Pianist Boris Giltburg to play Brahms with Rishon Lezion Symphony


Israeli pianist Boris Giltburg, 32, is a busy performer. Between September 24 and 26, he will participate in the Rishon Lezion Symphony Orchestra’s concert, playing Brahms’s second concerto under the baton of Avi Ostrowsky.

To illustrate just how busy he is, he says that one day before the concert series starts, he will perform a piano recital in Amsterdam, playing a difficult program that includes pieces by Scriabin, Liszt and Rachmaninoff, and then two days after the last concert here, he will fly to China to perform Chopin, Shostakovich and Rachmaninov at a gala Rubinstein recital in Beijing.

Born in Moscow, with a family heritage of piano-playing (there were several generations of pianists behind him), Giltburg convinced his mother to teach him piano. He was five years old when the family moved to Israel, where he continued to study at home, later becoming a student of professor Arie Vardi.

Winning first prize at the Queen Elizabeth Competition in Brussels in 2013 catapulted his career. A year and a half ago, he launched a long-term recording project with Naxos label, and he has already recorded three albums of music by Beethoven, Rachmaninoff and Schumann. An album that is now in the making will include Shostakovich’s piano concerti, as well as Giltburg’s own arrangement of the composer’s String Quartet No. 8.

What do these composers have in common? “First, there are two big groups of composers that I love – Russian and German. Second, everything that fuels the imagination attracts me, be it Schumann’s fantasy or the dark world of Shostakovich’s quartet or his concerti,” he explains. “I perceive some of Rachmaninoff’s etudes as rich paintings, while I see others as stories that evolve in front of your eyes – or ears.”

With his career on the rise, what pushes him forward as a musician? “A sense of dissatisfaction – and I am not talking about my career. I constantly feel that a piece can be performed better, that it is possible to delve deeper, to present richer colors, which are hidden in the score. There’s no end to it. No way you can say, ‘OK, I’m finished with Beethoven, I know everything, nothing much to do here.’ Returning to my recordings, made just two or three years ago, I realize that I play them differently now – and not especially better,” he says.

Is there any vector of his development as a pianist? “I think it is a sense of freedom.

It doesn’t mean that everything is allowed, but rather a wider approach to the piano music – to try to treat it like a string player or a vocalist would. Tension between the notes, resistance of the material – I have started approaching these concepts only recently,” he says.

Giltburg is talented in other spheres as well. Photography is his passion. Fluent in five languages, he translates German, English and Russian poetry into Hebrew.

“I have also translated The Dragon by Evgeny Schwartz,” he says, referring to a classic play by an iconic Russian Jewish satirist, in which he depicts in Aesopic language the ugly reality of Stalin and post-Stalin USSR.

“In a way, it is close to Shostakovich’s eighth quartet.

Both were brought to life by the same historic circumstances,” he says, adding, “But now I have less time for translating. I write a lot of articles about music, which one can read on my blog.”

He enjoys traveling and hiking as well, but music comes first.

In regard to Brahms’s second concerto, which he is about to perform, Giltburg talks about the difference between its movements, which “make it sound like a selection of pieces, yet one can see them as different layers of life events, and there is not always continuity and logic in life.”

The pianist confides that both Brahms’s first and second piano concerti are among his favorite pieces.

“I love them for their greatness of soul. Interesting enough, his harmonic language is rather simple, but this is not the simplicity of poverty or just of lack of expressive tools. Just the opposite – with these simple tools he somehow managed to penetrate the very depths of the listener’s heart and soul. Just listen to his third symphony or the German requiem. And even if you try to analyze it, you still can’t know how he achieved it. This is a pure magic,” he marvels.

“I sometimes think that the score is just a gate or a road to something larger that lies far beyond the notes. A note is definite, objective: it has length, tempo, volume. But music is subjective, and that is where the interpretation starts. There are many renditions of the same piece not only by different performers but even by one specific musician, and it is smaller than the piece itself, which is infinite. But going on stage, a performer needs to have a concept of the piece, at least for that particular evening, even if tomorrow he plays the same piece differently,” he says.

In summation he says, “I enjoy the immediacy of live performance. I love the magic, the silence of the audience. You may not have composed the music, but you still create it live.”


