Youth yodeling

Teenagers from the Conservatory Orchestra of the Rubin Academy of Music and Dance learn about friendship, people and music from Georges Bizet’s ‘The Pearl Fishers.’

Michael Klinghoffer (photo credit: Courtesy)
Michael Klinghoffer
(photo credit: Courtesy)
According to Dr. Michael Klinghoffer, Les pêcheurs de perles (The Pearl Fishers), Georges Bizet’s opera about two men's long-standing friendship and how it is rocked by romantic rivalry, is a perfect choice for his orchestra.
Klinghoffer should know, and he will demonstrate as such when he takes the conductor’s podium at four performances of excerpts from the opera on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The ensemble in question is the Conservatory Orchestra of the Rubin Academy of Music and Dance, which comprises a bunch of junior high and high school-aged musicians, and which Klinghoffer has been lovingly nurturing for close to four years.
“The parts of the opera I have chosen are highlights, in terms of their musical quality, and they also maintain the sequence of the plot,” explains Klinghoffer, who serves as the academy’s dean of performing arts. He is also an accomplished composer and classical double-bass player who makes frequent ventures into the environs of jazz. Some of our best known jazz and jazz-oriented double-bass players, such as Avishai Cohen, Omer Avital, Gilad Abro and Hagai Bilitzky, have benefited from his tutelage.The conductor also notes the unusual visual presentation of the material, which will be sung by two alternating three-member casts, and also features the TALI Gilo School Choir. “Even with Ari Tepperberg’s excellent unorthodox direction of the production, which takes it somewhat out of the original time and context, the conceptual continuity is still there.”
Les pêcheurs de perles is set on the island of Ceylon in ancient times, and tells the story of how a vow of eternal friendship between two childhood friends – Zurga and Nadir – is threatened by their love for the same woman, Leila. The object of their desire has her own conundrum to cope with, and has to choose between secular love and her sacred duties as a priestess.
There is much emotional “toing and froing” as the tale unravels, and ultimately, Zurga pardons Nadir and blesses his romantic union with Leila.
“There is a lot to learn from this story,” Klinghoffer observes, “about friendship and about people, and about matters that go beyond rules and regulations, and beyond conventions.”
This definitive humaneness, says Klinghoffer, comes through in the way the story is portrayed.
“This is expressed through the music, but also in everything we do with the orchestra.”
The latter refers to Klinghoffer’s educational philosophy.
“We talk a lot about such things as responsibility – individual and mutual. We don’t keep a register of attendance. We ask the kids to let us know if they are not going to be at a rehearsal, so we don’t worry about them, but personal responsibility is a big part of what we do, as well as the contribution that each member makes to the group as a whole. So far, thankfully, the approach has worked out well.”
The ensemble has grown over the years, in terms of age as well as in size. “We started with the kids when they were very young, they were aged 10 to 14, and now, three and a half years later, they are bigger and more mature,” says Klinghoffer. “Now they are aged around 12 to 17. We started with 13 kids and now we have 36. They take responsibility for their music, and the way they conduct themselves, and that came across clearly in our trip to Norway.”
Last month, Klinghoffer and his young protégés made their first foray abroad, and worked with the youth ensemble of the prestigious Barratt Due Institute of Music in Oslo. “The wonderful connection people from different cultures can achieve through music came through strongly in Norway,” says the conductor. “Music is really the universal language which we can all use to bond with anyone. It really works.
“It’s not that there aren’t differences between us, and I think you might be able to tell, say, an Israeli teenager and a Norwegian teenager apart just by the way they play classical music. But my Norwegian counterpart and I decided from the outset that the common denominator between us is far greater than the differences. When we bear that in mind it is easier to celebrate the differences, and to enjoy them rather than getting bogged down in them.”
Klinghoffer wouldn’t mind a little more help from the authorities. “The Norway trip was our first, but we have received all sorts or requests to perform in other places, but we could do with some more financial support. We got some help for this trip, from the Division for Cultural and Scientific Affairs [at] the Foreign Ministry and a few individuals, and anyone in the group who couldn’t afford the trip got some help. But to do more of this – and clearly there is the demand – we need more assistance.”
While Klinghoffer is undoubtedly the guiding spirit behind the ensemble, he says he adopts more of a laissez-faire attitude than a didactic one. “I prefer the original role of the teacher, that of the mentor.
There is the big question, and this is something I talk about in my lectures around the world, of what is the role of the teacher in the 21st century. When these kids can get almost anything they want on YouTube, who needs me? Why should they come to me to learn? “I think that brings us back to the role of the mentor, who addresses the person rather than the subject matter. The teacher needs to guide the student, and channel him, and to enable him or her to do what they can, to help them realize their potential.”
The teacher’s job description, says Klinghoffer, does not vary much between one-on-one situations and when there is a collective involved. “I call group teaching ‘multi-individual tuition.’ I relate to them as individuals, not as a group. Each has his or her own needs and difficulties, which the teacher has to take into consideration. I think we have to see the role of the teacher, not as conveying ‘information’ because that is already available on the Internet, but as ‘transformation.’ “You know, it is important for the students to master the technical side of playing an instrument, but it is also very important to address the child’s emotional side and personal development.
“I think that if we take care of that there is a much greater chance that children who play instruments will still play music, or at least be interested in music, as adults.”The Conservatory Orchestra of the Rubin Academy of Music and Dance will perform excerpts from Les pêcheurs de perles on April 30 (7 p.m.), May 1 (7 p.m.) and May 2 (5 p.m. and 7 p.m.), at the academy’s Navon Auditorium at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Givat Ram campus. For tickets: (02) 655-0422