The Israel Chamber Orchestra offers healing sounds amid the pandemic

Musical director Ariel Zuckerman mixes tried and tested nuggets alongside music with here-and-now vibes

ICO MUSICAL DIRECTOR Ariel Zuckerman (photo credit: MICHAEL PAVIA)
(photo credit: MICHAEL PAVIA)
As English playwright William Congreve noted so sagaciously back in the late 17th century “music has charms to soothe a savage breast.” The sounds of a good melody or two can do wonders for someone with some ailment or other and, by the same token, for those who care for them.
Hence it makes perfect sense for the Israel Chamber Orchestra (ICO) – particularly at this crazy pandemic time – when announcing its schedule for the 2020-2021 season, to offer half a dozen couples’ subscriptions to medical staff at a bunch of hospitals around the country.
When the ICO opens its 55th season, hopefully, on September 9 at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art there may very well be several dozen medical professionals, from Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba, Wolfson Medical Center in Holon and Sourasky Medical Center in Tel Aviv, and their partners, in attendance.
Should that happen they will have the opportunity to enjoy the Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme concert, which takes in a wide-ranging repertoire, including a suite from the eponymous ballet by Italian-born French Baroque composer Jean-Baptiste Lully, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 6, and the Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme orchestral suite by Richard Strauss. The program is due to have a second airing at the same venue, on the morrow, with ICO musical director Ariel Zuckerman presiding over the onstage proceedings, featuring American pianist Claire Huangci as the solo artist. Both concerts start at 8 p.m.
A month later, all being well – one never knows these days – Zuckerman will get the chance to showcase his instrumental skills as well, as he serves as conductor and soloist flutist in the Purely Bach program, also at the Tel Aviv Museum, on October 14 and 15. The repertoire for the occasion features four orchestral suites by JS Bach, No. 4 in D Major, No. 2 in B Minor, No. 1 in C Major and No. 3 in D Major.
It will be something of a rare treat for the musical director.
“I get to play flute, in concert, maybe five to six times a year,” he notes. “Sometimes I conduct and play but, most of the time, I conduct and, in normal times, I’m in a different place in the world every week.”
Of course, that’s hasn’t been the case for the past couple of months, with 46-year-old Tel Aviv-born Zuckerman currently holed up in Berlin, where he generally resides when he’s not on the road. He started out on his musical pathway on piano, at the age of five. Before long Zuckerman was honing his skills at the Naveh Sharett Music Conservatory, in north Tel Aviv, and soon made the transition to flute. It was, he explains, a pragmatic decision. “There was nothing romantic about it,” he laughs. “They needed wind players for the conservatory ensemble and I chose the flute.”
It turned out to be an inspired move, and Zuckerman’s evolving talent was nurtured by the likes of IPO flutist Yossi Arnheim and Moshe Aron Epstein, who made a name for himself at the Israel Beersheba Symphonette, and as an educator both in Israel and Germany. After completing his army service Zuckerman continued his training at the University of Music and Performing Arts Munich, and performed with a slew of front-grid conductors such as Lorin Maazel, Daniel Barenboim and Zubin Mehta.
THE TRANSITION from full-time instrumentalist to the conductor’s podium began when Zuckerman encountered now 89-year-old Finnish conductor and teacher Jorma Panula. In fact, baton waving had been bubbling under for the young man for quite some time. “I had this nerdish fascination with sheet music,” Zuckerman explains. “And I used to go to the Third Ear record store, when it just opened on Sheinkin Street [in Tel Aviv]. Back then LPs were really cheap – one or two shekels each. I bought thousands of records.”
The youngster quickly married the sounds he was listening to, on vinyl, to the written source. “There was a library on Balfour Street, and I’d get hold of 10 scores in one go, and I’d also listen to different versions of the same work, and compared them. I was just a kid but that really interested me.”
Years later, Zuckerman found himself studying flute in Munich and doing pretty well in competitions around Europe too. “Yes, I was pretty successful but I felt something was missing,” he recalls. It was his partner at the time who sent him Panula’s way. “I had a Finnish girlfriend and she told me about Panula. I got in touch with him, and I went to Stockholm, where he was based, and I took courses with him. He was a wonderful teacher. He still teaches.”
Zuckerman was primed and ready to go. He got into the conducting thick of things, as assistant conductor to Iván Fischer at the Budapest Festival Orchestra, and he put in some well-received appearances with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Spain-based Orquesta Sinfónica de Euskadi and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. His bulging bio also features a posting as musical director of the Georgian Chamber Orchestra Ingolstadt.
When he took over at the ICO in 2015, things were not going well for the ensemble. “The orchestra was in a mess, on the verge of liquidation,” he recalls. “It is amazing what we have been able to do over the years, filling auditoria and bringing in younger musicians. There is a wonderful energy to the orchestra now.”
It is that drive and dynamism that Zuckerman hopes will help him to continue to expand the ensemble’s repertoire, and introduce audiences to lesser known works, including compositions by contemporary Israeli composers. “I would like to integrate programs with great works that are well known with great works that are less familiar. Even 300 years ago composers needed PR.”
All told, the ICO’s next season incorporates 11 concerts, running through to July, with the Zuckerman-shaped mix of tried and tested nuggets alongside music with here-and-now vibes.
The November 9 and November 12 Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) slots – the title references the literary and musical Romantic movement in Germany of the late 18th century – sees Austrian conductor Roberto Paternostro take over the baton, with flutist Christiane Yehudin-Petersheim fronting the ensemble in a rendition of Noam, a tribute by Ella Milch-Sherriff to her late husband internationally renowned conductor and composer Noam Sherriff. The November agenda also includes Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 in D major and Haydn’s Symphony No. 40 in F major.
The highly variegated concert listings also feature works by Christoph Gluck, 71-year-old Georgian-born Israeli composer Ioseb Bardanashvili, Benjamin Britten, Mordecai Seter, Camille Saint-Saens, Jewish-Austrian composer Erich Korngold, Mendelssohn, 20th-century German composer Karl Amadeus Hartmann, Sergei Prokofiev and Francis Poulenc.
The 2020-2021 program is augmented by a series of thought-provoking lectures by pianist Irena Friedland, which will look at the common ground between music and the plastic arts.
For more information: