The 15th annual Tel-Hai International Master Piano Classes are set to start this year with its highest enrollment to date, despite Israel's war in the North. Usually taking place in Kfar Blum (just south of Kiryat Shmona), the event's organizers decided that the Katyusha crescendos would be a bit much for even the most hardened musicians, and relocated the event to the Negev's tranquil Sde Boker Learning Center (oddly, the Sderot Center for the Performing Arts was somehow overlooked). In a summer that has seen some events canceled altogether, the internationally renowned master classes, which involve primarily participants from abroad, will go on as scheduled from August 6 through 23. Indeed, of the 85 students and 15 teachers from more than 20 countries enrolled, there have been only eight students and one faculty cancellation. According to Tel-Hai chairperson Sara Lahat, it is Tel-Hai's reputation as "one of the leading master classes in the world, with the best faculty in the world" that explains the determined continuation, as well as the record-setting registration. The success and renown of the classes are due in large part to the high caliber of both teachers and participating students, with many of the latter going on to win international competitions and returning for classes in subsequent years. The daily individual classes, lectures, performances and competitions are free and open to the public. Lahat points to the unique satisfaction for audiences at a master class: "People can actually see them [students] change from the beginning of the class, getting better by its end, an hour later." Along with the individual piano classes, this year's program includes a piano-duo course (when two hands just aren't enough); a chamber music workshop, due to the significance chamber music plays in a pianist's performing career; a piano concerto competition, with the winner performing in a grand concert with the Israel Symphony Orchestra Rishon Lezion; and the launching of an art-song workshop specializing in Schumann's lieder and given by maestro Dan Ettinger (conductor of ISORL) and soprano Sharon Rostorf-Zamir. For the world premier competition, a piece by Israeli composer Ron Weidberg - "Variations" - was commissioned by and for the master classes, with the winner performing in Tel Aviv on August 23. The significance of the annual commission from an Israeli composer is twofold, according to Lahat. It introduces these exceptional young pianists to an original Israeli work, while simultaneously allowing them to take the work back with them, thereby giving the piece international exposure. In addition to the daily performances, there will be a concert competition held August 17-18, with the winner going on to perform with the ISORL on September 28. The gala concert on August 23 features, in addition to the premiere of Weidberg's work, the Jerusalem String Trio performing with Pnina Salzman, and top-performing students presenting a variety of their works. Information for the master classes events and locations can be found at www.masterclasses.org.il or by calling (09) 958-8468.