Israeli-Hungarian rhapsody

Often more hurtfully, we hear of Israeli artists and performers being pointedly uninvited to art festivals, exhibitions and music concerts throughout Europe.

A joint rehearsal in Jerusalem (photo credit: YONATAN DROR)
A joint rehearsal in Jerusalem
(photo credit: YONATAN DROR)
The problem has become all too familiar. Not only are we surrounded by enemies bent on our destruction, with one country threatening to bomb Tel Aviv just last week, but we find ourselves ostracized and boycotted by nations all over the world. We see Israeli products pulled off of European supermarket shelves; members of foreign universities, academic and professional organizations refusing to interact with their counterparts in Israel; and foreign artists and musicians either refusing to perform in Israel or canceling their scheduled performances under pressure from BDS activists. Often more hurtfully, we hear of Israeli artists and performers being pointedly uninvited to art festivals, exhibitions and music concerts throughout Europe.
There are, however, exceptions, and one of these is on its way to Israel as you read this article. For the past several years, the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance has bonded with the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest, Hungary, in an annual event that focuses on friendship and cooperation through the international language of music.
“It has been an annual event. For the past five years we have been having this cooperation with the Liszt Academy,” says Zvi Plesser, head of the Jerusalem Academy’s chamber music program and director of this exchange program.
“Each year either a group of our students and faculty goes to Budapest or a group of their students and faculty come to Jerusalem. This year we’re hosting them, after last year in which they hosted us. It’s an ongoing cooperation, and each time it is a little bit of a different concept. Sometimes we do more chamber work. Sometimes we do more orchestral work.
“This year the focus is on chamber music and on some very special pieces out of the repertoire of chamber music. We’re hosting 10 students and two faculty members from Budapest. They will be joined by 10 of our students and faculty members from our academy. And they will play together and work together in groups that are mixed with teachers and students together.”
The program was born when Ilan Mor, then Israel’s ambassador to Hungary, asked Zvi Carmeli, a senior lecturer at the Jerusalem Academy, to put an exchange project together.
“The embassy had been in close contact with the Liszt Academy,” says Carmeli. The idea was to play music in each other’s countries, with young musicians and their professors. We were very excited about the idea, the power and the beauty of bringing people together with music. He wanted me to find a partner with students the age of those in the Liszt Academy. So naturally, since I was teaching at the Jerusalem Academy, I decided to help him do it.”
So, with help from the Israeli embassy, Carmeli’s energy and organizational skills, and some prodigious fund-raising efforts by the late David Sela, a teacher at the Jerusalem Academy, the project was up and running.
“There is a lot of antisemitism in Budapest. This is what the ambassador was trying to fight,” Carmeli recalls.
“We had a big concert there early on, in a big hall with a large crowd. I was conducting an Israeli piece. The prime minister and the president came. It was a wonderful celebration of the relationship between the young people, making music together. The beauty of it was a contra-message to all the antisemitism and all the boycotts. It showed a ray of light, hope and love between people. It’s very exciting that this has been going on now for five years.”
What can we expect this year, as the program comes again to Israel? “We’re focusing on chamber music, but some pieces will be larger in scope,” Plesser says.
“One thing that we’re doing this year, in addition to the repertoire that we have chosen, is some new compositions from students of the Liszt Academy and the Jerusalem academy. So there will be premieres of two short five-minute chamber works of a young composer from Budapest and a young composer from Jerusalem, as well as one piece that kind of bridges between the two nations and musical worlds which is a Hungarian- Israeli composer by the name of Andre Hajdu, who passed away about a year ago. He emigrated from Hungary many years ago. We will play one of his short piano quartets.
“On top of that we focus on canonic pieces, like Mozart’s clarinet quintet and Dvorak’s piano quintet, and also some lesser-known pieces, such as Jean Françaix’s octet for wind and strings, which is very rarely played, but it’s actually a masterpiece, very interesting and uplifting. So on top of some famous works, we’re adding some unknown works to this mix.”
The two institutions are in many ways a perfect match. The Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, located on the Hebrew University’s Givat Ram campus, consists of the Academy itself – with a faculty of 160 and upwards of 600 students; the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance High School, founded in the late 1960s; and the Conservatory, with more than 700 students.
The Franz Liszt Academy of Music was founded by the venerable composer himself, in his own home, in November 1875. It is today one of Hungary’s leading schools of music.
This year’s program will feature one concert at The Jerusalem Academy High School’s Navon Hall, on February 23 at 1 p.m., open to the public free of charge.
Two more performances will follow at the Elma Arts Complex in Zichron Ya’acov on February 24 at 1 p.m. and on February 25 at 8 p.m., both hosted by the Hungarian Embassy.
“The beauty of this project is the meeting of these two groups of students and professors,” Plesser says.
“Music is the best language to cooperate and to coordinate and to overcome issues. Europe these days is going through some interesting times, especially in its relationship to Israel. This and projects like this are very important for forging the bigger community and the bilateral exchange of ideas between the two countries. I think it’s very important. Many friendships and many cooperations happen because of this ongoing project, and I think it’s a very nice thing to do.”
Carmeli agrees, adding, “I think this project is an example of something that works and can be duplicated with other art forms. It’s an example of how fruitful this kind of thing can be, with other institutions and other countries.”
To purchase tickets to the concerts in Zichron Yaacov, visit or call (04) 630-0123, extension 2.