Living the dream

Renowned Israeli classical pianist Ofra Yitzhaki is looking forward to performing Ravel’s ‘mad work’ at the Hateiva Marathon Festival.

November 2, 2016 21:06
4 minute read.
THIS PIECE [‘Gaspard de la nuit’] demands every technical skill you could possibly imagine... There

THIS PIECE [‘Gaspard de la nuit’] demands every technical skill you could possibly imagine... There is staccato and legato, and very fast parts and very slow parts, and everything is jumbled up together. It is really challenging, but it is a wonderful piece,’ says pianist Ofra Yitzhaki. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Ofra Yitzhaki is clearly not looking for an easy life. The acclaimed classical pianist will perform in the Hateiva Marathon Festival, which will take place at the Jaffa venue November 10-12. The artistic directors of the 10th edition of the annual event, composer Dan Yuhas and jazz pianist Daniel Sarid, opted to dub this year’s bash Dream, Dance and Madness, which augurs well for a highly variegated and tantalizing lineup.

The program embraces a wide swath of disciplines and artistic approaches, including a multi-hued palette of musical styles, from jazz to electronic and contemporary classical, and plenty betwixt, dance, film, video art and theater. The principal focus of the three-dayer is various aspects of lunacy and dreaming, as expressed through the aforementioned disciplines.

Yitzhaki’s contributions to the entertainment offering suit the theme well. She will open the performance section of the last evening, following a talk by psychologist Shimshon Vigodar about dreaming and art, with Gaspard de la nuit by early 20th century French composer Maurice Ravel and Dream by post-World War Two American avant garde composer John Cage.

Other than the fact that they were created in the same century, the two works are highly contrasting in nature and intent.

“The quantity of notes is very different,” says Yitzhaki. “Cage’s work has a very limited number of notes. It is a very minimalistic piece. He was already in that area, even before minimalism came into being. Dream is a work which, really, causes us to dream. The Ravel work has lots and lots of notes to play.”

The sparsity of notation in the Cage piece does not mean that the pianist can take it easy.

“You have to be very focused to play Dream with precision,” says Yitzhaki. “It is a challenge, but a very different one from the Ravel work.”

The eponymous character from Gaspard de la nuit comes from Persian folklore and refers to the man in charge of the royal treasury.

Ravel’s work was inspired by three poems by early 19th century French Romantic poet, playwright and journalist Aloysius Bertrand and, by all accounts, Ravel did his utmost to make life as difficult as possible for anyone courageous enough to take a stab at performing Gaspard de la nuit.

“He wanted to write the most virtuosic work in existence,” Yitzhaki explains, adding that there was a competitive impetus to the notation complexity. “There was a work called Islamey by [19th century Russian composer Mily] Balakirev, which was then considered the most virtuosic work. So Ravel said: ‘I’ll write something even more virtuosic.’ So he wrote this piece.”

Yitzhaki will have to have her wits about her November 12.

“This piece demands every technical skill you could possibly imagine. There is staccato and legato, and very fast parts and very slow parts, and everything is jumbled up together.

It is really challenging, but it is a wonderful piece.”

It is a highly evocative musical creation too.

“The middle poem is about a person who has been [hanged],” Yitzhaki continues.

“Each poem has a dreamy element to it. The middle one is actually more like a nightmare.

The body is suspended and, throughout the piece, there is a sound that evokes the image of the body swinging in the wind.”

It appears that Yitzhaki has quite an undertaking ahead of her, in emotional and technical terms. In fact, the seasoned pianist says that she has no problems with the latter aspect.

“I have played this many times before,” she says. “I also played it for my audition for [prestigious New York arts education establishment] Juilliard School.”

She clearly impressed the Juilliard jurors and was duly accepted, and completed a master’s degree and PhD there, all told spending nine years Stateside before returning home to enhance the local classical music scene.

Yitzhaki later furthered her musical education in Germany and Austria, and specialized in performing works by Viennese composers, and Bach, under the tutelage of celebrated Viennese pianist Prof. Paul Badura-Skoda.

Yitzhaki says that Gaspard de la nuit was created at a special stage of Western artistic evolution, and, in many ways, was well before its time.

“Ravel wrote this work in 1908, at a very exciting time for classical music. It was amazing what took place at the beginning of the 20th century. Everything changed within about 15 years.”

Gaspard de la nuit also expresses the storyline and sensibilities of the source work in a highly palpable manner.

“The music feeds off the text very precisely,” says the pianist. “You can really hear the text, and you can feel how it comes to the fore in the music. It is fascinating.”

The Hateiva Marathon Festival offers a rare opportunity to hear the Ravel piece in its entirety, of around half an hour. It is frequently played in shorter versions. Yitzhaki is excited to be able to perform the complete piece in Jaffa.

“From the beginning of the 20th century up to World War One, there was a sense in classical music that there are no limits to what you can do. After the world war everyone reverted to more mainstream thinking, so the Ravel piece, from 1908, is very modern. It is a really mad work.”

Elsewhere in the Hateiva lineup you can find intriguing jazzy intent courtesy of internationally acclaimed pianist Anat Fort, who will perform modern jazz pioneer Thelonious Monk’s Monk’s Dream, operatic slots, classical music-based dance, a screening of 1943 experimental film Meshes of the Afternoon, which will be accompanied by live music by viola player Ayelet Lerman, while indie singer-songwriter Hila Ruach will present some original material.

For tickets and more information: (03) 682- 9473 and

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