An Israeli festival in Italy

At Music Fest Perugia, talented students from around world perform with orchestra and meet international masters in non-competitive atmosphere.

Ilana Vered 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Ilana Vered 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
‘Nowadays, everybody plays fast and everybody has technique, but my raison d’etre is the sound. The sound that talks and that sings,” says Israeli pianist Ilana Vered as she sits in a Tel Aviv café with her husband, Peter Hermes, a renowned neurologist and a full partner in his wife’s musical activities.
Vered is referring to the Music Fest Perugia, which takes place between August 3 and 16 in the small town of Perugia in Umbria, Italy, for the sixth time now. The festival hosts nearly 100 students from around the world, including a large group from Israel, as well as an orchestra in residence that comes from Munster and, of course, masters from all over.
“This is a small Israeli festival in Italy,” says Vered, who was born in Israel, entered the Paris National Conservatory at 13 and since then has lived in many places, such as London, Brazil and New York, the latter serving as the center of her globe-trotting performing and recording career. But now the couple share their time between Tel Aviv and Perugia.
Several years ago, Vered was injured in an accident and Vered stopped performing and switched to painting.
She entered the Academy in Florence, where she studied the art of traditional portraiture. One summer, she was invited to perform at a tiny theater called Il Piu piccolo teatro del mondo. It was a great success and sparked her idea of inaugurating a festival of her own.
For Vered and Hermes (who was “a full-time surgeon in New York and in Florence, but it’s impossible to live with Ilana and not to love music,” as he admits with a smile), this is their fourth festival.
“A festival brings an incredible experience of excitement, which is not in a usual series during a year. This is a meeting of minds and souls, and the playing is not like what you prepare during the months but what occurs,” Vered explains. “At our music fest, the youngsters have a chance to meet masters from all over the world and to be heard – not in a competition atmosphere – to play with an orchestra. Among 100 students, 60 will play one movement from this or that concerto, which is very important and a rare opportunity for a young musician. In this, our festival is unique.”
The program of the studentoriented festival, which is also called the Perugia Performance Workshop, features master classes, workshops, marathons and concerts “We have three concerts a day,” says Vered, “because we have so many people.
We also have marathons, such as a Chopin marathon. And we are going to give a prize for the most musical – and not the fastest – performance. When you listen to recordings of the old masters, you feel how special they were, while nowadays people play so fast, that it becomes meaningless. We are going to work on sound and communication,” she says.
Students include pianists, cellists, singers and a conductor. Among the Israeli teachers are Arie Vardi, Michal Tal, Gil Shohat, Baruch Meir and Sharon Rostorf. “And there are many singers,” she adds. “We are doing our first opera, Mozart’s Figaro, in a Roman theater on a lake.”
Vered stresses that “It is all about performance, of what it takes to be a performer, how to pour out what you have, how to move the audience with your music. A festival is not a place to work on this or that line for an hour.
Here, the students absorb two weeks of thrilling experience, and this is what performance is about – you practice for a year and you go on stage and you have 25 minutes to give it all to the audience.”
The concerts take place in Basilica di San Pietro, which is famous for its extraordinary acoustics. “In the 1960s and 70s Karajan performed and recorded here with Maria Callas several times,” says Hermes, while Vered adds, “And Caravaggio’s frescos are looking at you from the ceiling.”
Which is another aspect of the Perugia fest.
“Today, when everything is occupied by the hip-hop sort of music, we give our students an opportunity to discover the richness of the Occidental culture,” says Hermes.
“There is an excellent museum in Perugia, and we want or students to realize how varied the world of art is,” says Vered.
A prodigy child herself, Vered says that one of the aims of their festival is to help talented youngsters make the transition from a wunderkind to a mature performing artist. “We don’t really know how many wunderkinds there are in the world because many of them don’t find themselves in the proper environment. I remember my own childhood and this feeling of being special and my major concern of how to deal with the rest of the world. With my personal experience, I can help these kids.”
The couple is struggling for funds for their festival. “Fund-raising in Israel is difficult. The state structures do not support us – only some private donors. And Italians cannot help either,” says Hermes, who is the managing director of the festival.
“But we won’t give up, and bringing new talents to the music world makes us happy.”
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