From fringe to mainstream

Playing exactly what the composer intends.

Dan Yuchas (photo credit: DUDU BACHAR)
Dan Yuchas
(photo credit: DUDU BACHAR)
The Israel Contemporary Players ensemble is set to begin its 26th season of concerts.
“Amazing, isn’t it?” says Dan Yuhas, composer, founder and director of the ICP.
The ensemble is made up of 15 young instrumentalists whose repertoire is music written during the last century.
“We used to be on the fringe,” Yuhas says softly, in an English lightly tinged with a Hungarian accent.
“Our audience started listening to us when we began in 1991, and today contemporary music is their world.
Every year, our audience has grown, and we seem to be moving away from the fringe into the musical mainstream of concert series.”
During the season, the ICP will perform five concerts at the Tel Aviv Museum and the Jerusalem Music Center, and open the series on September 16 with an additional appearance at the Alma Auditorium in Zichron Ya’acov. The ensemble also performs at Hateiva, the center for experimental music in Jaffa.
Live broadcasts of all the concerts can be heard on the Voice of Music radio station of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
In October, the ensemble will fly to Shanghai to participate in the Shanghai New Music Festival.
“This is an important music festival in Asia, to which the best ensembles in the world are invited. Last year, the famous Ensemble Intercontemporain from Paris (founded by Pierre Boulez) was the invited ensemble, and this year we are the ensemble-in-residence,” Yuhas mentions with pride.
“Our invitation is considerable recognition for the Israel Contemporary Players. In addition to performing, we will also give master classes for talented composition students from all over the world.
“Today, traveling frequently is the life of a professional musician,” he continues. “We have had a turnover of players in the last two years, and our group is now uniformly young, not only in age but also in added enthusiasm. Each is an accomplished player who studied abroad and then made the decision to return to Israel as a home base. The music of today is their music to share with audiences.
“In addition, each concert features a new work by an Israeli composer. It is one of our goals to give a stage and support to the abundant talent that exists in our small country.”
The opening program of the season, conducted by Zsolt Nagy, will feature the new work by Boaz Ben Moshe, titled Passion and Compassion, followed by Michael Torke’s Yellow Pages; Piano Concerto, by G. Ligeti, with Imri Talgam as soloist; and composer John Adams Gnarly Buttons, for clarinet and ensemble, with Tibi Cziger, solo clarinetist.
“One of the real values our ensemble shares is that we are unwavering in our goal to build a repertoire of contemporary music that the audience can identify with,” says Yuhas.
“There is always one piece that is the focus of each concert. It might be a piece that we have played before, or another piece by a composer whose works we have featured. For example, Piano Concerto by Ligeti and other of his works are part of this repertoire. I regard Ligeti as a composer who writes music with staying power, which will become part of the repertoire of contemporary music.”
Yuhas explains that contemporary music requires different skills on the part of the audience as well as the performers. “The audience must use different skills in order to participate mentally. It is a challenge, but developing new skills is a part of life.
“I love the beautiful and familiar music of Mozart,” he says, “but this is not our life today. Art and music are not exclusive. They have to reflect their own time and are not always synonymous with the word ‘enjoyment.’” Yuhas notes that Bach’s music for the church was considered too complicated. Haydn’s music was written for an audience of the aristocracy, and he had to please them. In the final analysis, he points out, it is the decision of the audience as to which pieces will become part of the repertoire of any period. In his mind, even the music that does not remain as part of the contemporary musical compendium will still influence other composers.
“What we need,” he says, “is another 100 years in order to look back.”
When speaking about the role of the performer, Yuhas points out that the responsibility of the ensemble is to deliver a quality performance and play exactly what the composer intends.
“It is essential to play the music as perfectly as we can,” Yuhas says.
“Contemporary music often requires the performer to use uncommon performance techniques such as clapping, tapping the instrument, shouting, perhaps playing the instrument in different ways. Nevertheless, we have to be serious and exacting when doing so. This is what the composer wants. The audience has the right to decide whether or not they like it. Our job is to give the music an accurate presentation and play the music according to the composers intent.”
Yuhas is a noted composer in his own right. He teaches composition and counterpoint at the Buchmann- Mehta School of Music at Tel Aviv University, and has won the ACUM (Association of Composers, Authors, and Publishers of Music in Israel) Award three times. He has twice been the recipient of the Prime Minister’s Award for Composers, and in 2008 received the Koussevitzky Award from the Koussevitzky Music Foundation and the Library of Congress.
Yuhas explains that the Koussevitzky Award was significant for him, not only because the prize assists the composer by commissioning a new composition and underwriting the cost of performance, but also because of Koussevitzky the musician.
Serge Koussevitzky, the famous Russian conductor, was a champion of modern music. Throughout his career in Russia, Paris, and for 25 years (until 1949) as the conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, he commissioned, premiered and featured the modern music of the last century. He delighted in programing and presenting contemporary music in high-quality and well-prepared performances. Composers such as Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Ravel, Bela Bartok, Aaron Copland, George Gershwin, and Leonard Bernstein were featured on his programs and heard by audiences around the world.
Yuhas points out that many of these composers were once on the fringe and today are part of the mainstream. Koussevitzky gave them the opportunity to be heard.
Yuhas is also the founder and director of Hateiva, the center for electronic and digital art in Jaffa, a multipurpose center for the study and performance of digital arts.
It is a place where composers can collaborate with technicians and work with state-of-the-art equipment.
Workshops are offered in cross-cultural and interdisciplinary collaborations, including music, video art and dance. The space also serves as a laboratory for young choreographers and composers to create new works. This is the only place in Israel that affords such conditions, and was voted by the Tel Aviv press as the “coolest” fringe venue in Tel Aviv for young people.
When asked about his own compositions, Yuhas humbly admits that it was only natural that he became interested in contemporary music.
When asked why, his answer is: “Every artist should be part of his time, and his art should reflect the time he lives in – that is life.”