The educator

Israeli Music Festival artistic director Michael Wolpe steps down – but not out.

Michael Wolpe 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Michael Wolpe 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
This year Michael Wolpe, composer, researcher and music life organizer, an ardent champion and supporter of Israeli music, will step down from his position as artistic director of the Israeli Music Festival, which he has headed for six years. The 2012 edition of this annual event takes place between October 1 - 5 in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Beersheba and Dimona, with the free entry to all concerts.
Despite the obvious success of the festival, the modest Wolpe refuses to talk about what he has achieved but rather what he tried to do, leaving it to others to judge the results of his efforts.
“My idea was to turn the festival from a local event, which appealed to a very limited circle of music lovers, into an all-Israeli festival and to attract new audiences to Israeli music. I believe that things have changed, and the festival today is not what it was six years ago. The fact that we are performing in five locales across the country speaks for itself. I also believe that the festival gives the audience a clear sense of abundance and not scarcity of Israeli music. These changes were not easy to achieve – our budget is essentially the same as it was six years ago.”
Wolpe says there are three objectives in the festival’s programming. The first is to present the music of Israeli composers who are no longer with us – the founders’ generation, such as Paul Ben-Haim, who was named Composer of the Year by the Ministry of Culture (meaning that his works will be performed all season and not just in the framework of the festival).
The second objective is to open the stage to new composers. And the third is to send a message of pluralism to the public. “This is not about political monopoly or a specific genre – just the opposite,” says Wolpe. “We are talking about immense richness of styles and modes of expression.”
He goes on to elaborate that over the years, there is not one Israeli composer whose work has not been performed at least once in the framework of the Israeli Music Festival. “I believe that the moment a composer’s picture and the name of the piece is printed in the program, that composer enters the annals of Israeli music. And for me personally, it has been very important to take part in this process of writing our music’s history,” he says.
As the country’s leading specialist in Israeli music, how does he define this phenomenon? “Israeli music includes an endless variety of genres,” says Wolpe, “from Mizrahi pop music to electronic avant-garde art music.
Interestingly enough, in the field of art music, which is written down with notes and later performed in concerts, we have witnessed dramatic developments.

Art music returns to mass consciousness for two reasons: It is written in a communicative style, and it is politically and socially engaged, thus becoming relevant.
Style-wise, it develops in two major directions. One is an amalgamation of Eastern and Western music (and this is what the founders of Israeli music were looking for in the 1920s and ’30s).
The other can be attributed to the growing interest of young Israeli composers in Jewish liturgy and Hebrew texts, which they include in their works. Hundreds of pieces are written every year.”
Wolpe sums up: “I adamantly believe that Israeli music, which is profound, rich and varied, is as important for our survival as high ballet, high prose and high poetry. A nation without culture is a nation without a future.”