Johnathan Gotlibovich to play the Spring Festival in Kfar Blum

The 42-year-old cellist will share the stage at several performance junctures over the three days with his viola-playing twin brother, Yuval.

JOHNATHAN GOTLIBOVICH: You can’t compromise with music. (photo credit: MERAV KADISHAVSKY)
JOHNATHAN GOTLIBOVICH: You can’t compromise with music.
(photo credit: MERAV KADISHAVSKY)
When musicians play together, it can help if they know each other well and are personally, as well as musically, cohesive. Johnathan Gotlibovich certainly has a head start on that for several of his scheduled appearances at the forthcoming Spring Festival. The classical music event will take place at the Pastoral Hotel on Kibbutz Kfar Blum March 12-14, in conjunction with the Voice of Music Festival.
The 42-year-old cellist will share the stage at several performance junctures over the three days with his viola-playing twin brother, Yuval. The Gotlibovich siblings will be on call for renditions of a variety of works, including Schumann’s Piano Quartet opus 47, and a live accompaniment to a screening of iconic 1920 German expressionist silent move The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
Gotlibovich, the cellist, says classical music was “an integral part” of the domestic scene. “We all learned to play instruments... we have a sister and another brother who learned but only Yuval and myself made a profession out of music.”
He relates to music-making as a mission, and cites late legendary conductor-composer-pianist Leonard Bernstein telling members of the New York Philharmonic that if they had any doubt at all about being professional musicians, they should immediately quit.
“You have to be dedicated,” says the cellist. “You can’t compromise with music.”
Gotlibovich describes that passion as “an internal state,” which keeps the budding musician on the artistic straight and narrow, even when there is the odd bump along the way.
“I had a period of rebellion, when I started thinking about taking a different direction,” he recalls. “But I realized I simply couldn’t do that. My internal state was too strong.”
Both siblings began music lessons around the age of five. Johnathan played through his school years and attended the music conservatory in Ra’anana. He completed his high school studies at the Thelma Yallin High School of the Arts in Givatayim. His musical future look assured although he the aforementioned “internal state” proved to be a little shaky when Gotlibovich opted not to apply for Outstanding Musician status in the run-up to his conscription into the IDF, and he served in the Intelligence Corps.
Although at the time he wasn’t entirely sure about whether he should continue to pursue musical excellence, he never strayed too far away from his cello.
“I wasn’t following the accepted path of a musician, but I always found time to practice on my cello, even after a long day in the army,” he states. “I had a personal need to play music, not just to play for others, to play for my own needs.”
It was an invitation from abroad, at the tail end of Gotlibovich’s army service that got him back on track.
“I was invited to join the European Mozart Academy, which was a roaming body that practiced and played in different places,” he explains.
“I DID EVERYTHING I could to get the army to allow me out for that.” He duly joined the other members of the ensemble in Poland, and subsequently performed in Italy. His professional die was well and truly cast.
“I realized I was going to attend the Academy [of Music of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem] and I was going to do everything I could to make music my profession.”
The names of various titans of the classical world came up in conversation, including Spanish guitarist Andrés Segovia and compatriot cellist Pablo Casals. I recalled seeing Segovia play in London, a couple of months before he died at the age of 94. I remembered that his fingers were no longer so nimble, and he dropped the odd note. But when he got it right it was simply celestial.
“Casals also used to mess up when he was older,” Gotlibovich rejoined. “But, with him, there was something beyond the actual notes.”
I ventured that, perhaps, with over three decades of musical endeavor under his belt Gotlibovich might be approaching that exalted level himself.
“That’s not for me to say,” he parries, although adding, “I connect with the metaphysical side of the music. I do connect with that idea. I hope I succeed with that but I can’t say about myself that I am at that stage in any way.”
Chamber music is one of Gotlibovich’s great loves, and he also keeps out of mischief with various teaching positions, including at the Hebrew University academy where he studied and at the Hassadna Conservatory in Jerusalem’s German Colony.
He says he is always looking to push his musical boat out as far and wide as possible. Much of that exploratory activity takes place within the framework of the Meitar Ensemble.
“A high percentage of the concerts I play are with Meitar,” he explains. “It is chamber music but with a twist. It is modern chamber music.”
The ensemble was founded by pianist and artistic director Amit Dolberg in 2004. Over the years it has established itself as a force in the field of contemporary music, and also continues to commission new works, both by Israeli composers and from abroad.
“Sometimes we focus on the experimental side. Other times it is progressive material. We are inquisitive. We look for good new music that is looking for a home, for a good rendition.”
That is a creditable mind-set without which, let’s face it, no art would ever come into being. Back in the late nineteenth century, the Impressionist painters, for example, were roundly rejected by the establishment of the time, Le Salon. They persisted and eventually didn’t do too badly. That is the nature of art, across the disciplines.
Then again, in general, audiences like to slip into their comfort zone and tend to fork out their hard-earned cash on stuff they know, rather than risk ending up with some that may be a little beyond their comprehension and musical tastes.
BEETHOVEN’S EMPEROR CONCERTO, for example, is more likely to draw in the crowds than a reading of Continuo(ns) by 60-year-old French composer Philippe Leroux, or Chinese Whispers by 41-year-old Montreal-resident Israeli composer Ofer Pelz. Both works form part of the Meitar repertoire in recent years.
Gotlibovich balks at the idea of “educating” audiences to settle down to less melodic, less uniformly rhythmic sounds that feed off the here and now. He believes that if the musicians do their job well the public will respond positively.
“We go by the premise that if you play a work very well audiences will enjoy it. The problem is that there is a lot of charlatanism around. The complexity and specificity of this [contemporary] music invites poor renditions, and that does the music a disservice. We endeavor to provide a good service.”
While that may sound a little highfalutin’, the cellist says he and his colleagues from Meitar are not in the business of hierarchical class structuring.
“When we play at the Desert Sounds Festival [at Sde Boker] each year we play with all kinds of musicians from the popular sector. This year it was [singer songwriter] Micha Shitreet, and we have played with [veteran pop keyboardist-vocalist-songwriter] Shlomo Gronich and [pop-rock vocalist] Nurit Galron. We play with them gladly, because they are superb and we enjoy it. We write the arrangements and it is great fun. It’s less stereotypical.”
The forthcoming Spring Festival gives Gotlibovich an opportunity to hook up with the festival’s perennial artistic director, educator and cellist Zvi Plesser, with whom Gotlibovich studied. He says he is also looking forward to playing works by Schumann up North.
“He is so delicate and expressive,” the cellist notes. “There is always some twist, some reference to an earlier phrase or passage, which can be turned around. Schumann comes up with something new and surprising.”
This year’s festival has a pronounced female side to the programming, and features the first performance in Israel of the Fanny Mendelssohn Easter Sonata, under the true composer’s name. Mendelssohn’s musical talents were mostly kept under wraps by her father and to a degree by her famous composer younger brother, Felix, as a female becoming a professional composer was not considered to be in line with public mores of the day. The sonata was originally attributed to Felix, and did not receive its first airing under the rightful composer’s name until 2012.
There is more feminine input in the festival program, in the form of the Piano Trio in G minor, opus 17, by Clara Schumann, wife of Robert. Meanwhile, jazz fans should enjoy the confluence between internationally acclaimed pianist Anat Fort and Ethiopian-born singer-saxophonist Abate Berihun.
There are also some cerebral elements to the Kfar Blum lineup, with opera singer, conductor and lecturer Yael Czerny delivering a talk titled “Music and Gender – Where are Our Relationships Heading?”
For tickets and more information about the Spring Festival, call 04-683-6611 or visit