A week of highlights


Kent Nagano, an internationally acclaimed American conductor, leads the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra through several concert programs in the coming week. Nagano with the IPO, the Gary Bertini Israeli Choir, the Jerusalem Academy Chamber Choir and international solo singers, will all be going down to the Dead Sea to participate in the larger than life Israel Opera Festival at Masada Sunday playing Beethoven’s monumental Ninth Symphony.

Later next week, Nagano will be conducting a different program of piano concerti performed by Daniil Trifonov, as well as symphonic pieces by Mahler, Bizet, Berlioz and Ducas.

On the eve of his Israeli tour, the conductor, currently working as the musical director of the Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal and the Bavarian State Opera, shared with us his ideas about the place and the role of classical music in the world today, shared with us some of his ideas about the place and the role of classical music in the world of today.

“We live in a very technological and rapidly changing world, and perhaps sources that help us identify with traditions and connect with our cultural values are very helpful. And if this is the case, one can argue that classical music today is more important than it has ever been. So both in Quebec and in Germany the conservatories and music departments of universities are full of exceptionally gifted students. So we can hope that the next generations will carry the wonderful heritage of classical music into the future.”

Nagano, a third generation American of Japanese descent, says that his roots are not so easy to define. Born into the “melting pot” of American culture to parents that could hardly speak Japanese, he got his musical education from teachers who escaped to the US from European wars.

Yet arriving for the first time at Japan, as an assistant to conductor Seiji Ozawa, Nagano was astonished to “reveal various social manners that felt strangely familiar, as if I lived with them in a former life – and for this I have no explanation.”

Speaking of the problems confronted nowadays by music directors of major classical institutions, Nagano points at budgetary issues, which are felt globally.

“On the positive side,” he continues, “I see a real explosion of young talent, coming to orchestras and opera stages. They are well-trained versatile young artists, something we did not see 50 years ago. As someone who has been involved not only in performance of the standard repertoire, but somehow trying to find a way to the repertoire of the future, I’ve met many very talented composers, which seem (I say seem because one can’t be sure about the future) to be able to tie the heritage of the 17th-20th centuries towards the language of the 21th century.”

“I suppose that budgetary stress is at most a superficial problem compared to the true challenges of musicians. There are deeper problems we as performing artists need to deal with, and the most important one is that we need to search again and again for the profound meaning of the music. Music is a universal language, and it continues to be relevant over time. But this is only possible if every generation redefines for themselves what the essential quality of the music is. It is up to us to feel anew the pertinence of this form of human expression and if we don’t do it, the next generation will not be able to follow us, they will not be able to move the tradition forward. Maybe this is the major challenge musicians have nowadays.

“Many music institutions complain that there are not enough young people in the audience. I say that this is not the fault of the young people – it means that we probably don’t make a strong enough argument. We are confronting this problem very actively, both in Quebec and in Munich, and are nearly going the opposite way to where the trend in the US is going – to lower the level in order to make classical music accessible to wider audiences. Yet in Quebec we have been pushing the level even higher, making it more challenging both intellectually and emotionally. And the young audience have responded positively. Because as every performing artists knows – and I believe everybody knows – if you are not telling the truth, not being authentic, nobody is going to believe you. But again, there are many ways to achieve the same goal – I do not pretend to possess the ultimate truth, I am just an artist.”

Jerusalem Symphony pays tribute to Shira Banki


The Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra opens its 2016/2017 concert season with the world première of Holes in Time by 27-yearold Israeli composer Daniel Markovich. It was written in memory of Shira Banki, the 16-year-old girl murdered by a religious fanatic at the 2015 Jerusalem Pride Parade.

“The piece was commissioned by the orchestra. Less than a year ago, the JSO composer-in-residence Aviya Kopelman approached me, saying that they had heard my music and liked it and wanted me to compose a piece for the orchestra. I had mixed feelings of happiness and sadness because just a few months had passed since Shira’s murder,” says Markovich. “This is an eight and a half-minute orchestral piece, with the noticeable presence of a harp in the score. I tried to make the piece as melodic as possible. Melody is what I miss a lot nowadays, both for my ear and composing. There is a melody in the piece that really leads the music.”

But why melodic? We are talking about a heinous crime.

