ethnic music, with the occasional overseas concert tour. Two years ago, the ensemble was awarded a prize at an international festival in Germany.

Another Arab-Jewish program we have begun is at the Max Rayne Hand in Hand Center for Jewish-Arab Education, a bilingual primary school in Jerusalem. The Jerusalem Foundation, which supports the school, approached us with a request to create a music program for the children. The program we established there, now running for some years, is quite special: children can learn to play oud or mandolin, these instruments representing both cultures.

PH: What projects are on your drawing board for the future?

HS: Actually, one that ties in with the above two programs I mentioned is a plan to run a week-long Mediterranean music festival that includes not just Israeli music and that of various Arab cultures but also music from countries such as Greece. Begun by Professor Edwin Seroussi, but stalled because of lack of finances, Murray Perahia has suggested we renew the project, taking a few days a year to familiarize ourselves with this body of music that is not “classical” in a conventional sense but that certainly qualifies as art music. Performers of western classical music have much to learn from these other musical traditions – their use of improvisation and technical virtuosity of different styles are a way of opening the students’ ears and developing fantasy. Of course, early musicians were experts in improvisation, as, for example, in continuo playing; Maestro Perahia is of the opinion that exposing today’s young classical musicians to Mediterranean music might awaken the above-mentioned skills, as do good theoretical training and experience in playing jazz. We would also like to have experts run jazz- and improvisation workshops for classical pianists; so many pianists, spending their lives learning works note for note from the score (and I have every respect for the musical text) lack the freedom to improvise, a skill enjoyed spontaneously by early music performers.

PH: And on the subject of early music, what about the Early Music Workshop?

HS: In 2002, after several years of fruitful activity of this workshop, in which the JMC was involved, we were obliged to stop running it. When I took over the role of director of the JMC, we managed to have two more years of the course (2007,2008) hosting many local- and overseas early music specialists and offering tuition in early music performance practice to 150 young players and singers. The tutors also performed concerts that were open to the general public. Once again we have had to put the Early Music Workshop on hold for reasons of finance. Resulting from the world financial downturn, the American Israel Cultural Foundation, one of our supporters, was almost destroyed. Other financial institutions were also no longer able to help the JMC. But I really hope to renew the activities of this very worthwhile study week in the not-too-distant future.

PH: Where does chamber music stand nowadays in today’s JMC activities?

HS: Chamber music has always been and still is the JMC’s “flagship” activity. For many years the chamber musicians met, rehearsed and performed in the intimate surroundings of the JMC. However, this seemed wrong from both financial- and community considerations. The artists were playing to small audiences and not receiving enough exposure. The illustrious Jerusalem Quartet, for example, played a few concerts here every year, filling the auditorium to capacity. I took this infrastructure and decided to build on it to include some 12 chamber music concerts a year taking place in the concert hall of the Jerusalem YMCA, the backbone of which would still be the Jerusalem Quartet. When I talked about this plan this four years ago, I was met with reactions that the idea was a pipe dream, that a well-attended chamber music series (meaning 300 to 400 audience members) was out of the question. I approached the project with trepidation; the series, however, took off immediately, with concert-goers interested in buying subscriptions. We were now able to host well-known chamber ensembles from New York, Paris and London and to offer overseas groups coming to perform in Tel Aviv the opportunity to also play in Jerusalem. So we are now embarking on the fourth chamber concert season, a series offering concerts played by Israel’s finest chamber groups as well as outstanding groups from outside of Israel. Many chamber music lovers are investing in subscriptions (we sold 400 subscriptions to the 2009-2010 series) while others prefer to buy occasional tickets to the concerts. What is clear is that people in Jerusalem are interested in chamber music and our aim at the JMC is to bring this music to these audiences. The 2010-2011 season promises to be especially interesting, with some of the best ensembles performing – the Ebene Quartet (France) for example and the great German tenor Christoph Pregardien singing Schubert’s “Winter’s Journey” with a Canadian wind ensemble and accordion accompanying him, and more.

And, on the subject of chamber music, there is, of course, the Carmel Quartet’s own series here in the auditorium of the JMC (also in Tel Aviv and in Haifa.) There has been much talk of the demand for narrated concerts and how important it is to give concert-goers more information as to what they are going to here, but few do it as well, as elegantly and tastefully as the Carmel Quartet. Violist Yoel Greenberg organizes and provides most of the explanations. Each concert is performed twice, once narrated in Hebrew and a second time, in English. This series is quite special, catering to the needs of music lovers who are always interested to know more and, of course, to Jerusalem’s vibrant English-speaking community.

PH: Hed, contemporary music has also been a part of the JMC’s program.

HS: Yes, and it continues to be important. But it is an ongoing- and uphill struggle. We, at the JMC, have an obligation to present concerts of music composed in the present. When I was involved in program planning at the JMC from 1993 to 2000, I included a good amount of modern music. But today it is difficult to find an audience or financing for this in conservative Jerusalem. (We even find it tricky to program a modern work or one that is not totally mainstream in our highly successful chamber music series!) We continue to perform modern music here in the JMC auditorium but with less success than in past years. However, we do have our Discoveries series – with the Ensemble of the 21st century presenting concerts of a very high level produced by Dan Yuhas and Zmira Lutzky, these events being broadcast on Israeli radio. We endeavor to host the superb Kaprisma Ensemble (director, Israel Sharon) at least once a year as well as the Meitar Ensemble, a group of young players directed by Amit Dolberg. The Meitar Ensemble makes a point of including lesser-known works of Jewish- and Israeli composers in their programs.

We would like the JMC to hold more concerts of contemporary works. It is hard to find sponsors for these projects, these projects being of the kind to appeal to a younger audience than do conventional concerts. However, we certainly are not giving up, for the strength of the JMC has always been its ability to produce events that are not simply “more of the same”. Not being government subsidized or under the auspices of the Jerusalem Municipality, we have always been an independent institution with financial support from overseas, enabling us to be independent in our approach, enabling us to dare to be different. This latter aim has become more difficult to implement. All supporters want to play safe and this means being over-conservative, a strategy which, in my opinion, is a step in the wrong direction. I, personally, believe we must find new ways to win the hearts of the concert-going public: to be more creative and initiate fresher approaches and innovations and to risk performing less conventional works in styles of performance that might attract certain other groups of listeners back to our concerts. We must not stagnate.

We include contemporary music in our work in education; our students are given the opportunity of meeting and talking to today’s Israeli composers

PH: The JMC has long been associated with master classes.

HS: Yes. For many years master classes were the JMC’s “claim to fame”. But this must now be seen in the wider context. The JMC was planned in the 1960’s and it opened its doors in 1973. Israel was a “smaller” and poorer country; for Israelis, traveling overseas was expensive and difficult. Inviting overseas artists to give master classes here was not quite as easy as it is today, but musicians were certainly very keen to come here. Israel was not as open to the world outside as it is today and there was a great need to bring well-known musicians to Israel. But things have changed. Outstanding young musicians travel overseas to summer schools and to more extended studies. And different Israeli musical organizations all over the country offer a variety of workshops and master classes, as do the academies of music themselves. So the need to constantly bring overseas artists to give master classes has become less urgent than it was once, inspiring as it is to host these musicians here. Some of our own teachers have studied and taught in the best music schools overseas and have returned with rich experience and teaching knowledge. All the same, we have not stopped offering master classes at the JMC and they will, indeed, be continuing; they are still a valuable teaching tool but are no longer the central activity they were in the past. Let’s not forget the wonderful master classes given recently by the Emerson Quartet, Andreas Scholl, Miriam Fried, Shmuel Ashkenazy, James Galway, Antony Pay, Richard Goode and Murray Perahia himself, of course. In the 2010-2011 season we will have master classes given by violinist Gyorgy Pauk, ‘cellist Raphael Wallfisch, clarinetist Wolfgang Meyer, choral conductor Brady Allred and pianist Arieh Vardi. We hope pianist Victor Rosenbaum, who has been here several times in the past, will also be at the JMC. Rosenbaum’s visit will be in cooperation with the Aldwell Center. We are hoping to bring one or two of the Rubenstein Piano Competition judges to the JMC to hold master classes.

PH: Hed, this discussion would not be complete without a few words about Murray Perahia.

HS: In 2001, the JMC’s founder and president Isaac Stern died and we were left “orphaned” of our great mentor. The centre began the process of searching for an international figure who would function ethically in a position of authority and lead the JMC on to new achievements, to new standards, to more international exposure, etc. To replace the founder with someone who would move forward in his own different way was no small task. My predecessor Benny Gal-Ed and I both searched and approached people who might take on the job. In 2008 Murray Perahia, one of today’s very greatest pianists, agreed to take on the position. Perahia, who resides in London, has strong connections with Israel, has family here and visits frequently. For many years, Murray Perahia has shown much interest in music education for young people. He assists us in several capacities – in raising money for our various projects, in establishing new musical goals and in deciding how to contribute more to the music education of our young players. In particular, Perahia has infused new energy and focus into our training of young pianists. An outstanding personality and devoted musician, his presence and wisdom are and will continue to be an enriching element in the life and work of the JMC.

