BWW Interview: Tomer Lev & Idith Ziv of THE RUBENSTEIN VIRTUAL PIANO FESTIVAL at Clairmont Recital Hall. Tel Aviv

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BWW Interview: Tomer Lev & Idith Ziv of THE RUBENSTEIN VIRTUAL PIANO FESTIVAL at Clairmont Recital Hall. Tel Aviv

The Rubinstein Competition and the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music (BMSM) at Tel Aviv University have partnered up to created the Arthur Rubinstein Virtual PianoFest, which will run from 5-21 May.

The festival includes a wide variety of events, encompassing famous laureates of the Rubinstein Competition, rising pianists on the Israeli and international scene, and leading pedagogues and composers.

Idith Zvi, Artistic Director of the festival and Tomer Lev, head of the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music sat down to discuss the festival with us.

1. What does a virtual festival mean, in these days?

Tomer Lev:

Anything that can bring the vitality of a real festival and effectively transform it to the virtual sphere: recitals, concerts and panel discussions, mixed with the rich treasures of the Rubinstein Competition archive. So we at the Buchmann-Mehta School Of Music host the live events on campus and aim to present the best sounds of the present; whereas the Rubinstein Competition brings, through its rich archive, the best sounds of the past. The festival is indeed 'virtual' in the sense that there will be no audience sitting in any venues and so the distribution is online, but on the other hand the festival is also and at the same time, very real, because together we're hosting new, live recitals at the centre of this festival.

Idith Zvi : In addition, there is a positive and social effect on audiences, having an intense few days of music, when every day there is something new, and the whole PianoFest has aמ artistic throughline through which we and the audience can progress together. This also is not only 'virtual' because, distanced though it may - and must - all be, the discoveries and emotions that the music-lover may encounter can be very real.

2. What would you define as the spirit of the Rubinstein Competition and how much of it can you hope to capture with this kind of event?

TL: A highlight of the festival would definitely be the series of live-streamed recitals from the Clairmont Recital Hall at Tel Aviv university. The series will present 12 young and promising Israeli pianists, ranging in age from 16-25. The youngest ones have just emerged with lots of promise; whereas the older ones are already on their professional route, having won international competitions and performed with major orchestras. In this respect, introducing an attractive gallery of young piano artists to the world, the festival is exactly in step with the ongoing mission statement of the Rubinstein Competition!

IZ: I'm very happy to say that, judging from the responses we've received to the announcement of the festival, people seem to feel that we've planned it right. We are hearing from many people who have pencilled-in every evening at 18:00 Israel time, to enjoy that evening's festive events, whether it be via the websites of the Rubinstein Competition, the Buchman-Mehta School of Music or the Haaretz newspaper. And I should say that as well as recitals from our 12 specially-selected young pianists, the varied program includes other performances, such as an interesting recital by Boris Giltburg ,streamed live direct from Amsterdam..

3. Competitions are sometimes seen as a double-edged sword in the music business - very useful for those who do well and for those who would seek to promote or present them, but also a lot of pressure for young artists. If you agree with that, do you think that having this kind of celebratory festival without the competitive element should or could be an important part of a music competition?

TL: This is somewhat refreshing that, for a change, we can enjoy a full festival, celebrating the talent of young and promising artists, without the pressure and frustration that is so often involved with the competitive element of a competition.

IZ: The Rubinstein Competition takes place every three years. In-between we organize piano festivities that include our winners and guest musicians. So the true spirit of what we do is about celebration, not pressure. Both the musicians and the audience love these festivities, and express their enjoyment by attending these concerts.

4. Israel has a long tradition of turning out superior classical musicians, why do you think such a small country has had such a disproportionate number of leading musicians?

TL: The Jewish tradition is full of music and music-making. Many of the leading musicians in pre-World War Two Europe were Jewish. Just before the war, a group of 100 top Jewish musicians were saved from the Holocaust by the violinist Bronislaw Huberman and King George VI and sent to Palestine, as it then was. These 100 top virtuoso musicians formed what became the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as what later became the Israeli Academy of Music and now the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music. They brought the best of European musical heritage and planted it on the Eastern shores of the Mediterranean. There is a direct line from them to us, and we feel that very strongly at the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music since we, like our partner orchestra the Israel Philharmonic, were created by those hundred. So, in a very strange but palpable way, the spirit of the golden musical age of 1920s and 1930s Europe is still echoed and preserved in Tel Aviv of the 21st century.

