The idea of combining a winter vacation in warm, dry Eilat with classical music has proven itself. Not only is the Classicameri chamber music festival at the Red Sea resort town now in its ninth year, but this year, in response to audience demand, it will be spread over two weekends, January 25 to 27 and January 31 to February 4. Click for upcoming events calendar! The Israel Chamber Orchestra International Festival programs are based on popular classics and intended to suit all tastes, with sorties into other genres such as jazz, klezmer, tango and world music. Most of the artists are Israelis - pianists Dorel Golan and Leonid Ptashka, bandonion player Eduardo Abramson, singers Maria Kabelsky and Tamara Klinberg, Albert Piamenta's saxophone ensemble and Tapuach bi-Dvash klezmer ensemble, not to mention the orchestra members. But the festival will also be hosting international artists, such as renowned Russian pianist Nikolai Petrov, Hungarian maestro Gabor Hollerung and American mezzo soprano Debora Braun. Gil Shohat is artistic director of the festival and will be appearing in several programs as conductor and pianist. Maestro Mendi Rodan will take the podium in the second part of the festival. A REUNION OF ONE of Israel's foremost chamber ensembles, the Yuval Trio highlights several concert programs. "As often happens, the three of us - myself, cellist Simha Heled and violinist Uri Pianka - originally met by pure chance," recollects pianist Yonathan Zak in a phone interview. "Back in 1969, I started performing with Simha Heled and somebody suggested I recruit Pianka, whom I knew from our studies in America. There was an immediate chemistry between us. 'This is the trio we were waiting for,' wrote Jerusalem Post critic Yohanan Bohm after our first concert." What constitutes the chemistry? "We see a piece through the same eyes, since our approach and education are similar. We agree regarding tempi and dynamics, and also about the limits of freedom in interpreting a piece." As each talented musician is also a personality in his own right, how did they manage to get along in a genre that demands attention to one's neighbor and utmost unity? "Granted, we argued but only about music, and we never scolded," smiles Zak. "We always solved our arguments democratically, by majority vote." The story of the Yuval Trio is a story of success, of concerts all over the US and Europe, as well as at home, and of many recordings with the prestigious Deutsche Grammophon label. Yet Zak notes that it was a hard career. "Since both my colleagues were often busy as members of the Israel Philharmonic, we needed to perform in the most concentrated way, sometimes performing every day on a three-week tour, hopping from plane to hotel between concerts. We gave up to 100 concerts a year. Also, you have to prepare a vast repertoire because this is what the audience demands, and to learn not only your part but also that of your partners." And as if this were not enough, reviews bring additional tension. "Not that we didn't know how we played, but we need it for our agents, for advancing our careers." In 1994, after 25 successful years, the trio separated. "Pianka became concertmeister of the Houston Symphony, and Heled also lived in the US. Logistically, it had become impossible." Now that Pianka has retired from the orchestra and Heled has returned to Israel, they occasionally play together again. "We are not renewing our career," Zak emphasizes. "We play for those who ask us to. Now that neither our income nor our career depends on it, music making has become a sheer pleasure." In Eilat the Yuval Trio will perform Beethoven's Triple Concerto with the chamber orchestra ("We played it with major orchestras in America and Europe at least 50 times," says Zak) and appear in chamber programs. Zak also joins soprano Ayelet Amotz in a program of Schubert's lieder. The Isrotel hotel chain, which sponsors the festival, offers various packages that include accommodations and concert tickets. For details and reservations, call 1-800-800-808.