Israeli Exposure

Classical and contemporary artistry find common ground with New York curator.

Dance311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Limor Tomer, curator of musical and dance performance, visited Israel recently as part of International Exposure, a project that presented the work of 27 Israeli choreographers to theater directors, festival directors and journalists. For the first four days, she experienced the new Israeli music scene; the next four days were focused on dance through the Suzanne Dellal Center.
Though it was early in the morning and the sky was gray from sporadic rain, Tomer was lively, energetic and bursting with passion at her seaside hotel in Tel Aviv. “I’m loving International Exposure. It’s unbelievable!” she exclaimed.
Born in Ramat Hasharon, Tomer moved to the United States with her family at 13 and returned to Israel after college to give concerts as a classical pianist.
Tomer’s visit this time, however, was to learn about the contemporary music scene in Israel, specifically classical contemporary, a genre that many people are unfamiliar with. And she was impressed with what she saw.
Tomer explains, “The new music scene anywhere is very small. It’s small in New York City, but in New York small means you could fill a 300-seat club. It’s this age-old concept of working on the margins and what that feels like. Tel Aviv is such a vibrant 24/7 city, and there is a very concentrated feeling here, so I think the people that are doing this [contemporary classical] are extraordinarily passionate – they are doing it because they have to. There is nothing else they can do with their creative energy. I am trying to find the language that is sort of Israeli and yet global.”
Music and the arts have sustained Tomer throughout her life. She began her musical career as a classical pianist studying at Juilliard and played classical music exclusively for 10 years. But at some point she had a revelation: “I discovered contemporary music, dance and theater. It mostly happened at the Brooklyn Academy of Music…. It was a life-changing experience, and I soon lost my connection with classical music.”
Tomer then went to work for BAM for eight years and left to become an independent curator of contemporary dance, theater and musical performance. She curated a series for the Lincoln Center Festival and worked for different types of galleries, museums and performing arts centers. She hosted an edgy miniseries for WJBC Jazz for a number of years, and in 2006 went to work for WNYC, the public radio station in New York.
After years of freelancing, Tomer was content with the stability she had acquired at WNYC, especially after the birth of her daughter. But a few years later, the station acquired WQXR, the big classical music station. Overnight, Tomer found herself once again in the heart of what she called “narrowly defined classical music.” She refers to it as a “what happened?” moment.
In an effort to reconcile the past and present of the world of music, Tomer created Q2, an Internet-based contemporary classical music station. She describes the station as “a dialect that is alive, that crosses age groups.” Q2 holds different music festivals that focus on various countries and composers, and often the composers themselves host the shows.
To enjoy the type of music that Q2 plays, Tomer says a person needs only two things: “A willingness to listen attentively to music you don’t already know, and a curiosity about it. Beyond that, the range of listeners is huge,” she explains.
When asked about her vision for the genre of contemporary classical, Tomer’s eyes light up. “I think music was always contemporary – people wrote music to be heard at that time,” she explains. “There’s nothing wrong with it, but it has to be just part of the dialogue. Traditional classical can’t be the dialogue. It’s a weird fetishizing thing – you go to a temple of music and you sit silently and watch a badly lit performance of a piece that’s 150 years old. That can’t be the whole story. That’s a museum experience – you can understand it’s really interesting and important and how it influences what is happening today. And that’s what we at Q2 are reintroducing.”
But how did this fetishizing come to fruition? Tomer thinks it’s a combination of many things. “At some point in the early 20th century, conductors aggressively took over the mantle of the rock star from composers. The conductor isn’t inventing new music,” she explains.
Radio is not Tomer’s only professional pursuit. She also serves as adjunct curator for the performing arts at the Whitney Museum of American Art, where she is striving to define a role for the museum in the realm of performance.
Though she faces much pessimism about the future of the arts, Tomer believes that the tools at our disposal – radio, Internet and other technologies and collaborative capabilities – give us a tremendous opportunity to foster creativity.

“Vision drives money. That’s my response to pessimism,” says Tomer. “Clear vision that has integrity and content. Money follows. People worry about resources, but what’s dying is people’s idea of the only way to do things. But if you have a clear vision and you are leading with an openness and you live in the Internet age where your support is international, you will only grow.”
This was Tomer’s first visit to Israel in 11 years. “I am so happy to be back,” she says. “I never have moments of ‘Who am I?’ like I do here. In New York, everyone is a stranger, everybody is a transplant.”
Vowing to continue to foster relationships with Israel, she says, “I am very much looking forward to bringing emerging Israeli composers to an international audience. “