PH: Hed Sella, thank you for your time and for shedding light on so many aspects of the Jerusalem Music Centre.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Talking to Jonathan Watts in England about his career as a freelance keyboard player

On August 6th 2010 I spoke to pianist, organist and harpsichord player Jonathan Watts at Dartington Hall,
Devon, UK.

PH: Jonathan, when did your interest in music begin?

Jonathan Watts: I remember, at age two, sitting on my aunt’s knee when she played the piano. I grew up in South Wales where everyone sings or plays an instrument. My family, all amateur musicians, would stand around the piano singing works such as Mendelssohn’s “Elijah”. In fact, my 89-year-old mother still plays the organ and sings in her local choral society. Yet, despite my musical upbringing, I am not blasé about music.

I started piano lessons at age five and was already showing interest in learning the organ. When I was about 12 or 13, tall enough for my feet to reach the pedals, I began taking organ lessons at the local church. So my life then revolved around school, chapel, organ lessons and piano lessons. Music was the natural thing to be doing.

PH: On completing school where did you study?

JW: I went to Cardiff University to study Music. I had a wonderful time there as I played piano, organ and harpsichord. There I took part in performances of early Handel works, repertoire that was new to me, but it was not performed in the authentic approach. I also enjoyed singing in a large choir. I completed a masters degree at Cardiff University – my master’s submission was an edition of organ concertos by William Felton, an 18th century English composer - and was organist at the local church, but was still not sure whether or not I would be making music my profession.

PH: What did you decide to do on graduating from Cardiff University?

JW: I left Wales and moved to Devon, where I started to teach school music. I was interested in giving young people guidance and a love of music. I found teaching music in a state school stimulating; however, the lack of resources, accommodation, the lack of post 16 courses and the indifference I encountered in some pupils caused me to make a change in direction.

PH: Did you leave the music profession?

JW: Yes and no. I went to work for a medical company and became its sales and marketing manager, travelling the world for 12 years. But music was still an important part of my life as a performer and it was the increasing conflict of time between one and the other that caused me to take the decision to return to music full time.

PH: So what work actually brought you back to full time music?

JW: I was approached by Dartington Hall International Summer School in 2005: they needed an accompanist to fill in for someone. I started immediately, accompanying singers in countertenor Nicholas Clapton’s master classes. I live locally and this offer came just at the right time. It was time to make a decision, to give up on one job. So I gave up on the salaried position and went back to music full time.

PH: Would you like to mention what that entails?

JW: I freelance, work without an agent and am free to take on any jobs that interest me. I like challenges. If the music has something to say it is worth doing. Projects come to me via word-of-mouth. As an accompanist I have the advantage of being at home on organ, piano and harpsichord. I work as the third conductor of the Dartington Community Choir. I enjoy a large choir – this choir has 150 singers. I play in churches at Dartmouth and Dittisham, accompany choirs and play for weddings, funerals, workshops and exams. And I occasionally play for guests on a cruise ship.

I give organ recitals and enjoy addressing the listeners and talking about works on the program. The audience needs to have some background information in the form of history, a story, anecdotes. This makes people listen with heightened interest. I am used to talking to an audience; I did a lot of that in my days with the medical company.

The Dartington Hall International Summer School is a challenge and presents much variety. It is a fine opportunity to get away from the rat-race and reassess. And it is here I have had so much joy with the opportunity to work with some of the world's best musicians, giving me the confidence that what I do is of equal validity.

PH: Do you improvise?

JW: Yes I do. It is part and parcel of being an organist. The better the instrument I am playing, the more adventurous my improvising becomes! I enjoy doing that.

PH: Do you sing?

JW: Yes. Well, obviously I sing to my choir members to help them in learning their parts, but I also sing in a specialist group called “Voces”, based in Devon.

PH: Do you write music?

JW: No, I don't. I have done a bit of arranging and may occasionally write a fanfare for organ. I do not have the compulsion to compose. I would much rather perform.

PH: What composers are you interested in playing at the moment?

JW: Composers from the Baroque period, particularly J.S.Bach. But I have certainly enjoyed hearing and playing new repertoire at the Dartington Hall International Summer School.

PH: What are your interests outside music?

JW: I am busy rebuilding a small organ in my house. I love gardening and cooking. Am very keen on going into the countryside to find things – mostly things to eat. And I am still excited about travel and being in new places.

On July 30th 2014, I met with Jonathan Watts again at Dartingon Hall, where he was involved in much accompanying and performing at the annual Dartington Hall International Summer School.

PH: So Jonathan, what has been happening in your professional life since our previous meeting?

JW: Having established myself with the summer school and with the Dartington Community Choir, a choir numbering some 170 voices and doing three concerts a year, I was approached to take over a period instrument orchestra called "Devon Baroque". The orchestra was set up about 14 years ago when Margaret Faultless was invited to give workshops on how to approach string-playing from the Baroque period. The orchestra existed as a band and, three years ago, when Maggie's commitments in London and Cambridge became too great, a new director was needed and I took on the job, directing from the keyboard. One advantage was that I was familiar with the ensemble, having used players from Devon Baroque for my choir concerts. So for the last two years I have been artistic director of Devon Baroque. We put on weekend concerts, where the players come together.

PH: From where do the players come?

JW: Half are from Devon and the other half - mostly string players and brass players - come from London usually. We make up our ensemble according to the program we are putting on (and budgeting), from four players to, maybe, twenty.

PH: When do you meet?

JW: We tend to do it over a weekend, with a concert on the Saturday night and a repeat performance in a different venue on the Sunday afternoon. We often perform at Dartington Hall. Our last concert was "Bach & Sons", because of various anniversaries. It was good to have the contrasts between the composers and to hear what the younger Bachs had learned from their father.

PH: And I believe there is another new project.

JW: Yes. Eighteen months ago, I was approached to become the musical director of Devon Opera, which is one of the many county-based semi-professional opera companies in Britain. We are now in our second year.

PH: What kind of performances does Devon Opera put on?

JW: At the moment we are not performing a full-blown operas. Plenty of other people are doing that so we have decided for the moment to be more of an educative company, in which we put on scenes from operas. Last year we did something called "Viva Verdi"; we looked at Verdi's relationships with women. Women played a big part in his life, mainly in a tragic way. We did five big scenes from three or four of his operas.

PH: What is the program for this year?

JW: We are calling our production "The Magic of Mozart". The first half will present the historical transition of Mozart's relationship with opera, from his earliest forays into opera to his last. In the second half of the program, we will do two big scenes - one from "Figaro" and one from "Don Giovanni". The production will be in October and we will go into rehearsal a week or so beforehand.

PH: This is certainly a very different kind of program for an opera company.

JW: Yes. What we are trying to do with audiences is not to give them a complete opera but an insight into how a composer has related to opera in his career.

PH: Who are the members of Devon Opera?

JW: They are professional singers living either locally or a bit further away, members of regional- rather than London-based opera companies. We are very lucky to have some very good singers to draw on.

PH: So you do just do the one production each year?

JW: Not exactly. We also get asked to do, for example, an opera evening at a hotel or we do a gala performance for fund-raising to make the opera work. Opera is very expensive to run and, particularly in this part of the world, sponsorship is not very forthcoming. So Devon Opera is in a new, good growth period.

PH: Does the company have any support?

JW: Yes. We have got corporal support from an investment company, which is good, and I guess that as soon as they see that what we are doing is good, as well as their getting new clients through the publicity, we are hoping they might become even bigger investors in the future. In which case, maybe we can put on a full-blown opera with orchestra and with professional chorus as well.

PH: Does Devon Opera have a chorus?

JW: Not at the moment. We have deliberately decided not to mix professional- and amateur voices because there is quite a clash when you do that. When the chorus will come into it, perhaps what we would like to do is to go to some of the London colleges where they have an opera studio and invite young singers to come down here to become a chorus - perhaps only eight of them - to make a really good sound and they would blend with the soloists really well.

PH: Jonathan, you really have many new projects!

JW: It feels right at this stage of my life, in my mid-fifties. When you are younger you experiment. Now you know where your heart is. My heart lies in choral music, in period instruments, in style and also in operatic voices. These things make me tick, which is essential. You certainly can not teach and inspire amateurs or professionals if you do not believe it yourself.

