The sounds of music

Since its founding as a school for aspiring young musicians, the Jerusalem Music Center has expanded its activities, bringing audiences high quality chamber music.

311_Jerusalem Music Center (photo credit: Courtesy)
311_Jerusalem Music Center
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Hed Sela had just completed a 30-minute phone conversation with world-renowned pianist Murray Perahia when he answered my questions. Perahia is the president of the Jerusalem Music Center of Mishkenot Sha’ananim, one of the most highly regarded musical institutions dedicated to fostering promising young musicians in Israel. The center was founded in 1973 by violin virtuoso Isaac Stern who, with the support of mayor Teddy Kollek, raised the funds to create the center, located in one of the most beautiful historic buildings in the city.
Since then, the center has enlarged the scope of its activities. Today, in addition to its primary aim, it is a place where audiences can enjoy the highest quality of chamber music.
“Our main purpose is, of course, still primarily an educational one. Our institution’s major purpose is to find, follow and foster brilliant young musicians from across the country, to offer them special workshops and to perfect their skills. But over the years, we have expanded the music programs for the general audience. Due to their remarkable success, the chamber music concert series now take place at the YMCA just across the street, in its 600-seat auditorium,” says Sela.
The JMC’s flagship program is dedicated to talented junior high and high-school students. Over the years, the program has given rise to such prestigious ensembles as the Jerusalem String Quartet, the Ariel String Quartet and the Jerusalem String Trio, all of which have performed on stages in Israel and abroad.
“Once every few years, this program [funded by the David Goldman Family Foundation] produces such outstanding successes as these three ensembles,” says Sela, “but we have ongoing programs in which we have outstanding or promising young musicians, whom we train, encourage and support all the way until they reach their highest musical level. Of course, not every brilliant young musician becomes a soloist, but we give them all an opportunity to learn, to develop and to listen to their companions.”
The main idea behind the JMC is to bring promising young musicians from across the country – from places where they might not have the opportunity to meet other young musicians or attend musical events that would help them develop their talent – and acquire a broader artistic education.
But, as Sela says, the institution has also become a major component in Jerusalem’s musical life. Originally a series of concerts geared mainly for the musicians and their families, the concerts have become a weekly series of high-level chamber music all year long.
The concert series began in the late 1980s, under the direction of Ram Evron, who launched Youth at the Center, a series of monthly concerts that offered talented young musicians a stage for their debuts as performers, in a supportive yet strictly professional environment.
With time the concerts, which were broadcast live on Voice of Music, became so popular that they were held weekly. Then, because the concert hall (which is also a high-definition recording studio) was too small, it became a biweekly series.
Two years ago, in light of the increasing number of aficionados who attended the concerts, the series was moved to the YMCA, and the Music at the Y series was born.
“It is still the best window of opportunity we provide our students and graduates,” says Sela. “In a way, we have lost the kind of warm intimacy we had at Mishkenot, but we certainly have gained an audience outside, which has enabled us to invite talented musicians from abroad, a step that we have all benefited from.”
But despite the evident satisfaction and pride that Sela derives from the successful series (an additional series of smaller ensembles of less advanced students is running at the center at the same time), he stresses that the major focus of the institution is on the education and promotion of talented young musicians.
“It is not common today to find a young boy or girl who’d go to their parents and say, ‘I want to study violin,’” he says. “We are well aware of the reality in which we live. It’s not that I discount popular culture... But we want to expand their taste, to offer them a touch of something else, to stimulate their appetite for something different – and that’s what this institution has been doing, quite successfully, for some 40 years.”
At present, the music center is involved in a large-scale program to find pupils from second to fourth grade. To date, there are 500 children from across the country who are not yet considered “outstanding” or “promising” musicians but are eager to learn more. These children, including some from Jerusalem, participate in a special fostering program (which includes a stipend if necessary) and are the basis on which the music center builds the future generation of outstanding young musicians.
Sela is not a musician; he is a linguist and a researcher in cultural policy. He is a member of the National Council for Culture and Arts and is the person who dreamed, dared and developed one of the most legendary music series in the country.
“It is not always easy to explain to the parents what we propose,” says Sela. “Even parents of young students at conservatories have to understand that studying music is not just another after-school activity like judo or chess – it requires a lot of work and dedication. But we explain that playing an instrument is good for the mind and the body, and we show them evidence that in schools where music is widely taught, there is less violence among the students.”
The next concert will be on Thursday, November 18, featuring the Artis Piano Trio: Johan Schmidt (Belgium), piano; Eyal Shiloach, violin; and David Cohen (Belgium), cello, in a program of works by Haydn, Ravel and Tchaikovsky. For more details, e-mail