Out of the chamber and into the music hall

Pianist Itamar Golan performs with the Tel Aviv Soloists Ensemble

ITAMAR GOLAN: It’s always a challenge and I’m always struggling with pieces I’ve been doing for my entire life. If it is too comfortable, something is wrong. (photo credit: DAN CARABAS)
ITAMAR GOLAN: It’s always a challenge and I’m always struggling with pieces I’ve been doing for my entire life. If it is too comfortable, something is wrong.
(photo credit: DAN CARABAS)
One of the most sought after chamber musicians of his generation, Paris-based Israeli pianist Itamar Golan returns home for the opening concerts with the Tel Aviv Soloists Ensemble. The concerts will take place October 6 in Haifa and October 7 in Tel Aviv, with an additional concert in Acre October 9. The program features pieces by Felix Mendelssohn and Franz Schubert.
Born in Vilnius, Lithuania, Golan was brought in Israel at the age of one. He gave his first public concert at just seven years old. In Israel, he studied piano with Emmanuel Krasonsky and chamber music with Haim Taub. He later continued his studies in the New England Conservatory of Boston with Leonard Shure. A born teacher, he joined the faculty of the Manhattan School of Music at the age of 21, and has taught at the Paris Conservatoire since 1994.
The 48-year-old Golan has appeared as a soloist with some of the major orchestras, Israel Philharmonic and the Berlin Philharmonic among them, playing under baton of such prominent conductors as Zubin Mehta, Riccardo Muti and Lorin Maazel.
But this is chamber music, which is his true passion. Over the years, he has collaborated with Vadim Repin, Maxim Vengerov, Julian Rachlin, Mischa Maisky, Shlomo Mintz, Ivry Gitlis and Ida Haendel, to name a few.
“I was introduced to chamber music at an early age, as a member Isaac Stern’s Mishkenot Sha’ananim (‘dwellings of tranquility’) young artists program,” recollects Golan in a phone interview from his Paris home. “I can’t say that I’ve preferred this genre over the others. It just happened that I abandoned my solo career and switched to chamber music.”
Golan added that he felt fortunate to earn his living by doing something he loved so passionately.
“First of all, the repertoire is absolutely extraordinary, whether you take piano trios, piano quartets and more, and also lieder,” he says. “And then come sonatas, which are what I am mostly doing – playing sonatas with violinists, cellist and wind players. Maybe the second thing why I’ve opted for this genre is that one can play it with music in front of his eyes. In my early age I developed sort of memory ‘blockage,’ and this discouraged me from pursuing a solo career.”
It’s said that interaction between the partners is essential for chamber music making, and Golan confirmed that human emotions play an important role in creating emotional music.
 “Over the years, I have developed marvelous musical friendships, and yes, this is about interaction,” he says. “Sharing human emotions is like being architects constructing something together. It is beautiful but it has its difficulties, like always between humans. It’s not always a rosy and idealistic picture, especially when you collaborate with somebody very close – this is a very intense experience.”
How does it feel to return to familiar pieces years later?
“I don’t think there is a clear conscious understanding, like, ‘This time I play the piece differently than I did it some 10 or 20 years ago,’” Golan says. “But as we get older, our understanding, our brain and soul change. The rendition does not necessarily become deeper, and for me, personally, it never gets easier. It’s always a challenge and I’m always struggling with pieces I’ve been doing for my entire life. If it is too comfortable, something is wrong.”
What are the greatest struggles?
“Technical and musical challenges, and those of understanding and performing,” he says. “I see myself as an autodidact. I had wonderful music teachers, great musicians [who] took care of me, but I later I made a sort of re-learning, I was very much on my own. Quitting formal musical education at a very early age, I had to find my own ways and this was not simple.”
Golan says that over the years, he dedicates more and more of his time to teaching.
“And not because as a performer I am getting out of fashion – I still am in high demand,” he says. “But I love teaching. First of all, I think it’s humanistic – to pass on our experience and knowledge. Second, what I am doing more and more often – I am teaching from the piano, collaborating with younger artists. This is a priceless experience. Because we artists are so busy with ourselves, and then comes this moment when you feel that you can just give and guide for a sheer pleasure of music making.”
GOLAN HAS nothing but praise for the Tel Aviv Soloists Ensemble and its artistic director, “an excellent musician Barak Tal, with whom we have developed a great relationship while collaborating on a special concert, dedicated to Ivry Gitlis’s 90th birthday celebration.”
In the opening concerts, Golan, together with his younger colleagues, will perform Mendelssohn’s Double Concerto for Piano and Schubert’s Piano Trio.
“Mendelssohn’s Double Concerto for Violin and Piano is very challenging,” he says. “I will play it with young violinist Michael Shaham, the home-taught son of violinist Hagai Shaham, whom I’ve known since our early childhood, when we both studied at Mishkenot Sha’ananim. For Schubert’s Piano Trio, this master piece of chamber repertoire, young cellist Talia Erdal will join us. And this is an example of what I meant when speaking about generations in music – we are not going to teach one another, but rather try and build something beautiful together.”
Golan reveals that he has a special connection with the Strauss Municipal Conservatory in Acre.
“I go there from time to time to play concerts and to work with youngsters,” Golan says. “The industrialist Michael Strauss, who is a close friend of mine, is one of the patrons of the conservatory. Together with him and the conservatory director Dani Yaron we create various projects. This time I will to Acre go with Barak Tal and the Soloists and we will to give a concert there.”
The concerts take place on Saturday, October 6 at Rappaport Hall in Haifa (for reservations – 04-8363804), Sunday at Shtriker Israel Music Conservatory in Tel Aviv (054-6934439) or online www.soloists.co.il, and next Tuesday at the Strauss Municipal Conservatory in Acre (04-9956152).