PH: Jonathan,it has been most interesting talking to you once again. Many thanks.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Talking to Marina Minkin about the 2010 Renaissance Festival (September 26th to 28th) at the Yehiam Fortress

On September 4th 2010 I spoke to Dr. Marina Minkin about the Renaissance Festival to be held September 26th, 27th and 28th at the Yehiam Fortress in the Western Galilee. In its 18th season this year, Marina Minkin took over as the festival’s musical director in 2009. Sponsored by the Matei Asher Regional Council and the Jewish National Fund, the event offers interest and entertainment for all ages and is a festive attraction for families. The theme for this year’s festival is “Mediterranean Culture”, focusing on that of France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Turkey as well as on Jewish tradition. As in former years, music performed will not be only from the Renaissance period but will also that of the Middle Ages, the early Baroque and even contemporary music that has been influenced by Renaissance styles or modern arrangements of Renaissance works. There is an entrance fee of 30 shekels per person; this covers entry to all events (excepting the opening night’s concert September 26th) with daily performances taking place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Last year’s festival attracted seven and a half thousand visitors.

PH: Marina, you are known to Israeli music-lovers as a performer, early music specialist researcher and educator. In this festival you are bringing much music but are also reaching out to other arts.

Marina Minkin: Yes. A Renaissance event will always bring together several art forms and will include arts and crafts, too. The Renaissance Festival at Yehiam traditionally features a wide variety of activities. There are creative workshops, craft stalls and workshops for children where they can try their hand at making Renaissance clothes, puppets and flutes. This years activities will also include glass-blowing.

And there will be musical instruments on display. Yaron Naor will bring an exhibition of early instruments and Ami Schneider from Rosh Pina will sell recorders and provide explanations about the instrument.

PH: I understand there will be much activity in the open.

MM: Yes, as in any Renaissance fair. There will be street theatre events all around the grounds. They will not be full productions; however, actors and actresses from the Balbalou Theatre will present Italian Renaissance characters and act small scenes. Another group of young actors will present scenes from Shakespeare plays. My aim is to familiarize the many children attending with this theatrical tradition. Actors will provide explanations about theatre in Renaissance times. The “wandering actors” will be accompanied by young musicians who will team up with them in various places.

We have also invited two actors from the Beersheba School of Theatre to give a display of fencing. Their dress will be in Renaissance style.

PH: Would you like to talk about the venue and events taking place in the fortress itself?

MM: Yes. The fortress actually has three wonderful halls: the Knights’ Hall, the Tower Hall and the Crusaders’ Hall. The opening event – “Celtic Fire” - will take place on the fortress balcony September 26th at 20:30 and will feature the Irish Dance Group, a local company that blends Irish music with Mediterranean “flavors”. Yair Werdyger will be their soloist. Joining them will be belly dancer Abigail Klein.

PH: Would you like to mention some of the vocal events?

MM: Yes. Most of this year’s performances are vocal. They begin on the morning of September 27th with the Thalamus Quartet; this will be a performance of madrigals especially for children. It will also include some Hebrew songs arranged in the style of the madrigal. In fact, the festival will offer several performances that are suitable for children and, indeed, the whole family. The organizers aim to keep these young visitors as interested and involved as the adults attending.

Visitors can hear the Bat Kol Girls’ Choir (Tel Aviv) conducted by Anat Morahg and the Shani Choir from the Jezreel Valley. The Shani Choir, conducted by Pnina Inbar, is a multi-cultural choir whose members are Jewish, Christian and Moslem girls from towns and villages in the central Galilee.

Among the Israeli singers appearing are Einat Aronstein, Jill Rogoff, Michal Okon and Bracha Kol. Bracha Kol will be joined by guitarist Oded Shoub to perform a program of Spanish music spanning from Renaissance to modern music.

The PHOENIX Ensemble (Myrna Herzog, director) is no newcomer to the Renaissance Festival. We will hear PHOENIX instrumentalists and singer Michal Okon in “This Night I Dance” - a rich and fascinating program of music from the streets and palaces of Baroque Latin America.

PH: What about instrumental works?

MM: Visitors will have a variety of instrumental ensembles from which to choose. “Fancy for Two”, for example, will feature Natalie Rotenberg and Alex Rosenblatt on two harpsichords. Boris Begelman (Baroque violin), Tal Arbel (viola da gamba) and Yizhar Karshon (harpsichord) will present “Portraying Marin Marais”. Listeners are invited to join an interesting journey “Following Dona Gracia”, outlined by Doret Florentin (recorders), Gil Evron (guitar) and Riki Peled (viola da gamba). Riki Peled has written the script and will be the narrator. Flautist Moshe Epstein will present Baroque music for flute solo.

PH: The festival always includes ensembles of young players and vocalists.

MM: Yes. Drora Bruck, the previous director, began this tradition and I am interested in continuing it. Young instrumentalists, mostly recorder players, from several music conservatories will perform on the “open stage”.

We will also host two interesting student groups who are already making their mark on the local scene. One is “Notnim Baroque” (Presenting Baroque”) in the program “Viva Italia”. This enterprising ensemble (recorder players Tali Rubinstein and Inbar Solomon and harpsichord player Gilad Katznelson) makes its own arrangement of madrigals and improvises on them!

Another is a group that calls itself “In Camera XV”, a wonderful group of eight students who are passionate about Baroque music. They meet in the Baroque studio (Room 15) of the Buchmann Mehta School of Music (Tel Aviv), hence their name.. They play harpsichord, strings and recorders; Einat Aronstein is their singer. In Camera XV will present “From the Italian Ball to Cleopatra’s Tears”, a program including music of Rossi, Marini, Marain Marais and Handel.

PH: I believe you will be hosting artists from overseas.

MM: Yes. A new guest at the festival, on her first visit to Israel, will be French mezzo-soprano Mariam Sarkissian. She will perform a program of French- and Italian music.

Another visitor is Pablo Lerner, originally from Argentina, now living in Budapest. He will be playing the hurdy gurdy and will hold workshops on how to play it. How many hurdy gurdy players do we hear in Israel?

We will also welcome other artists who divide their time between Israel and Europe: viol-player Tal Arbel, flautist Moshe Epstein and violinist Boris Begelman.

PH: What event will close the 2011 Renaissance Festival?

MM: We will sign off with a most festive performance in the Knights’ Hall – “The Princess, the King and the White Clown”. It will be in the style of the Commedia dell’Arte and is a joint production of actors from the Tiberias Theatre, the Coincidence Puppet Theatre, various musicians and, also, young members of the Lauda Ensemble (Jezreel Valley Arts Centre). The Lauda Ensemble is a Jewish-Arab group; we will hear them playing the oud, qanun and darbuka.

PH: You certainly have a fine line-up of attractive events.

MM: I believe so. All are welcome.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Viola da gamba player, conductor, teacher and researcher Roberto Gini in Israel for concerts and a workshop on 17th century performance practice

On August 26th 2010, I met with Maestro Roberto Gini in the comfort of Drora Bruck’s living room in Ramat Gan for a talk. No newcomer to the Israeli concert scene, Gini, a pioneer in the revival of the viola da gamba in Italy, is a virtuoso viol player, he directs and conducts, performs, records and teaches. A specialist in the musical style and performance practice of Monteverdi and his contemporaries, Professor Gini is in Israel to perform concerts and teach an intensive 17th Century Music Workshop in Tel Aviv. Gini’s teaching, performances and presence in Israel are contributing to a process whereby early music is reaching mainstream status in this country.

PH: Roberto, what were your earliest musical experiences?

Roberto Gini: I was born in Milan in 1958. All my family members were amateur musicians. My maternal grandfather, born 1898, played the violin and ran an orchestra. He was conscripted in both the First World War and the Second World War. During the Second World War, all men under the age of 50 or 55 were obliged to join the Fascist army in the Repubblica di Salo’. Fighting in two wars made life difficult. He had two children, one being my mother. Still, he was a fine musician. My mother played the piano in his orchestra, her sister, the violin; both young woman married men who were players in this orchestra. My father also played the violin. Of course, we had a piano at home and, as a small child, I began playing by ear and improvising. My parents understood that I had musical talent and also that I tended to pay special attention to bass lines. At age 9, I began learning the ‘cello with a wonderful teacher, Attilio Ranzato, learning to read music very quickly. I gave my first professional concert at age 16.

I continued my musical studies in Milan till the age of seventeen. The mid-sixties saw the beginning of the rediscovery of early music. The radio was beginning to play early music, a style of music I had not heard before. Till this time, “early music” for us was J.S.Bach, but nothing before Bach. From age twelve or thirteen, I would go to hear the Milan RAI (Italian Radio Authority) Symphony Orchestra rehearse and there I heard and saw several great conductors, among them Celibidache. I became the mascot of the ‘cello section of the orchestra. One day, when I was sixteen, I went to the Guiseppe Verdi Hall where I heard a choir rehearsing. I was blown away by the beauty of the work they were singing. I was as if drugged, in a dream. I approached the conductor to ask what this work was and he told me it was a Monteverdi madrigal. I then went off to spend days upon days at the local library, reading about- and copying out examples of this old music….the monumental works of Monteverdi, Obrecht, Dufay, Lasso, etc. I had become so engrossed in these works that my score-reading teacher suggested I take the old editions of these works, written in all the various clefs used then, and transcribe them.