“First of all, melodic does not necessarily mean something nice and sweet. For me, it is a tool to advance the story, to present what is important for me and something to identify with. Second, although it was a violent act, the image of Shira really haunted me during the entire process of composing the piece. I tried to liberate myself from it but failed. It was like an inner voice that constantly sounded in my head,” he says.

Kopelman says, “We made a point of commissioning a piece from a young composer to commemorate Shira Banki. We took into consideration several aspects – professional and esthetic ones, since music by Markovich is amazingly beautiful, but also others, such as the orchestra’s appeal to our varied audiences.”

Born in central Israel, Markovich played piano from the age of six, later switching to saxophone.

“I studied at the Thelma Yellin School of Arts, which allowed me to serve my army term as the IDF orchestra saxophone player,” he says. “Interestingly enough, it was in the army that I got interested in composition. It began with short fragments, and then I realized that I needed to study composition. As a result, I became a composer, writing a programmatic music – that is, music for movies. As a child, I was enchanted by the magic of music in films, which interlaces with the visual and, with it, tells the story. And composing for a symphony orchestra interested me a lot as well. I’m talking about classical, acoustic music for movies. John Williams is the composer who has influenced me the most.”

Markovich took a few composition courses at the Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music in Ramat Hasharon, and then continued his education at the Tel Aviv Music Academy.

“There, too, I studied composition but dropped it and moved to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. I just wanted to find out what it was like over there,” he recounts. “It was a positive experience. It was different. The education in Israel was good, but it was the same pool of people, the same mentality. Not that the teachers were bad, God forbid, but when you met a new teacher, there was the sense of something familiar.

While in London, everything was different, starting with the language and the approach. They really went deep to the roots, especially those of English music. There was a lot of early music.”

What did it provide to Markovich as a composer living and creating in the 21 century? “It was mind opening. It shows you that besides our contemporary world and the expressive tools we use now, there are others. You see that people who lived centuries ago expressed the same emotions in a different way, using different music language,” he says.

Markovich also spent a semester at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

“That was very special. I met performers and played my music with them,” he says.

Markovich returned to Israel two years ago. Since then, he has been composing music for movies, TV, computer games for smartphones, etc.

Is there any connection between music for the cinematic “dream factory” and music dedicated to the tragic event that took place here? “Yes, there is. It’s about storytelling. There’s no contradiction between the world of fantasy and the murder that happened in the real world. Just the opposite – I feel there is a connection between the two,” he says.

It is not so easy to be a composer in Israel, especially nowadays, so has Markovich ever considered moving to some other, quieter place, where jobs are more plentiful? “No, I feel good here,” he says.

“Returning to Israel after my London sortie, I felt such a click. I know that I belonged to this place. As for the job – well, there is always a chance that something will pop up and you can carry on.”

The JSO concert program also features Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 and Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde.

Violinist Asi Matathias, mezzosoprano Lena Belkina and tenor Andeka Gorrotxategi will be the soloists. JSO music director Frédéric Chaslin will conduct.

A bass-baritone sings Bach


German bass-baritone Raimund Nolte will perform in Bach’s Mass in B Minor at the Israel Chamber Orchestra’s season opener on September 13 and 14 in Tel Aviv.

Nolte is a highly sought artist, with numerous successful performances on Europe’s most prestigious operatic and concert stages to his credit. Yet as a young man, he was not sure that singing would provide him a steady income.

“In addition to music, I studied mathematics to become a high school teacher,” says Nolte in a phone interview on the eve of his Israeli tour. “I felt I needed to acquire a ‘real’ profession. At the age of 20, I was a little afraid to become a singer. I am a bassbaritone, and it took a lot of time for my voice to develop. So I continued my music studies. I played viola, I sang in the Musica Antica Koln ensemble, I kept studying and singing privately. In my mid-20s, I finally decided to opt for a career as a singer.”

As a musician, Nolte is a person of wide interests.

“At first, I sang a lot in various Medieval and Baroque music ensembles. I also sang Bach. To become a true singer, you need to sing in operas and in concerts. So when I felt that I had developed my voice enough, I started singing in operas – first in Dusseldorf and then in the Komische Oper in Berlin. Yet even becoming an opera singer, I never gave up singing in oratories. I have to admit that this is not simple, especially in Germany, where they put you in a specific category – you’re either an opera singer or a concert singer.

