Stringing along with the kids

Violist Gadi Abadi, The Jerusalem Music Center’s new director , is determined to foster the next generation’s talents.

Gadi Abadi (photo credit: Courtesy)
Gadi Abadi
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Gadi Abadi has his sights firmly set on the future.
At the age of 45, the recently appointed director of the Jerusalem Music Center is determined to help budding classical musicians along their way to achieving their potential and getting their talents out there.
And he has the track record to do just that and to identify with the youngsters who come to the illustrious Jerusalem institution to enjoy high-level instruction and benefit from the state-of-the-art facilities there.
“I was here as a kid myself,” says Abadi, who also earns a crust as a viola player. “Actually, I wasn’t that young. I was 16.”
Abadi originally hails from Holon, which today has become the epicenter of junior cultural activities, although that all started quite some time after Abadi made it to the JMC.
“Back then Holon was the violinists’ capital of Israel, possibly of the world,” he recalls. “People like [iconic classical violinists] Pinchas Zuckerman and Shlomo Mintz came from Holon. They all studied with the legendary teacher [Hungarian-born] Ilona Feher.”
But Abadi wasn’t part of that scene. He followed a more “normal” musical path.
“That was a sort of parallel universe to mine,” he says. “I went to the municipal conservatory, and I didn’t get into all that madness of practicing 100 hours a day.”
Initially, the youngster grew up in something of a musical vacuum.
“I played and practiced, but I wasn’t that serious. My teacher didn’t get me into a chamber ensemble, and I’d flit in and out of classes,” he recounts.
All that changed when he attended a summer camp organized by the MATAN Arts & Culture Project for Youth and realized that he was not one of a kind feeling his way through the mysteries of classical musicianship.
“I met other kids who were just like me, and I had a sort of epiphany. I suddenly discovered I wasn’t on my own and that there were others of my age who were going through similar things,” he says.
That was a welcome far cry from his regular musical education.
“In Holon I felt very alone. Yes, I went to the conservatory there, but I didn’t have a sense of sharing the same musical path with others of my age. I had one-on-one tuition, and that was that,” he explains.
Abadi’s career die was cast at that summer camp.
“I was in a string ensemble there. We played Mozart’s Adagio and Fugue, which is a wonderful work, and it was then that I realized I wanted to be a professional musician,” he says.
It was the synergy, as much as his own individual musical endeavor, that did the trick.
“Suddenly there was this strong social aspect to playing music which I hadn’t had before,” Abadi recalls. “Before that, I’d played violin at the conservatory, and now I found myself playing as a member of an orchestra, playing great music. For me that was a formative experience. I also saw other kids who were a bit like me – kids who played music a bit, who liked sports and that sort of thing. I hadn’t been part of that kind of scene beforehand. I hadn’t felt that togetherness. That’s important at that age.”
That provided the teenager with the impetus to further his craft, and he eventually found his way to the institution he now heads.
“The JMC invited me to take part in a summer course, and then I got involved with the center. I studied with all sorts of great musicians, idols of mine, like [legendary violinists] Isaac Stern and Yehudi Menuhin. I was on cloud nine,” he says.
Shortly after that, Abadi joined the army and served in the Combat Engineering Corps.
“In those days, the IDF only had eight outstanding musician berths, and I wasn’t good enough for that,” Abadi notes. “I wasn’t disappointed. I knew that if I really wanted it enough, I would be able to develop a career in music later. When I came home on weekends from the army, I’d grab my viola and practice as much as I could.”
Like many Jewish parents, Abadi’s mother and father wanted to be sure their son would be able to keep the wolves at bay and weren’t sure Abadi could do that as a classical musician. The youngster duly enrolled in the Hebrew University’s Economics and Accountancy Department but also at the Academy of Music and Dance. It didn’t take long for him to resolve that educational split conundrum.
“After just a few weeks I realized that I didn’t want to do economics and all that, and I devoted myself to the academy, and to my music,” he explains.
After completing his studies, Abadi set about gaining professional experience as a musician and as a teacher. He spent two years at the School of Sciences and Art in Jerusalem and enjoyed a productive eightmonth sojourn in Rotterdam as a student and as a member of an orchestra there. But eventually, the Dutch wintry weather and longing for home brought him back here.
Shortly after his return to Israel, he spent some time working with MATAN and subsequently got a call from the JMC. He began working with youth, traveling the country to spot talent to bring to Jerusalem and instructing string quartets at the institution. That early experience stands him in good stead in his new role.
“It is so important to educate youth,” he states.
“You could say that today I am continuing the work I started at the age of 21, when I taught at the School of Sciences and Art. I want to give all these wonderfully talented kids every opportunity to play together and to get the best education possible. We have so much talent in this country.”
And Abadi is determined to ensure that the youngsters have the best possible conditions in which to cultivate their skills.
“My challenge is to maintain the center’s high standards and unique achievements, while introducing pedagogic and artistic innovation and, of course, finding the resources to make this happen.
The JMC is the jewel in the crown of musical education in Israel, and I intend to consolidate the center and keep it at the forefront of the scene so it can fulfill its crucial role in developing the next generation of Israeli musicians,” he asserts. •