Going for the brass ring

Saxophonist Tsirlin to perform classical, contemporary material in this year’s Aviv Classical Music Competition.

Man playing Jazz 311 (photo credit: IILAN SPIRA)
Man playing Jazz 311
(photo credit: IILAN SPIRA)
It would be stretching it a bit far to say that Andre Tsirlin snuck into this year’s Aviv Classical Music Competition by the back door, but considering that the Russian-born 23- year-old plays saxophone, his inclusion in the woodwind section of the contest may raise a few eyebrows.
“Lots of people ask me about that,” admits Tsirlin. “They think the saxophone belongs to the brass category; but it has a reed, so that makes it a woodwind instrument.”
Instrumental classification notwithstanding, Tsirlin, who made aliya with his family at the age of three, certainly appears to be a bona fide contestant with commensurate street cred. In 2005 he was awarded a Sharrett grant through the American Israeli Cultural Foundation (AICF) and has been playing with top ensembles across a variety of genres in Israel and abroad for some years now.
The competition is supported by the AICF and the Ted Arison Family Foundation, in conjunction with the Tel Aviv Museum, the Jerusalem Center for Music and the Ministry of Culture and Sports. The 14th edition of the annual competition starts on Sunday with the first part of the woodwind instrument section. The other three categories this year are singing, cello and piano, and there are two performance categories for an instrumental Israeli composition and for a vocal Israeli work. The monetary prizes for the various groups range from $6,000 to NIS 5,000. Past award recipients include stellar violinists Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman, singer-songwriter Shlomi Shaban and dancer-choreographer Ohad Naharin.
Success in the competition is not just a matter of boosting one’s finances. “This is a very prestigious event, and doing well in it can open up doors,” notes Tsirlin, adding that it is not just a matter of getting one’s name out there onto the global classical music circuit but also getting financial rewards in an otherwise poorly supported area of endeavor.
“The fact that you get some sort of recognition in a country like ours, which cuts practically every area of culture, and you perform your art well, that is invaluable,” he explains.
Tsirlin says that the success of Israeli classical musicians around the world stands in stark contrast to the level of state funding. “We have a very good reputation abroad for the standard of our playing. Often Israeli musicians go abroad to study, and a lot of that is thanks to Sharrett grants for tuition fees or living costs or other things, and then they come back here with far more polished skills and help to develop culture in Israel.”
Like Tsirlin, quite a few of the classical music torchbearers come from the FSU or from families who made aliya from there. “I think it is a matter of self-discipline and putting everything you have into your art,” he says. “I studied with Prof. Gersh Geller [at the Rubin Academy of Music and Dance in Jerusalem], and he is an excellent teacher and makes sure his students are focused on their work. Self-discipline and practicing every single day is possibly the most important factor. I don’t know if that is a uniquely FSU attribute, but I can tell you that it is a very developed characteristic among musicians who come from there.”
Tsirlin will perform a varied program of works in the competition, incorporating classical and more contemporary material.
“I will play the prelude from Bach’s Suite no. 2 in D Minor and a piece by Ofer Ben-Amotz called ‘Rikud Haparochet Ha’aduma’ (The Dance of the Red Canopy) from an opera called The Dybbuk. It’s a very interesting work. It was originally written for clarinet.”
In fact, Tsirlin displayed a certain degree of hutzpah to get the work into his competition lineup. “I called Ofer and told him about myself and I asked him to write something for me [for the competition]. But he told me he was too busy to create something especially for me but said he would send me a few of his works and that I should see what I could do with them. I arranged ‘Rikud Haparochet Ha’aduma’ for saxophone. I think that may surprise the judges in the competition, as well as the audience.”
The Ben-Amotz piece pertains to the competition requirement that calls for entrants to perform an Israeli composition written after the 1970s.
Tsirlin’s program also embraces a wide range of cultures and includes Brazilian composer Villa Lobos’s Fantasy for Soprano Saxophone and Orchestra which, the saxophonist says, spans cultural and temporal worlds. “It was written in the 20th century, but it is very easy on the ear and gets you up and dancing,” he says.
Tsirlin’s fourth and final piece feeds off very different sentiments and sensibilities. The choice was prompted by a somewhat unlikely synergy. “I will play Kol Nidrei by Max Bruch. The decision to go for that came from playing with [worldfamous veteran klezmer clarinetist] Giora [Feidman]. I love playing klezmer, and I am beginning to get into jazz too. I am discovering so many musical secrets through jazz.” But, at least for next week’s competition, Tsirlin will keep to the confines of classical music.
The 38-entrant competition will kick off at the Tel Aviv Museum on Sunday, taking place daily through to Monday December 26. The competition winners will perform in an Etnachta concert at the Jerusalem Theater on January 2. Admission to all stages of the competition is free to the public.
For further information: (03) 517- 4177 (AICF); (03) 607-7020 (Tel Aviv Museum) and www.aicf.co.il