Going his way

One of the country’s most gifted musicians explains what drives him.

David Greilsammer (photo credit: Julien Mignot/Sony Classical )
David Greilsammer
(photo credit: Julien Mignot/Sony Classical )
Pianist-cum conductor David Greilsammer, 34, one of the most successful Israeli musicians of his generation, will appear next week with the Tel Aviv Soloists Ensemble, playing Mozart’s 9th Concerto. On the eve of his performance, Greilsammer, who lives in France, spoke in a phone interview about his musical credo.
“My way into the world of classical music was traditional – a conservatory in Israel and then Julliard School of Music, where I continued studying piano and also conducting,” he said.
Greilsammer probably could have successfully continued following this traditional path, playing the customary classical repertoire for the sheer pleasure of the audience; but during his last year in Julliard, he made a decision which has brought him to where he is today.
“I remember standing in front of the advertisements board, reading the announcements of graduation concerts. There were three concerts, one after another, of three different students who studied with different professors. But not only the programs, even the order of pieces were identical! I remember thinking: ‘If this is the way of thinking of the young generation of musicians, this is the beginning of the end,’” he said.
“Granted, it is very difficult to launch a career of a soloist – you should go to international contests, which nowadays don’t guarantee you anything, or just decide to not to take a risk. So I said to myself ‘I am not going to play this game of popularity, performing the same pieces as the other guy. There are several things which interest me and probably would interest the audience, if we give it a chance, and I will go on this – I simply have no other choice!’” Greilsammer agrees that quality of performance and a rendition are most important. But, he added, there must be something beyond this.
“Music is beyond entertainment, this is not like soccer – you watch the game, you enjoy it, and that’s it. We artists bear responsibilities – towards music, composers, audience and ourselves, after all. So even if it was a great performance, the next morning you wake up as if nothing happened.”
The pianist believes that even slight innovations in programming can gradually cause changes in the world of classical music to bring new ideas and new audiences.
Among the things he is interested in, is creating dialogues between different musical and cultural worlds, and above all – to look into the future, not the past.
“The world of classical music is rather conservative by nature, with a lot of respect to the past. I do not underestimate Bach, Mozart and Schubert. But, unlike many people who believe that if we keep playing only composers of the past, everything will be okay – I think differently. In my vision, this is the conservatism which will bring us to a dead end.”
Greilsammer goes on to explain that popular opinion that contemporary composers are detached from reality is false.
“In fact, they are reacting to the world of today, and I do commission and play contemporary music. And then, with all the cultural charge of our time, I go back to Bach – and I see him differently. And not only this: I try to create dialogue between different epochs. I play contemporary and old pieces in one recital – for example, sonatas by Scarlatti and John Cage, one after another.
“I believe that this is the way to create an enriching experience for the audience, so that people the next morning will say: ‘Hey, something has happened to me last night at the concert hall! Something has left with me – it has changed my life. There is something to think about!’” Meanwhile, Greilsammer says he is quite surprised that a country as young as Israel is still conservative as it relates to classical music.
“This is not a criticism, I just feel pity, and I do not see any explanation for it. Look, European countries like Germany, France and England have managed to free themselves from the embrace of their huge, gorgeous, ages-old cultural heritage. So why are we – a 64-year-old country – looking mostly back?” Greilsammer’s approach has proven right.
“As a student, I could not even dream that my music ideas would find such a wide audience – that I would appear at mainstream venues and record my far-from-traditional programs for labels like Sony. Sure I know that not all contemporary music is good, but I believe that the emotional experience of performing it is far more vivid than that of playing for the 40th time Beethoven’s Apassionata.
“And no, I am not afraid to fail. I will just ask myself what was wrong and keep looking forward.”
David Greilsammer plays Mozart with the Tel Aviv Soloists Ensemble April 1 at Einav Culture Center in Tel Aviv at 8:30 p.m.. For reservations: (03) 5466228