Once upon a time, classical music was not generally performed in state-of-the-art auditoria and swanky chandelier-lit halls. There were troubadours who took their musical skills from town to town, and artists and ensembles proffered what were essentially the popular sounds of the day. If Avri Levitan had his way, we’d get back to those good old days.
The Germany-based Israeli viola player will bring his Musethica program to Israel as part of the 30th edition of the Kol Hamusica Festival, which will based at Kfar Blum in the Galilee, from July 22 to 26. Levitan devised the concept in 2009, and it was officially launched in 2012 in Zaragoza, Spain, in conjunction with economics lecturer Prof. Carmen Marcuello. Musethica is now also active in Berlin and is spreading to other locations around the world.
Musethica introduces a new concept and approach of higher education to classical music performance. The central tenet of the project is to create a model for gifted music students to perform on a regular basis for different audiences, principally for people who do not typically attend traditional concert halls. The concerts comprise top-class chamber music, from solo performances to octet formats, and comprise a basic and invaluable part of the education of the young musicians, who receive no fee for their stage work.
This is clearly music by the people, for the people. The concerts take place at all types of venues within the community, such as special education schools, hospitals, psychiatric centers, prisons, centers for the homeless, community centers and social enterprises. The model also provides the students with an opportunity to play a large number of concerts during the year, thereby offering them valuable stage time and enabling them to hone their instrumental skills in actual performance situations. And there is the wonderful added value of bringing joy and quality entertainment to children, youth and adults during the academic year.
Next week’s Musethica program actually starts the day before the Kol Hamusica Festival kicks off. Levitan and his young cohorts – Swedishborn violinist Filip Gloria, Israeli violinist Ori Wissner-Levy, Estonian-born viola player Johanna Vahermägi and Israeli cellist Michal Beck – have their work cut out for them on July 21 to 23. They begin their performance marathon at the Renanin School for Special Education in Kiryat Shmona with a 9:30 a.m. slot for the 6 to 11-year-old age group. That will be followed, an hour later, by a performance for 12 to 21-year-olds at the same venue.
Then the quintet will have just threequarters of an hour to hotfoot it over to the Emek Hahula School in Kibbutz Kfar Blum, the main festival site, to perform for a special education class. Levitan & Co. can then take it easy for a few hours before their 10:20 p.m. gig at the Pitria pub in nearby Kibbutz Dan.
The next day sees the musicians give three concerts in Kibbutz Ayelet Hashachar for autistic children of various ages and for new olim from Ethiopia. On July 23 they will perform at a senior citizens’ home in Kiryat Shmona and at a special education school in Mevo’ot Ha’hermon.
The quintet’s concert in the official festival program will take place at the Clore Center Hall in Kfar Blum at 10 a.m. on July 24, when they will perform Mozart’s G Minor String Quintet K. 516 and Brahms’s G Major String Quintet Op.111.
The power of music to connect with all kinds of people on all levels from different cultures and with different levels of perception is well chronicled. But it is interesting to consider whether the genre to which the music pertains also plays a significant role here. For example, are there certain types of music that are more emotive than others? Do people with special needs find it easier to get something from the sounds being presented to them if, for example, the material is classical music as opposed to the blues or folk songs? “I am not sure it is the type of music that is important here,” says Levitan.
“I think the composer plays an important role and, of course, who is playing the music. Is it The Beatles or is it [legendary classical violinist Yitzhak] Perlman? The challenge for the musicians is to play the works so beautifully that the audience, regardless of whether they are familiar with the repertoire or the genre at all, enjoy what they hear. That’s no mean challenge.”
Levitan recently sampled the proof of that particular pudding when he took part in the second Musethica Festival in Zaragoza, where it all began two years ago.
“We played for all kinds of audiences – at a prison, for children with special needs and for homeless people, and others. We played Brahms’s First String Quintet – people are generally much better acquainted with his Second Quintet – at a school for immigrant children. There were children of all sorts of ethnic backgrounds, and they were all so moved. There was one child who sat there and listened intently to the whole work and, at the end, he came to me and asked me where the music was from and said that it was so beautiful. I could have started telling him about Brahms and that the work came from Hamburg, but that wasn’t it important. What was important was that he’d enjoyed the concert,” he says.
Musethica concerts are given free which, says Levitan, adds to the challenge. “The members of the audience are not obliged to come to the concert. They don’t pay for a ticket, and that makes them a tough nut to crack. But we have to do the business. We have to perform to the best of our abilities, and the rewards are always there for everyone to see,” he asserts.
There will be plenty of other rewards for the festival goers over the five days at Kfar Blum and environs.
The program is festooned with music gems right across the board with works that span centuries and mindsets galore, from Beethoven and Mozart to 20th-century Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski and the premiere of a work by Israeli composer Oded Zehavi.
In addition to the traditional concert format, there will be a blast from the past panel discussion and a sing-along slot led by Zehavi and festival founder Idith Zvi; a fun talk by entertaining conductor-lecturer Roni Porat; and a concert by iconic pop, rock and jazz-inflected composer, pianist and vocalist Yoni Rechter. Music lovers with eclectic tastes and a penchant for the theatrical should get a lot out of the Sirenot female vocal ensemble’s renditions of songs by English Baroque composer Henry Purcell, as well as special arrangements of pop and rock numbers by the likes of The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and Led Zeppelin.
Thirty years of earnest endeavor is nothing to be sniffed at, and the festival’s landmark outing will be marked by the Crazy Music concert with a stellar lineup, including Idith Zvi, former artistic director Michael Melzer, Plesser and actress-singer Isabel Karajan, daughter of celebrated Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan. There will also be master classes and open rehearsals, as well as jazz shows courtesy of students and teachers from the Rimon School of Music and Boston-based Berklee College of Music, not to mention shows at kibbutzim, youth centers and bars all around the local region.
Kol Hamusica Festival artistic director and cellist Zvi Plesser has certainly pulled out all the stops this time around.
For tickets and more information:(04) 681-6640 and www.kol-hamusica.org.il.