On Saturday night at Tel Aviv Museum of Art, acclaimed Israeli soprano Keren Motseri will make perform with the Israeli Contemporary Players ensemble. In the Songs and Improvisation concert, she will sing Study of a Girl Reading Pavese by Vladimir Tarnopolski and Comoedia by Pascal Dusapin.
“I am thrilled. Till now, I used to sing only early music in Israel,” says Motseri. “It’s a bit strange, since in Europe I divide my time almost equally between contemporary music and Baroque.”
Motseri, who lives in Holland with her husband and their two young sons, is a highly sought-after singer.
She performs throughout Europe with a repertoire that ranges from the Renaissance to the 21st century in both concert and opera. However, in her youth she was not sure that music would become her life.
Born in Ramat Gan into a family “with no professional classical musicians but a lot of music, especially at family events,” Motseri played harmonica in Shmuel Gogol’s Harmonica Orchestra as a child.
“A very Ramatganian thing to do,” she laughs, adding that she had a very special relationship with Gogol, “a person who gave me a lot.”
She then attended the Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts, where she played cello.
“When you study at Thelma Yellin, you are a musician in the full sense of the word. Yet upon graduation, I thought that I would not make music my profession. In the army, I served as an intelligence officer and not in the framework of the Excellent Musicians program., she says.
She then attended Tel Aviv University, completing her BSc in biology summa cum laude.
“In my third year, I worked on important and fascinating biochemistry research, and my future looked clear and secure. My professor Shoshana Bar-Nun would have been happy to see me continuing to a master’s degree,” she recounts.
But she didn’t drop music altogether. She sang in Avner Itay’s Collegium Tel Aviv vocal ensemble and studied Baroque music at early music master classes in Jerusalem.
“As Avner used to say, ‘If you can do something else than sing, don’t sing.’ But it turned out that I had to sing. So I went to Holland to study Baroque music – and to get to know Europe,” she says.”
She chose to live in The Hague because “It is one of the most important early music centers. This is where it all started. I met my new voice teacher, and there was an immediate click between us,” she says.
“I was in my third year in The Hague when a festival with the participation of Steve Reich took place. They have a wonderful department of composition and sonology at the conservatory. They were looking for somebody who could sing the high C sharp in a piece for four singers, and I just happened to be that person.
Suddenly an entire new world of contemporary music opened up in front of me, one that I did not even know existed!” she recounts.
“Also, almost by chance I entered into the opera world, which at first did not interest me at all,” she adds.
Has her previous experience influenced her as a singer? “Every time I update my biography, I mention my cello and biology studies, as I believe it says more about me than lists of conductors and festivals I worked with. The influence of the cello is obvious. It is such a singing instrument, so close to the human voice. Sometimes I meet singers who sound somewhat different, and it turns out that they played string instruments in the past. There is something in the sound production,” she says.
There must be people who ask whether she regrets “wasting” her time studying biology. “Right,” she laughs. “And that is ridiculous, to say the least. Because this is a part of me. It actually helps me. I perform a lot of contemporary music, and there is something very analytical about it, very precise. There is always an intellectual challenge about it. It is always new, always different. You hardly ever get to perform the same piece twice.”
That is not the only thing that attracts her to contemporary music.
“I enjoy working with composers. When something is not clear in the score, I can discuss it with the composer – there he is, sitting at the rehearsal. I like the flexibility of writing: The composer writes for you, for your voice. It is a very special and thrilling sensation – you are not just a vocal instrument but a part of the act of creation, you are the character,” she explains.
She sums up: “Most people have jobs. They do their job, and then outside of their working hours they do something else. But being a singer is not just my job. It is a huge part of what I am, with both wonderful and sometimes challenging aspects. But there was no escaping it. I feel very happy with my life because it is clear to me that this is what I want and what I have to do.”
Speaking about the Tel Aviv concert program, Motseri says, “I know Pascal Dusapin well. I performed his piece Coemedia in 2008 in Aix en Provence, where I also participated in the world premiere of his opera Passion. I just recorded the opera with Ensemble Modern. And now it’s great to return to Coemedia after so many years. But Study of a Girl Reading Pavese, by prominent Russian composer Vladimir Tarnopolski, is totally new for me. For now they are just lines on the white page of the score, and I am waiting with excitement for the music to come alive at the first rehearsal. The composer sent me a recording of his piece, but I resisted the temptation – I don’t want to be influenced by other singers’ performance or musical ideas.”
The concert, conducted by Ilan Volkov, also features Topophony by Christopher Fox of Britain and There Is No Lack of Void by young US-based Israeli composer Yair Klartag.The concert takes place January 7 at 8:30 p.m. at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Tickets: (03) 607-7020