For musicians, the "when the going gets tough, the tough get going" adage can have more eclectic implications.

As the global recession has bitten ever more deeply, official coffers for cultural endeavors have become ever more restrictive, and many artists have been forced to vary their offerings in order to survive.

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Mind you, that is not exactly new to Ilya Plotkin. The 61-year-old Moscow-born conductor/instrumentalist/vocalist Jerusalemite says he has had his nimble fingers in several pies for some years now. "If an interesting project comes along, I go for it," he states simply. "We have done masses with voice and harpsichord or, for other types of works, we can have a small orchestra and harpsichord and voice." And you can add opera and a-cappella choral work to that list as well.



There seems to be some Plotkin-directed project up and running in any given week of the year. Next week (January 28), for example, the all-female Musica Aeterna vocal ensemble will perform - with Plotkin on the conductor's dais - a program of Baroque material, including 18th-century Italian composer/violinist/organist Giovanni Battista Pergolesi's Stabat Mater, at Rehov Dor Dor V'Dorshav 5 in the German Colony. Wine and cheese will be served before the concert.

Despite his musical training, Plotkin did not have any clear idea about what he was going to do here when he made aliya. "I didn't have a clue. I came here in 1992 when I was 44 years old. I went straight to ulpan and then started singing in the Jerusalem Great Synagogue. I still sing there. That was sort of a neat transition - from the Great Synagogue in Moscow to the one in Jerusalem."

Considering his long-standing synagogue work in the USSR, one would think that Plotkin might have had some contingency plan for following a similar line when he relocated to the Promised Land. "I actually didn't bring any sheet music with me at all," he recalls. "I thought, why would I want to bring liturgical music scores with me to Israel?"

Maybe that had something to do with some of the unpleasantness Plotkin experienced at the hands of the Soviet authorities. "If you were caught singing in a synagogue or a church - actually even going into one - there could be grave consequences," he explains. "I had a teaching position at the university in Moscow, and one day I was sacked without any explanation. I presume someone had seen me going into a church - I used to sing in churches too - and had told my superior. But you could never know how things worked back then."

In fact, Plotkin did not have any hard-and-fast religious ties at all at the time. "When we were kids, if my grandmother spoke to my mother in Yiddish on the street, we'd walk away from them as if we didn't know them," he says.

His religious-cultural allegiances weren't even enhanced by an early perestroika-era visit to Israel with a touring choir in 1990. "It was wonderful to come here, but I didn't feel any special attachment to Israel or Judaism back then."

Times have changed. In 1996 the Art Rainbow NPO was born and now acts as an umbrella framework for all of Plotkin's various musical endeavors. The first of these, liturgical ensemble Musica Aeterna, was founded with Art Rainbow's inception and has been doing good business ever since.

The choir has been so successful, both in its concert work and in taking a range of Jerusalem-based singers under its wing, that in 2008 Plotkin received official recognition for his contribution to cultural life in the capital and for his support of local musicians. The choir has also benefited from some support from the Jerusalem Foundation, the Culture Ministry and the Absorption Ministry. "We don't get a lot of money from them, but every bit helps," says Plotkin.

In the past 14 years the choir has performed more than 400 times in Israel and is a fixture at choral festivals at Abu Ghosh, Nazareth and Haifa. Plotkin and the choir have also introduced Israeli classical music lovers to works by a slew of hitherto unfamiliar Russian composers, the likes of 19th-century church music composer and conductor Alexander Arkhangelsky and Romantic composer/pianist Sergei Taneyev. The choir's repertoire also takes in major works, such as Rachmaninoff's Vespers and also many of the Western, non-Russian titans like Mozart, Schubert and Mendelssohn. Jerusalemites can also catch the choir on most weekends at the picturesque Beit Jamal monastery near Beit Shemesh.

Plotkin admits to experiencing a degree of apprehension before the choir kicked off in earnest. "I was going to get into the private market, an already crowded sector, with an enterprise that required investment of time and money. I didn't have any connections back then, either. I had no idea if there was any great public interest in what I was going to offer, but I thought I'd give it a try and see where it leads to."

Mind you, some help was available - from the Regev family of Jerusalem. "They were very kind to us," says Plotkin. "They supported us. They helped us with our Hebrew and introduced us to the local culture and helped arrange a house concert for us in Gilo. There were around 30 people at the concert - there were seven of us in the choir to begin with - and things took off from there."

With the choir taking on an increasingly busy schedule and recording two CDs in the process, Plotkin constantly looked to vary his output. In 2003 he stretched his oeuvre into more adventurous areas when he staged Mozart's short opera The Impresario. "I thought it was time to expand what we were doing," he recalls. "But we always do things professionally - whether it's costumes, singers or anything else. My wife does a lot of the work. I don't know how she manages it all."

There's also the "small matter" of Plotkin's Jerusalem Philharmonic Orchestra which gives concerts all over the country, performing a wide range of musical programs from Baroque to contemporary works and klezmer to jazz.

"It isn't easy to keep going; you have to keep on your toes," observes Plotkin, "but I am very happy with the way things have gone until now. There's always something interesting to do and new challenges to take on."


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