But I always made it a point to be both. But again, schedule-wise this is quite complicated because being part of an opera production, you are lost to the world for several months. You cannot say, “Sorry, I am not singing on that specific date.’” Why did he start with early music as a young singer? “Baroque music, that of Bach for example, is like mathematics – you can divide it. It’s rhythmic, somewhat abstract, less emotional. I grew up on this music. But later, when my voice developed more, I noticed that Romantic music, such as Wagner, was very good for my voice. And if you are a bass-baritone, it is possible to do both Baroque and Romantic. This summer I was in Bayreuth singing in Tristan and Isolda, and a few weeks later I will sing Bach in Israel. I love this variety,” he says.

In Tel Aviv, Nolte will perform the bass-baritone part in Bach’s Mass in B Minor.

“I love this piece because it includes elements of Bach’s old and new styles. And there also are two amazingly beautiful arias for bass. They are also very difficult – one is very low, and the other very high. It actually is for a baritone, but my voice, which covers two octaves, allows me to sing it. That is why I am often asked to perform in this piece. I made two different recordings of this mass, and I have performed it in concerts about 100 times,” he says.

This is not Nolte’s first appearance in Israel.

“I first performed in Israel some 25 years ago as a choir member. It was Vespers by Monteverdi. I also sang the solo part in the Mass in B Minor with the Camerata under Avner Biron. I also remember vividly a wonderful series of concerts with the Netanya Kibbutz Chamber Orchestra in autumn 2012, when we performed Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion. For me, as a German Christian, singing Jesus in Israel with an Israeli orchestra for a Jewish audience, it was a very special experience,” he says.

Bach’s Mass in B Minor will be performed by the Israeli Chamber Orchestra under the baton of Ariel Zuckerman. With soloists soprano Clair Meghnagi; contralto Avital Deri; bass-baritone Raimund Nolte; and tenor Eitan Drori, as well as the Chamber Choir of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance.

Another string to her bow


Rosa Fain, a prominent violinist who was born in Russia and has been living in Germany since 1980, is the distinguished guest of the Keshet Eilon International Violin and String Mastercourse.

A former student of David Oistrakh’s and later partner on stage, Fain was born in Odessa in 1929. In 1957, she won the prestigious Henryk Weniawski international competition. The victory in Poznas opened many major concert halls of the world for her. She performed with illustrious orchestras and conductors; she also became a highly respected educator. For years she has been a professor at the School of Music in Düsseldorf; she has also sat on the jury of well-known competitions.

Her first teacher was the legendary Pyotr Stoliarsky, to whom many famous musicians owe the start of their career.

“Stoliarsky searched for talented kids in the street,” Fain says. “He looked at the kids and sometimes told their parents, ‘Your child has wonderful hands. You simply must teach them music!”

Fain, who studied with Stoliarsky since the age of four, says she still remembers him vividly: “He was a very kind person, yet quite strict as a teacher. Professional music-making demands the utmost dedication from an artist. It is a sweet burden to which one devotes one’s entire life.”

Delving into her memories, she recalls how once in an ancient and well-preserved German city, she spent a night at a hotel where Paganini had once stayed.

“I was thrilled when I saw the memorial tablet that Paganini had stayed at the hotel in 1837. I thought, ‘How small after all this world is; and if music does not especially make people better, it undoubtedly brings them closer to one to another.’”

Fain continued her studies with Benjamin Mordkovich in Odessa, and then in Moscow with Oistrakh.

“I performed a lot all over the world but even more in the Soviet Union, and quite early I became rather politicized. I saw what life really was under the inhuman Soviet regime; I realized that what was written in the newspapers were sheer lies. By Soviet standards, our family was rich – I was a successful performing artist, and my husband was a linguist and translator. But at some point we felt that we’d had enough; we didn’t want to live in those lies and tolerate the state’s anti- Semitism. So we applied for emigration,” she recounts.

The couple and their son left the USSR in 1980 “with three suitcases, without my violin and bow – that was the condition. We left everything behind. When asked if I have ever been homesick, I always answer, ‘Not Russia; but its culture, its music, literature and painting are my true homeland,’” she says.

The traditional route of Soviet emigrants passed through Vienna.

