Playing the gamut

Cellist Doron Toister turns composer as the JSO debuts his first viola concerto.

DORON TOISTER 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
On January 19, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Luiz Malheiro, performs the world premiere of a viola concerto by Doron Toister, with internationally acclaimed violist Amir Shiff as the soloist.
“I composed it for Amir,” Toister tells The Jerusalem Post. “In our youth, we served together in the Army Quartet, so when we met some three years ago Shiff, who now dedicates more of his time to conducting than to viola playing, asked me why I don’t compose a concerto for him,” says Toister, who until recently did not regard himself as a “real” composer. His skepticism is based on the fact that he is not a full-time composer but the principal cellist of the Rishon Lezion Symphony and composes music “in between” – which, of course, has nothing to with the quality of his compositions.
Starting to play piano at five and switching to cello at age six, he studied with Uzi Wiesel in Israel and continued at Bloomington University, Indiana with the outstanding cellist Yanos Starker, later becoming his assistant.
Concentrating mostly on performance, he has been playing with most Israeli orchestras and giving recitals.
Gradually, he began composing music.
“It started from arrangements of both classical pieces and songs. Later the orchestrations came, and people liked it so much that I was finally commissioned a piece of my own.”
He adds that for him as an orchestra musician, every concert or rehearsal becomes a lesson in composition.
“Since I started composing music, the very way I listen to other instruments has changed. I both play my part and try to understand when other groups sound beautiful or not – and why not. I also learn a lot when the piece is not really good.”
Some four years ago, his Prayer for Cello and Orchestra was premiered by the Rishon Lezion Symphony, and the choice of the theme was not surprising: Toister, who comes from a secular family “who love music and are unaware of Judaism because art was our religion,” has gradually become an observant Jew.
Since Prayer, he has not composed for an orchestra, concentrating mostly on chamber music. He is now about to release a disk of classical arrangements of Chabad melodies. “They sound slightly different from what we all are used to,” he explains.
It would be an exaggeration to call tall and sturdy Toister, a black kippa on his curly hair, a talkative, self-centered artist. “My new piece? It is a one-part concerto with many scenes. This is rather light music. Some jazz, some rock, but without guitars or any other noise, which I don’t like, and with a lot of harmony. That’s it.”
Then he adds after a brief deliberation, “These are Jewish melodies and harmonies of jazz. I want people to know that this is pleasant, tonal music and not contemporary music which, as a performer, I more often than not don’t enjoy playing. This is my taste,” he concludes with a smile.
January 19 at the Jerusalem Theater and January 20 at the Herzliya Performing Arts Center at 8 p.m. The program also features Verdi’s Overture for Nabucco and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6, (Pathetique). For information, call 1-700-70-400.