Piano people

For almost four decades, Alter has been a very busy behind-the-scenes bee in Israeli cinema, TV and music.

There are few people in the local entertainment industry with a more impressive track record than Naftali Alter. Naftali who? OK, Alter may not be the celebrity of the century, and you're not likely to see his name in lights alongside like those of Arik Einstein, Sarit Haddad and Rita. But for almost four decades, Alter has been a very busy behind-the-scenes bee in Israeli cinema, TV and music. Next Friday, after years of writing songs for dozens of artists, Alter will finally come out of his musical closet, when he appears on stage at the Suzanne Dellal Center in Jaffa as part of this year's Piano Festival. The event is titled "An Evening of Naftali Alter Songs," and he will share the limelight with contemporaries Dori Ben-Ze'ev, Oshik Levy and actor Assi Dayan, as well as some younger counterparts like Dan Toren, Alon Aboutbul and Ben Artzi. However, as far as Alter is concerned, pride of place on stage will go to his 23-year-old daughter, Ronnie, who has a slot alongside Dana Berger in pop band Metropolin. "I'm very happy about Ronnie performing with me," says Alter with undisguised pride. "She's very talented, and sings my songs very well." Alter started his career in the late Sixties as organist in the Hamitkomemim rock band. "We were young anarchists back then; we sang songs against nuclear war," Alter recalls. "We were well ahead of our time. We thought we could change the world with a song or two, like Bob Dylan." After completing his military service, Alter came to wide notice as a songwriter in the earlier Seventies, when Hanan Yovel recorded his score for Tov Sheloh Halakhta (Good You Didn't Leave). Later that year Alter made his mark on the Israeli film industry when he produced Assi Dayan's Hazmana Leretzakh (Invitation To Murder). Thirty three years on, Dayan will participate in next Friday's tribute to Alter. "Assi will read some poems," explains Alter. "He's a very talented filmmaker, but can't sing to save his life." And Alter can substantiate his observation of Dayan's lack of musical talent. "Assi took a guitar and sang in one of his films back in 1972. He was so bad that people on the set threw stuff at him. I think he got the message, and hasn't tried singing in public since." Next Friday's concert has been a long time coming. "I've thought about getting out there on stage to sing for many years," says Alter, "but I always got cold feet. So I'm delighted the show has come together at the Piano Festival." But even after so many years in the industry, Alter doesn't expect plain sailing. "I'm petrified of the exposure, of being on stage in front of an audience. It's almost like stripping naked and singing to people you don't know. I'm excited and scared too." There are few professionals better equipped than Alter to pass judgment on the state of today's music. For him, there is an upside and a downside to the way things are going. "When I started out there was a freshness and newness about everything. People like Arik Einstein were doing revolutionary things. But today it's as if we're all waiting for something new to emerge." On the other hand, Alter feels technology is helping open things up. "Today, people have the means to record and do things with their music that I and my contemporaries could never have imagined. In that respect, the industry is becoming more and more accessible." Besides the Alter gig, the Piano Festival will host an impressive roster of pop and rock stars, including Aviv Gefen, Evyatar Banai, David Broza, Jeremy Kaplan, Gidi Gov and Matti Caspi in a show devoted to the work of late songwriter Sasha Argov. Outdoors at the charming Suzanne Dellal Center compound, a giant piano bar will feature free performances throughout the festival. The Naftali Alter tribute concert will take place at the Suzanne Dellal Center in Jaffa on November 11 at 2 p.m.