It was also at this time that I first heard and saw the viola da gamba played by the great Belgian player Wieland Kuijken. This was in 1974 or 1975: hearing Kuijken on the viol was a second life-changing musical experience for me. I did not have the courage to approach Kuijken but Jordi Savall visited Milan in the same season and I was introduced to him by friends. He invited me to visit him at his home in Basel and to play for him. So, not having ever studied the instrument, I traveled to Basel with my first viol and played for him. There I met a student of his, Pere Ros, today an esteemed viol player now teaching in Spain. Savall accepted me as a student at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis and he was to be my first and only viol teacher. His Hesperion XX consort was in its early days and he invited me to play in it. My family was shocked with my decision to abandon the ‘cello for an instrument basically unknown in Italy. All the same, I began my studies in Basel in October 1976, made my first recording with Hesperion in January 1977 and began performing, graduating from the Schola Cantorum in 1982. I continued playing with Hesperion XX till 1986.

Actually, when in Basel, the Schola Cantorum lent me a Baroque ‘cello and I had a Baroque bow: so I was, in a way, returning to my first instrument. To my great surprise, I discovered that my teacher in Milan. Attilio Ranzato, had been training me to play in the correct Baroque technique. He was a teacher of the “old school” and I did not need to make any major changes of technique in order to play Baroque ‘cello.

PH: But your main focus is on the viola da gamba.

RG: Yes. It is difficult to make a career playing both ‘cello and viol. I now feel closer to the repertoire and era of the viol. It gives me more opportunities to play an extended repertoire. Of course, the viola da gamba is not one instrument but a family; playing different members of it is as like being both a violinist and a ‘cellist. So I perform on the viol, teach it and conduct master classes for viol players. I stopped teaching the ‘cello six or seven years ago.

PH: Would you like to talk about Ensemble Concerto?

RG: Yes. I founded it in 1985 and it has been important for putting into practice my research into the performance style of Monteverdi’s music. With this fine group of players, we made several recordings, among them, the Monteverdi “Vespers”. The ensemble’s last production was Monteverdi’s “Orfeo” in 2007.

PH: What does your performing schedule look like nowadays?

RG: I am not looking for too many opportunities to perform. I prefer recording. The truth is that I like playing concerts in Israel but not in Italy or Europe. In Italy, playing concerts has become problematic. With not many public concerts nowadays, the accent is on speed and on creating a resounding impression on the public rather than on performance that is close to the musical text. The new trend is to adapt the musical score to the necessity of mass impact; this seems to be what gives pleasure to today’s concert-going public. Famous “victims” of this mass media practice are Vivaldi and Monteverdi. And paying artists less money for performing means fewer rehearsals; I really can not agree with this approach. So I am happy to do solo recitals. I can not perform in a way that is against my principles because of public demand. I must perform along the same lines as I teach: I teach my pupils that a performer must be serious and approach the score with humility. Learning takes time.

PH: On the subject of learning, you are a renowned- and devoted teacher. Where are you teaching at the moment and what is your goal?

RG: I am teaching at the A. Boito Conservatory in Parma (Italy). And I teach in Israel. I believe in a general vision of the universe, where the arts are one and the same expression, music being one part of this whole. As an artist with 35 years of musical experience behind me I feel my interest in the visual arts, theatre and poetry has led me to understand music better. Music is not separate from the other arts. That is what I want to pass on to my students.

PH: From September 22nd to September 29th, you will be one of three tutors teaching in an intensive 17th Century Music Seminar in Tel Aviv, working with 41 students. Would you like to talk about the course?

RG: Yes. Well, it is a course unlike other early music courses. It will focus on secular music, this music being close to theatre. But, practically, I hope it will provide us with an opportunity to approach the music of the age of Monteverdi in an entirely different way. The students will be surprised to be listening to recordings of actors; they will even hear extracts from speeches given by Mussolini. My aim is to draw their attention to importance of rhetoric in music and theatre.

PH: Where does Mussolini come into the teaching of early music?

RG: Let me start from the beginning. If you compare a recording of a Mozart symphony conducted by Bruno Walter, recorded in the 1950’s, and a later Nikolaus Harnoncourt interpretation, you can discern a big difference between them. Walter’s tempi are slower, Harnoncourt’s are faster. These choices stem from the cultural experience of the age where a performance takes place. Walter’s reading is relevant to the reading of a Mozart score in the 1950’s. Harnoncourt’s interpretation reflects a newer approach in the 1980’s. Both interpretations are equally great, with each conductor giving his own interpretation of an Allegro- or Andante movement. Let’s go back to Monteverdi. There are no such “Allegro” or “Andante” markings, but the system of the tactus (basic beat), one of arithmetic proportions is all-important. If the performer is not aware of the significance of these proportions, a section of a Monteverdi work can sound Presto, when it really is designed to be an Adagio. I say this not because I believe I am the greatest expert on this subject but because I have made the same tempo mistakes myself. For decades, recordings of Monteverdi’s music have been based on mistakes due to tempi that are taken faster and faster. Where Monteverdi writes three whole note beats, for example, many performers will take them at the speed of three quarter notes; however, these whole notes are meant to be understood as slow beats. Listeners are not aware of this; they have no tempo markings to guide them; they are only guided by what they have heard on recordings.

Our pace of life is fast; we are exposed to fast music with percussion, whether it be pop, ethnic or other styles of music; this is our present reference point and we believe it to be the correct one. But Monteverdi’s music is based on rhetoric, rhetoric being a vehicle that brings together all emotions. A priest giving a sermon in a church must present the text slowly and clearly in order to be understood by his listeners. On the theatre stage we have to speak more slowly and pronounce the words in a specific way; even facial expressions need to be more pronounced for the audience to comprehend. So I take my cue from the practice of magnifying voice and gestures. I am not interested in his political career, but Mussolini was, in this way, brilliant. He had real, natural theatrical talent; he could mimic like an actor, grotesque as it may look to us nowadays. If he had chosen a theatrical career instead of politics, he would have been a very great actor. I can follow a musical progression in his style…a recitative, followed by an accelerando, with a cadence to follow. In one film clip, I will accompany his speech on the harpsichord to demonstrate this. Not many public figures have had this gift and, of course, he did not have all the technical support that a public speaker has today. His is the technique used in the commedia dell’arte and the silent movies. Students watching theatre and film should learn to appreciate the many sides of an actor or actress; take that famous, brilliant and tense scene from “The Little Foxes” where Bette Davis decides not to save her husband’s life. In this scene, all is expressed in her facial expression, making for truly virtuosic acting. Singers can learn much from watching this example of great theatre. We musicians are all “actors”, even instrumentalists whose text is non-verbal: they have a plot and must base its development and their emotional reading of it on artistic sincerity. This is no different to the rhetoric of poetry. Bruno Walter and Wilhelm Furtwaengler both spoke of what music “has to say”. Strange as it may seem at first for early music students coming to this course, the young performers will see video extracts of Mussolini addressing the public, Italian actors and comedians and excerpts from silent movies. These will demonstrate the importance of playing with grand gestures and large phrases. Understanding how to perform Monteverdi’s music, therefore, ties in with this approach to meaningful expression: all gestures must be magnified. In fact, my recording of the Monteverdi Vespers fills almost three CD’s, whereas most recordings of other artists fill two.

PH: You have had a number of appearances with the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra, to the great enjoyment of its audiences.

RG: Yes and I look forward to more collaboration with its director David Shemer and with the JBO players.

PH: How would you explain the reason for your frequent visits to Israel?

RG: This is not easy to define. I am not Jewish. I met recorder-player Drora Bruck in Lanciano, Italy in 1994, where I was teaching an early music course and she was a student. We neither of us spoke the other’s language, but an instant mental- and emotional understanding formed between us, we shared the same musical philosophy and became very firm friends. It was as if we had something in common in our past history, a connection. In 1995 we together made a film on Salomone Rossi for Israeli television’s Channel Two television. Produced by Tel Ad Jerusalem Studios, it was filmed in Mantua and Venice. That was our first project.

Other Israeli students then crossed my path. ‘Cellist Orit Messer Jacobi, a member of the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra, was a student of mine. I believe in the history of existence. This feeling of identity was unbelievably strong the very first time I arrived in Israel in 1995 and it is so when I meet Israelis and Jewish people. There may be some Jewish relatives in my mother’s family, which came from Vercelli, Piedmont. There was an important Jewish community there and I have done some research on it.

