Taking a bow into Tel Aviv Soloists Ensemble's next wave

Violinist Yaakov Rubinstein kickstarts the Tel Aviv Soloists Ensemble’s new season.

 YAAKOV RUBINSTEIN: I was a classical music snob for many years but I am happy to say that I am coming out of that a little.  (photo credit: YOEL LEVY)
YAAKOV RUBINSTEIN: I was a classical music snob for many years but I am happy to say that I am coming out of that a little.
(photo credit: YOEL LEVY)

There is something refreshing about the Tel Aviv Soloists Ensemble. There is a pleasing breath of energy and joie de vivre about the way it goes about its business. That is due, in no small part, to the steady and adventurous guiding hand of conductor and music director Barak Tal, who has made a point of frequently bringing in fresh blood to the players’ ranks since he founded the orchestra in 2001.

That line of thought is fine by Yaakov Rubinstein, as the violinist-concertmaster prepares for the ensemble’s 2022-23 season opener. The curtain raiser goes by the name of On Six Strings, as per the title of a new work by Israeli composer Oded Zehavi, which features in the inaugural program, with concerts lined up at the Rappaport Auditorium in Haifa on November 26, 8:30 p.m., Israel Conservatory of Music in Tel Aviv – a.k.a. Stricker – on November 27, 8:30 p.m. and the Strauss Municipal Conservatory in Akko on November 29, at 7 p.m.

I asked Rubinstein where the numerical content came from. Surely, his violin only has four strings. “Yes, that’s right,” he concurs. “The six comes from four violin strings and two vocal cords.” Makes perfect mathematical sense, particularly if you note that the 50-something violinist’s limelight partner in the concert is soprano Daniela Skorka.

In addition to the new Zehavi offering, the orchestra’s season starter includes Haydn’s Symphony no. 6 (“Morning”), the definitively emotive meditation from French Romantic composer Jules Massenet’s opera Thais, a couple of Mozart operatic arias from The Shepherd King (Il re pastore), The Marriage of Figaro, and his motet “Sing Rejoice, A Song of Praise”.

Rubinstein's reign

Rubinstein has been with the troupe for close to a decade now. However, in fact, Rubinstein’s and the conductor’s paths crossed a long time before that. “I was an outstanding musician in the IDF and, a year later, I tutored a group of high school kids – I think they called them something like Arts-oriented Students – and there was an amiable 16-year-old kid there called Barak Tal.”

Albert Einstein's violin is displayed at Bonhams auction house in New York, US, March 6, 2018 (credit: EDUARDO MUNOZ / REUTERS)Albert Einstein's violin is displayed at Bonhams auction house in New York, US, March 6, 2018 (credit: EDUARDO MUNOZ / REUTERS)

The very same, by now, less young man who plies the ensemble’s artistic course and will wield the baton in Haifa, Tel Aviv and Akko later his month.

THE FIRST violinist brought a wealth of experience from overseas when he joined the Tel Aviv gang. “I was the concertmaster with the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra [in Germany] for 15 years,” he notes. “I was first violinist and I was invited to play as concertmaster with all the top orchestras in Germany and around the world, in Brazil, New Zealand, Spain, all over.”

His long stint in Germany was as enriching as it was enjoyable and he returned to these shores older, wiser and with plenty more firepower in his fiddle. “Bamberg is a symphonic orchestra with 110 members,” he states, adding that after a while, he felt he could do with a change of pace. “The core of our work was playing pieces by Mahler, Wagner, all the Strausses – all the great [tone] poems by Richard Strauss, all the Bruckners.

It was all heavy Romantic music. When I got there in 1995, when I was 25, for Bamberg Stravinsky was considered too extreme. Later, they had a change of tack when [English conductor] Johnathan Nott joined. He was the assistant of [French composer and conductor] Pierre Boulez. He brought a different spirit to the orchestra.”

RUBINSTEIN WAS HAPPY to head back to Israel after his lengthy tenure in Germany, for personal and professional reasons. “It was good to come back here, to the Hebrew language, to Hebrew song, to my home and to play different music,” he recalls. “I felt a little satiated by all that music, so it was good to take on a change of direction here. I don’t regret leaving Israel, to further my career, nor do I regret coming back to Israel.”

He certainly does not feel sorry about reuniting with his erstwhile student, Tal, and to add his accrued musical acumen to the sterling work being undertaken here by the musical-director-conductor and his young charge.

And, while he has pulled his bow across charts by a vast arc of classical giants, Rubinstein says he is now perfectly happy to venture into other genre and stylistic areas. “I was a classical music snob for many years,” he confesses, “but I am happy to say that I am coming out of that a little.” The proof of his more accommodating ethos is out there for listening.

“Before the corona I played in an ensemble with [pianist] Nizar Elkhater. We mostly did [classical] recitals but we also played Arabic music. We even recorded a CD, together with the Gary Bertini Israel Choir, and appeared in Israel and France. That was classical Arabic music.”

The Rubinstein spread goes even wider, with stacks of Balkan-style Jewish music outings over the years, too. “I had a klezmer band but that fell apart with the corona. Also, geographic distances have gotten in the way.

“His music is enjoyable, for the musicians and also, I think, for the listeners.”

Yaakov Rubinstein

One of the band members lives in Oslo, and one in Sarajevo. Anyway, Jewish music in general, and klezmer, are in far greater demand in Germany and all over Europe.” That’s a strange one.

For now, Rubinstein is looking forward to his first run out with Skorka and playing off her cultured vocals. “You always have to adapt to, say, playing in a quartet or in a chamber orchestra. That goes for working with singers, too. You have to tailor your work to your partner. In that respect, performing with a vocalist is just like collaborating with any other instrument.”

THE TITLE work of the forthcoming concert series offers the violinist an opportunity to get to grips with Zehavi’s singular compositional aesthetics and philosophy. “I performed one of his works a couple of months ago, with the Israel Sinfionetta Beersheba orchestra [with whom Rubinstein also serves as first violinist]. It was a work dedicated to Soroka Hospital.”

It is an eagerly anticipated rendezvous. “Besides being an intelligent and very funny person, Oded’s music is always very enjoyable and very communicative.” That is not something one can say about a lot of contemporary music. “His music is enjoyable, for the musicians and also, I think, for the listeners.”

Rubinstein also added interest in turning out a good rendition of “On Six Strings.” “I understand he wrote the piece especially for me and for Daniela. He knew for whom he was writing it.”

All of this adds up to a concert series and no doubt, a new Tel Aviv Soloists Ensemble season to savor.

For tickets and more information, visit: soloists.co.il.