Interview: It is a privilege to be part of the contemporary music scene today

"The greatest struggle and challenges in the music scene today is to give contemporary music status, to establish it on institutional level and to continually give it state support. The music promoters, institutions and creator of cultural policies should feel that they have an obligation to offer composers space and possibilities to create, and to take their chances with them -  says pianist and founder of Meitar Ensemble Amit Dolberg. The renowned ensemble from Israel is coming to Macedonia for the first time to perform at the "Days of Macedonian Music" festival on April 3rd at the Chamber Hall of the Macedonian Philharmonic. The trio: Amit Dolberg on piano, Moshe Aharonov on violin and Yoni Gotlibovitch will perform chamber works by Macedonian and Israeli composers. 

On April 3rd in the framework of “Days of Macedonian Music” festival you will perform a concert with Meitar Ensemble (Moshe Aharonov on violin, Yoni Gotlibovitch on cello and yourself on piano). The repertoire of the concert also includes three works by Macedonian composers Angel Spiroski, Mihailo Trandafilovski and Valentina Velkovska-Trajanovska, two of which will be world premieres. Is this the ensemble’s (and your own) first encounter with contemporary Macedonian works? Is there perhaps a musical thread that connects all the works?

A.D. This is our first encounter with Macedonian composers.  We were very happy to get the three scores and are eager to meet and work with the composers. It is very important for us to establish a personal and direct connection with the composer as we believe that this is the way to discover the true essence of the music and to prepare for a deep and meaningful performance. The program is very jazzy and energetic. I think that the audience will be surprised by the similarities of musical expression of the six composers. 

You have been praised as one of Israel’s leading performers of new music, who has premiered many solo and chamber works on the concert stages around the world. Why do you think it is important for musicians nowadays to be able to embrace contemporary music?

A.D. I think it is very important to learn the classical repertoire. We all naturally come from the classical tradition and we love its discipline. At the same time, we are very curious and constantly looking for new music. You can never know where and when will you find the next voice, the next great composer, which is why I think that we should always be modest and create the right atmosphere for composers to express themselves, to take chances and flourish. The performers have a big responsibility not only to look back and play the master pieces but to look forward, to be enthusiastic and reliable partners to the living composers.

Some musicians and critics share the opinion that contemporary concert format nowadays needs to become significantly more flexible in order to accommodate the myriad shapes of music and reach new audiences. It is believed that music has for too long been restricted to a single, almost universally duplicated format. What are your thoughts about the modes of presentation of new music?

A.D. I think that we should always have in mind that the music is the most important thing. While doing so we can experiment with new ways to communicate with our audience. Next season we have a new project with two new pieces by composers Sarah Nemtsov and Ofer Pelz and the light artist Omer Sheizaf. It's a collaboration with the Neue Vocalsolisten from Stuttgart. We named this work Borders. In this work we will explore the borders between the two ensembles, the borders between the two composers, between the ensembles and the audience, the stage, the concert hall. All of the above are things that we think about constantly but again, it is important to always remember that the music is the center. Another production we had for the last two years is a sonic opera by Yuval Avital.  It's written for an ensemble, video and electronics and deal with the refuges crises. (you can see more on the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThDloHcRkOI

Meitar Ensemble was founded in 2004 as a music collective dedicated to the performance and promotion of new music. Based in Tel Aviv, Meitar Ensemble has appeared in some of the most prestigious venues worldwide (Centre Pompidou in Paris, Purcell Room in London, Radial System and BKA in Berlin, Moscow Conservatory, Yale University, the 92Y (NYC), Venice Biennale for Contemporary Music, Heidelberger Frueling Festival, Sound Ways Festival St. Petersburg), and many others. Even more impressive is the fact that in the past ten years the ensemble has commissioned and premiered over 200 new works, delivering performances of “excellence, poise and precision” (The New York Times). What do you think, are the qualities that make Meitar Ensemble distinctive in sound from other contemporary music ensembles from Israel, or even the world?

A.D. Meitar Ensemble is a democratic ensemble, we are like a family. All of us decide together on everything. What to play, with whom, where etc. We care about each other and we know how to keep ourselves in the right creative mode. In Israel, 14 years ago, we decided to create a new scene with a new set of rules. In our scene the composers we work with have room to experiment, to make mistakes, to try whatever they wish. Over the years, we have established a very personal and deep relationship with many composers.We also work a lot with young musicians, we are the ensemble in residence of the Israeli music conservatory Tel Aviv where we work with very young musicians,  also in our two festivals (CEME Tel Aviv and young CEME, SASA) and at the Jerusalem Academy for music and dance where all of us teach (Tedarim-M.Mus in contemporary music) we record a lot, which we find to be a critical tool for the future of the compositions. We are communicating with our growing audience constantly. Their input is vital as they know us so good for many years already. (more on: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7sNBv9XzWo&t=10s and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8aJM8MEocQ8; M.mus in contemporary music at the Jerusalem academy: https://www.jamd.ac.il/en/node/5480)

One of the most interesting things I read in Meitar Ensemble’s biography is the historical 2010 performance you gave alongside German musicians at the place where the notorious Wannsee conference was held 67 years earlier. The performance was made into a documentary, titled “The Wannsee Recordings” directed by Emre Amram Sonmez, which went on to receive the Silver Palm Award for Best Documentary at Mexico International Film Festival. Could you share some of your experiences as being part of this very unique project?

A.D. It was a very intense and emotional day. We have recorded all day long in this weird place. In the same room where it was decided how to eliminate milions of people. Of course that all us have grandparents that have survived the camps. We felt that we did something important in their honor on that day. (please see the link to the movie: http://www.cultureunplugged.com/documentary/watch-online/play/10539/Am-G...)

The Meitar Ensemble has initiated a unique educational youth program, the Tedarim Project, offering young performers, conductors and composers from Israel an opportunity to learn, explore and perform contemporary music on a professional level. Another special music program for children, “What’s that noise?” initiated by you and your colleagues encountered enormous success in Israel. You are also a lecturer at the Academy of Music and Dance in Jerusalem. You obviously feel very passionately about the importance of awakening and nurturing young people’s passion for contemporary music. How do you think new music should be taught?

A.D. It is a tough question. To answer shortly, it should be taught like classical music, like the music you love and believe in. All of us love new music, we do our best to pass this feeling and our enthusiasm to our students. We are doing so by teaching the solo and chamber music repertoire, by performing concerts with our students, we have classes at the academy where we devote a lot of time for research. We try to show to our students, no matter what their age is, the big picture. There are a lot of beautiful things going on today and it is a great privilege to be part of it.

And my last question – what are the main struggles and challenges facing Israeli musicians, conductors, composers and music promoters today, and how do you and your colleagues overcome them?

A.D. The contemporary music is scene is still very young. We are building almost everything from nothing. Of course that we are not alone, there are more groups that take part in it, in their own way of course, but to answer to your question -the greatest struggle and challenges in the music scene today is to give contemporary music status, to establish it on institutional level and to continually give it state support. The music promoters, institutions and creator of cultural policies should feel that they have an obligation to offer composers space and possibilities to create, and to take their chances with them. After 14 years with Meitar I can happily say that the scene in Israel is on the right path. There is still a lot to do but all of us in the Meitar Ensemble are very optimistic.   

Dojrana Prokopieva