PH: You seem happy teaching in Israel.

RG: Indeed. I have very good students in Italy, but here my students are especially involved in the learning process and have a connection to the music of a kind that is difficult to explain…let’s call it an emotional, spiritual and cultural connection. I am able to share my ideas and experience with them and they drink in my every word. I find them of a good standard and hard-working, too. It is no wonder that I feel so musically alive in Israel! Well, early music is still developing here but most teachers are open-minded and many of the musicians involved in playing early music are very experienced players, have been trained in different European countries, then returning to Israel. So this is the right time to build up an early music tradition in Israel and I have the dream of creating a school here, one that I can not in Europe. As a didactic process, all teachers will need to be involved, to discuss and compare as a team. The Israel Conservatory of Music (Tel Aviv) is building a large new center to be opened in October 2011; it will officially open its Early Music Center then and there, and we will conduct our next early music workshop in the new building. Drora Bruck, head of the Early Music Department, has made me honorary professor of the current faculty. Orit Messer, lutenist Bari Moscovich and Bruck herself were all trained in Italy. This faculty will be expanded. Early music players in Israel are generally very interested in education. And there is another exciting new project: there are plans to create a Junior Baroque Orchestra in the Early Music Center. This will be a collaboration with the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra and its musical director, David Shemer. The time seems right to start these projects.

PH: What is your feeling about Israeli concert audiences?

RG: In all the concerts I have given here, it has been clear to me that Israeli audiences are a music-loving crowd. They come to listen to the music, rather than to sit there passing judgment on the performance, on tempi, etc, After a concert in Haifa, a member of the audience approached me to discuss how beautiful Telemann’s music is and why it surpasses Handel’s music! This has never happened to me in Italy. There is a different approach to music in Israel and that is why I like to say a few words about the music performed in my concerts. Looking out into the concert audiences in Jerusalem, I would say that half of them are made up of young people; this is most pleasing.

PH: Roberto, do you compose?

RG: I was a composition student at the Milan Conservatory and this was an important experience for me. I composed music in the style of Monteverdi. This may seem a useless practice but it has proved important for me for performing works such as Monteverdi’s “Incoronazione di Poppea” (The Crowning of Poppea) where only some parts of the original score have survived (in the Biblioteca Marziana, Venice.) . We have needed to reconstruct the score, keeping it faithful to the style. That is where I apply what I learned in my composition studies as I need to write in what is missing. In some early 17th century madrigals the ritornelli exist only with a bass line. In 1607, Agostino Agazzari wrote about the method of playing upon the bass line for violin and what he called the “ornamenting” instruments; but we do need to have a score for the bass line.

PH: What other interests do you have?

RG: Theatre.

PH: Attending theatrical productions or acting?

RG: In a sense, both. In my concerts I am not really acting. However, I am on a stage where I have to be “somebody” and I have to communicate. I know what I am doing, how I am doing it and I sense the “temperature” of the audience, whether the performance is overdone or too understated, whether the audience is friendly and concentrating.

PH: Professor Roberto Gini, many thanks for your time and for sharing your wealth of ideas.

Roberto Gini will be performing the following concerts:

Saturday September 4th, 21:00
Studio Theatre, Beit Hecht, Haifa
Roberto Gini-viola da gamba
Drora Bruck-recorders
Orit Messer-Jacobi-Baroque ‘cello
Bari Moscovich-theorbo
Miri Singer-harpsichord
Music of J.S.Bach, C.P.E.Bach, Telemann

Monday September 6th , 20:30
Felicja Blumenthal Center, Tel Aviv,
Same program as in Haifa

Saturday October 2nd, 20:30
Einav Center, Tel Aviv
Roberto Gini-director, harpsichord
Antonella Gianesse (Italy)-soprano
Ayala Sicron-soprano
Yair Polishook-bass
Drora Bruck-recorders
Noam Schuss-violin
Orit Messer-Jacobi-Baroque ‘cello
Eitan Hoffer-lute
Music of Monteverdi and Peri

The Early 17th Century Seminar in Tel Aviv
September 22nd to September 29th
Tutors: Roberto Gini, Drora Bruck, Antonella Gianesse

Monday, August 23, 2010

English baritone Stephen Varcoe talks about his career and more

On August 4th 2010 I had the pleasure of talking to singer Stephen Varcoe over a glass of wine in the White Hart Bar at Dartington Hall, Devon, UK. Dr. Stephen Varcoe is one of Britain’s most distinguished baritones, known for his performances and recordings of Baroque music, a large repertoire of solo song and for his appearances in early to modern operas. His book “Sing English Song” is designed to give amateur singers, voice students and professional singers insight into Britain’s rich vocal heritage.

PH: Stephen, what were your earliest musical experiences?

Stephen Varcoe: I was born in Cornwall. I think my earliest memories of hearing much music are from age three. My mother, a former music teacher, played the piano a lot and my father played the violin. Their friends would come to our house to play music with them...triosonatas,etc. My parents also had a house madrigal group. I began piano lessons at age six. I can not remember a time when I could not read music. At the age of eight I went to the Canterbury Cathedral choir school, where I remained till age 13. I left my piano studies; singing had become my way of life and my voice could do what I wanted it to. I then moved to the King’s School in Canterbury, where I carried on singing.

PH: Where did you continue your studies?

SV: I was accepted to King’s College Cambridge to study Mathematics and Law. I sang in the King’s College choir, which met six days a week. I changed from Law studies to Land Economy. However, singing had become central to my life and, during my first year at Cambridge, I was encouraged by older musicians to take on singing as a profession. My singing teachers at Cambridge were John Carol Case and Wilfred Brown, both keen exponents of British music; it is from then that English music has remained a great love of mine, as is the English language…and languages, in general.

Having graduated from Cambridge, I spent one year of post-graduate studies at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama where I was able to create my own course program. Well, I did not come away with a diploma but there I studied Lieder, French song, Baroque music and, of course, singing. My voice teacher there was Arthur Reckless; he was so loved by all that the door of his room was constantly opening and closing, with people constantly dropping in to say hello and have “a word” with him.

PH: What about performances?

SV: At that time, four friends and I started an a cappella group called “The Scholars”. We had all been members of the King’s College Choir. I sang with them for 18 months, performing more than 100 concerts; we sang madrigals and early Tudor music and we also commissioned works from composers such as the Australian composer Malcolm Williamson. I had also begun singing with small groups in London. There was a lot of work with BBC radio and in live concerts, too. Choral conductor John Alldis, who specialized in new music, was looking for singers who were excellent sight-readers to perform modern music under his baton and I joined him. We toured Australia and New Zealand performing these works.

PH: And your solo singing career?

SV: Having started doing solo work, I took part in the Gulbenkian Competition of 1977 and won it. The prize enabled me to leave other jobs I was doing and concentrate on building up my solo career. Other important stages were singing in the Schuetz Choir under Roger Norrington (known for his exploration of historical performance practice) and in the Monteverdi Choir under John Eliot Gardiner (famous for his interpretation of Baroque music performed with period instruments). From singing as a member of these choirs, I became a soloist with them. Another conductor important to my career was Richard Hickox. We were friends from Cambridge. I did many concerts with him, including performances at the BBC Proms, where I soloed.

I also found myself doing a lot of work in Germany with WDR, the Cologne radio station.

PH: Would you like to talk about your involvement in Early Music?

SV: Yes. The two conductors who were the major influences on me in this genre were Roger Norrington and John Eliot Gardiner. We performed concerts together, traveled through Europe, appeared at festivals and recorded. Early music constituted much of my work in Germany with WDR and with German ensembles as well as with Sigiswald Kuijken. I have done much work with the American conductor, keyboard player and musicologist Joshua Rifkin: we performed Bach’s St. Matthew Passion with two singers on each part in the BBC Proms and the B minor Mass with one singer to a part! The latter meant each singer was a member of the chorus as well as a soloist! And I have sung in Baroque opera, Peri’s “Euridice”, Monteverdi’s “Orfeo”, etc.

PH: You have made well over 100 recordings.

SV: Yes. I have recorded extensively with Gardiner, Sigiswald Kuijken, Gustav Leonhardt, Pinnock and Hickox – including music of Bach, Purcell and Handel but not just Baroque music. As digital recording came into its own, record companies were make a great number of recordings.

I have a great love of the songs of British composer Gerald Finzi (1901-1956). When I was in my early 30’s I decided I would like to record his songs and wrote to a number of recording companies, receiving refusals from them all. Then, one day, a letter came from his widow Joy Finzi, in which she wrote that the Finzi Trust was interested to record his songs and would I like to sing them? It was an extraordinary opportunity for me. I recorded them with Hyperion and this led on to more recordings with the same company – recordings of English songs, French songs and Lieder.

