MATTAN KLEIN, the artistic director of the inaugural Flute Festival.  (photo credit: PETER VIT)
MATTAN KLEIN, the artistic director of the inaugural Flute Festival.
(photo credit: PETER VIT)

Tel Aviv to host Israel's first flute festival


A member of the local music industry recently pointed out to me that we have had a Piano Festival for 24 years, and the fourth annual Guitar Festival, which took place in Eilat in March. So what about having an event that places the flute front and center? Mattan Klein was certainly up for it, and he serves as artistic director of the inaugural Flute Festival scheduled for the Shablul Club in Tel Aviv, June 2-6.

If anyone has the street cred to get such an enterprise up and running, it is Klein. A born-and-bred Jerusalemite, he studied at the Rubin Academy of Music and Dance before relocating to the US, where he completed an honors degree at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Since returning home, he has established himself as a front-runner of the local jazz scene, particularly on the Latin side of the tracks, as well as putting in a sideman shift or two with A-lister pop music outfits.

That suggests a broad sweep of genre and stylistic interests, which are reflected in the festival programming. The oft-overused expression “something for everyone” – well, almost everyone – is a fair, general description of the festival’s reach. 

The flute: An underappreciated musical instrument

Klein says the flute should get more credit, and cites its patent user-friendliness. “They play the flute in so many countries. You can walk alongside any river, on any continent, pull off a piece of reed, put in a few holes, blow into it and you have yourself a flute.” 

He adds that the instrument also covers wide sonic ground. “People say the tenor saxophone and cello are closest to the human voice. But I think the sound range and the way you make the sounds on the flute, that is unique. You blow into all the other instruments but, with the flute, some air goes into the flute and some doesn’t. That means you can sing while you play the flute.

 Flute (illustrative) (credit: PIXABAY)
Flute (illustrative) (credit: PIXABAY)

It is difficult to think of a more influential Israeli flutist than Shem-Tov Levy, and he is duly in the festival mix at the head of the multifarious quartet. The band includes percussionist Noam Chen, with Tzur Ben Zeev on double bass and Sharlee Sabbach on oud. That already generous textural and sonic spread is completed by the bandleader on flute, piano and vocals. 

The show repertoire will run the gamut of some of Levy’s most popular numbers, such as “Beleylot Hastav” (“On Fall Nights”), as well as special arrangements of gypsy-style material made famous by preeminent Belgian guitarist Django Reinhardt and modern jazz founding father trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, with some Middle Eastern musical seasoning thrown into the brew.

Klein says Levy was a programmatic given, both on personal and professional grounds. “Many people will tell you, and I am one of them, that they play the flute because of him.” 

Levy was also responsible for pushing the artistic director into his principal form of musical expression. “I got into jazz, and anything that’s not classical, because of him,” Klein notes, quickly qualifying that with some information about his mentor. “Shemi (as Shem Tov is known) trained for the Israel Philharmonic with [IPO first flutist] Sergio [Freedman].” 

As Israeli music industry history shows, Levy did not end up playing with the orchestra, but he has certainly carved his niche on the local scene.

Klein also started out on classical flute but, after a while, was informed by his teacher that she didn’t see him making it in the field. Levy came to the rescue. “I heard him improvising, and discovered there was flute in popular music, and that flipped the switch in my mind,” Klein explains. “I’m sure that happened with lots of other flutists. If you talk about the flute in Israeli light music, Shem-Tov Levy is the founding grandfather.”

LEVY’S SLOT in the festival, on June 4 (doors open 7 p.m., show starts 8:30 p.m.), is deservedly touted as the centerpiece of the five-day agenda. But there is much more on offer over at Shablul. 

Jazz fans will probably want to trot along there on June 2 (doors open 12:45 p.m., show starts 2 p.m.), when veteran flutist Ian Salem takes the stage with Agada Trio of drummer Yonatan Rosen and keyboardist Yonatan Riklis. The festival curtain-raiser features a slew of jazz standards, arranged by Salem for the occasion, as well as some original material.

However, even with US-based Israeli jazz-oriented flutist and vocalist Tali Rubinstein in the lineup on June 5 (doors open 6 p.m., show starts 7 p.m.), the debut Flute Festival is not a pure jazz undertaking – far from it.

Klein himself fronts a couple of concerts that have little to do with the improvisational genre, other than a somewhat tenuous connection to the blues, which lies at the root of jazz.

If you’re talking about the flute in rock music, the default outfit has to be Jethro Tull and its charismatic founder and frontman Ian Anderson, whose trademark pose, of playing flute while standing on one leg, is an enduring iconic image in the annals of rock.

Klein leads a sextet tribute to the British prog rock band on the opening evening (doors open 7 p.m., show starts 8:30 p.m.), with Yaron Amitai taking on Anderson’s two other roles – vocals and acoustic guitar – Moshe Davidson on electric guitar, Shani Shavit on bass, and drummer Shai Idelson also providing vocals. 

Klein says that while he is a devotee of Anderson, he is not about to get into any onstage calisthenics. “You know, all the rehearsals we have been doing for the Jethro Tull tribute are not about the music – they are about me managing to stand on one leg while I play,” he quips. “I am a balanced person, but something doesn’t quite work there,” he adds in a slightly more serious tone. 

His earliest references, as a student of the flute, were several and variegated. Stellar jazz keyboardist Chick Corea’s early 1970s Return to Forever group, with Joe Farrell on flute, came into the youngster’s burgeoning musical consciousness, as did jazz flutist Herbie Mann. “I also listened to far too much Shem-Tov Levy back then,” Klein laughs.

A classmate opened up a window on progressive rock. “He gave me a cassette and he told me that I should really get into the music,” Klein recalls. There was no turning back after that.

THE FLUTE Festival show is the realization of a long-nurtured dream. “Yes, it took me years to get this together. But I had to find the right personnel to get the job done well,” Klein says. 

“It is just a matter of having the requisite instrument and/or vocals skills. Everyone in the group has to be a Tullhead,” he chuckles. “They have to get the concept, and love the Seventies, the words, the essence of the music.”

The Seventies get another Klein-led nod at the festival when he teams up with the Spice’N’Space foursome, with keyboardist Itai Simhovich, bassist Yoav Ganor and Uriah Madar on drums. Any festivalgoers looking for a high-energy show would do well to head to this one, as the band powers its way through a groove- and funk-based playlist.

The festival goes out with a proverbial bang, with the Four Flute Flight septet featuring no less than four flute players. “It is so much fun to play with other flutists,” Klein joyously declares. “You get a homophonic sound – like with a saxophone quartet or trombone quartet – we sound the same. But, when we play a chord, the whole of those parts blows you away.”

Sounds like a nice way to go. Let’s hope the Flute Festival becomes a fixture on the Israeli culture calendar, and Klein et al get some more opportunities to blow us away.

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