On October 20 at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and the following night at the Mishkenot Sha’ananim Music Center in Jerusalem, the Israel Contemporary Players – the country’s veteran and arguably leading contemporary music ensemble – opens its 22nd season.

“The ensemble is well known far beyond the limits of Israel and is often invited to appear at important contemporary music centers throughout the world due to the high quality of its performance,” says the ensemble’s founder and artistic director, Dan Yuhas. Within more than 20 years of its existence, the ensemble has premiered in Israel the best of the 20th and the 21st century classical music repertoire, as well as commissioned numerous pieces to local composers.

“This is our policy,” says Yuhas. “For example, at the opening concert we will perform Ligeti’s piano concerto, acknowledged as one of the 20th century’s musical milestones.”

Since the opening concert of the ensemble is also the closing concert of the Asian Contemporary Music Festival, a piece by Israeli composer Benjamin Yusupov, as well as some by Far East composers Isao Matsushita, Yan Chen and Chee Kong Ho, will also make their Israeli premieres. Zolt Nadj, the chief conductor of the ensemble, will lead the musicians, with Ofra Itzhaki at the piano.

Among other conductors who will step up to the ensemble’s podium is young, successful Israeli maestro Ilan Volkov/ “He is a rising star, a conductor who leads the best orchestras in the world yet always finds time to return to our ensemble with the most challenging programs,” says Yuhas. “Volkov brings to Israel a three-day Tectonics Festival, with concerts at Hateiva [a small, prestigious hall in Jaffa, which is the ensemble's home base] at Levontin 7 and at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.”

Uncompromising quality of performance has always been the motto of the ensemble. “The reason is simple,” says Yuhas. “If you perform Beethoven badly, the audience will blame the performer; but if Ligeti is played not in the way his music deserves, people will think that the music is not good.”

This approach dictates the choice of soloists. The soft-spoken Yuhas, one of those introverted people who manage to move mountains by the power of their belief, brings to Israel the best musicians available. For example, in January two excellent Israeli musicians will return to perform at home – “trombonist Benny Sluchin, the founding member of Boulez’s Ensemble Intercontemporain, and horn player Saar Berger, who is a soloist of the Ensemble Moderne.

They will play the most demanding double concerto by Benedict Mason, which suggest the utmost virtuosity of the soloists,” he says.

Part of the ensemble’s activity takes place at Hateiva, which serves as a venue for contemporary music fringe concerts and presentations.

“Whatever goes on in the contemporary music fringe, you can find at Hateiva,” says Yuhas.

Today, it’s impossible to imagine the local music scene without the Israel Contemporary Players, which has won the appreciation of audiences, critics and local institutions. It was awarded the Landau Prize for Excellence.

“Probably one of the most important results of our activity is that we have managed to educate a new audience for this kind of music, and some of them have stayed with us for the 22nd year in return, which is very moving,” says Yuhas. “We feel that the attitude of the audience has changed; They are now used to listening to contemporary music.

Precise and high-quality performances of contemporary music give the audience tools to relate to the pieces they hear. Granted, in every epoch only a small part of the overall artistic output survives, while most pieces are not good enough. Nowadays, since the very concept of art has widened, the percent of not-so-good pieces is even higher. So in our concerts, we always perform one piece that is regarded as an absolute masterpiece – just to give the audience a point of reference. And I hope that we have succeeded in our task,” Yuhas concludes.

For more details and reservations: www.ensemble21.org.il

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