PH: Would you like to talk about your work in teaching?

SV: Yes. What I love to do is coaching singers, with the emphasis on interpretation rather than voice production. I do that one day a week at the Royal College of Music (London), also teaching at Clare College, Cambridge. I also hold master classes in several locations – at universities, in schools and at Dartington Hall (Devon). I encourage the students to find the right “sound” for the song at hand, to communicate with their hearts and in the spirit of the language of the song.

My wife and I also host song days and song weekends in our barn at Ansells Farm. Some have a theme. These attract a variety of keen singers – students, amateurs and teachers.

PH: Let’s go back to the subject of interpretation.

SV: I recently completed a PhD in communication in song at the University of York, this subject being central to my teaching and the focus of my own singing. The research is about historical performance and goes right back to Aristotle, the psychology of reception on the part of the audience and the use of imagination on the part of the singer. It meant reading dozens of books by singing teachers, composers, actors, directors, philosophers, psychologists, etc. The bibliography runs to about 280 books and papers; it was a process whereby one book led onto many more, actually, a never-ending search process. My writing deals with the singer’s precise feeling for a song, who the singer is in the song, who the singer is addressing and whether the audience is “present” or not. It has to do with the theory of acting, with theatrical concepts, who the actor is and to what extent the singer inhabits that role. Of course, the singer’s own personality and imagination are involved. A lot of singers are happy to settle for a general emotion; I, however, am convinced that the singer needs to be more specific in order to convince his/her audience.

PH: What role does your audience play?

SV: A very active role. Firstly, the people present at the concert are there out of choice. They are attentive and supportive, they are important to the “partnership”. I would rather sing to a small attentive group than to a larger less involved audience.

PH: What is on your performing program at the moment?

SV: I am playing the Ferryman in Benjamin Britten’s “Curlew River”. The performance will be in Suffolk, where it was premiered in 1964.

I will be performing in “Celebrating Grainger 2011”, a three-day event from February 17th to 20th 2011 at the Kings Place Concert Halls, London that will mark the 50th anniversary of Australian composer Percy Grainger’s death.

PH: Stephen, when not busy with music, what other interests do you have?

SV: I love gardening. One favorite annual outing for me is to the Great Dorset Steam Fair to see to see the huge collection of working steam traction engines; historic machinery and industrial archeology interest me. I also enjoy making things. I recently made some big oak doors for our house.

PH: Stephen, many thanks for your time and for this interesting discussion.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tzvi Avni - Israeli composer and teacher

Tzvi Avni is one of Israel’s foremost composers, whose works are performed worldwide. A central figure of Israeli music, he is the recipient of the Prime Minister’s Prize for Life Achievement (1998), the Saarland State Prize for Life Achievement (1998) and the Israel Prize (2001). On July 12th 2010 I had the pleasure of talking to composer and teacher Professor Tzvi Avni in Tel Aviv.

PH: Tzvi, when and where did your involvement with music begin?

Tzvi Avni: I see it all as somewhat of a miracle. At the age of seven, I arrived in Israel from Germany with my parents in 1935. When I was eleven, my father was abducted and killed by Arabs. Till today, I do not know where he was buried. At age 13, on my bar mitzvah, my mother wanted to buy me a present. Interested in music, I requested a musical instrument. We went to the large Kowalsky music shop in downtown Haifa where she bought me a Hohner hand harmonica. This simple, non-chromatic instrument, similar to a mouth organ but richer in musical possibilities, became an important means of musical expression for me and I started composing melodies on it. Not having learned to read music, I devised my own simple form of musical notation. At age 14, I began working and, with my savings, bought myself a mandolin. Again I devised my own notation, this time, a form of tablature. I then bought a Baroque soprano recorder. Playing these instruments by ear, there was always the fervent need to compose. When I joined a youth group, I played for the other members who danced – that is why I have never learned to dance. The youth leader was a kibbutz member, a man who had originally come from Berlin; he started to take me to concerts and was adamant that I should go to study music seriously. This was a new concept for me: I viewed people who played the piano as princes, as higher beings! Well, in our building, we did have an elderly, German-born piano teacher whose pupils all played Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turca for all to hear. As the result of the youth leader’s suggestion, at age 16 I was sent to learn to play the piano and to learn to read music with a teacher at whose home one could also practise; we had no piano at home. The piano teacher was impressed with my progress. With the compensation money for my father’s death, I went out and bought my first piano at age 18. I went on to study piano with a Mr. Neumann, a serious piano teacher in Haifa, taking music theory lessons with various other teachers. My dream was to become a concert pianist, but I was beginning to understand that I had started too late to make a concert career. However, I was still busy composing intuitively – a sonatina, a rondo, variations, etc.

PH: Your interests also lay in the plastic arts.

TA: Most definitely. In my youth in Haifa I did much drawing and painting and had considered studying art. But the moment came when I needed to choose the medium that was more important to me and I chose music. I continued painting for a while. However, I found music a more emotional expression.

PH: So you were moving more in the direction of composing.

TA: It was not so simple. When composer Abel Ehrlich came to teach in Haifa, I began studying music theory more seriously with him. However, my formal studies with him were one thing and my own compositions entirely another. I went on to study at the Tel Aviv Academy of Music and there took composition with Mordecai Seter for three or four years. It was clear then, as it still is today, that Seter was the most influential and important teacher of my life. Despite my late start, it was he who drew together all the threads of what I had been learning. I should also mention that I studied orchestration with Paul Ben Haim, leading me, among other things, to write many song arrangements for Israeli radio. In the meantime, I had left practicing the piano, completed my military service and was married at 22. My wife was very encouraging of my composing aspirations.

PH: How did you earn your living at that time?

TA: In 1958, I accepted the job of director of the Lod Music Conservatory. However, that same year, on completing my studies at the Tel Aviv Academy of Music, Odeon Partos informed me I would not be receiving my diploma as I had no school matriculation certificate. So I went and completed my matriculation studies. I then took the position of directing the library at Heichal Hatarbut (the Mann Auditorium).

PH: Did you study overseas?

TA: Yes. In 1962, I decided to travel abroad. My wife, Pnina, and I went to the United States for two years. There I approached Edgard Varese, requesting to study with him. Varese, having heard works of mine, insisted I was already a composer, adding that, anyway, he was not willing to teach me his “tricks”; but he did advise me to go and study electronic music. Then and there he picked up the telephone and called Otto Luening at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, gave me a glowing recommendation and arranged for me to receive a bursary for studies. Vladimir Ussachevsky was the main teacher there. During my two years in the USA, I also spent two months in Tanglewood studying with both Aaron Copland and Lukas Foss. These were very avant-garde times in America and my compositional style was much influenced by what I was hearing and experiencing .

PH: So your writing was to undergo a number of drastic changes.

TA: Yes. Before traveling to America, I was busy furthering the previous generation’s style of writing “Mediterranean” music. I was writing works in classical forms. But in America I was faced with a myriad of new ideas and different approaches as well as with the possibilities offered by the medium of electronic music. I made a great effort to free myself of classical forms, I distanced myself from tonality and modal thinking; my approach became more abstract. On my return to Israel at the end of 1964, I needed time to see where my own style was going. “Meditations on a Drama”, composed in 1965 and premiered in 1966, a much performed orchestral work, was the first work that took me into a new phase of composition. I received the ACUM Prize for it. (ACUM is the Israeli non-profit organization administering the rights assigned to it by its members – authors, composers, lyricists, poets, arrangers and music publishers.) My approach had become more abstract in its harmonic combinations; use of color and timbre were gaining more importance for me. These changes are paramount in “Five Pantomimes”(1968) for chamber ensemble, each piece of this work taking inspiration from celebrated paintings. This work was first performed at a workshop for young composers at Beit Lessin (Tel Aviv) an event I had organized. And, of course, there have been new developments since then. My writing has gone from Impressionistic to more Expressionistic; it has become less oriental and was beginning to be somewhat more influenced by elements of Jewish music. My interest in Jewish mysticism is expressed in Epitaph-Sonata no. 2, for example, which derives its inspiration from the writings of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov.

PH: Have you written for theatre or ballet?

TA: I have composed several works for ballet….for the Bat Dor Dance Company. I love dance and connect easily with it. I have also written music for radio dramas and a little for art films.

PH: And vocal music?

TA: Yes. I have composed a lot of vocal music, much of it on biblical texts.

PH: What about music for children?

TA: Here I should mention “The Three-Legged Monster” (1994) for narrator, piano and small orchestra , a musical story that takes children and adults on a tour of orchestral instruments. The story was written by my late wife Hanna Yaddor-Avni, mother of our children, Shiran and Eylon.

PH: Where do you see your style at the present?

