No pipe dream: A talk with Israei flautist Noam Buchman

Highly acclaimed Israeli flautist Noam Buchman talks about the wonderment behind obtaining his first gold album.

Flautist Noam Buchman (photo credit: ILAN BESOR)
Flautist Noam Buchman
(photo credit: ILAN BESOR)
DAVIS Many a leading jazz musician has told me that, basically, it’s all just music. That sentiment aims to steer the listener away from categorizing styles of jazz into such subsections as bebop, swing, avant garde etc. Although he makes his living in a very different area of the music spectrum, Noam Buchman takes a similar non-discriminatory approach.
Buchman is principle flutist of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. He has performed in concerts all over the globe and has participated in recordings of works by the likes of Strauss, Dvorak and Schubert, as well as more modern composers such as Paul Ben-Haim, Ami Maayani, Oded Zehavi and even Shlomo Gronich.
The latter is best known as one of doyens of the Israeli pop community and, while the Gronich work featured on Buchman’s album, Flute Concerti from Jerusalem, is more of a classical nature, that reflects something of the flutist’s eclectic mindset.
That is possibly best evidenced by Buchman’s decision to ask some of our top composers to rescore a bunch of perennially popular Israeli songs, and to record them on his Song of the Flute album which came out in 2007. Even though he went for some genuine nuggets, the likes of “Hayoo Leilot,” “Ein Gedi” and “Atur Mitzchech” – all bona fide members of the Great Israeli Songbook – no one thought the CD would do too well in the record stores and online sales.
All the doubters, and 63-year-old Buchman himself, who wasn’t expecting a windfall from the project, were, eventually, proven wrong. Close to a decade after its release Song of the Flute has racked up sales of 15,000, thereby bringing Buchman a gold album, which he will receive at the Hatav Hashmini record store on Shamai Street in downtown Jerusalem on October 31 (9 p.m.). Buchman and a number of music-playing colleagues will also provide members of the public with a live taste of what can be found on the album, with a performance in the store.
He may not have forecast the gradual sales accumulation, but Buchman certainly gave it his best shot. His cohorts on the recording include the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra IBA, the Ankor Choir and the internationally acclaimed Aviv String Quartet, with Reuven Seroussi putting in an appearance, and Doron Salomon wielding the conductor’s baton.
All wind instrument players must, by definition, have good respiratory capacity, but Buchman appears to be able to breathe well offstage too, and bided his time as the album slowly but surely accrued impressive sales figures.
“Actually, it was the other way round,” he notes. “The sales started off really well – no one believed we’d sell so many in the first year [around 3,000 copies], and it continued the second year. After that it sold in drips and drabs, and eventually made it to gold. I am delighted.”
Song of the Flute went through a protracted germination period.
“It all started over 20 years ago,” Buchman recalls. “I was at a recital, here, at the Henry Crown Auditorium [of the Jerusalem Theater] with a fantastic mezzo-soprano and a wonderful German pianist.
Every evening there were lieder [songs] by Schubert. They were very moving performances.
At one of the climaxes towards the end of a concert, I suddenly thought, ‘Ein Gedi’ is no less beautiful.” It came out of nowhere. That’s where the idea for the CD came from.
The flutist says that, with due deference to Mozart et al, we have nothing to be ashamed of in the contemporary compositional stakes.
“We have produced so many wonderful songs, which are not inferior to works by Schubert – I love Schubert, I would take him with me with a desert island – Brahms, Schumann, Leonard Bernstein, anyone. I thought I’d take some of our songs and arrange them for flute and symphonic orchestra.”
The orchestral, non-vocal ethos was key to the whole venture. After all, there have been any number of renditions of beloved Israeli pop and folk songs, with the star singer backed by a large instrumental ensemble. Buchman took a different, and more ambitious, path.
“I thought about turning to composers, not arrangers, composers with the creative imagination to take the music where they want.”
As the concept began taking on clearer shape Buchman contacted venerated classical composers and conductors Noam Sheriff and Shimon Cohen, as well as writers-performers of more commercially- oriented material, as well as jazzy numbers, such as Shlomo Gronich, Mati Caspi and Rafi Kadishzon. Gronich had something of an ulterior motive to getting involved, as his pop hit from the early ‘80s, “Sympatia,” is also on the CD.
Buchman was suitably satisfied with the composers’ efforts.
“Noam Sheriff took ‘Hechalil’ and turned it into a little ‘Daphnis,’” he says, referencing popular work by early 20th century French Impressionist composer Maurice Ravel, Daphnis et Chloé. “Each one took the songs in their own direction.
The compositions are, of course, based on the original songs but the music changes.
But the audience still recognizes the source material.”
That was certainly the case in 2007 when, shortly after the album was released, Buchman performed material from the CD, together with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, at that year’s Israel Festival.
Buchman admits to harboring concerns over the project.
“I’d been thinking about it for so long. You know, you can play Mozart, but there are thousands of renditions of his work. Here we were talking about something of our own. These are our songs. I was worried I might spoil the originals. The music is so beautiful.”
The project eventually got underway, and one day Buchman came home with the master disc.
“I came back exhausted from a long day at the recording studio and I put the CD on, and I sat down to listen to it with my wife,” he recalls. “We listened to it, right through, without saying a word. At the end we sat in silence for a while and then I said to her: ‘I don’t care if we don’t sell a single copy. I got what I wanted.’ I was so happy with the way the CD came out. It was the realization of a dream.”
Happily, 15,000 and counting members of the music-loving public agreed.
The event at Hatav Hashmini is free, although prior registration is required, by calling (08) 919-9555.