Hope springs Aeterna

For musicians, the "when the going gets tough, the tough get going" adage can have more eclectic implications.

For musicians, the "when the going gets tough, the tough get going" adage can have more eclectic implications.

Asthe global recession has bitten ever more deeply, official coffers forcultural endeavors have become ever more restrictive, and many artistshave been forced to vary their offerings in order to survive.

Mind you, that is not exactly new to Ilya Plotkin. The61-year-old Moscow-born conductor/instrumentalist/vocalist Jerusalemitesays he has had his nimble fingers in several pies for some years now."If an interesting project comes along, I go for it," he states simply."We have done masses with voice and harpsichord or, for other types ofworks, we can have a small orchestra and harpsichord and voice." Andyou can add opera and a-cappella choral work to that list as well.

There seems to be some Plotkin-directed project up and runningin any given week of the year. Next week (January 28), for example, theall-female Musica Aeterna vocal ensemble will perform - with Plotkin onthe conductor's dais - a program of Baroque material, including18th-century Italian composer/violinist/organist Giovanni BattistaPergolesi's Stabat Mater, at Rehov Dor Dor V'Dorshav 5 in the GermanColony. Wine and cheese will be served before the concert.

Despite his musical training, Plotkin did not haveany clear idea about what he was going to do here when he made aliya."I didn't have a clue. I came here in 1992 when I was 44 years old. Iwent straight to ulpan and then started singing in the Jerusalem GreatSynagogue. I still sing there. That was sort of a neat transition -from the Great Synagogue in Moscow to the one in Jerusalem."

Considering his long-standing synagogue work in the USSR, onewould think that Plotkin might have had some contingency plan forfollowing a similar line when he relocated to the Promised Land. "Iactually didn't bring any sheet music with me at all," he recalls. "Ithought, why would I want to bring liturgical music scores with me toIsrael?"

Maybethat had something to do with some of the unpleasantness Plotkinexperienced at the hands of the Soviet authorities. "If you were caughtsinging in a synagogue or a church - actually even going into one -there could be grave consequences," he explains. "I had a teachingposition at the university in Moscow, and one day I was sacked withoutany explanation. I presume someone had seen me going into a church - Iused to sing in churches too - and had told my superior. But you couldnever know how things worked back then."

In fact, Plotkin did not have any hard-and-fastreligious ties at all at the time. "When we were kids, if mygrandmother spoke to my mother in Yiddish on the street, we'd walk awayfrom them as if we didn't know them," he says.

His religious-cultural allegiances weren't even enhanced by anearly perestroika-era visit to Israel with a touring choir in 1990. "Itwas wonderful to come here, but I didn't feel any special attachment toIsrael or Judaism back then."

Times have changed. In 1996 the Art Rainbow NPO was born andnow acts as an umbrella framework for all of Plotkin's various musicalendeavors. The first of these, liturgical ensemble Musica Aeterna, wasfounded with Art Rainbow's inception and has been doing good businessever since.

The choir has been so successful, both in its concert work andin taking a range of Jerusalem-based singers under its wing, that in2008 Plotkin received official recognition for his contribution tocultural life in the capital and for his support of local musicians.The choir has also benefited from some support from the JerusalemFoundation, the Culture Ministry and the Absorption Ministry. "We don'tget a lot of money from them, but every bit helps," says Plotkin.

In the past 14 years the choir has performed more than 400times in Israel and is a fixture at choral festivals at Abu Ghosh,Nazareth and Haifa. Plotkin and the choir have also introduced Israeliclassical music lovers to works by a slew of hitherto unfamiliarRussian composers, the likes of 19th-century church music composer andconductor Alexander Arkhangelsky and Romantic composer/pianist SergeiTaneyev. The choir's repertoire also takes in major works, such asRachmaninoff's Vespers and also many of the Western,non-Russian titans like Mozart, Schubert and Mendelssohn. Jerusalemitescan also catch the choir on most weekends at the picturesque Beit Jamalmonastery near Beit Shemesh.

Plotkin admits to experiencing a degree of apprehension beforethe choir kicked off in earnest. "I was going to get into the privatemarket, an already crowded sector, with an enterprise that requiredinvestment of time and money. I didn't have any connections back then,either. I had no idea if there was any great public interest in what Iwas going to offer, but I thought I'd give it a try and see where itleads to."

Mind you, some help was available - from the Regev family ofJerusalem. "They were very kind to us," says Plotkin. "They supportedus. They helped us with our Hebrew and introduced us to the localculture and helped arrange a house concert for us in Gilo. There werearound 30 people at the concert - there were seven of us in the choirto begin with - and things took off from there."

With the choir taking on an increasingly busy schedule andrecording two CDs in the process, Plotkin constantly looked to vary hisoutput. In 2003 he stretched his oeuvre into more adventurous areaswhen he staged Mozart's short opera The Impresario. "I thoughtit was time to expand what we were doing," he recalls. "But we alwaysdo things professionally - whether it's costumes, singers or anythingelse. My wife does a lot of the work. I don't know how she manages itall."

There's also the "small matter" of Plotkin's JerusalemPhilharmonic Orchestra which gives concerts all over the country,performing a wide range of musical programs from Baroque tocontemporary works and klezmer to jazz.

"It isn't easy to keep going; you have to keep on your toes,"observes Plotkin, "but I am very happy with the way things have goneuntil now. There's always something interesting to do and newchallenges to take on."