It is a safe bet that eight-year-old Alma Deutscher is one of the youngest, if not the youngest, musicians to participate in the annual Voice of Music Festival in its 28-year history. This year’s event will take place in Kfar Blum from July 30 – August 3, and artistic director and cellist Zvi Plesser has laid on a highly varied program tailored to cater to disparate musical tastes, including a generous helping of non-classical endeavors.
Deutscher is a British composer, violinist and pianist who has an opera to her name, as well as several other classical works. She visits Israel two or three times a yea and has performed for President Shimon Peres. The latter performance took place three years ago, when Deutscher was five.
In fact, she is well connected with this part of the world, principally by way of her Israeli-born father, Guy, who has been living in Britain for more than 20 years since leaving these shores to study at Cambridge University. The youngster’s parents are both musically inclined. Her mother was an organ scholar at Oxford University and her father plays flute, and they were alert to their daughter’s talent from a very young age.
“I knew she was very musical even before she turned two,” says Guy.
“She began to sing before she began to talk. She sang with perfect pitch – of course, not arias but [children’s song] “Yonatan Hakatan” and that sort of thing – and with exact intonation.”
The piano was the next stage in her rapid musical evolution.
“She’d play with one finger, tunes she’d heard and picked up, and she began to improvise,” Guy recalls.
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“That started when she was four. At first, we didn’t really understand what she was doing. We didn’t realize she was improvising; we thought she was just playing around on the keyboard. But she thought up all these tunes, which she called Songs from Transylvanian. She had this imaginary country she called Transylvanian, not Transylvania.”
It sounded like Deutscher might benefit from some parental guidance. Guy began to teach his infant daughter to read music and other things, but the toddler soon needed more professional assistance.
“I took her as far as I could, but by the timer she was five I realized there was nothing more I could teach her and that she needed another teacher,” says Guy.
But that proved to be easier said than done.
“I contacted all sorts of teachers, but they all laughed at me,” says Guy. “I tried to tell them that she spent hours at the piano improvising, but they said I should come back in 10 years.”
Eventually, help was found via 21st-century technological means, but with a distinctly retro basis.
“I found out about a professor in Chicago who taught children music based on a method used in 19th- century Italy for teaching children to play instruments, to compose and to improvise. It was a very hands-on approach and not based on a theoretical method that you get at universities,” he says.
Deutscher Sr. asked for the American’s help with finding a teacher for his daughter in the UK, but the closest he got was someone in Switzerland.
“Alma took lessons with the Swiss teacher via Skype,” explains Guy.
“They had weekly sessions and played together. It worked very well.”
It certainly did, and before long the young Deutscher was making great strides on piano and violin and also got down to composing her own serious classical pieces. One such work is an opera she called Sweeper of Dreams , which was performed in Newcastle England in June this year.
“I have been playing and composing since I was four, so I havebeen composing for a very long time,” she says. “My opera is about people in dreams and is a fairytale.”
She adds that she didn’t have to work too hard to kickstart the project.
“The first aria came to me in a dream, and I went to my father and woke him up and asked him if he could record it.”
The work was given an enthusiastic thumbs up from the English National Opera. It has been joined by a piano sonata and two works for violin in the child’s growing oeuvre.
According to Plesser, she will have her work cut out for her at Kfar Blum.
“The opening concert of the festival will include a movement from her piano sonata and a performance of her Rondino for piano, viola and viola.
There will be a performance of another work of hers, and I will probably play in a performance of a piece by Alma for cello and piano.”
Plesser says he is delighted to have her on the festival roster.
“She really is a special girl and a unique talent,” he says.
There are a number of other works written by young composers in the program, although the composers in question hail from a very different era.
The festival goers will be able to get a handle on some rarely performed early compositions by such composers Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Debussy, Richard Strauss and Benjamin Britten.
Add to that a little-known work by Austrian Jewish composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold, whose Sextet is featured in the Kfar Blum event.
“Mahler said that Korngold was the greatest musical genius he had ever met,” notes Plesser. “He moved to the States and, for a while, became famous for writing some of the most wonderful soundtracks in Hollywood’s history. He later returned to Europe but didn’t really make it there, but he wrote the Sextet when he was in his teens, and it is a beautiful work.”
One of the more surprising elements in this year’s lineup is the introduction of some jazz and jazz-oriented slots in the program, which includes collaboration with the Rimon School for Jazz and Contemporary Music.
Multidisciplinary Jewish American clarinetist Eddie Daniels will join forces with conductor-pianist Yaron Gottfried and the latter’s jazz trio in an intriguing reworking of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition , with other jazz input provided by Boston-based Berklee College of Music educator and saxophonist Larry Monroe and New York-resident jazz drummer Ari Hoenig, who will join forces with Rimon School teachers in a pre-festival concert on July 29.
While Plesser says he is excited by the classical music/jazz synergy, he is frustrated by the downturn in national media interest in the festival.
“For the first time, there will be no Voice of Music radio broadcasts this year,” he laments. “It is very disappointing that people around the country won’t be able to enjoy the concerts at the festival in the comfort of their own home. I believe that this is indicative of a very serious ailment in our national culture and the way things are in general in the country today.”
So if you want to catch an earful of the quality musical wares on offer at this year’s festival, you’ll just have to get yourself over to Kfar Blum and environs.For tickets and more information about the Voice of Music Festival: (04) 699- 7707; (04) 685-1449 and www.kol- hamusica.org.il
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