‘I will not let my ego stand in the way of my learning’

Keren Kagarlitsky conducts the opening concert of the Classicameri chamber music festival.

ISRAELI CONDUCTOR Keren Kagarlitsky (photo credit: RAMI ZARENGER)
(photo credit: RAMI ZARENGER)
The Isrotel Classicameri Festival celebrates 20 years with a rich and variegated program, hosting the Ra’anana Symphonette Orchestra and a host of musicians from different countries. The festival, held annually in Eilat since 1998, hosts musicians and artists from Israel and abroad in celebration of music of all times – from Beethoven, Bach and Chopin to contemporary artists, Israeli songs, French chansons and more. Among the guests this year are Omer M. Welbe, the Symphonette’s artistic director and chief conductor; maestro Constantin Orbelian (Russia/US) and the Armenian Opera soloists; pianist Davide Cabassi (Italy); conductor Keren Kagarlitsky; violinists Nitai Zori and Yaron Gottfried; mandolin artist Jacob (Yaki) Reuven and many more.
Jerusalem-born Kagarlitsky, 26, started out as a pianist.
“We always had a piano in the house, and my mom and grandmother played the piano,” she says. “Music was an obvious part of my life, it was part of life in my family. My mother only played at home, but my grandmother taught solfège in Kyrgyzstan, where my family came from. As every good girl from a Russian family, I had to excel in mathematics, play the piano and go to artistic synchronized swimming class,” she laughs.
Kagarlitsky studied piano at the Jerusalem Academy High School for Music and Dance. After her army service, she continued her studies at the Jerusalem Academy for Music and Dance.
“I started in the composition department, under Menahem Wiesenberg,” she says. “But very soon I realized that what I wanted was to learn how to compose for the orchestra. It was clear to me that I could write for the piano – which I knew very well – but not for the instrument called orchestra, which I didn’t know at all. So to learn more about that instrument, I had to study conducting.”
Kagarlitsky transferred to the conducting department at the academy and studied under Prof. Avner Biron.
“I went in order to get to know the orchestra better, and I fell in love with conducting. For me it was a revelation of a magical world, more magical than any other world I had touched before in music,” she recounts.
“It is a very intangible world,” she explains. “In conducting classes, you don’t conduct an orchestra. You stand in front of two pianos, played by two very experienced pianists, and their goal is to respond to what you do with your hands. You need to imagine the orchestra and the sounds. That completely changed my thinking about music because the experience was so great. And because so much of what happened in classes was imaginary, I panicked when I stood in front of a real orchestra for the first time. It was so different.”
The conducting world is dominated by men, usually well their over 30s, but Kagarlitsky doesn’t regard that as an obstacle.
“I don’t know if they treat me any differently because I’m a woman, but I do feel that I’m treated differently because I’m young – and for the better,” she says.
“As a young conductor, because you don’t have a lot of experience working with a live orchestra, you often make mistakes. I made mistakes, I still do, but that is how I learn. And I have to say that the musician in the orchestra make me feel comfortable to make mistakes. They allow me to make mistakes, and I let them teach me. That is how I learn, and I’m still very much in the learning phase. Most of the musicians in the orchestra are much older than me and have so many years of experience. But I will not let my ego stand in the way of my learning from them,” she laughs.
As a student of composition and conducting, Kagarlitsky is happy to do both.
“Right now I’m more a conductor than a composer, but I also write musical arrangements for the orchestra, so really I’m also composing. But I’m still learning my instrument – the orchestra. Right now I’m in a foggy state,” she admits. “I’m swamped with new things and I absorb a lot. I’m not yet ready for my music to come out.”
Kagarlitsky will conduct the festival’s opening concert (January 3 at 8:30 p.m. at the Royal Beach Hall in Eilat). The concert program features Sibelius’s Trieste Waltz; Holst’s Saint Paul Suite; Schubert’s Fifth Symphony; and Berlin-Eilat by Ofri Brin, who will also participate as a singer
“Besides the Schubert, which is the main piece of the concert, and the Sibelius and Holst pieces, we will perform four short pieces that I adapted for the orchestra to the music of Ofri Brin, who is an Israeli-born, Berlin-based composer and singer,” says Kagarlitsky.
“Brin composes electronic music from sequences that she creates in the computer and samples. She has a very unique voice and singing style, very rough and interesting. Nothing like classical singing. It’s very different and beautiful,” she adds.
“The Ra’anana Symphonette is open to many different kinds of music,” she marvels. “They’re willing to try anything and treat any music with the same seriousness, understanding and appreciation. They’re not stuck in one style. They do many things. For instance, I conducted a concert of Yemenite music with them. They play classical music, of course, but at the festival they will also perform an evening of French chansons, Israeli music by Naomi Shemer, modern music and even electronic music. I think that is fantastic,” she concludes enthusiastically.
The Isrotel Classicameri Festival will take place January 3 to 6 at the Royal Beach Hotel in Eilat. For more details, tickets and reservations, call Isrotel at *5585 or go to www.isrotel.co.il.