Musician Gil Shohat named French knight

The title, equal to the Legion of Honor, is given to outstanding artists worldwide for their contribution to arts and culture.

Gil Shohat 88 248 (photo credit: Amit Gosher)
Gil Shohat 88 248
(photo credit: Amit Gosher)
There's no suit of armor necessary, but Israeli composer/conductor/pianist Gil Shohat will receive the title of Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres (Knight of Arts and Letters) from French Ambassador Jean-Michel Casa at a ceremony on June 22 at the ambassador's residence. "It was such a surprise," said Shohat, laughing. "I was on the street after a meeting at the Holon Municipality and on my way to a rehearsal when the French cultural attaché Alain Montail called me. 'I can't talk now,' I told him, but he said 'I think you'll want to hear this,' and he told me about the award. I literally jumped for joy." The title, equal to the Legion of Honor, is given to outstanding artists worldwide for their contribution to arts and culture. Other Israeli honorees have included author Amoz Oz and choreographer Ohad Naharin. Shohat is the first Israeli musician to receive the title. "All of the best things that ever happened to me were always unexpected," says Shohat, and he cites the commission from the Paris Chamber Orchestra for his Bathsheva Oratorio, "the biggest commission I've ever had." Shohat, 35, is a phenomenon in the music world, our very own Mozart, as it were. The Israel Chamber Orchestra commissioned and performed his The Nightingale and the Rose when he was all of 18. In 1996, the prestigious Italian music publisher Ricordi signed him: the youngest musician ever on its books. To date, he's written nine symphonies, 12 concerti, four operas, dozens of chamber pieces - and they're all played, usually to musical acclaim. He's likable, media-savvy, enthusiastic, always working on at least half a dozen projects, and "every day I'm onstage, one way or another," he says, "whether performing, conducting or lecturing." His current list is dizzying. Valery Gergiev has just appointed him musical adviser to the Red Sea International Classic Music Festival. He's busy gearing up for the Ein Hod Maestro Music Festival to be held at the artists' village over Shavuot, the music for which he chose. He's classical music adviser to the Israel Festival, where he'll perform in and host the Beethoven Marathon on June 5. And at the end of July he'll bop over to Vermont in the US, where for several years he's been chief guest conductor at a music festival. Not least, he's working with director Omri Nitzan on his new opera, The Child Dreams, based on the powerful play by Hanoch Levin, which will have its world premiere at the Israel Opera in January 2010. "I've never told this to anyone," he confides, "but Hanoch Levin personally gave me the play." Shohat had approached Levin to write the libretto for his Alpha and Omega (2001). The playwright turned down the commission but offered him the rights to The Child Dreams, "because he liked my music and said, 'If I had one play I'd want you to write music for, this is it.'" The French honor is the latest in a string of local and international prizes Shohat has won over the years. Since 2004, he has been a chosen artist of the Israel Cultural Excellence Foundation.