“On the following day, I received a telegram from the Dusseldorf school of music. They offered me a professorial position, which I accepted. I have loved teaching all my life. Already as a student, when my teacher Benjamin Mordkovich was hospitalized with a heart attack, he asked me to replace him in our class and to teach my fellow students at the Odessa conservatory. But in the conservatory of Moscow, Jewish professors were not exactly welcome, due to the state-supported anti-Semitism,” says Fain.

“I see teaching as an obligation – I have to pass on what I was taught and what I later learned myself. Teaching is not a profession but rather a vocation. I am happy and proud that during my teaching career I have prepared more than 250 violinists. All of them have found their place in the world of music. For me, it has always been important to develop my students’ individuality, not only their technique. I was probably the only professor of our Dusseldorf conservatory who was asked to stay and keep teaching after reaching retirement age,” she says.

Fain, who has visited Israel on numerous occasions and has heard about Keshet Eilon for many years, says, “I was happy to accept the invitation to join its faculty.”


Music: Madness, Italian style



In its eighth concert series under the baton of newly appointed artistic director James Judd, the Rishon Lezion Symphony will perform Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto; Schumann’s Symphony No. 2; and Concerto da Camera La Folia for four woodwinds and a string ensemble by Israeli composer Menahem Wiesenberg. Amaury Coyetaux, a successful young French violinist, will make his Israeli debut playing solo in the demanding Tchaikovsky concerto.

Speaking about Schumann’s Symphony No. 2, the orchestra CEO (and pianist) Ariel Cohen says, “Strangely enough, this beautiful symphony has somehow been neglected by our orchestra, which is a pity. Difficult to perform, it is easily perceived, and I am sure our audience will enjoy it.”

But it is Wiesenberg’s La Folia that is an intriguing highlight of the concert.

Commissioned by the Israeli Camerata Jerusalem, it was composed in the early 2000s during the composer’s stay in a quiet place in Wisconsin.

La Folia is a dance form,” says Weisenberg. “At first it was intended for my choreographer wife to use, but then other factors came into the picture. La folia means “madness” in Italian. Centuries ago, people used to dance to this sort of music like mad.

But my composing the piece coincided with the outbreak of the second intifada. I almost never write music on existing forms, things like theme and variation, but my La Folia (and before me, dozens if not hundreds of La Folias were written by many composers) was clearly written as a response to that of Corelli. Its fourth movement is called ‘Lamento,’ which means ‘lamentation.’ At that time, the negotiations between Yasser Arafat and prime minister Ehud Barak failed, and the latter freed terrorists. I felt that something bad was going to happen to us, I just didn’t know the extent of this evil. So this Folia is also a madness that took possession of the world. But again, that was only one of many triggers that caused me to write this piece,” he says.

Asked how it feels to be a composer in Israel as compared to, say, the US or Europe, Wiesenberg, a first-generation Israeli born to Holocaust survivors, says that being a composer who writes art music is not an easy thing anywhere in the world.

“But while in America powerful commercial forces are involved in the world of music, and in Europe there is probably still an aura surrounding a classical composer, here in Israel it is simply not important. I feel neither opposition nor support. It’s like ‘Israeli classical music exists – it’s OK, it doesn’t bother us’; there’s a ‘let it be’ kind of attitude,” he says.

So what is it that keeps him in this country? “By training, I am first and foremost a concert pianist, both jazz and classical, and I am active in the field of performing. As such, I could have lived abroad. But I see myself as a Jewish Israeli composer, and this facet is an important part of my identity. I am a Jewish composer, since many influences of the Jewish musical culture, including liturgy, are present in my music. I am Israeli because I am open to the entire sound ocean that surrounds us and the music of non-Jews who also inhabit this land. As a performing artist I could have lived abroad, but it would not be the true me. For me as a composer who aspires to express in music the fabric of Israeli life, living in Israel is essential,” he asserts.

Symphonic thousand


The Israel Symphony Orchestra Rishon Lezion will perform Mahler’s gargantuan Symphony No. 8 with Noam Sheriff conducting.

Mahler’s work is one of the most voluminous compositions ever written.

Due to its size and the number of performers, it was dubbed The Symphony of a Thousand. In addition to the orchestral musicians, the gala concert will feature around 300 singers, including a children’s choir and a large choir from Zagreb, Croatia, and several soloists. The latter include German soprano Regine Hangler, Polish mezzo-soprano Agnieszka Rehlis, British baritone David Wakeham and Russian- born bass Denis Sedov.

