Young and talented

A graduate of The Young Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, world-renowned conductor Ariel Zuckermann is happy to perform with them later this month.

Ariel Zuckermann (photo credit: YAEL ILAN)
Ariel Zuckermann
(photo credit: YAEL ILAN)
Now an accomplished globe-trotting conductor, 41-year-old Ariel Zuckermann says he had absolutely nothing to do with kick-starting his classical music career path.
“One day I came home from the kindergarten, I was five years old, and there was a piano in the house,” he recalls. “My brother and I – he’s two years older than me – began to mess around on the keyboard, and a few days later we got a Russian piano teacher. That’s how it all started.”
Zuckermann might have added “and the rest is history” because he never looked back from that unscheduled start to performing music. These days, Zuckermann spends much of his time in Germany, but he will be back on his old stomping ground on July 30-31, when he conducts the Young Israel Philharmonic Orchestra at the Jerusalem Theater on July 30 and at the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv on July 31, under the auspices of the Jerusalem Music Centre.
The repertoire for the evening includes Mendelssohn’s ever-popular Symphony no. 4 (“Italian”) and Ravel’s lush Daphnis et Chloé, Suite No. 2, and cellist Michal Beck starring in Schelomo, Rhapsodie Hébraïque for cello and orchestra by 20th-century Jewish Swiss-born American composer Ernest Bloch. The work was the final installment in Bloch’s Jewish Cycle, in which he explored the mysteries of Jewish music and attempted to make sonic sense out of the amorphous genre.
Despite taking his initial steps on piano, Zuckermann eventually moved on to the flute, on which he made something of a name for himself before picking up the baton. The transition from the keyboard to the wind instrument was also an unplanned event.
“My brother and I studied at the music conservatory at Neveh Sharett [in Tel Aviv]. One day when we got there, we were very unceremoniously told that they needed more wind instrument players for the conservatory orchestra – a flutist and a clarinet player. My brother took the clarinet, and I started flute,” he recounts.
Zuckermann dovetailed between piano and flute for a couple of years before settling on the latter. He doesn’t regret his early training on piano and says it helped to lay the foundations for his subsequent musical exploits.
“The fact that you learn harmony and more counterpoint on the piano, and there are so many colors and such a rich repertoire on the piano and so many styles you can play on the piano, that all helps,” he says.
In fact, Zuckermann keeps his keyboard technique in good shape.
“I don’t play the piano professionally, but I practice on it frequently. I never abandoned the piano,” he says.
The move to the conductor’s podium was really the culmination of a prolonged natural continuum that began when Zuckermann was very young.
“Right from the start, when I was little, I used to take sheet music and pore over scores for hours and hours,” he recalls.
“That always interested me. I wanted to understand how it all worked together. I’d listen to records for hours – all Beethoven’s symphonies and others – from the age of six. I was fascinated by it all.”
Zuckermann had plenty of quality tuitional help along the way, with now 81-year-old German flutist and teacher Paul Meisen and 70-year-old Hungarian-born flutist András Adorján extending a helping hand. Success soon came in various international competitions, and Zuckermann also benefited from active orchestral service under a string of stellar conductors, such as Lorin Maazel, Daniel Barenboim, Zubin Mehta and Riccardo Muti. And he has performed with a range of prestigious ensembles, including the Symphony Orchestra of the Bavarian Radio, the Munich Philharmonic, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and the Bavarian State Opera.
Zuckermann studied orchestral conducting with Jorma Panula at the Royal College of Music Stockholm. In May 2004 he graduated from Munich’s Musikhochschule as a conducting student of Bruno Weil, and shortly afterwards was appointed music director of the Georgian Chamber Orchestra.
Earlier this year, he was appointed music director of the Israel Chamber Orchestra.
Although there are no pieces by Haydn in the upcoming concert, Zuckermann confesses to a weakness for the 18th-century Austrian composer.
“I have conducted almost half of his symphonies, and I want to do them all,” he says.
Considering that Haydn wrote 104 symphonies, it may take Zuckermann a while to complete the cycle.
“He invented a musical language in terms of the exceptional humor in his work. I don’t think there is a poor work in his entire oeuvre, including his quartets and sonatas – unlike Mozart, who wrote some inferior compositions,” he says.
This month’s date with the JMC-based Young Israel Philharmonic Orchestra is something of a homecoming for Zuckermann.
“I played in the orchestra before I went into the army,” he notes, adding that nostalgia did not lead to any compromises.
“We have a tough repertoire coming up in Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv,” he says. “I have worked with the orchestra before. It is a joy to work with these wonderfully talented youngsters. They are all fired up, and they go for broke every time. They have energies that I think orchestras from all over the world can learn from. I had a wonderful experience when I played with the Young Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, and I think it will be something special – for the players and the audience.”
The concert will take place on July 30 at 8 p.m. at the Jerusalem Theater and on July 31 at 12 p.m at the Mann Auditoium, Tel Aviv.