JAPANESE PIANIST Nagino Maruyama will give a recital on July 27. (photo credit: Kazumi@Takayasu)
JAPANESE PIANIST Nagino Maruyama will give a recital on July 27.
(photo credit: Kazumi@Takayasu)

Israel's PianoFestArad returns to the Negev


It is exciting to get a new initiative off the ground. But proving your worth, and your staying power is another thing entirely. PianoFestArad, a pianocentric classical festival, began life in the most trying of circumstances. It first took place in 2020, at the height of the COVID pandemic, as an online event. 

By the following year, there were signs of “normality” hovering on the horizon. 

“Like a lot of other cultural ventures, we had a hybrid edition in 2021,” explains renowned pianist and educator Dr. Michal Tal who conceived the project and serves as artistic director. 

“We had Zoom concerts and we ended the festival with a concert in Tel Aviv. We had a live concert at the Israeli Conservatory of Music in Tel Aviv, with the Tel Aviv Soloists Ensemble.” 

That made for a smoother transition from online offerings to corporeal performances in front of actual audiences, in 2022. Now Tal and her colleagues are ready to go live again, in Arad, July 27-August 3.


What happens at PianoFestArad?

Over the eight days down south the public can get all sorts of angles on the classical music domain, by attending recitals, lectures, workshops, master classes, and concerts, and even sitting in on some panel discussions when the cognoscenti look into pertinent practical areas of the profession such as practicing and preparing for concerts, and competitions. The latter is, somehow, a strange one. The classical music field is simply strewn with competitions across the globe that have, over the years, accrued fame and reputation. 

Here we have, for example, the Arthur Rubinstein contest which takes place triennially in Tel Aviv. It is right up there in the upper echelons of prestigious contests and, it must be said, it has produced its fair share of stars. 

The winner of the debut event, back in 1974, now 74-year-old Ukrainian-born American pianist Emmanuel Ax went on to win a Grammy and become an internationally acclaimed artist and educator. More recently, 2011 laureate Russian pianist and composer Daniil Trifonov is a draw wherever he plays, and has been described as “arguably today’s leading classical virtuoso” and “without question the most astounding pianist of our age.”

So, who am I to question the relevance of besting one’s peers in an area where artistry, not nerves, is presumably paramount? Indeed there are two young champions in this year’s PianoFestArad program, including current Arthur Rubinstein Competition gold medalist, 18-year-old Canadian pianist, and composer Kevin Chen, with 23-year-old Japanese pianist Nagino Maruyama, who topped the bill at this year’s Concours International de Piano de Mayenne, in France, opening the performance proceedings in Arad with a recital on July 27. 

The plain cold fact of the matter is that you can be as gifted as they come, but if you are unable to produce the goods when the heat is on, talent alone isn’t going to help much at the business end of the craft. We can marvel at the artistry of the musical pantheon members, the likes of the aforementioned Mr. Rubinstein, iconic cellist Pablo Casals, violinist Itzhak Perlman or opera singer Maria Callas but, like anyone else who rose to the top, they had to learn how to communicate their technique, understanding of the music and emotions to the audience.

With the accent at the Arad festival very much on the younger crowd, The English-language Conversation on Practice, Competition, and Concert Preparation slot on the second day should make for intriguing listening and learning for the artists and for members of the public looking to get some insight on the machinations behind onstage excellence. The discourse will be overseen by British-based French pianist and pedagogue Prof. Pascal Nomirovski. Tal says there is no one better qualified for the festival berth. 

“He is a wonderful teacher, and also the artistic director of a new piano competition in Madrid,” she explains, referencing the inaugural Madrid International Piano Competition which takes place in the Spanish capital this September. 

Tal also has all the requisite credentials to adjudicate the appropriateness of musical contests. “When I was young I didn’t like taking part in competitions,” she confesses. “As an experienced pianist and teacher and jurist myself, I am aware of the advantages and disadvantages of piano competitions. But, that can’t be avoided. You have to learn how to deal with that. There are so many benefits to be gained from it.”

She has a point. A musician can go through their technique paces as much as they want, in the privacy of a rehearsal room, but if they can’t produce the goods when it matters, in the concert hall, they are not going to make much progress in their chosen vocation. One who is clearly making headway on that front is Maruyama, due to perform works by Liszt and Chopin in Arad, and whom Tal would probably not have encountered at this juncture had she not attended the competition in Mayenne earlier this year. 

“She is such a wonderful talent, and so charming,” the artistic director exclaims. “I fell in love with her,” Tal laughs. “I just had to invite her over to Arad. I am a jurist at all sorts of competitions around the world but I have never come across someone like Nagino. She is a phenomenon.” High praise indeed, which adds to the anticipatory factor in the countdown to the festival.

The Arad agenda also features a concerto competition with entrants playing charts by Bach, Austrian classical composer Marianna Martines, Beethoven, and Saint-Seans. The winners will subsequently get their chance to shine at the front of the stage, at a gala concert suitably called The Future Generation. The young soloists will be supported by the Beersheba Sinfionetta with Talia Ilan conducting.

Tal says she is happy with her choice of location for the festival and with the support she gets from Mayor Nissan Ben-Hamo and the local municipality, the Arad Conservatory of Music, and other partners in musical endeavor such as the Ness Foundation and Jewish Community Foundation of Greater MetroWest, the Felicja Blumental Foundation, and Friends of Delaware-Arad. And all in a good healthy cause.

“My utopian dream is that every child in Israel gets to play music,” Tal enthuses. “As soon as a child gets music education there is no violence, there is empathy and listening, inclusion and tolerance. A society that promotes music can’t be violent.” 

That feel-good vibe will be palpably evident in Arad, at least for eight days, with additional benefits on offer. 

“The view of the sunrise over Masada is amazing,” Tal laughs. “It is spectacular. And the weather is great – cool in the evening and at night.”

In the words of the Gershwin brothers: “Who could ask for anything more?” Just one thing – ticket prices for the events are eminently affordable. 

For tickets and more information: https://www.pianofestarad.com

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