IZ: One of the most famous of the Jewish musicians who were devoted to Israel and chose to play there year after year, was pianist Arthur Rubinstein. He was a permanent guest of the Israel Philharmonic and gave many master classes to young Israeli pianists, some of whom became prominent performers and excellent teachers. So he was a great influence, almost a force of nature. In his late years, Rubinstein gave his permission to create the competition in his name. He himself attended the first two editions (1974 and 1977) and this has become one of his most lasting legacies, something that today - and we work very hard to maintain this - inspires and supports the whole classical music scene in Israel and abroad.

5. The festival is being produced through a partnership between the Rubinstein Competition and the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music at Tel Aviv University. How did that partnership come about?

TL: The Buchmann-Mehta School of Music can be considered as the 'greenhouse' of the Israeli piano world. Either in its current form or in its earlier iteration as the Israel Rubin Academy of Music, it has developed internationally renowned pianists and pedagogues, from Menahem Pressler, Arie Vardi and Yefim Bronfman, to newer talents like Boris Giltburg. Even Idith Zvi and myself are proud graduates of this institution and now serve in its faculty. So it was more than natural for the competition and the school to collaborate when it became clear that the country's borders were closed and the competition needed to find a new format for its current edition. As no young pianists from abroad were able to travel to Tel Aviv it turned to be a golden opportunity for the competition to showcase the young generation of Israeli pianists, most of which are fresh graduates and current outstanding students at the Buchmann-Mehta School.

IZ: After recuperating from the first shock of the coronavirus's effect on the whole music scene, we realised that with the combined facilities of the Buchmann-Mehta School and the archive treasury and worldwide family of the Rubinstein Competition it was possible and important to try and create an alternative event, to take place during the very same dates for which the competition had been planned, and to create, as best as we possibly could, a musical "happening" that will maintain the name of Arthur Rubinstein, spotlight young Israeli pianists and continue to involve the audience with the Rubinstein society's activities

6. You must both have been involved with many rounds of the Rubinstein Competition - which moments do you remember as particularly thrilling?

TL: I'm sure that Idith is the one to give a wider perspective for this. My modest contribution would be to mention Daniil Trifonov's magnetic finals with Chopin concerto no 1 with the Israel Philharmonic - unforgettable!

IZ: I agree! When Trifonov started playing in the 2011 competition, it was clear to everybody in the audience, that he would be the winner. Each of his interpretations was thrilling, he had this magical contact with each person attending his performances, like a magnet that somehow attracted love and admiration from everybody who was there.

Another thrilling moment was when Khatia Buniatishvili played a Haydn sonata and Schumann's Fantasia at the first stage of the competition in 2008. There is it was again, that same magnetic effect on every single member, I'm sure, of that sold-out audience.

7. What will happen now for the arts, and the prospects for young musicians in particular, in Israel?

TL: Time will tell to what extent the coronavirus crisis might leave long-lasting effects on the way that people will consume arts in general and classical music in particular. As of today our music industry still requires large crowds in order to make the concert financially viable...will the CV crisis force the young generation of musicians to "reinvent" the platforms and mechanisms needed for our musical culture to last? Will they be able to meet the challenge? Time will tell...

IZ: I totally agree with Tomer. Due to the development of technology, the performing arts may change and find different ways to present themselves. One thing that I do think to be true is that people have discovered benefits to staying home. It is too early to draw conclusions and it will be interesting, to say the least, to follow exactly what that means.

8. Since the competition and this festival are dedicated to Rubinstein, and we have of course, mentioned him several times, to get people in the mood for the Rubinstein Virtual Pianofest why don't you both suggest one favorite each of Rubinstein's own recordings?

TL: I strongly recommend Rubinstein's recordings of Chopin mazurkas. This is the hard core of Chopin's ethnic writing and Rubinstein's interpretation captures so beautifully the tiniest nuances of Polish folklore. The speaking quality of his phrases, the stylized rhythmic gestures, the flexibility of the beats and the perfect combination of nobility and crudeness...what a celebration!

IZ: and I strongly recommend his last recital for Israel which he played in 1975, at the age 88: he played Beethoven's Appasionata, Schumann's Fantasiestucke, a few Debussy pieces and many pieces by Chopin. The most fascinating for me is his Schumann: he expresses the complexity of Schumann's music, the lyrical parts and the drama, so convincingly, while sitting straight, no extra gesture, just playing, telling the story of this music, so convincing and so natural.

BroadwayWorld Classical would like to thank Mr. Lev and Ms. Zvi for taking the time to chat with us a bit about the festival and we wish them great success!

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