The concerts will be preceded by a panel discussion moderated by Norman Lebrecht, (Pictured),one of the world’s most well-known music journalists and writers. He will also deliver a lecture in Hebrew entitled “Why Mahler?” “I lived in Israel between 1964 and 1972 with a one-year gap,” says Lebrecht in a phone interview from his London office. “Hebrew is not the language I speak every day, so it will be a challenge,” adds the energetic 66-year-old.

Lebrecht, who in his book Who Killed Classical Music? (“Not my title,” he is quick to mention) among other pieces, described the deplorable condition of the genre, says that today he is f ar more optimistic than he was a decade ago.

“I believe that this is partly about zeitgeist,” he says. “Granted, older people are prevalent in concert halls because that is what they have been doing for their entire lives, and maybe younger people are deterred by their presence. But I see a lot of wonderful young performers who bring with them younger audiences. There is a sense of renewal. But then again, you would never know it from the old media. The recording industry does not exist anymore in the form we knew it, and newspapers and radio stations are under immense pressure to go to the lowest denominator.”

Speaking about his activities, Lebrecht stresses that he has “always rejected the term ‘music critic.’ Going to a concert at night and writing about it for the next morning has never been a part of my job. I’ve always had doubts about the validity and viability of that activity. It seemed to me that if we write about music, we have to write about it as part of human life, and that’s what I’ve always done. When I started writing about classical music in The Sunday Times years ago, I was the first to write about it outside of the arts section, which has become a ghetto, putting stories about music on the front page of the main paper. And this has always been the way I wrote about music in 12 books and in more articles than I can count. And that was the way we could engage the audience in a dialogue about music.

Leaving radio five years ago, I plunged into research of the possibilities of creating an online dialogue between the author and the audience, the consumer, which has not been attempted before. Now we have 1.2 million readers a month.

And this is classical music? The dying art? Something people don’t care about? This says that the clichés about classical music are wrong.

There are possibilities online that can help revive the whole form in live performance, and we see it in many different art forms. But it must not be left in the hands of dinosaurs,” he asserts.

Switching to the reason that brings him to Israel, Lebrecht says, “The question ‘Why Mahler?’ has been preoccupying me for more than 20 years. I even wrote two books about Mahler. The question is simple. Never in the history of music has a composer who was despised during his lifetime, rejected and nearly forgotten for half a century, returned to become the center of symphonic conversation, actually displacing Beethoven from the center. Mahler is the hot ticket, while Beethoven is just routine,” he says.

“So what is it in Mahler’s music that is contemporary and relevant to our lives in the 21st century? One of the issues that led us to his uniqueness is his Jewish identity. You cannot approach the innovations that Mahler made in music, the way he enabled us to listen to music differently, without understanding the Jewish background he came from. You cannot look at a page of Mahler without thinking of it as text and context. You can say the same about a page of Torah: that the text that is in the middle does not come to life without interpretation until it has a commentary. And the commentary and the interpretation are the essence of Mahler. This idea is so particular to the Jewish way of understanding the world, that in interpreting Mahler you cannot separate him from his Jewishness,” he says.

“I remember standing in front of the audience at Yale and showing them a page of Talmud, saying: ‘Look, here in the middle is Mahler, and everything that is around it, like Rashi, Rishonim, Aharonim, etc, is what we have to do with it.’ Because Mahler himself said, ‘Music does not exist in the notes.’ Well, those are just a few highlights of my lecture in Tel Aviv,” Lebrecht sums up.

December 10 at 8 p.m. at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center (the Opera House). December 11, 13 and 14 at 8:30 p.m. in Rishon Lezion. For reservations: (03) 948-4840 or Bravo online booking office.

The “Why Mahler” symposium takes place December 9 at 4 p.m. at the Opera House in Tel Aviv. For tickets and more information: (03) 948-4840.

Vintage Donizetti


The new production of the Israeli Opera is La Fille du Regiment, a popular comic opera by Gaetano Donizetti. This is the first time this opera is being staged in Israel, and the cast includes fine international and Israeli singers. But the best news is probably that renowned Italian conductor Alberto Zedda, one of the world’s leading specialists in bel canto, returns to Tel Aviv.

