The Improviser

Driven by her passion for music, pianist Orit Wolf shares it with the public in more ways than one.

Orit Wolf 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Orit Wolf 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Orit Wolf – pianist, composer, improviser, lecturer and, above all, one of most creative, intriguing and unpredictable music personalities on the local classical stage – will open her 10-concert series with the Aperitif for Piano Solo evening on Thursday, November 17.
Wolf spoke to me about her love of music and her urge to share it with others.
At a time when classical music institutions are fighting for audiences, she is the last to blame the potential listeners for their lack of interest but is the first to ask herself what is wrong with the way music is presented nowadays. She constantly looks for new ways of attracting people to what is most dear to her.
Her own path to classical music was quite natural. Born in Jerusalem into a non-musical family, she took matters into her hands at the age of six. As a first grader, she would accompany her childhood friend to private piano lessons. “For three months, twice a week, I sat near the piano and listened. And then one day coming home from school, I simply took my mother and brought her to the teacher – she didn’t even know where we were going!” she recounts.
A brief exam proved that the girl had perfect pitch, but it took an additional four months, during which Wolf went to play the piano at her friend’s home every day, before her parents realized that it wasn’t a case of a teacher trying to get money from them but that their deteremined daughter had a gift for music and really wanted to study piano. And she got an instrument of her own.
“I think this is very characteristic,” says Wolf. “My parents never told me to play, to practice – it all came from inside as a burning passion for music. Today I think it was that passion that has led me to success.”
She later moved to the renowned teacher Hanna Shalgi, “who was totally dedicated to her students but demanded total dedication to music in return, and there are negative sides to that, too. Because I believe that a true musician needs to experience other worlds as well.”
Wolf started to participate in competitions and to appear in public at age nine, “and quite soon I learned the ruthless rules of the game. I learned to lose and to win, to analyze the reasons of both, to try to repeat the latter and to avoid the former.”
There were several important events that changed her life. “I was 12, performing in a live broadcast on the Voice of Music station when there was a blackout. Thus I realized that you cannot rely on what you prepared at home, so I started to study composition and improvisation with composer Andre Haidu. Since then, I’ve been improvising all my life. This is like insurance – I know that improvisation will get me out of any trouble.”
At 17, she received a scholarship to study at Boston University with Lucas Foss. “That was an exciting time, very fruitful, with a lot of performances, but also personal challenges and dramas. At some point I lost my sponsor, and struggled to survive. But again, it helped me to learn the rules of life.”
She continued her studies at the Royal Academy of Music in London with Maria Curcio, where she has finalized what she calls her “success pattern.” Wolf recalls, “I was alone. I never asked anybody for help. I was managing my life on my own and always entered through the front door and not through the window. And I played throughout Europe with wonderful orchestras.”
On her return to Israel, she continued with her performing career, adding to it the role of university teacher. In addition, due to her strong interest in improvisation, she finds herself lecturing to top managers of banks, hi-tech and other major companies on improvised decisionmaking, on developing creativity and on techniques of reverse engineering of success and failure. “I just bring my experience in tracking my music success into the world of business. In many ways, this is the most challenging and rewarding activity,” she admits.
But her major dream has always been to bring new audiences to classical music and to talk to them about music. “In Israel, people simply have no proper access to classical music. It is not widely taught, and it has the stigma of being boring and outdated, an entertainment for snobs and the older generation.”
Wolf’s response to the situation was to create a concert series of her own. She tried various patterns and approaches, she changed locales, she never gave up; and now she presents two totally different series at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. In her major series of lecture concerts, she hosts leading Israeli musicians, such as violinist Sergey Ostrovsky, cellist Simha Heled, the Carmel Quartet, and pianists Aviram Reichert and Lahav Shani.
In her Trio series, she invites people from non-musical fields, such as actor Lior Ashkenazi and Prof. Haim Shapiro to her music matinees to share their ideas of what creativity is about.
November 17, Recanati concert hall, Tel Aviv Museum of Art. For more information: