Music for today: Musica Nova will celebrate its 30th anniversary

While most of us like to hear music with which we are familiar and possibly can hum along to, art, by definition, has to keep evolving.

(photo credit: VICTORIA SKALMA)
Avigail Arnheim wants us to take us a leap into the unknown. Makes sense, really. I mean, if you’re going to follow the creative fortunes of artistic outfits, it stands to reason that they should come up with surprising, and possibly challenging, goods on a regular basis.
That is the reasoning behind the existence of the Musica Nova ensemble, which has been doing sterling work on the adventurous side of the contemporary classical music tracks for a little over 30 years now. Their anniversary will be marked at the Tmuna International Festival on October 23 (8 p.m.), with a program that takes in six works, including three premieres.
So how do you keep going for 30 years in such a competitive cultureconsumer climate? Arnheim, one of the troupe’s founders and one of its general directors, puts it down to the grafters themselves.
“I think you can attribute our survival to the musicians for whom it is important to engage in this field of music,” she notes. “There have always been musicians involved in Musica Nova who placed great emphasis on being au fait with classical music.”
The ensemble in question has, says Arnheim, always done its best to stay abreast of developments on the scene.
“They have followed what is now being written, and they look at the connection with the composers and at the intriguing balance between the various disciplines,” she elaborates.
That ethos lends itself to spreading seamlessly across stylistic and genres borders.
“We look at confluences between music and literature, music and theater, or music and video,” Arnheim continues. “This approach was very accommodating, right from the start.”
The proof of that eclectic pudding has been in evidence in the Musica Nova live entertainment and recording endeavor over time, as is the case with the upcoming Tmuna event. Monday’s program features works by Shira Legmann, Maayan Tzdaka and jazz-oriented Assaf Shatil, plus scores by a triad of Americans: 20th-century experimental composer David Tudor; 86-year-old American writer of experimental music and sound installation creator Alvin Lucier; and Chicago-based composer, curator-performer of experimental music and music educator Nomi Epstein. It is a characteristically adventurous lineup which keeps the sonic envelope pushed in the desired direction.
“When we started out, we were a group of musicians who played works from all over the world and also from Israel, most of which had been previously performed, and we brought them to Israeli audiences. Things changed with Musica Nova. The performers were also the composers,” she recounts.
That, she says, offers hands-on added value.
“That created a space, both for improvisation and for the commitment of the composer to the execution of the piece. That adds personal vested interest in the work itself,” she says.
That sounds perfectly logical.
“If you take, for example, a composer like Reuven Seroussi. There are all kinds of musicians with varying degrees of diligence,” Arnheim notes.
When it comes to the Uruguayanborn guitarist, says Arnheim, the latter is an indispensable quality.
“Reuven Seroussi writes music in a very challenging way. That means that there aren’t many musicians capable of playing his music. When he hears interpretations of his works, almost every time he hears something compromissory, something that does not entirely reflect what he wrote,” she says.
That certainly applies to the music of Amnon Wolman, who composes music and texts for various instruments that are played alongside computer-generated sounds.
“Amnon has been leading Musica Nova for the past 10 years,” says Arnheim. “He also plays his music on computer, so he is committed to and plays what he writes. He needs other musicians and performers. That can be an actor or a dancer or someone who creates in sound or maybe an opera singer. He gives them directions on how to play the music, and he is involved in the performance, too.”
Over the years, Musica Nova has helped to keep the local creative scene vibrant and draw attention to it by commissioning new works by a broad swathe of local composers, while eschewing mainstream interpretations of time-honored staples of the classical canon.
“There is no reason, for example, to perform Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony as people know it. That’s not part of the ensemble’s agenda,” she asserts.
That’s not to say that Arnheim and her colleagues don’t appreciate and even venerate the universally lauded work. It’s just that they see no point in performing well-known compositions in a tried and tested manner.
“We could do it if it served as the basis for a concert and we referenced it in various ways. But the ensemble would not play it as is. That’s not our job,” she says.
While most of us like to hear music with which we are familiar and possibly can hum along to, art, by definition, has to keep evolving. That went for Beethoven, Schubert and Tchaikovsky in their day, and it still goes for Musica Nova and its ilk. Here’s to going with the flow.
Musica Nova will perform on October 23 at 8 p.m. at the Tmuna International Festival in Tel Aviv. For tickets and more information: (03) 561- 1211 and