The upcoming Strings and Romance concert in the Tel Aviv Soloists Ensemble series includes a couple of the usual suspects in the form of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in D Minor and Dvorak’s String Quartet in F Major “American,” arranged for string orchestra. But there is also a contemporary work by Alon Nechushtan in the lineup.
Local audiences will be the first in the world to hear a full performance of Nechushtan’s new Secret Sect work for string orchestra. The 30something pianist’s inclusion in the ensemble’s repertoire may come as a surprise, as the New Yorkbased artist is known primarily for his endeavor in the jazz field. He is an acclaimed member of the jazz fraternity, with 10 CDs and a globe-trotting year-round schedule.
However, Nechushtan has always maintained an allembracing approach to sonic enterprise, and Secret Sect is not his first foray into the contemporary classical sphere.
“I am a firm believer in the multi-stylistic approach of young contemporary composers,” he says.
As far as Nechushtan is concerned, almost anything goes.
“I have the desire and ability to feel at ease with a wide range of styles, be it writing for a big band or a jazz group or an orchestral work or even a radio jingle. I feel that the challenge to find the next thing I would like to do opens up opportunities and new worlds for me to progress towards the challenges that await me in the 21st century, towards sounds that are inspirational and vital,” he explains.
Nechushtan came up with the idea for Secret Sect a couple of months ago, following a working visit to the Philippines, where the Manila Symphony Orchestra performed his Clarinet Concerto for Orchestra.
“Straight after the concert, I was left with ideas that I wanted to apply in the current work,” he recounts. “I feel that the constant leaping about from one field to another leaves me as excited as a baby taking his first baby steps to the next station.”
The upcoming concert provides another opportunity for him to work with Tel Aviv Soloists Ensemble founder and musical director Barak Tal.
“Barak and I were students together in the Composition Department [of the Rubin Academy of Music and Dance] in Jerusalem, where we studied with Mark Kopytman. At the same time, I also studied with Zvi Avni, Haim Alexander and Yosef Bardanashvili.
I feel, just like the Juilliard String Quartet, who studied and got to know [American composer] Elliot Carter when they were students together, the relationship of shared studies and the people you work with during your formative musical years are of inestimable value,” he says.
The work that Tal and the ensemble will perform was created at Tal’s behest.
Nechushtan feels that his endeavor in the jazz and classical worlds is a natural fit.
“I studied both fields at the same time,” he says. “At the academy, I took the classical side very seriously, and I completed my studies based on classical composition. I always thought that my jazz education was lacking in Israel, so I went to the New England Conservatory (NEC) in Boston to complete the gaps and to study with the legends of jazz such as [pianist] Paul Bley and [trombonist] Bob Brookmeyer, as well as pianists like Fred Hersch, Ran Blake and Danilo Perez.”
There was more to Nechushtan’s NEC endeavor than honing his piano skills.
“I also focused on writing for big bands, and I tried to achieve the fullest possible panorama as a composer-pianist,” he says.
Secret Sect is also of tribute to celebrated 20th-century Argentinean short-story writer Jorge Luis Borges.
“Borges is incomparable in terms of the way he addresses the dimension of time and memory, with all that entails in terms of the division of time and the whole philosophy that goes with that, whether you are talking about parallel universes, the concept of infinity and the human capacity for remembering and storing information and memories,” says Nechushtan.
“He is, of course, not the only writer to reference that, but I don’t remember any other writer who takes this to almost mystical levels,” he says. “As a composer, I am strongly drawn to his ability to tell a story, and I find a strong parallel between his storytelling, which evolves along a timeline, and the work of a composer, who also strives to tell a story along a time axis.”
Secret Sect places a string quartet as a creative counterpart for the orchestra. Nechushtan says the ping pong approach offers numerous dialogue possibilities.
“It is like The Picture of Dorian Gray of Oscar Wilde – creating a picture that emerges into life from the frame and is animated by the work of the quartet which, simultaneously, comes out, as it were, from the orchestra with an organic democratic body, not an individual one,” he says.
It has been an artistically and spiritually rewarding venture for Nechushtan.
“Through the desire to orchestrate for an intimate body, I discovered that I can better actualize musical feelings and convey them to the players, like a personal telegram rather than a mass distribution email,” he explains.The concert will be performed on April 9 at 8:30 p.m. at the Rappaport Auditorium in Haifa (04) 836-36804; April 10 at 8:30 p.m. at the Weil Auditorium in Kfar Shmaryahu (09) 956-9430; and April 11 at 8:30 p.m. at the Israeli Conservatory of Music in Tel Aviv 054-693-4439; www.soloists.co.il