Dais duty

On the eve of the 21st annual Youth Orchestra Festival in Kfar Saba, conductor Yeruham Scharovsky extols his musical city and its children.

Yeruham Scharovsky 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Yeruham Scharovsky 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
If 53-year-old conductor Yeruham Scharovsky has his way, Kfar Saba may soon be a major destination on the global classical music circuit. Ask some leading conductor or musician if he’d like to appear in Israel, and the chances are that – politics aside – he or she would be amenable to the idea.
If you added, however, that the concert venue was Kfar Saba, the response would probably be a raised eyebrow or two, followed by an incredulous: “Where’s that?”
This Sunday to Tuesday, “Where’s that?” will be the venue for the 21st annual Youth Orchestra Festival, which will take place under the aegis – and partially under the baton – of Scharovsky, with some invaluable managerial support provided by festival founder and Kfar Saba Music Foundation chief Dr. Shmuel Franco.
Scharovsky serves as the foundation’s director-general. Over the three days, dozens of classical youth orchestras and ensembles from other genres, including jazz, from around the country will descend on Kfar Saba and perform concerts at various sites around the city, including the Heichal Hatarbut auditorium and the city’s main square.
The crowning moment of the festival will arrive at 8 p.m. on the last evening, when no fewer than nine youth orchestras, with around 600 players, will perform in the main square, alongside a handful of musical celebrities, including pop singer Meital Travalsi, jazz and pop saxophonist Nitsan Ein-Habar and violinist Keren Tennenbaum. Each year, the festival has a different theme. This year it is movie music.
For Scharovsky, the festival is a grand reflection of the sterling work he and others undertake with Kfar Saba’s children and youth throughout the year.
“I am responsible for the musical education of thousands of children and youth, from first grade to 12th grade, in Kfar Saba,” he says with barely disguised and fully justified pride. “You walk around the city and you can hear a kid practicing on his violin from one window, another playing the piano and another playing a flute. This is a city with around 80,000 inhabitants and close to 4,000 kids who play music. That is a wonderful feeling.”
Junior musical activities are nothing strange for the Argentinean-born conductor, and he takes a very hands-on approach to his work in Kfar Saba.
“I have worked with kids ever since I can remember,” he declares. “I was a youth leader in Hashomer Hatza’ir back in Buenos Aries, and when I got to Israel I went to Kibbutz Ga’aton near Nahariya, where they put me in charge of preschool children there.”
That’s also where Scharovsky started offering musical education. “I played music tapes for the children.”
Later, in his mid-twenties, he got a “real” job. “When I was 26, I was put in charge of a music conservatory in the north, in the Mateh Asher Regional Council area, with responsibility for musical education of the kibbutzim in the area. In 1990 I moved to the conservatory in Kfar Saba, and I’ve been there ever since.”
That was also the year when Scharovsky was selected by Zubin Mehta as the country’s Young Artist of the Year.
Not that Scharovsky confines his musical endeavor to this part of the world. Since first picking up a baton some 28 years ago – and being instantly inspired to shift his main musical thrust from double bass to conducting by Mendi Rodan after his very first lesson at the Rubin Academy of Music and Dance in Jerusalem – Scharovsky has directed dozens of orchestras all over the world. He was in charge of the inaugural concert at the new opera house in Helsinki and has fronted the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra, the Moscow Philharmonic, the Berliner Symphoniker and the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, as well as our very own Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.
While delighted to have the opportunity to chalk up dais duty, Scharovsky is just as keen to attend to his educational duties.
“So far, fortunately, I haven’t been in a position where I have had to consider giving up working with children and youth for a permanent position with a major orchestra,” he says. “Normally it is very difficult, if not impossible, to keep both activities going in tandem; but, thankfully, I have managed to do that. It’s not easy with over 60 concerts a year all over the world.”
He might have gained that facility from his old teacher. “Mendi Rodan was also an educationalist and a conductor. I think, like me, he loved both roles and didn’t want to give up either.”
Scharovsky also feels he got a helping hand from his employers.
“The Municipality of Kfar Saba has always supported me in my work with the schoolchildren. They gave me carte blanche to do with them whatever I wanted. It’s not by chance that there are concerts by great orchestras that take place in Jerusalem and Kfar Saba, or in Tel Aviv and Kfar Saba.
“I brought the Colombia Philharmonic to Kfar Saba. We did concerts all over the country, but the pinnacle of the tour was a concert in the main city square for 40,000 people. That means that the city gains from my spirit of adventure. So everyone wins out.”
After 20 years at the helm, Scharovsky feels things are definitely moving in the right direction in his hometown. “Where else do you find 600 kids playing music on a stage together? One journalist said that Kfar Saba is Israel’s music capital.”
That, according to Scharovsky, has happened since Dr. Franco came on board. “When he took over the Kfar Saba Music Foundation, there were 20 students there, 18 of whom were pianists. Now there are thousands, and we have some of the best teachers in the country at the academy.”
Each year the Youth Orchestra Festival has a different theme. This year’s was prompted by someone who is too young to play at the festival.
“I have a four-year-old daughter who likes lots of different kinds of music, including movie music. So we thought, possibly, of Walt Disney themes – but that would have been too complicated, and expensive, getting the rights to play the music. So we went for other things.”
The program of the closing concert features songs from a number ofmovies, including Israeli ones, and musicals, includingGrease, Schindler’s List, Hair, Pirates of the Caribbean, TheBand and Kazablan. The musicalentertainment will be augmented by visuals taken from the relevantmovies projected on to giant screens near the junior musicians.
“Themost important thing for me, when I work with children, is that theyshould enjoy playing music,” Scharovsky continues. “I don’t want it tofeel like drudgery for them, and I think the audiences at the festivalwill feel that sense of joy and fun too.”
For more information about the Youth Orchestra Festival: www.kerenhamusika.com