During his long artistic career, Zedda has led major opera orchestras throughout the world and served as artistic director for several major opera houses such as La Scala, as well as many festivals.

He has recorded numerous albums of symphonic music, chamber music and opera, and his contribution as a musicologist and teacher is impossible to overestimate.

Local opera aficionados may well remember the lightness and elegance with which the maestro led the Israeli Opera musical forces through Rossini’s Cenerentola some 10 years ago, while others may recall his Israeli debut with the Israel Philharmonic.

At 8 p.m., after a long and tiring rehearsal day, the 83-year-old Zedda does not show any sign of fatigue. On the contrary: He sinks into his armchair in the conductor’s room at the Opera House with a serene smile and begins to talk about what he loves most – music.

“La Fille du Regiment is a very Rossinian opera – lucid, light, with joie de vivre written all over it,” he says.

“One should not look for great dramatic depth in Donizetti’s music, but as a comic he is at his best. As is well known, Donizetti was a good friend of Rossini’s and was strongly influenced by him. This is one of the last bel canto operas ever written, and it is like champagne.”

Zedda goes on to explain that singing Donizetti is far from simple and demands special experience from the singer. “For this repertoire, a singer needs not only an excellent vocal instrument and virtuosity but also a lot of intellect – to transform notes into images, emotions, sentiments. Bel canto is about playing with the voice, it’s about vocal colors, about freshness. A story is usually just a pretext to showcase a singer’s vocal abilities. That said, although there’s not much depth here, situations in which people find themselves today do not differ much from those of the past – the same problems.”

The conductor stresses that bel canto implies only the best performance.

“When you listen to, say, La Traviata, you will cry even if the performance is not fantastic because the musical drama carries you away. But in bel canto repertoire, the line between greatness and banality is very thin.”

Zedda has nothing but praise for Iride Martinez in the title role and Israeli soprano Hila Baggio in the supporting role. “Very beautiful voice, simply marvelous. And I believe that when the orchestra hears the singers, it will help them to grasp and to express the beauty of Donizetti’s music. The miracle happens – they play with joy. It does not stay on earth, it flies.”
And he goes on to speak about bel canto, raising his elegant conductor’s hands as if caressing with his flexible fingers the tender fabric of Donizetti’s hedonistic music, repeating with a smile: “Bello, bello, bello…”

The language of the heart


Austrian conductor Ernest Hoetzl leads the Tel Aviv Soloists Ensemble in an interesting program, which features works by Bach, Tchaikovsky and Veress, with the Silver-Garburg piano duo as soloists. Prior to the performance, the conductor talks about his career and the concert program.

He says that in his high school years, he had already made up his mind to become a musician. His parents didn’t object but wanted him to learn something “real” in addition. His choice of subjects was most practical.

“From a very young age I had an affinity for ancient cultures, so I opted for Latin, Greek and Sanskrit,” he says.

Over the years, Hoetzl has been pursuing two careers. In addition to his many degrees in piano performance, conducting, musicology and music education, he also acquired a PhD in philosophy and is fluent in nine languages.

“I picked up all these languages because I made it a habit when going to different countries to try to learn the local language. This provides access to the hearts and feelings of the people, to the very soul of the people. So I kept adding languages to my list,” he explains.

The list of languages includes Russian.

“Many years ago, when I started conducting in Armenia, I discovered that people there spoke only Armenian and Russian. Armenian is far too difficult and small in terms of population, so I picked up Russian, which was not easy either, but it paid off. On my recent visits to Israel, when I conducted the Rishon and Haifa symphony orchestras, I had a great time communicating in this language with many musicians who came from the former USSR,” he says.

But with all due respect for his love of languages, Hoetzl admits that for him, making music is a privilege.

“For me, music is a bridge to the people. As Pythagoras said, ‘Music is the language of the heart, the only language that enters the soul without having to pass through the filter of the brain first.’ I think that is a great quote. And if you know this language, you are able to communicate with your audience on a metaphoric level, which is a great blessing.”

Among his favorite conductors are Herbert von Karajan, Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Daniel Barenboim.

“A good conductor is one who is able to explain his musical ideas to the orchestra and to project them to the audience,” he says.

