Classical music and reggae music don't necessarily seem like they would belong to the same cultural family, but it helps when the musicians performing the mix are brothers.
Versatile local violinist Michael Greilsammer and his internationally known brother, concert pianist David Greilsammer are cut from the same musical cloth, despite the divergent career paths they've taken. Those paths will cross on November 14th as part of the weeklong Piano Festival taking place at the Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv this week.
Featuring luminaries like Shlomi Shaban, Ahinoam Nini, Yehuda Poliker, Shlomo Gronich and Yirmy Kaplan, the festival is a mix and match affair with musicians not known for their connection to the piano finding their inner ivories. For Michael Greilsmammer, it provides a rare opportunity to appear on the same stage as his brother, who tours around the world performing the works of Mozart and John Cage with equal brilliance.
"This is the first time David and I are going to be performing my songs together," said Greilsammer last week during a phone conversation. "He's really busy all the time touring the world, and this is the first time we had the chance to get him here for a show with me. We'll be doing some classical and some modern music."
"He's always been the older brother, doing things first, and I've always looked up to him," added the 28-year-old violinist, denying there was ever any sibling rivalry between them. "He's always been there to guide me to the right places."
For Greilsammer, the right places musically have been everywhere from reggae to folk to Irish to Celtic and classical, often within the same song. A virtuoso soloist, as well as a composer and singer, Greilsammer developed his pop chops playing with Irish band Black Velvet and with Mosh Ben Ari, after years of studying classical violin.
"I've been playing violin since I was five years old. I really think I have a spiritual connection with the violin. I can't remember anything about my life before I started playing," he said.
Greilsammer spent part of his youth traveling with his parents, who were professors and spent years doing research in France and Italy, which is where the child musician first picked up the violin.
"There's a debate in the family as to how I came about playing the violin. My parents say they chose it for me, but I remember that I chose it for myself," he laughed.
By age 12, Greilsammer had studied violin at the prestigious Conservatoire National De Boulogne in Paris, and later toured with internationally renowned singer Andrea Bocelli.
BUT EVEN as he found success with classical violin, he was being pulled by the forces of another form of music which eventually won out - reggae. Greilsammer said he first grew to love the music during post-army visits to Sinia.
"There, you're sitting with everyone listening to Bob Marley, because it's the only CD there, and you don't even notice that it keeps playing over and over. I found it fascinating, so simple, and so close to our own culture in Israel," he said.
Then, as he toured Israel playing Irish music with Black Velvet, Greilsmammer began noticing similarities between the two types of music, which resulted in a style that the violinist claims the patent on.
"I found a strong correlation between reggae and Irish music. Both of them are based on very simple folk music, meant to make people dance and be happy. With my violin, it was very natural for me to try to combine them, which is what I've done. Today, I think I'm the only one in the world doing it," he said.
That blend of musical styles, anchored by Greilsammer's lead violin and poignant songs, is evident on his recently released debut album Mitorer (Waking Up), consisting of tunes he mostly wrote with his wife, singer/guitarist Shimrit Dror.
While reggae is in the forefront, the music on the album encompasses Israeli folk tunes, French songs, and a good dose of rhythmic pop, a mix that reflects Greilsmammer's eclectic live performances.
"Our show features a lot of musicians and different genres of music, just like the album," he said. "When I'm playing on the stage, I sort of go into a trance. The adrenaline is pumping, and I try to take the audience with me."
At the same time, Greilsammer is trying to juggle his personal and professional relationship with his wife and raising their 15-month-old son.
"I don't know many full-time 28-year-old musicians in Israel who are married with a child. It's hard, but I like challenges. To have him is the most important thing in our lives," he said.
"It's hard to work together with your wife all the time, but we make it work," he added. "There are a few songs on the album that are a true collaboration. I was jamming with chords, and would say, 'do you have something?' She would take out a guitar and play whatever was in her head."
That telepathy will also come into play when Greilsammer and his brother start rehearsing for their joint show on Saturday night. Despite the lack of preparation time, he said he was confident that their performance would proceed without any hitches.
"He's going to arrive a few days before the show, so we can play together. But we've been speaking and emailing each other," he said. "The advantage is that we are brothers, so we can stay at home all day and play."
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