A musical homecoming

Ra’anana Symphonette to feature world-class viola player Gilad Karni

GILAD KARNI: More composers are writing for the viola today (photo credit: Courtesy)
GILAD KARNI: More composers are writing for the viola today
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Gilad Karni is a violist, noted worldwide for his technical excellence, his beautiful tone and interpretation. His instrument, the viola, is slightly larger than the violin and lower in pitch. “I believe the alto sound of the viola most closely replicates the human voice, and I love it,” he says in a phone interview from his home in Zurich, Switzerland.
Even though the repertoire for viola is fewer in number than for the violin, Karni has made a distinguished career as a soloist, orchestral player, chamber musician and teacher. He is regularly looks for new material, and performs a wide selection of pieces, spanning baroque to modern, as a soloist and as a member of chamber ensembles in important concert halls worldwide. In 1992, he had the distinction of being the youngest member of the New York Philharmonic; in 2000, he founded the Huberman Quartet, which had its debut in Carnegie Hall; and was selected by the Jerusalem Quartet to go on tour with them as guest artist. He has won first prize in numerous prestigious competitions throughout Europe and the United States, and is a sought-after teacher at important music festivals globally. Currently, he is the principal violist of the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich, Switzerland, after serving as principal violist for the past two years at the Deutsche Oper Berlin. He is professor of Viola at the Lausanne Conservatory, and is also on the Viola faculties of the Jerusalem Music Center, Israel Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, and Keshet Eilon.
On November 28 and 29, Karni will return to Israel and perform the Telemann Viola Concerto and the Bruch Viola Romance op. 85 in two concerts, with the Ra’anana Symphonette, music director Omer Wellber conducting.
“Over the past two years, Gilad and I have had numerous conversations about him playing with the Ra’anana Symphonette,” says conductor Wellber, “and now it is about to happen.”
Born in Israel, Karni attended the Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts in Givatayim.
“I entered as a violinist,” he remembers. “One day the conductor of the orchestra said, “We need more violas” and handed me an instrument. I was not thrilled, preferring the virtuosity of the violin. However, as I studied the instrument and began to win prizes, I changed my mind and realized a musician could be a virtuoso on the viola as well. I later took the viola to the IDF, where I was accepted as a musician in the IDF orchestra before furthering my studies in Jerusalem and abroad.”
In retrospect, Karni is thankful that he began studies on the violin.
“The violin is an instrument whose repertoire requires not only a high degree of virtuosity but also a firm foundation in technical studies. My early studies on the violin gave me a well-founded base when I switched to the viola.”
Karni may live overseas, but he has a strong connection to Israel. Members of his extended family live in Israel, and he delights in having given the Israeli premiere to works such as the arrangement of Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet for viola and orchestra with the Beersheba Symphony as well as concertizing with the Rishon LeZion Orchestra. Later this year, with the Jerusalem Symphony, he will perform Berlioz’s Harold in Italy for solo viola and orchestra.
Always looking for new and worthy compositions, Karni performed the world premiere of ViolAlive by Gideon Lewensohn with the Israel Sinfonietta.
“The composer, Lewensohn, is a professor of composition at Bar-Ilan University,” explains Karni. “He wrote ViolAlive for strings and a huge percussion section. Seven of the violins are re-tuned to a pitch a half-tone lower and placed in the back of the orchestra. This piece has a beautiful atmosphere woven through with Jewish themes, and ends in the cabaret atmosphere reminiscent of Kurt Weill. I recorded on Sony CD Gideon Lewensohn’s ViolAlive and the Shostakovich Viola Sonata arranged for solo viola, strings and celesta with the Zurich Chamber Orchestra conducted by Ariel Zukerman.”
Karni explains, “More composers are writing for the viola today. They are engaging in new tonalities, atonalities and microtones. Yet I believe there are limits. In my mind, the most important question in judging any piece of music, (be it baroque, classical, romantic or modern), is ‘What is the message?’ Music must have a message and the musician must find and convey it to the listener. He or she must, musically and in the correct style, transmit to his audience the story the composer is trying to tell and the emotions he wishes to convey.”
Omer Wellber, Music Director of the Ra’anana Symphonette, points out that Karni is an exceptional musician who engages his audience. “It is beautiful that he will play with our orchestra.”
For ticket information: (09) 745 7773 www.symphonette.co.il