The ninth Piano Festival offers its usual rich array of local talent - both veteran and fresh. Included are some of the perennial big guns of Israeli music - Mati Caspi, Aviv Geffen, Meir Banai and Ivri Leeder.
We all know the entertainment calendar is bursting with festivals, but event founder and artistic director Udi Dabush believes the Piano Festival has something special.
The four-day event (October 30 to November 2) will take place at the Suzanne Dellal Center in Tel Aviv and will feature over 60 artists. All the shows, as per Dabush's vision, will have little in the way of instrumental accompaniment and nothing in the way of special effects. As the director explains, this offers added value for the paying customer but also presents artists with a challenge. "These days you have artists putting on great big productions with lighting and sound effects and orchestras backing them up. I didn't want any of that at the Piano Festival. There are musicians who perform that way anyway, but some - like, for example Sarit Hadad - find it intimidating to be on stage without the support of a big band and all the technological paraphernalia."
Dabush feels the "organic" approach to live performances offers an opportunity to recapture the innocence of times gone by. "We have lost something of our yearning for the simple - piano and acoustic guitar, music without frills. I wanted to recapture that freshness."
That ethos seems to be paying dividends. Notwithstanding its "non-fashionable" approach, the Piano Festival has not only survived but prospered, moving from the Tel Aviv Municipality building to the far more art-friendly Suzanne Dellal Center in Neveh Tzedek. Besides the indoor concerts, the festival features a large outdoor piano bar which offers both edible sustenance and free entertainment.
One aspect that Dabush has been keen to promote is artistic originality. "Quite a few new projects have started at the festival and gone on to tour the country and produce albums. Rami Kleinstein, Yehudit Ravitz, Shlomi Shaban and Rami Fortis have all put new projects on stage at the festival which have then gone on to make waves across the country. Knessiyat Hasekhel started something big here last year."
Ben Artzi is hoping to get a running start at the festival. He will use the occasion to showcase material from his long-awaited third album and says he is looking forward to taking the show on the road. A single from the album, "Carousella," has been enjoying generous airplay, and the CD is due out next month. It has been a long time coming.
"Yes, it's been six years since I put out my second album, but I'm not a factory production line," states Artzi. "Creativity is not something you can plan. It has its own pace and I think it has something to with a person's development and growth."
Now 30, Artzi has done a lot of the latter since he released his highly successful debut album, Hayim Mishel Atzmee, at 21. It sold in excess of 40,000 copies - almost unprecedented for a first-time outing - but that was followed by a lengthy silence, his second offering coming out a full three years later. "I didn't do the PR thing and make sure I was out there in the public eye," Artzi notes. "I don't think I'm very good at that. Anyway, I wanted to get away from things and get some perspective on where I was at and who I was."
Having a megastar of a dad doesn't help either. "Yes I suppose people will always look at me as 'the son of Shlomo Artzi.' I have accepted that. But I have a real need to sing and offer the public my music. Music is my strongest drive, and I want to communicate that."
The Piano Festival seems the ideal format for Artzi. "I like the intimacy of the festival. There will be just me on piano, Noam Burg on guitar and Adi Meiri on trumpet. I think the festival allows an artist to create rapport with the audience, and that suits me."
For more information, visit www.suzannedellal.org.il