Amihai Grosz: From Berlin with viola

Now first principal viola player of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Jerusalem-born Grosz is a seasoned campaigner.

Amihai Grosz (photo credit: MARCO BORGGREVE)
Amihai Grosz
(photo credit: MARCO BORGGREVE)
Amihai Grosz may be a long-time offshore resident, but he should feel perfectly at home when he comes to Kfar Blum for this year’s Voice of Music Festival (July 16-18), supported by The Galilee Development Authority.
Now first principal viola player of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Jerusalem-born Grosz is a seasoned campaigner. He began his viola studies at the age of 11, initially with David Chen at the Jerusalem Academy of Music, later continuing with Tabea Zimmermann in Berlin at the Hanns Eisler Musikhochschule, and with Haim Taub at the Keshet Eilon Music Center in the Galilee.
“When you have to play five bars as the soloist with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, that is no simple matter, believe me,” he says. “But I think that kind of courage is sort of built-in with me, and I believe it is very important to play solo because it helps you to discover all sorts of things. It is a very individual thing, and you learn things about yourself, as a musician. You lay out all your cards and present yourself to the audiences, as is.”
It is a two-way street. “You take risks, but if you don’t you can’t grow, and it also offers you more freedom,” adds Grosz. “You get more out of the situation. You put yourself out there, and have a lot of fun. When, for example, I play Brahms’s sonata [for viola and piano], I have an opportunity to express my own emotions, totally my own feelings – more so than, for example, in a piano quintet. That’s the beauty of playing solo, or in a duet.”
Over the course of the three-plus day event up North – members of the public are also welcome to attend open rehearsals at the Pastoral Hotel at Kfar Blum on July 15 – Grosz will play in several lineups, including a trio setting when he contributes to a performance of Three Songs by early 20th century English composer Frank Bridge, as part of the Love in England program, alongside his wife, soprano vocalist Alma Saddeh Moshonov, and pianist Shir Semmel.
A rendition of Beethoven’s String Trio in C minor Op.9 No.3 will find him joining forces with violinist Guy Braunstein and cellist and festival artistic director Zvi Plesser. That will be followed by the third movement of the German composer’s String Quartet in A minor, Op.132 No.15, which Beethoven named Holy Song of Thanksgiving, in appreciation of his recovery from a serious ailment, with Braunstein and Plesser in once again in the fray, along with Israeli-Canadian violinist Daniel Bard.

GROSZ POPS up again for the festival finale on July 18, this time with even more cohorts playing Brahms’s String Sextet No. 2 in G Major Op. 36. Truth be told, Grosz only gets to play in one duet setting, with pianist Yaron Rosenthal, in a performance of 20th-century composer Rebecca Clarke’s Sonata for Viola and Piano.
“When I play with a pianist there is something similar [to the viola], in terms of the timing,” Grosz notes. Then again, joining forces with other string players naturally produces a different sonic approach. “There is a certain degree of flexibility when you have a viola playing with a violin or a cello. When you have a chord played on a piano, you have to play with, and within, the chord. In that sense, the percussive aspect of the piano is more obvious. On the other hand, my role as a violist playing alongside a pianist, is to fuse the harmonies which the piano offers. It is my job to knit the melodies together.”
Grosz started out on his musical road on violin, at the age of four. So he had plenty of time to explore the possibilities of the shorter instrument before moving on to the viola. It was, he says, a natural transition, and one that had been beckoning for some time.
“I was always drawn to the lower tones, less jumpy melodies and less virtuosic. I was looking for something more personal and deeper. I think the viola was really waiting for me.”
Even so, it was not an entirely seamless instrumental progression.
“You need a different right hand technique for the viola, in contrast with the violin,” explains Grosz. “Not every good violinist can play the viola well, and vice versa. They say that the bad violinist plays the viola. I don’t go along with that. A poor violinist will also be a poor violist.”
In fact, for around four years, Grosz divided his time between violin and viola, also becoming a founding member of the Jerusalem String Quartet. It wasn’t until he was 15 that he threw in his lot, exclusively, with the viola. But Grosz’s time on violin is not going to waste.
“I feel I have the aroma of the violin, and the viola sort of bridges the gap between the violin and the cello. Maybe, if I’d started on viola from the beginning, I probably wouldn’t have that advantage, of sensing the violin so well.”
For tickets and more information about the Voice of Music Festival: www.kol-hamusica.org.il