TA: My style today is a continuation and development of my writing of the 1970’s…let’s call it “post modern”. It focuses on expression of emotions. Take the work written for the Offenburger Streichtrio (Offenburg String Trio)- "Credo" - a soul-searching, brooding piece whose ending is, nevertheless, optimistic.

PH: Would you like to talk about your career in teaching?

TA: I began my teaching career in elementary schools. For eight years I taught school music – no easy task in a classroom of 40 children. In fact, for one year I taught Hebrew songs in an Arabic school! When directing the Lod Music Conservatory I taught theory as well as teaching in a school in Ramat Gan. I was bent on finding interesting ways of teaching music theory to children. At a concert a few years ago a man approached me – he had studied theory with me at the Lod Conservatory and today is now a professor at the Weizmann Institute; and he still remembers the theory lessons he learned with me! After my return from America, Mrs. Yocheved Dostrovsky-Kopernik, then director of the Jerusalem Academy of Music, asked me if I would be willing to teach electronic music in the Academy’s new laboratory. Happy at the prospect, I spent time familiarizing myself with the newly acquired Arp synthesizer there, took on teaching a number of subjects, yet still directing the music library in Tel Aviv. Conductor Mendi Rodan consequently offered me a full-time teaching job at the Jerusalem (Rubin) Academy of Music and Dance. I was made a professor as the result of works of mine being sent to other universities.

I have always enjoyed teaching. In a one-semester course I teach called “Introduction to 20th Century Music” I talk about its roots in Romantic music – Impressionism and Expressionism –referring to painting and the arts in general. I, myself, am fascinated by how and where new styles spring up. And giving composition students musical- and meaningful direction gives me much satisfaction, as does hearing their compositions performed. Today the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance boasts a fine theory and composition department, some of its own most gifted graduates being among its teaching faculty. Its composition students enjoy many opportunities to have new works performed.

PH: What have you been writing recently?

TA: I have just completed a concerto for piano and chamber orchestra – my first and last! It was an exhausting job. Even checking it for errors has been a huge undertaking. It was commissioned and will be premiered September 1st 2010, opening the Duisburg Philharmonic’s new concert season. I will be present to hear my concerto sandwiched between Mendelssohn’s “The Hebrides” Overture and Mahler’s Symphony no. 1, in a program of Jewish composers! By the way, when earlier on I mentioned freeing myself of Classical forms, here I have composed the first movement in sonata form, the second an ABA form and the third, a rondo…but have used the forms loosely.

PH: Is today’s Israeli music characterized by specific tendencies?

TA: No. Composers are each writing in their own individual styles and I think this is a good thing. This post-modern age is like a children’s playroom – each of us visiting it chooses the "toys" he/she wants to play with from the selection there. Many of the younger composers are using minimalistic elements. But there is Impressionism, Expressionism, also post-modernism (for better and for worse.) However, there are many talented Israeli students and composers writing much music.

PH: Do you think today’s young composers have more courage to try new ideas than those of previous generations?

TA: This is a mine-field. The avant-garde is passé and one problem is that everything “new and different” has already been tried and done; having that kind of “courage” could mean “imitating” rather than “creating”. What really counts is relevance, is whether the composer writes music that has impact, music that is expressive and personal, music that presents ideas or a different way of looking at things.

PH: So where is music going?

TA: Who knows if we are not approaching the breakdown of the use of musical instruments. The public is now so conditioned to hearing electronic sounds! Technology is taking over our lives at a frantic pace. A Mozart symphony at a concert might end up being performed with microphones magnifying the sound! On the other hand, there is the search for authenticity, as we see in early music, for example.

PH: Tzvi, back to you. Apart from music, what interests you the most?

TA: As mentioned earlier, the visual arts are the second passion of my life. I love to look at art works and spend time in galleries. I have brought my love for music and the visual arts together in several works that have been inspired by works of 20th century artists – Picasso, Klee, Kandinsky, Chagall, Dali, Miro, Ardon, and others. In works such as “Program Music 1980” and in solo pieces for flute, oboe and clarinet called “Anthropomorphic Landscapes” I focus on “music painting”.

PH: Tzvi, many thanks for your time and for sharing so many interesting ideas.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Austrian 'cellist Erich Oskar Huetter directs fifth "Sounding Jerusalem" Festival

On June 25th 2010 I met with ‘cellist Erich Oskar Huetter, here to direct the 5th “Sounding Jerusalem” Festival. Born in Austria in 1973, E.O.Huetter studied with Hildgund Posch at the University of Music in Graz, with Reinhard Latzgo at the City of Basel Music Academy, also with Antonio Lysy (Montreal.) Further studies were taken with Janos Starker (Indiana University, USA), Ralph Kirschbaum at the Royal Northern College of Music (UK) and with Mischa Maisky at the Accademia Chigiana, Siena (Italy). E.O.Huetter performs widely, conducts master classes at various universities and at the Stift Admont International Summer Academy (Austria). A member of the Arcus Ensemble (Vienna) and the Hyperion Ensemble (Salzburg), Huetter plays recitals with Austrian pianist Paul Gulda and is the founder and director of the “Styrian Chamber Music Festival” and the “Sounding Jerusalem” Festival. “Sounding Jerusalem” is a chamber music festival providing an intercultural platform for musicians from Israel, Palestine and Europe.

PH: Erich Oskar Huetter, what were your earliest musical experiences?

EOH: I grew up in a musical family. My mother is a musician – she taught recorder and guitar - and music was always part of our family life. I began playing the recorder at age four. I attended concerts from a young age and, at a string orchestra concert, my mother, keen for me to play a stringed instrument, asked me which instrument I would like to play. I chose the ‘cello and started lessons at age five. Generally speaking, in Austria there is a strong musical tradition, with children attending music schools. I come from Graz, a small city, where music is very much a part of the cultural life. There was, however, a time in my youth when playing music did not seem “cool” to me and I set my sights at becoming a car racer; at that time I earned my living from playing music in order to realize my dream of becoming a car racer! However, at age 15 or 16, I remember the very moment (I was performing a Respighi work at a concert) when I realized that music was what I really wanted and needed to be doing; it was a powerful and decisive moment, one of feeling totally “alive”. I had been studying at a music high school, but stopped attending as my musical activities were becoming too time consuming.

PH: After higher studies, in which you studied under several great ‘cellists, what was your next move?

EOH: I returned to Austria, living in Vienna for a short while. My parents took upon themselves to support me during my studies and for some time after them, allowing me the freedom and luxury to establish myself as a performing musician, to start a festival in Austria and to play with other musicians; this gave me time and space to develop my career.

PH: So how do you work now?

EOH: I do much performing, playing 60 to 80 concerts a year, many recitals with pianist Paul Gulda and some ‘cello-guitar recitals - I love the possibilities of the sensitive, hair-thin delicate sounds of the guitar. With my very compatible colleagues of the Hyperion String Sextet we perform all over the world. Yes – I play in duos and various chamber music groups, but performing as a soloist with orchestra is not my milieu. And then, of course, there are the festivals in which I am involved. Traveling as frequently as I do, I feel I can not take on teaching at this stage of my career. The music student and learning process interest me and I see myself staying more permanently in one or two places at a later stage of the future and teaching. At this time in my life, I am totally independent, am not employed in any institution. This has its great advantages, but means a very long work day. Now that I have a family, I will need to rethink my daily schedule in order to have time set aside for family and not just for work.

PH: Do you have time for other interests?

EOH: I am a very curious person and interested in almost everything. I run around with open eyes. Performing feeds my soul – I could not leave that to just organize festivals. The little free time I have at the moment is for family. However, I do want to have more peaceful time for myself, time to think many things through deeply, to make decisions. This is best done in idyllic locations such as the Austrian Alps. Till now, I have had the need to do as much as possible but that need is changing.

PH: You put much energy into running festivals. “Sounding Jerusalem” is certainly a very unique project.

EOH: I love these projects. It seems I have the knack of bringing people together. In “Sounding Jerusalem” I need to bring artists together as well as organizers. Not just seen through the eyes of the performer or the manager who makes all the decisions, one sees the many aspects and levels of producing a concert. I am very interested in the whole picture - why and where one is organizing a specific concert, the logistics of it and the social background of all involved, thinking things out, often rethinking them, guiding players, programming. This demands much more than just being a musician. And there are many traps to avoid – the Middle East is full of traps. Running “Sounding Jerusalem”, I am getting to know many of the dimensions of this region – political, cultural, religious and social. All of these aspects are concentrated here in this small place. “Sounding Jerusalem” concerts take place in various and very different places, from a concert in a Palestinian village one day to one in Ein Karem (Jerusalem) the next. The diversity here is incredible and we need to be sensitive to all the people with whom we come into contact, to respect their thoughts and feelings. This awareness is indeed a learning process. We want to do something for the people, but this, after all, is the mission of all performing artists.

