On a cold and rainy Jerusalem evening in early February, the sounds of flutes, clarinets, saxophones and piano stream through the halls of the Adam School in Jerusalem, home of the Hassadna Jerusalem Music Conservatory.
For this writer, watching and listening to talented teens make music is a rare treat, but for the students of the conservatory, it’s just another evening of music practice.
Founded in 1973 by pianist and musician Amalia Reuel, the conservatory has educated thousands of students for close to 50 years and currently offers a world-class musical education to more than 600 students ages three to 18 from every sector of society.
Hassadna has five departments – piano, string, wind, jazz and voice – and its pupils participate in a wide variety of orchestras and chamber music ensembles and perform in regular concerts.
The conservatory offers instruction in all major instruments, theory, ensemble-playing and dance, providing the highest-quality training to Jerusalem schoolchildren, helping to develop talented young musicians.Many of the school’s graduates continue their education at prestigious music and performing arts programs at universities and academies, both in Israel and abroad.
Lena Nemirovsky-Wiskind, the vivacious and cheerful director of the conservatory, began working there as a piano teacher, and succeeded Reuel upon her retirement.
Nemirovsky-Wiskind said that her predecessor succeeded in creating “a very special, family-oriented place,” absent much of the excess competitiveness and tension that exists in many other conservatories.
She recalled what Reuel told her when she retired: “She said, ‘I established the Conservatory for all the children. I don’t want it to be an elitist school only for children whose parents can afford to send their children there.’”
When Nemirovsky-Wiskind became director, she expanded the scholarship fund that Reuel had created, with assistance from the Jerusalem Foundation. “Because of the fund,” she said, “we have succeeded in opening the doors of the conservatory.”
Today, the school hosts a wide variety of students from many different backgrounds.
“What is special to me about the conservatory,” says Nemirovsky-Wiskind, “is that we have children who come from all types of backgrounds – at-risk children, children with special needs, children from Ethiopian families – and everyone here is mixed together, it is a ‘salad.’
“We do everything so that the children will feel that they are part of a musical community. All our fundraising is done behind the scenes so that everyone will feel that they are among equals. When our students go on stage, they wear the finest clothes and use the best musical instruments.”
Nemirovsky-Wiskind added that some students are on full scholarship, others receive partial grants, and some pay full tuition – but everyone is treated equally. Hassadna is the musical home to Jewish, Christian and Muslim students from all backgrounds who share one thing in common – a love and appreciation for music.
The conservatory attracts students from throughout Jerusalem and outside the city, including Modi’in, Gush Etzion, Beit Shemesh and even Tel Aviv.
“Why do they come here?” asks Nemirovsky-Wiskind rhetorically, “because we have the best teaching staff. It is important to have teaching professionals who are at the highest level. The Jerusalem Foundation can help with scholarships, but if we don’t have the proper teachers, the students will not succeed.”
Despite the conservatory’s level of artistic success, it is operating in inadequate, makeshift facilities. Music classes meet at the Adam School, beginning at 2 p.m., after regular classes have concluded.
“In all the years of its existence, the conservatory has always met within an existing school building,” said Nemirovsky-Wiskind.
When school ends for the day, the conservatory staff arrives, positions the instruments into place, and arranges the rooms for music instruction. The acoustics of a standard classroom, she noted, is far from ideal for music instruction. At 11 p.m. each night, the staff must remove all of the musical instruments and rearrange the classrooms for the next day’s classes.
It is for all these reasons that the Jerusalem Foundation has recently embarked on a $15 million project to build a new home for the conservatory.
The new facility will be located at the corner of Hamagid and Samuel Mohilever streets, close to the Museum of Natural History in the German Quarter, not far from Hassadna’s current location. The groundbreaking ceremony for the new building will take place at the end of March.
The building will feature practice and training studios, a music library and listening room with computer and workstations, a student area with lounge, computer stations, study corners, a furnished garden and outdoor play area for children coming from school, a family waiting area, a faculty lounge, management and administration offices, and a 150-seat concert hall.
In a design competition conducted by the Jerusalem Foundation among leading architecture firms, the Jerusalem firm of Sitton Plus Tannous was selected to design the conservatory’s new home.
The firm, founded by two talented architects — an Israeli-Arab from Nazareth and an Israeli Jew from Jerusalem — has designed numerous well-known buildings, including the Train Theater complex in Liberty Park.
The $10m. of funds that have been raised for the project thus far have come from the Jerusalem Foundation UK, headed by its chairman, Lord Howard Leigh. The name of the new building will be the Gerald and Gail Ronson Music Center, in honor of the well-known British philanthropists from London who support many causes in Britain and Israel.
Shai Doron, president of the Jerusalem Foundation, explains that its support for a new conservatory building dovetails with “Jerusalem 2030,” the foundation’s strategic plan for the city’s future, which involves three primary components – creative culture, communal strength, and future leadership.
Doron says that the Hassadna Conservatory epitomizes the foundation’s three attributes.
“Hassadna is a great example of what we are trying to accomplish with our 2030 Master Plan. We would like to promote giving opportunities to all, and Hassadna represents everything we stand for. First, creative culture — Hassadna has the most gifted kids playing music. Hassadna has been in existence for more than four decades, and many of its graduates became involved in music and found positions in the music world in Israel and overseas.”
The conservatory, he continues, is a great source of communal strength due to the special programs that it conducts both for new immigrants and for Ethiopian children, as well as the fact that it is the musical home for students from all parts of Jerusalem.
“It has become a meeting place for Jews and Arabs, secular and Orthodox,” says Doron. “All of them are getting together, building a sense of community in a city that would like to promote shared living between communities.”
Finally, he said, the program promotes the foundation’s goal of future leadership, which connects to the idea of creative culture. According to Doron, future leadership is not only associated with leadership in a civil society but also extends on a professional level through the leading musicians developed by the conservatory.
“The professional level of the musicians and creative young people – this is the idea of Hassadna. Some children attend Hassadna because they want to play music, and it is a great after-school program and community, but the most gifted kids can make the balance between being a gifted musician and at the same time preserving the values of community and shared leadership. For the most gifted students, this is real leadership at the high end, with professional musicians for the future.
“We would like to believe that a great facility and great organization like Hassadna will encourage people to stay in Jerusalem and live in Jerusalem as the city of culture.
“Hassadna is a combination of everything that we want to achieve,” said Doron, adding that one of the key features of the building, both in its design and its intended use, will be its community-friendly design. The building will be used for special music programs for seniors in the mornings, with other community events on evenings when music practices are not being held.
The new building of Hassadna Jerusalem Music Conservatory is scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2025, making beautiful music for the city and the neighborhood where it will dwell.