Enhancing audience appeal

Music director Ilan Rechtman is adding a contemporary cachet to classical music.

Ilan Rechtman 311 (photo credit: courtesy)
Ilan Rechtman 311
(photo credit: courtesy)
Almost any head of any classical music establishment the world over will tell you, simply, that life ain’t getting any easier. The Brits have a quaint turn of phrase that refers to getting people’s nether regions onto the seats in the auditorium, and it is an ethos to which composer and pianist Ilan Rechtman subscribes wholeheartedly.
Rechtman has been the music director of the Tel Aviv Museum classical music series for the last three years. In that time he has been working very hard to draw on ever-widening hinterlands of potential patrons and, it must be said, with considerable success.
“When I started this job, we had 700 subscribers; now we have 1,100,” he says with satisfaction but without a hint of hubris.
Judging by the content of the forthcoming season, Rechtman is certainly not skimping on the quality of the works or the artists.
The season opens on November 9 with a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Trio in A Minor and Schumann’s Trio Op. 80 in F Major and Trio on Irish Melodies, a work by 20th-century Swiss composer Frank Martin.
Elsewhere in the program, there are such pieces as Brahms’s Piano Quartet in G Minor, Beethoven’s String Trio No.3 and Schubert’s String Quartet in C Major.
While he is happy with the works lined up for the new season, Rechtman is delighted to have secured the services of such a prestigious set of players. “We have the Brentano String Quartet coming [on May 23 to perform works by Busoni and Beethoven], and that is a scoop for us,” says the musical director. “I have been trying to get them for a long time. You have to book them at least three years in advance. And we have [Dutch violinist] Janine Jansen coming. She is a megastar.
There is a clip of her playing Mozart’s Concerto No. 5 on YouTube that has had over two million hits. We have never had such a wealth of international stars in our program, and this series has been running since the 1930s,” he marvels.
But Rechtman says he is not trying to push the envelope too much in terms of the content.
“This is a classical music program and, other than a few exceptions, it is primarily designed to offer the audience the principal works of the chamber music repertoire.”
He is, however, also doing his best to introduce the Israeli public to works by some of our own contemporary composers, so the season features pieces by such musicians as Mark Kopytman and Matti Kovler. “We have a particular commitment to performing contemporary Israeli material,” says Rechtman. “If we don’t do that, who will?” That said, Rechtman has been pulling out all the stops to appeal to previously untapped sectors ofthe public. “I want to attract younger people and, in the last three years, we have brought in younger people, more from the 20-50 age group, compared with the usual age range of 60-80.”
The music director has adopted an aggressive stance on marketing the museum’s classical music programs and has incorporated some intriguing innovations. “I have started a sort of mini-revolution in the way classical music is presented to the public. There are all sorts of new elements in the program, like short documentaries about the musicians that we show before the concert starts. Then a pianist comes on to the stage and, for a few minutes, plays some of the main themes of the work so the audience will more easily recognize them in the concert. We also show the names of the movements on slides as they start. Then, after the concert, people stay for a Q&A session with some of the artists.”
While Rechtman says the series’ audiences have grown, it has not been without a toll. “There have been some long-standing older subscribers who have protested against these modern innovations, and some have even canceled their subscriptions,” he says.
Another new feature also evoked some ire from certain sectors of the audience. “We turn the lights off in the auditorium during the concert.
That helps to focus people’s attention on the lit stage,” says Rechtman. “In the past, people have been happy to peruse the contents of the concert program and look around them at other members of the audience while the music is being played. I have even taken a slap or two on my shoulder from angry patrons in the auditorium who weren’t happy about that.”
With his fourth season approaching, audiences growing and, as Rechtman says, an impressive slew of stars lined up, it seems the music director can afford to take a chance or two with making his programs more user-friendly.
For more information about the Tel Aviv Museum classical music series: www.tamuseum.com and (03) 607-7020