PH: Having spent two and a half years teaching for the Barenboim-Said Foundation in Ramallah and then founding and directing the “Sounding Jerusalem” Festival has certainly given you insight into life in this region.

EOH: It has been a process, from starting out in Ramallah in 2003 at the time of the second “intifada” (uprising), to then getting to know the Israeli point of view, leading on to a stage of asking myself so many questions about the situation…and also even trying to answer them! I am very clear on my own principles of right and wrong, but now no longer plague myself with all the questions I once did and, anyway, the situation in this region is so complex that I feel incapable of coming up with any kind of clear idea or solution! However, I think it is fair to say that I have spent enough time here to understand the situation on a deeper level than that of a tourist. Well, of course, I return to Austria to the peace and quiet of my life in an Austrian village. Creating a festival “without borders” means taking no one side and it has no political allegiance; our mission is to provide concerts for many people. We do, of course, question inhuman behaviour and its blind acceptance by some people and would like to see a new reality. I think all artists should have respect for humans living together.

PH: “Sounding Jerusalem” brings chamber music concerts to village people who have never been exposed to western music.

EOH: Yes. We are about to perform concerts in villages near Hebron and Nablus and we do not really know how it will work; the people there do not know us and we do not know them. But the atmosphere will be a “concert atmosphere” and we are very professional about what we do. The artists have plenty to say through music….in the same way as they do at a concert they might play in the Kennedy Center! The audience picks this up and respects the artists for their sincerity and musical capability. Over the years our programs have begun including oriental music: not exclusively Arabic music but also oriental Jewish music, Armenian music, etc…a mix of styles. So we offer these village audiences music with some elements familiar to them as well as works that will be new for them. The concerts are a challenge to both performers and audience. It is simplistic to think that chamber music should be performed only in acoustically fine concert halls to people who understand the medium and, consequently, feel the need to pass judgement. Some of my most powerful performing experiences have been when playing for people who have never before attended classical music concerts.

PH: How did you make your own personal connection with oriental music?

EOH: I must say that I myself am not an oriental musician at all, but, having spent so much time in this region, I have got to know people who are. In “Sounding Jerusalem”, we have concerts we call “Melange Oriental” (Oriental Mix) where players of different backgrounds form an ensemble to explore oriental music. Jazz musicians find the transition to improvisation in oriental styles easier than classical players do. Each player adds his own ideas. Although we have some oriental players in the group, you could say that European chamber music players will not create an interpretation typical of that of an authentic oriental orchestra; but we are open-minded and curious and we try our best to adjust and adapt to the style. With excellent, curious and enterprising musicians taking part in this experiment, one can have great success. After all, being a fine musician means being sensitive, open and flexible.

PH: “Sounding Jerusalem” is a totally different kind of chamber music festival. How do you choose your players?

EOH: Actually, for artists who play concerts in conventional venues and concerts in Europe and all over the world, this festival is refreshingly different and fascinating. However, I need to take care to choose artists who are easygoing personalities: we face daily inconveniences and delays. So I look for high quality players who are realistic and “grounded”. The problem is not in finding suitable artists, but in financing the festival. Each country supports its own artists, so I am limited in my artistic freedom. We are guests of the Austrian Hospice in the Old City but are much supported by the Representative Office of the Federal Republic of Germany (Ramallah). Most of the festival’s financing comes from Germany.

PH: Erich Oskar Huetter, many thanks for your time and for sharing so many interesting thoughts and ideas.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Polish pianist Karol Radziwonowicz in Tel Aviv to perform as part of the Chopin Year in Israel

Maestro Karol Radziwonowicz, the renowned Polish pianist, has arrived in Israel to perform a solo recital of music by Polish composers June 26th 2010 at the Einav Cultural Center (Tel Aviv.) Under the auspices of the Polish Institute, the concert is one of the festive “Chopin Year in Israel” events. I spoke to Karol Radziwonowicz June 24th.

Pamela Hickman: Maestro Radziwonowicz, welcome to Israel.

Karol Radziwonowicz: Thank you. This is my first visit here. My wife and I are looking forward to meeting the people, to seeing the concert halls, the country, its historical sites and its nature.

PH: What were your earliest musical experiences?

KR: I was born into a musical family, where both parents were professional pianists. At the age of five, I began piano lessons with my father. My mother was a concert pianist when young but stopped her performing career in order to raise us three children. She turned her energy to teaching piano and continues to teach piano in Warsaw today at age 86!

PH: Where did you continue your music studies?

KR: I went through music schools, graduating from the Fryderyk Chopin Academy of Music (Warsaw) and in 1986 won a Fulbright Scholarship to study under George Sebok at the School of Music of Indiana University at Bloomington. Sebok was a great among piano teachers and the artist’s degree I took with him meant much performing in different universities; I enjoyed having the opportunity to travel around the USA.

PH: What are your current professional activities?

KR: I perform in recitals and concerts with orchestras all over the world and, of course, in my native Poland. In addition to the gamut of concert repertoire, I specialize in the performance of Polish music - Chopin’s music of course, but also the works of composers such as Juliusz Zarebsky (1854-1885), Carl Mikuli (1819-1897) and Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941), whose music might be less familiar to the concert-going public than that of Chopin’s. I was the first pianist to have recorded all of Paderewski’s piano works – they comprise of two piano concertos and many solo piano pieces. As a result, many other pianists are now performing his music. After Poland won its independence, Paderewski became its third prime minister: a public figure, he had become known to the Poles through his music!

PH: Your have also performed with your brother, violinist Tomasz Radziwonowicz.

KR: Yes. A graduate of the Fryderyk Chopin Academy of Music in Warsaw, he is a composer, arranger and chamber musician but he mostly conducts nowadays. In 1990 Tomasz formed the “Solisti di Varsavia”, a string quintet which I joined in order to record all of Chopin’s works for piano and orchestra. My brother arranged these works for this combination. Of course, the effect is different to that of a full orchestra, more the spirit of chamber music; but we do know that Chopin himself often played his works with chamber ensembles for lack of an orchestra, so there certainly is a measure of authenticity in the project.

PH: Talking of Chopin, what is Fryderyk Chopin’s music for you?

KR: Of course, it is international music, but, for me, it is typically Polish in its moods. Understanding its message is more direct to Poles. The Polish word “zal” could be translated as something like “sorrow” in English. Chopin claimed his music described “zal” and this mood is very familiar to the Polish people. Chopin’s very essence was Polish – his first composition was a Polonaise, his last, a Mazurka (both Polish national dances.)

PH: What works will your Tel Aviv recital include?

KR: With 2010 celebrating the 200th anniversary of Chopin’s birth, I will, of course, be playing several of his works. But the program will include a mix of pieces by other composers who had admired Chopin, their music finding its roots, inspiration or influence in his music. So the audience will have much to compare and think about while listening! Choosing a program means knowing for whom I am going to play in order to have feedback between myself and the people seated in the auditorium. It is most thrilling to the performer to sense that his/her audience is very focused on the music.

PH: Do you teach?

KR: I do not have time to teach, with such a busy performing schedule, but I do serve on piano competition juries and I hold master classes in many cities where I perform. I will be giving one day of master classes at the Israel Conservatory of Music here in Tel Aviv. I will also give a lecture on the interpretation of Chopin’s music in Poland. Throughout the lecture we will be listening to some historical recordings; technically they may be of poor quality, but musically they are magnificent! The old masters were true musicians who played several instruments, and one hears this versatility in their piano recordings.

PH: What are your future plans?

KR: I go back to Poland for recitals. One very interesting event will be a concert in the Atma mountain village, at the Karol Szymanowski Museum, a pre-1910 wooden building in which composer, pianist and author Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) lived and worked from 1930 to 1936. A far cry from a modern concert hall, the building, however, breathes atmosphere and history. And it must not be forgotten that 2010 is also the 150th anniversary of Paderewski’s birth and his music will be addressed in concerts.

PH: Let’s leave music for a moment. How do you spend your leisure time?

KR: I am a very keen photographer. My father also was and I learned much about it from him. I take many photos on my travels and, in Poland, have had exhibitions of my work. I love to take pictures of landscapes - views without signs of civilization. One of my exhibitions was called “Chopin’s Impressions” – it focused on landscapes from all over the world; there were, in fact, no photos of places where Chopin had been, but the mood of the exhibition was that of Chopin’s music, that of “zal”. And I am looking forward to taking photographs here in Israel when we tour around. My wife is a graphic designer; our artistic tastes meet both in music and in the visual arts!

PH: Maestro Radziwonowicz, many thanks for your time and for sharing so many interesting ideas. I wish you much enjoyment on your visit here in Israel.