Internationally noted Israeli conductor Yoel Levi will return home to take the helm of the Haifa Symphony Orchestra as its musical director in its upcoming season. Levi is a talented and modest man, who at every station in life, he says, has been grateful to fulfill his dreams.
This is an opportunity he has waited for, said the modest 63-year-old Romanian-born conductor, and sees it as a way to show his warm and familial connection to Haifa, as well as influencing and developing cultural life and musical opportunities in the North.
Levi arrived in Israel as a small child and settled with his family in Haifa. He was quickly recognized as a musical wunderkind, studying at the Tel Aviv Academy of Music, where he received a Master of Arts degree with distinction, and at the Jerusalem Academy of Music, studying with Mendi Rodan. In 1978, Levi won the first prize at the International Conductors Competition in Besancon, France, catapulting his career to the international stage.
In the United States, between 1978 until 1984, Levi was appointed as the assistant conductor to Lorin Maazel with the Cleveland Symphony, and then for four years as resident conductor of the orchestra. For twelve years he was the music director of the Atlanta Symphony after taking over for Robert Shaw.
“I am proud of what the orchestra and I achieved together in Atlanta,” Levi said. “We made over thirty recordings, and were nominated in 1991 as the Best Orchestra of the Year at the First International Classical Music Awards. These were ‘golden days’ in Atlanta to be sure,” he commented in a phone interview with The Jerusalem Post.
Levi’s repertoire is wide and he is an esteemed conductor of both symphonic and operatic works. His schedule of overseas postings as a guest conductor is full. In addition, he has held the position of full time music director for many prestigious ensembles, such as the Brussels Philharmonic, the Orchestre National d’Île-de-France and the KBS Symphony of South Korea.
Nevertheless, throughout the years, he has maintained a strong connection with Israel. In 2001, he was appointed principal guest conductor of the Israel Philharmonic, and has the distinction of being the first Israeli to hold that title. “This is a working relationship and friendship,” he comments, “I look forward to continuing.”
Concerning his position in Haifa, when asked what were his goals as new music director, he decidedly rephrased the title, saying he prefers being called a “music advisor.”
“I will be in Israel three times a year working and giving performances with the Haifa Symphony. I am responsible for the season’s programming and all auditions. It is my hope to work with the HSO musicians, management, and staff together and change the musical direction of the orchestra.”
“My orchestral goal for this season is to rebuild the Haifa Symphony Orchestra to a position of excellence with the best of musicians and outstanding programs,” said Levi, who will open the season with two concerts on October 10 and 11 with performances of the Rachmaninov Symphony Number and Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with soloist Shlomo Mintz. “I am delighted Mintz, a friend and world class musician, is able to share the performances with us.”
This will be a celebratory season for the orchestra, which will officially mark its 70th season of concerts. Levi has decided to fill the season with programs of classical music and operas, as well as a sampling of exciting new composers. He has invited many conductors and soloists from all over the world who have worked with the HSO in the past to perform and celebrate with the orchestra this year.
“There is nothing like a live concert,” remarked Levi. “It produces excitement and a kind of electricity in the air which can not be duplicated digitally. The audience sees what is happening on stage and reacts as the musicians are playing.”
“Even though priorities of the younger generation have changed direction and music has been supplanted with interest in computers and in the areas of hi-tech, I think young people will understand what they are missing and come full circle.”
To pursue this idea, Levi asked himself what are young people in the Haifa region missing? “It has been a dream of mine to establish a music school in the North. Now, in cooperation with the HSO and ETHOS (the Haifa municipality Arts, Culture, and Sports Association), the building next to the concert hall has been purchased and we will open a music school staffed by the finest teachers in the area and attended by gifted students who will be awarded full scholarships. We plan to start a youth orchestra of the Haifa Symphony, and help build the future of culture in our country.”