Talking music

Rani Calderon conducts an instrumental repertoire of operas

Semiramide: Finale II (part 1) - Rani Calderon in rehearsal (YouTube/ranicalderon)
It is often said that music is a universal language which can be appreciated by one and all, regardless of nationality or cultural background. Then again, words have specific meanings and, more importantly, a rhythm and tempo of their own. As such, it can help for a conductor to have a good handle on, for example, the language of the libretto of an opera he or she is putting on.
Rani Calderon experiences few problems with that. The 45-yearold Israeli conductor knows eight languages, and he puts that impressive knowledge spread to good use when working on operas in Italian, German, French, English, Spanish and Russian. And, should anyone come up with an opera in ancient Greek, Calderon would be right on the money again. Incredibly, he learned the latter tongue on his own.
Not that any of that, ostensibly, will be put to use next week, when Calderon conducts the Israel Symphony Orchestra Rishon LeZion at the Performing Arts Center in Tel Aviv (January 21 at 8 p.m.); Beit Ha’am in Rehovot (January 23 at 8 p.m.); and the Performing Arts Center in Rishon Lezion (January 25 at 8 p.m. and 27 at 8:30 p.m.).
While most of the works on the program for the four-date tour come from the world of opera, there is no vocal content in the lineup. The instrumental repertoire features Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture, Op. 62; Donizetti’s Concertino for Clarinet and Orchestra in B Flat; Concert Fantasia on themes from Verdi’s Rigoletto for Clarinet and Orchestra by 19th-century Italian clarinetist and composer Luigi Bassi, based on an arrangement by Federico Cherchi; and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 36.
Calderon says that his linguistic skills are pressed into rewarding service in his day job.
“Often, when you perform French music or German music or other music, the way you produce a sound or devise a phrase is very closely linked to the way it happens in the language. For example, in French, the words and sentences always flow to the end without pauses. French doesn’t have the [rhythmic] melody you have in German, with its accentuated stresses. In French, you just trip along to the end,” he explains.
The way the language is sonically applied, Calderon notes, is a reflection of a deeper-seated elemental stratum. “There is something about the French culture which is more superficial. I don’t mean that in a negative way. You really have to think how to perform French music,” he adds.
Calderon is a fan of French music and, in fact, mostly earns his crust as musical director of Opéra national de Lorraine, located in Nancy in eastern France. He is proud of the fact that he is the first Israeli conductor to land a permanent job in France.
He has also expanded the French repertoire performed there, often introducing local music fans to works by lesserknown homegrown composers.
“I went for composers who may be considered to be of lesser standing, but I think it is interesting to hear their works,” he explains. “Just this week, I conducted a symphony by [Romantic composer] Amédée-Ernest Chausson. He is best known for Poème for Violin and Orchestra, which, by the way, was first played in our auditorium, which is an amazing place.”
Calderon exploited his proficiency in French to keep the instrumentalists on track.
“You have to constantly work with the players and make sure the music moves along and that it doesn’t work vertically. It has to be more horizontal. That’s connected to the language,” he says.
Still considered a youngster in his profession, Calderon says he decided he wanted to become a conductor when he was 15. He had already started out on piano and was clearly driven to achieve his goals and knew how to go about it. The roster of teachers whose services he benefited from came from the highest echelons of artistic and educational endeavor. As a teenager, he managed to get Pnina Salzman to agree to teach him – albeit after quite a bit of badgering – and his conducting instructors include the likes of Mendi Rodan and Noam Sherrif. He also took composition classes with now 82-year-old composer Yitzhak Sadai and honed his musical skills with a coach who was close to legendary opera singer Maria Callas.
“When I start a rehearsal with the orchestra, I feel that all those amazing teachers are there with me too,” says Calderon. “I am not there alone. Pnina, Mendi and Noam are all there, doing the rehearsal with me.”
More than anything, Calderon says that getting down to brass tacks and as close as you can to the source gives you the leverage you need to fully express who you are both as a person and as a musician.
“I am a Sagittarian. I like freedom. In order to be free, I learned all those languages so as not to be restricted, so that I could conduct all these works,” he says.
For Calderon, it’s all or nothing.
“I think if someone asked me to conduct something in Polish, I wouldn’t do it,” he says.
Then again, I wouldn’t put it past him to learn Polish, too.
For tickets and more information: (03) 948-4840 and