Early songbirds

Israelis play the whole classical music repertoire as if it were written in the 19th century.

Linda Perillio 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Linda Perillio 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
What is the proper way to play classical music? Is there an essential difference in the way we play - and listen - to early music or romantic or even modern classical music? And if so, who decides what and how? Outside Israel, this issue is considered to be one of the hottest debates in the field. Here, at least according to some of the experts on the matter, the debate has been resolved: Israelis play all the repertoire, including Baroque, as if everything was written in the 19th century. Not convinced? Listen to what maestro and violinist Walter Reiter, special guest from Britain, in town this week for the Abu Ghosh festival of vocal music, has to say. "Compared to some places, including Britain, early music is still abused by the establishment here, as it is in some other places in the world," he accuses. He explains, "The influence of the 19th- and the early 20th-century traditions - that is, the romantic music - still prevails." The volatile Reiter's resume includes an altercation over interpretation with Isaac Stern, which ended when Reiter slammed a door in the violinist's face. Reiter says that one of the problems is that "not only do we not listen to early music written before Bach - most music students are not even aware of its existence. Imagine a student in art who wouldn't acknowledge that there were painters before the impressionists. It would be the same inconceivable situation." According to Reiter, musicians, audiences and music academies alike should begin to discover early music, to listen to it and learn to appreciate its beauty. Israel is not new to Reiter. Back in the 1970s, he was a student at the Rubin Academy in Tel Aviv and subsequently even taught at the academy in Jerusalem. Since then, he has performed here frequently, evidently enjoying himself despite his criticisms - which, he notes, are not unique to Israel. He and his wife, well-known soprano Linda Perillo, are invited guests of the annual Abu Ghosh Festival over Shavuot. The festival, directed for the first time by Hanna Mansch, will indeed include some of the best - though not always the best-known - early composers from Italy, Spain and other regions. The festival will also host the famous British Ensemble, "I Fagliolini" who specialize in Baroque and Renaissance works, in addition to contemporary British music. The festival will begin on Thursday at noon and continue through Saturday evening, including special outdoors performances. For more information, visit www.agfestival.co.il