A passion for music

Roi Aloni’s refreshing approach to opening the world of classical music to a non-professional audience is unique.

Musicologist Roi Aloni (photo credit: Courtesy)
Musicologist Roi Aloni
(photo credit: Courtesy)
One has to be an early bird to get a ticket for Roi Aloni’s lecture concerts at the Tikotin Museum in Haifa. As soon as ticket sales opened in July, a two-hour queue formed to snap up seats for the following season starting in October.
The popularity of his program prompted the museum to add a summer program this year. On the morning of our interview in September, he was giving a presentation on water music – very appropriate with the temperatures outside still in the 30s, and particularly calming for the audience the day before the election.
There are good reasons why devoted fans attend year after year, for Aloni’s refreshing approach to opening the world of classical music to a non-professional audience is unique.
With amazing energy and a lot of humor, this 46-year-old musicologist delves into the history of the great composers and musicians, revealing unknown and intimate details of their work and their lives, or exploring a particular genre of music that was perhaps little known to the audience previously.
Aloni illustrates his lectures with video clips of the best of conductors and orchestras, but the audience anticipates with delight his own interpretations on the piano. He sits at the grand piano at Tikotin and plays just everything and anything, without a score in front of him, to compare styles and genres and to make his point. Within a few bars he takes the audience through the lamentations of the minor keys to the celebrations in the major keys, often within the same piece of music. Many of the great composers suffered from multiple personalities and identity crises and this is revealed in their masterpieces that have survived the centuries.
This fits well with his lecture style, for when illustrating the many-faceted personalities of the classical composers he can play within two or three sentences phrases from Beethoven’s majestic Ninth and switch to the twittering birds and peaceful streams running through the Pastoral.
Although Aloni does not recall any musicians in his family, he was drawn to the piano at a very young age. When he was six he asked for a piano, sat down and played anything that he heard, without learning the notes or needing to read the music.
“I do not practice 10 hours a day,” says Aloni.
Aloni’s wife and two children are also musical, but he does not believe in forcing children to practice long hours at the expense of other important things in their lives. Aloni himself is an enthusiastic marathon runner.
Born in Jerusalem to an Iraqi mother and Israeli father, Aloni now lives in Petah Tikva. When he was 17 he moved to New York to study with Prof. Yocheved Kaplinsky and won first prize in the prestigious Young Pianists Competition.
After two years he returned home to be recruited into the Army followed by studies at the Rubin Academy for Music and Dance in Jerusalem. He got his first degree studying with Prof. Michael Bogoslavsky, and during his studies he won prizes in orchestral playing, solo and in chamber orchestras, taking classes with several prestigious pianists. In 1999 he participated with five other pianists from all over Israel in the Ravinia Festival.
Showing a pragmatic intent, he also studied for a second degree in management at Tel Aviv University. He has lectured on classical music in the UK and in the USA. Now based in Israel, he gives concert lectures through the Rishon Lezion Symphony Orchestra and Continuing Studies department of Haifa University, as well as community and cultural centers, and schools from Ashdod to Haifa.
At each lecture he shows his passion for music. He quotes Mahler: “Music is like the world, it embraces everything.”
In his work he is opening the world of music to the community.
“By exploring the lives and eccentricities, the hardships and failures as well as successes of the iconic Masters, their music comes to life”, he says.
Aloni is a free spirit.
“I never learned structure,” he says. “I just hear a piece and can sit down and play it. I built my own framework.”
While these morning lectures at Tikotin obviously target pensioners, I ask Aloni why the audiences at the Philharmonic and other orchestral concerts in Israel seem to be mostly from the older generation.
“Young people want more instant gratification today,” he says. “They look at screens for news instead of reading newspapers, see films and TV rather than read the original books.
“Classical music is an acquired taste like cognac,” he says. “You may not appreciate it the first time you try it – it takes time to get used to the texture, the color, the taste.”
He claims that as people mature they appreciate more the classical music that requires more thought and concentration.
Aloni’s repertoire, however, is eclectic. The coming season at Tikon includes cameos on Chopin, Elgar, Grieg as well as lectures on the cello, Spanish music, the waltz and ballet.
Aloni does not believe in fake news, but occasionally the unsavory history of a specific musician or composer will affect his enthusiasm for them as a subject of a lecture. Talking about the ban in Israel of Wagner, he says: “I do not really agree with the taboo for there were many other virulent antisemites in the musical world as indeed there were in literature.”
He adds, however: “I would not lecture or play Wagner’s music to a general audience in Israel for it really hurts the sensitivity of many people.” But he does feel that in a closed forum where the audience is aware that Wagner will be played, that it should not be totally boycotted.
Meanwhile, his repertoire obviously hits the right spot for he is fully occupied with his piano playing and lectures throughout the country. He feels that musicians also need to have a life, and it is this attitude that gives such energy and novelty to his presentations.
As the regulars at the monthly Sunday morning lectures gather for coffee and chat at the Tikotin prior to the presentation, they are anticipating an interesting 90 minutes, a new look at an old piece of music, a new piece of life history about a familiar composer. And that explains why the queues are so long when the ticket sales open.