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When violinist Eduard Shmieder arrived in America in 1979, he was so happy about leaving his native USSR that he was prepared to take any job.
"But I was quite lucky," recalls Shmieder, 57, speaking by phone from his Los Angeles home. The master violinist has not only managed to make a living with his talent, but has been very successful. Since a back injury impeded his ability to give solo performances, Shmieder has mostly worked as a teacher. He started out at a modest university in Texas, and since then has taught at major music schools in Houston, Aspen, Dallas and Los Angeles.
Shmieder also moonlights as a conductor, and between February 23 and 25 his iPalpiti youth ensemble will perform chamber music at the first Classic Winter Festival in Eilat.
"Being successful myself, I've always felt an obligation toward my younger colleagues," he says. "Today, a musician's life is as difficult as it ever was. As you know, Vivaldi lived in desperate poverty, Mozart was successful only in his childhood, and people laughed behind Schubert's back. This is why I decided to create a foundation to promote young talent."
Internationally known violinist Sir Yehudi Menuhin was the first major musician to support the project, and despite his less-than-friendly attitude toward Israel, he has always been behind the musicians.
"Granted, we often argued with him about Israel, but we were friends and collaborated professionally," says Shmeider.
The Young Artists International foundation (YAI) was inaugurated in 1998.
"The iPalpiti ensemble is just one component of the project," says Shmieder's wife Laura, co-founder and director of YAI, a non-profit organization. "We provide opportunities for young musicians to connect with major management firms, and we make portfolios for them so they don't need to pay thousands of dollars in fees. There are also concerts for the soloists, and a festival in LA in which they participate. Our main goal is to promote classical music."
Ms. Ida Haendel, the last representative of the Golden Age of 20th century violinists, is honorary president of the YAI foundation, and performs with the ensemble. Musicians of international stature such as Gidon Kremer and Vadim Repin are among the group's musical advisors.
The iPalpiti players, all between 19 and 30, represent 20 countries and have individually won a number of international awards.
"iPalpiti has the best features of flexibility - with the colorful elements of a chamber ensemble and the powerful, dynamic sound of a big orchestra," says Shmieder. "It is not by chance that I gave it the name iPalpiti - 'heartbeats' [in Italian]. Music is sound and rhythm, but above all it is the emotional energy which flows from musicians to the public."
To keep its performances fresh, iPalpiti performs a new program each time its members play together. But is it possible for musicians to create a beautiful harmonic sound without years of cooperation?
"Do you know that more often than not, members of quartets which have been playing together for a long time don't speak to each other?" responds Shmieder. "For example, players of the renowned British Amadeus, when on tour, never stay in the same hotel, while the members of the no-less-famous Russian Borodin Quartet went so far as to inform on their colleagues to the Soviet authorities. Do you think it's possible to make good music under such conditions?"
He adds that the iPalpiti members do play together during the season.
"Many of them are already members of major music bodies, and often play in a structured, routine manner. So for them, playing with iPalpiti provides a charge of freshness and gives them strength to continue."
Shmieder, who was born in the same month as the State of Israel, says he feels guilty for not living here. "If only I could find a job there!" he says. "But meanwhile, I do everything I can for the country. Bringing almost 30 young musicians from all over the world is not only a musical project for me. I want them to see the country, to receive first-hand knowledge of the land - and maybe, one day, they will become new friends of Israel."
During the Eilat festival, iPalpiti will perform as one group, as well as in smaller chamber ensembles. Ida Haendel will participate in one of the concerts. There will be pieces by Mendelsohn, Shostakovich, Piazziola, Tchaikovsky, Sarasate, Fritz Kreisler and other composers.
For more details, visit www.z-festivals.co.il