This year’s spring edition of the Voice of Music Festival, which will take place at Hagoshrim Hotel in the Upper Galilee on March 12-14, will, as usual, proffer high quality classical music. However, the threeday proceedings will be tinged with sadness following the untimely death of Upper Galilee Regional Council Department of Culture director Idit Vialgos. For the past four years, 50-year-old Vialgos also served as general manager of the festival, and worked on the festival logistics right until a few days before she passed away a couple of weeks ago.
“We will certainly make sure that Idit is honored at the festival,” says artistic director and cellist Zvi Plesser. “We will have to see what her family feels about it, and what they think is the right thing to do.”
One thing that’s for certain is that Vialgos was keen for the festival to go ahead, and to be a success, and Plesser has done his best to ensure that all the classical music lovers who make it to the festival’s new berth will be suitably entertained. One of the quirkier items on the three-day agenda is Para Iveret (Blind Man’s Buff), which will be overseen by festival founder Idit Zvi.
“Musicians and the audience will listen to recordings of excerpts of various works, and they can express an opinion on the rendition, and even hazard a guess at who the players are,” explains Plesser. “Sometimes everyone agrees that the best version is the one performed by artists whom no one knows. There are all sorts of surprises and it is a lot of fun.”
Of course, the majority of the Voice of Music Festival program comprises more “serious” stuff, with this year’s concerts taking in works by the likes of Beethoven, Bach, Mozart and Ravel, as well as 20th century Polish composer Witold Lutosławski.
One of the most intriguing and enlightening elements of the festival in recent years has been the open rehearsals held over the three days, and they are always well attended. This year the Rubinstein Quartet will go through their paces in public – although, as Plesser notes, there is something of a mathematically inaccurate element to the ensemble’s title.
“It is a quartet which comprises three people,” he notes slightly quizzically. “The quartet includes [violinist] Sergei [Ostrovsky], [viola player] Gilad [Karni] and myself, and the idea was, each time, to add a pianist with whom we wanted to play. We are talking about pianists who competed in the  Rubinstein Competition.”
Hence the name of the foursome.
“We played with most of the pianists who reached the final stage of the competition, and we saw that it worked well so we continued on with the idea after the competition too.”
Plesser feels he and the other members of the “quartet” chose well.
“Maria didn’t win the Rubinstein Competition, but she did win the Audience Award which, I think, in many ways, is a very important award, in fact the most important award,” Plesser observes. “If the judges like your performance that is one thing, but to have the audience appreciate what you do is the ambition of every artist.”
The quartet will be completed at Hagoshrim by Russian-born pianist Maria Mazu, with the idea being that each member of the ad hoc ensemble plays a solo rendition of one or more works by Bach, Beethoven, Liszt, Rachmaninoff, Chopin and 20th century Spanish cellist and composer Gaspar Cassadó i Moreu who studied with Pablo Casals.
The four musicians have their work cut out for them over the three days of the festival, and will perform individually and in various permutations throughout the program.
“These days you don’t get to see too many solo recitals – even piano recitals that were once the bread and butter of any classical music event,” continues Plesser. “They are gradually vanishing from the world, and certainly don’t happen very often in Israel.”
The cellist feels that it is all about the bottom line.
“I think that presenters believe that people are less likely to come to see a concert if there is only one person on the stage, that there is less ‘action’ to follow. That is a highly incorrect assumption. I think that solo renditions are an exceptional event, on any instrument. Preparing for a solo performance is very challenging for the artist, and I think brings the best out of the performer. I think that in addition [is the] opportunity to get to know the musician’s capabilities, on a sort of pure one-to-one basis.”
Plesser says he will use his solo performance, of a work by Cassadó, to do some posthumous justice to the talented Spanish cellist and composer.
“He was about to embark on a glittering career, in the United States, when someone wrote a damning piece about him in The New York Times, accusing Cassadó of playing for Goebbels and for other Nazis. There is no real proof of that, and it seems he may have once performed for Mussolini, but that was the end of Cassadó’s career. And there are very few recordings by him too. His music is beautiful and I would like the public to know more of it.”
Over the years, the Voice of Music Festival has spread out into various “grey areas,” and this weekend’s program also features an exciting new ensemble called Occitania which, under the direction of singer-composer- arranger Tal Katzir, will perform an eclectic program of works that feed off medieval and baroque material, and is also infused with far more contemporary folksy and groove-based sentiments.
As per each spring, Plesser will advise the festival patrons of what they can expect to see and hear in the forthcoming main summer edition of the festival, and there will also be a walkabout slot through the hotel’s verdant surroundings.For tickets and more information about the festival: (04) 681-6000 and www.kol-hamusica.org.il.