Kfar Saba Wind Instrument Musicians Competition returns

This time around, the previously exclusively classical music contest takes in a bunch of budding jazz artists too.

 MUSICIANS VIE for the 6th biennial Kfar Saba Wind Instrument Musicians Competition. (photo credit: RAMI ZARNEGAR)
MUSICIANS VIE for the 6th biennial Kfar Saba Wind Instrument Musicians Competition.
(photo credit: RAMI ZARNEGAR)

The latest spate of wintry weather has had us grabbing at our umbrellas and headgear before some gust of wind summarily moves them on. But, if you happen to be in the environs of the Kfar Saba Conservatory of Music anytime from now until February 3 you could be in for a lot more in the way of fast-moving air, although with some fetching accompanying sonics.

Over the course of 11 days, the music school is hosting the 6th biennial “Kfar Saba Wind Instrument Musicians Competition,” which began yesterday. This time around, the previously exclusively classical music contest takes in a bunch of budding jazz artists too, with contestants, in both genres, competing in various age groups up to 26. In fact, the titular instrument is a slight misnomer, as this year for the first time, the jazz side of the event is open to players of all instruments.

The competition, and its various machinations, is supervised by 54-year-old conservatory director, conductor and educator Ofer Ein Habar, who says he and his colleagues have been keeping their end of the educational and creative side up through thick and thin. “The conservatory, with the support of the municipality, did not stop our activities, at all, since March 15, 2020. When everyone else was closing down – at the time we didn’t know anything about Zoom – we said we would go online.”

That has paid across-the-board dividends. “The number of students we have has risen by about 20% – both at schools and also in the afternoons. They placed their faith in us. I can’t really explain it. They play outdoors, they do anything they can, as long as they don’t stop studying and playing music.”

That’s a real heart cockle warmer which, says Ein Habar, carries over to the competition. “It is part of our activity. We strongly believe in wind instruments. It is a very well-developed field of ours. And we have a festival every year.”

Kfar Saba park 248.88 (credit: Levg)Kfar Saba park 248.88 (credit: Levg)

It was full steam ahead, regardless of isolations and other annoyances of contemporary life. “We decided we have to carry on,” says the director. And how. “Last year we had 150 contestants. This year we have over 200. That really surprised us. That proves there is a place for this.”

That referenced the need for an official framework in which budding musicians can pit their skills against one another and, more importantly, against themselves. “There is nothing like this anywhere in the country,” Ein Habar notes. “There are a few but, a competition like this, with wind instruments, age categories, just doesn’t exist elsewhere.”

THIS IS only the second time the jazz-oriented younger crowd has been able to join in the competitive fun under the auspices of the Kfar Saba school. “The director of jazz at the conservatory came to me two years ago and told me had a dream to have a jazz competition. I thought we should have a tribute to [late celebrated classical pianist] Pnina Salzman,” Ein Habar recalls, “but then they told me Pnina didn’t like jazz,” he laughs. “I don’t know if that’s true but I didn’t want to disrespect someone to whom we can no longer talk. So we settled on wind instruments for the first time out with jazz.”

That brought in a relatively modest contestant roster of about 15 players. This year Ein Habar allowed more room for maneuver. “With classical music, it is about achieving a sound and getting a classical style. With jazz it is about the style, improvisation and the jazz idiom, so a pianist can compete against a trumpeter. Both improvise, and the thing is to sense the musicianship. So we decided the jazz competition would be open to all instruments.” That pushed the jazz competitor roll out up to 26, with another 177 due to do classical battle in Kfar Saba from the start of the week.

That is, indeed, a delightful prospect and one that augurs well for the future of musical creative pursuit here. However, there are some who find it difficult to equate art and competition. Surely, they argue, music is about gaining and honing the requisite technical expertise, and then dipping deep into one’s soul to produce the emotive goods. 

I was surprised to hear that Ein Habar feels the jury is still out on that one. “I am also still wrestling with the pairing of music and competition,” he chuckles. He adds, however, there is inestimable added educational value to be had from rubbing shoulders and, possibly, sharpening one’s elbows among one’s peers. 

He draws on his own experience to underscore that viewpoint. “I have two musician brothers who are true performers,” he notes, referencing siblings flutist-conductor Eyal and wind instrument player Nitzan. “I played trumpet when I was young. But I had stage fright. I played in the IDF Orchestra and all sorts of ensembles but I always struggled with being on a stage.” 

That, he believes, can be addressed by getting into the trenches at an early age. “How can you compete when someone plays from their soul?” Indeed. Ein Habar opts for a more tender and humane approach. “I tell the kids, come to enjoy yourselves and relate to it as if it is just a regular concert.” 

Ein Habar points out that, in any case, all performers are subject to scrutiny as soon as they hit the stage. “It doesn’t make any difference whether you are an orchestra conductor or a flute soloist, you are exposed. As a conductor, you stand with your back to the audience who analyze your every move, and the way the orchestra is playing. And, if you are a soloist they examine every note you produce. You are always being tested.”

Experiencing competition at a young age, says the director, can help to lay down the emotional groundwork and mettle for thriving musicians in concert situations as they make their way through professional life. 

The benefits of the survival of the fittest mindset is, says Ein Habar, out there to be seen and enjoyed. “There is a wonderful and unassuming girl called Bar Avni. I met her when she was in 5th grade at an elementary school in Kfar Saba. She played percussion in my orchestra. When she was in 6th grade I asked her to conduct the orchestra at a Hanukkah ceremony. I got told off for that, by my boss,” he chuckles.

But, as they say, he who laughs last laughs longest. “Today Bar is the conductor and music director of the Bayer Philharmonic Orchestra [in Germany]. And she will conduct the Haifa [Symphony] Orchestra at the final stage of the competition, for the winners. She is one of our graduates. That is a source of great pride for all of us.”

Ein Habar and his colleagues over at Kfar Saba may have plenty more nachas kleibing in store for them as the competition gets new talents out there and on the stage, ready to do battle with the best of them.

For more information: https://www.competitionkfarsaba.com