A PARTICIPANT IN the Tel Hai International Piano Master Classes. (photo credit: Tel Hai)
A PARTICIPANT IN the Tel Hai International Piano Master Classes.
(photo credit: Tel Hai)

Tel Hai Master Classes return to the tranquility of Israel's Sde Boker


The annual Tel Hai International Piano Master Classes event is clearly laboring under a geographic misnomer. Tel Hai is, of course, located in Israel’s far north and the fact of the matter is that the classical music instruction sessions take place at Midreshet Sde Boker way down south in the Negev.

The event started life in 1992 in its eponymous home, before the violence of the Second Lebanon War necessitated relocation, in 2006, as far away as possible from danger. And it has remained there ever since. The latest program of one-on-one instruction, masterclasses and concerts kicks off on Sunday, July 31, and will continue for almost three weeks through to August 18.

A good move on all sorts of levels

Aviram Reichert believes it was a good move, on all sorts of levels. “Sde Boker is such a beautiful spot,” he exclaims. “What is so wonderful there is the unique landscape, both in terms of the Middle Eastern topography but also in global terms.”

“Sde Boker is such a beautiful spot. What is so wonderful there is the unique landscape, both in terms of the Middle Eastern topography but also in global terms.”

Aviram Reichbert

The 50-year-old globetrotting Israeli pianist and educator is not talking about sightseeing here. “The students get there and they can’t believe the beauty of the place. There is a very impressive crater near Nahal Zin and it takes them around a day to slip into a sort of desert meditative state,” Reichert laughs.

 AVIRAM REICHERT: I am always astounded by the achievements of the course graduates. (credit: Kang, Taeuk)
AVIRAM REICHERT: I am always astounded by the achievements of the course graduates. (credit: Kang, Taeuk)

As anyone who engages in spiritual matters will tell you, that can come in handy when one is engaged in matters of a creative nature. “I see something change in the students at the masterclasses,” Reichert notes. He says the organizers could not, really, have chosen a better place for helping the participants achieve the appropriate emotional and soulful state of affairs. “It might have been somewhere greener, with a cooling breeze, but in terms of the effectiveness of the place, and what it does to the soul and the body, in respect of the raison d’etre for convening there in the first place, there is nowhere better than Sde Boker and the Negev desert.”

Reichert, who is a member of the Tel Hai teaching team, along with some of the biggest names in the global classical music arena, has been giving masterclasses at Sde Boker since 2008. During that time, he has gained something more than a snapshot of the comings and goings of the students, how they have fared during the event, and how their participation has helped further their artistic continuum and, naturally, their careers. “I am always astounded by the achievements of the course graduates. Those that come out of the course, and develop careers, do so on the very highest level. Just look at the list of Tel Hai alumni.”

I did just that. It makes for compelling perusal. Take, for example, Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov who has garnered a slew of prizes, not to mention plaudits, for his scintillating and emotive keyboard work and is now considered one of the bona fide stars of the classical music scene. “He is one of the most famous young pianists around today,” says Reichert. There’s more. “There is also Lahav Shani,” he adds, referencing the music director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, who stepped into the giant shoes of legendary conductor Zubin Mehta who held the position for over half and century and whole-heartedly endorsed the appointment of his young successor.

Other notables on the Tel Hai masterclass alumni list include Finnish pianist Niklas Pokki, Jean-Paul Gasparian from France, our very own Shai Wosner and Kit Armstrong from the United States, whose coaching progression was furthered by now 90-year-old legendary Austrian pianist Alfred Brendel. There are also several South Koreans on the list that made strides on the global stage in the wake of their working visit to the Negev, such as 26-year-old Jeong Hyun Yoon and Suah Ye, whose glittering trophy haul includes top spot at the Pnina Salzman Award at the 2016 edition of the Tel Hai masterclasses.

SALZMAN IS often referred to in terms of the First Lady of Israeli Classical Piano, and it is an epithet well earned. Salzman, who died in 2006 at the age of 84, was one of the pioneers of the field of classical music education, not to mention concert performances, from the early years of Israel. The Israel Prize recipient’s extensive manifold educational work included teaching at the Tel Hai event for 12 years and, today, a prize is awarded annually at Sde Boker in her memory. This year marks the centenary of her birth and, fittingly, the current masterclass program caters to 100 young pianists from all over the world.

Reichert was fortunate enough to encounter Salzman on several occasions and to benefit from not only her acute sense of musicianship, but also singular take on life. “I attended Tel Aviv University when she was the great teacher there,” he recalls. “Pnina and [evergreen 85-year-old] Arie Vardi were the pillars there then.” Vardi is still very much in the thick of things at the university’s Buchmann-Mehta School of Music, and elsewhere overseas, as an educator and also as a sought-after conductor and pianist.

On at least one occasion, Reichert says he got more than he’d bargained for from Salzman. “I remember one open masterclass when I played a Prokofiev sonata. She mainly worked with me on the second movement and she tried to instill the serious kid I was then with a sense of humor. She wanted me to get a little jazzy and convey a little temptation.” It worked well, a little too well. “There is a spirit of dance, of sensuality, towards the end of the movement. I remember I immediately got exactly what she was after. I also have jazz in me and I really got into it. Then she stopped me and, with a serious expression on her face, said, ‘Now you’re having too much fun,’” Reichert laughs.

The beguiling, wholesome, mix of fun and dedication will, no doubt, be in the mix at Sde Boker over the next three weeks or so, including among the students Reichert is bringing over himself from South Korea, where he has held a teaching position for some years.

Tel Hai is not just honing technical skills; the teachers also try to help their charges to broaden their musical philosophy. Presumably, having such a varied repertoire, from Beethoven to Gershwin and much betwixt, helps Reichert in that area. “I tried to impart that,” he says. “I believe that students take from the teachers more than just how to go about phrasing and technique. They also take aspects relating to personality and fields of interest. Open mindedness can be a challenge [to develop] but it is about processes.” No one, he says, is looking for a quick fix. “These processes take years,” he notes with a nod to the natural milieu of the Tel Hai International Piano Masterclasses. “It is like drops of water falling on the desert ground. At some stage, the ground will become satiated. The students become more flexible and more amenable to different styles, and more flexible interpretations. It is very rewarding.”

No doubt, the latter refers to teachers and students alike, and the public can also benefit from that too, as well as gaining a rare intimate handle on the machinations behind the learning process. The daily schedule at Sde Boker begins with individual lessons followed by masterclasses, which are all open to the public free of charge. The day’s intensive events close with an evening concert, when the students put their newfound insight into practice, sometimes alongside some of the teachers.

It promises to be a rewarding experience for one and all down in the tranquil south.

For more information, visit: http://www.masterclasses.org.il.

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