And where is the borderline between the conductor’s interpretation and the composer’s concept of the piece? “That is one of the most difficult questions of musicology. I wrote a book about it, and it would take an entire semester to give an answer.

But in a nutshell, the question actually is about what the composer had in mind when he composed the piece and what kind of effect he wanted it to have on the audience. Naturally, the audience has changed over the past 300 years, so if you want to create the same effect as Mozart did on his audience, you have to use different means. So you have to put your interpretation between these two points. I think that as long as it has some meaning and you manage to move your audience, the job is done well,” he says.

Speaking about the concert program, the conductor finds it most interesting and stresses that he will have the privilege of performing with his two good musical friends, Sivan Silver and Gil Garburg.

“In my eyes, they are two halves of a whole because when they play on two pianos, it sounds like one, and it’s amazing. The program features Homage to Paul Klee for Two Pianos and Orchestra by Sandor Veress; Bach’s Concerto for Two Pianos in C Minor; and Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings,” he says.

The concerts take place on February 13 at Rappaport Hall in Haifa; and February 14 at the Israeli Conservatory in Tel Aviv. For tickets, call 054-693-4439.

Singing its praises


Ernani, Verdi’s little-known early opera, based on Victor Hugo’s play Hernani, is a seldom performed work. The improbable story of three men – a king, a nobleman and a bandit (Ernani) – who all fall in love with the lovely Elvira in 16th-century Spain is the next production of the Israeli Opera, directed by Michael Znaniecki. American conductor George Pehlivanian returns to the opera house podium after his successful debut last winter, passing the baton to Israeli maestro Yishai Steckler in a of the performances. The cast is phenomenal, featuring many familiar names of international soloists, such as Pierro Giuliacci and Hugh Smith in the title role, Michele Crider, Paata Burchuladze, Ramaz Chikviladze, Vitorrio Vitelli, as well as Israelis Efrat Ashkenazi, Yifat Weisskopf, Felix Livshitz and Noah Briger.

It’s an Israeli debut for prominent Italian baritone Carlo Guelfi, who will appear as Carlo, King of Spain. Guelfi performs regularly at La Scala, the Metropolitan, Covent Garden and the other major opera houses of the world. His repertoire includes leading roles in Tosca, Aida, Nabucco, Otello, La Traviata, La fanciulla del West, Pagliacci, Cavalleria rusticana and many others.

Late in the evening at the Israeli Opera cafeteria, after a tiring day of rehearsals, charismatic and elegant Guelfi speaks about his musical preferences. “Over the years, I have performed Verdi’s operas, as well as some verismo pieces, operas by Puccini, Mascagni – in other words, what is called great Italian repertoire.”

Guelfi’s debut was in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. Straight after that, he was catapulted to perform the title role in Rigoletto. “I love that role, and it brought me a lot of luck.

Due to my physical size it was not easy to play it, especially in the first act, because a court jester is usually envisioned as somebody small. But vocally it went very well, and not only in Rigoletto; I did all Verdi’s major baritone parts. I love Donizetti, but the problem there is to find an appropriate partner for the role.”

He has nothing but praise for this little-known piece by Verdi. “Ernani is one of his early operas, but it is replete with amazingly beautiful music. The best elements of Verdi’s music are already there.”

On his first visit to Israel, Guelfi is already in love with Tel Aviv. “Israel is the cradle of the three major religions. You simply feel that here is the force that makes the world go round. But it’s Tel Aviv that I enjoy in many ways. For me, it’s the New York of this part of the world. The energy, you simply feel it. There are crowds of beautiful young people in the streets, I see a lot of young parents with lovely kids, pregnant women. For me, it says a lot because in many parts of the world, society has become egotistic; they live for the day and don’t think about tomorrow. People live for themselves and are already consuming their future – and they don’t want children. Here, it is different: People are very pleasant, and this is a great sign. Believe me, I’m not saying this to sound nice or to win favor. I now understand why Zubin Mehta, under whose baton I have performed numerous operas, says he feels at home here,” he says.

“I even asked my wife, ‘Maybe you would like to have a small apartment in Tel Aviv so we could spend two winter months here?’ The weather is simply wonderful, much better than in Rome.”

Signora Guelfi, who is sitting with us during the conversation, nods with a smile.