The Audience Believes in the Symphonette

Habama Article by Yossi Shiffman

In anticipation of the forthcoming concert season, conductor and musical director of the Raanana Symphonette talks about the unique dialogue between the audience and the orchestra. Furthermore, Keren Kagarlitsky, Oren Lok and Yonatan Cnaan talk about the season program.


"This wouldn’t have happened at the Philharmonic. If the page of the concert season has a text along the lines of "Omer Wellber and his friends take the audience on a worldwide journey". Many subscribers would complain", thus Omer M. Wellber, conductor and musical director of Raanana Symphonette. "Our audience rejoices in such promises. He is ready to embrace these challenges."

What kind of offering is needed to provoke interest from a subscribing audience? Is there a recipe or a formula?

"Each and every orchestra has a different set of relationship with its audience. Every audience is educated in a different way, and this also stems from the time that it has been in contact with the orchestra. It is a process of mutual education, and there's also the wider cultural context. This is true for every orchestra in the world, as well as for the Symphonette. We are lucky in this way because we share a mutual trust with our audience. This is feasible in many ways.

Take for example our last concert with conductor Carlo Goldstein. Advertisements said "improvisations for clarinet. Soloist: Soprano Anna Skibinsky". The audience had no idea what he was about to hear, a piece by Glière, a piece by Gershwin. Not a Tchaikowsky concerto or a Beethoven symphony. And yet this program, fairly undetailed, was a sold-out. Why does it happen? The audience knows that even though, or perhaps because the program does not include pieces by Beethoven, Mozart or Schumann, than something cool, something interesting is bound to happen. That's the way I think, and that's what happens most times if not always."


You are basically saying that the brand name "Symphonette" does the deal. That it's a brand based on trust.

"I'm willing to accept the term "brand" only when it's relegated to the connection between the audience and the orchestra, a connection which we have established mainly during the last decade which has seen a reinforcement of the quality of guest artist and the programs themselves. On the one hand, the quality of the playing itself has risen relatively to other orchestras. On the other hand, we have our unique ideas. A 40 minute oratorio by Ronen Shapira, or Balkan music. These are the things that we're doing. Let's say it like this: If the Israel Philharmonic would advertise a program which didn't have the name of the piece, with a singer singing who knows what and an improvising clarinetist, I'm pretty sure that the audience would have elected not to arrive. The subscriber says "forget it, why bother about it". Our audience says, "something interesting is bound to happen".


The Noises of Dizengoff St.

Is this true for all the programs? Even the ones you conduct?

"Not necessarily. In my concerts there is a different tradition, also based on a dialogue with the audience. But I conduct programs which are slightly more "serious". This is important in order to create the right balance with the other concerts. Performing Israeli pieces is very important to me and the audience is aware of that. So I have a dialogue with the audience and I get many Emails and responses after each concert.

Two years ago a performance of a piece by Ronen Shapira let to some very interesting reactions. On the one hand some letters of reprimand, and on the other hand some love letters to Ronen. One of them, written by an octogenarian woman, claimed that this was one of the most interesting pieces that she has ever heard. She mentioned that all the honks and noises reminded her that when she emigrated from Romania, she used to complain about all the noise in Israel. "And now", she writes, "I'm sitting in a concert and feeling like I'm walking in Dizengoff St."

 "That's what I love about the Symphonette. The audience trusts us, and this leads us when deciding upon our programs. We sometimes have confrontations in the orchestra, even with the GM. I don’t think that in the Israeli music slot, the orchestra needs to play only songs by Sasha Argov. Sometimes Israeli pieces are more approachable and sometimes they're more elaborate. I think that it's all about accustoming the audience to think differently, more artistically and openly."


Pre performance Thoughts.

You are still communicating through your site, Thoughts, in which you share your ideas about pieces with the audience and colleagues?

"The answer is more and less. Less because nowadays I have less time to manage it, in relation to the past. And more, because I also write the program notes myself and try to explain the music to the audience. For example, in my Dresden appearances, when I perform programs which are off the beaten track, considering the taste of the local audience, I find it very important that they are explained correctly. This creates a chain of reaction and many interesting and often unexpected things. "

"To set an example, in a couple of weeks' time I will be in Stuttgart with a fairly ordinary program – Gil Shaham plays Tchaikowsky's violin concerto and the other half has Bruckner's fourth symphony. A few months ago I conducted a program which had pieces by Schubert, Debussy and the German composer Zimmerman and I held a pre concert talk. So now in a telephone call the PR manager of the orchestra told me that people were calling and wanted to know whether I was about to conduct the preconcert dialogue with the audience. Essentially, Gil Shaham could have spoken about the piece he was about to perform. But she says that the audience really wants to know about my vision of the piece and what I want to say through the orchestra. Of course, nothing like "Bruckner was born in this year and died in that year", rather preconcert thoughts."


Does this happen elsewhere?

"I try to lead these kind of talks in most places in which I perform. For example, in a Stockholm program which had dramatic songs by Schnittke and Shostakovich. The audience reacted even throughout the concert. "

That meaning?

"I have also written the program notes for this concert and talked about the relationship between the various pieces. During the concert, the Schnittke piece demanded a different seating arrangement of the orchestra, completely different from the previous piece, and the audience had to sit for nine minutes and watch the technicians as they shifter chairs and music stands. After two minutes someone from the audience stood up and asked whether can someone call the conductor and ask him a few questions. Everybody laughed. The stage director came to the conductor dressing room and asked me whether I would do it. I said yes and it was fascinating, because we talked about Russia, politics and culture politics. It was beautiful. "


One of my Favorite Seasons.

Did you manage to create a preconcert tradition in Raanana?

"We have tried but it didn't work out, because the audience doesn't arrive prior to the concert. It's also a question of numbers. How many people do arrive at these encounters? Around ten percent. When it happens in a 3,000 seat auditorium, you are talking to a 300 people audience. But if the hall holds 350 seats you are talking to 30 people. One must establish a tradition of preconcert talk. The former GM in Munich had established slowly the Sunday talks, something akin to pre premiere. Nowadays these conversations are pre sold and the halls are full."


Could you characterize the forthcoming season?

"First and foremost, it is one of my favorite seasons. I'm really curious about what's on offer, because we have managed a careful and true balance not just between classic and non-classic repertoire, also between the artists themselves and the pieces they're about to play. For example, there is a heightened presence of Israelis living abroad, which something that's fairly new at the Symphonette. I rather like the idea of artist keeping in touch with Israel through the Symphonette.

Personally, I feel the need to constantly remain in contact with Israel, and I'm thrilled that Israeli musicians are inspired by it, and having the Orchestra as the vehicle. I haven't managed all the contacts with the Israeli artists, but violist Gilad Karni, for example, has been discussing the possibility of appearing with the orchestra with me these two years and finally it happens. That's beautiful.

In a similar vein, I'm really pleased to see a rang of Israeli stars famous in Europe and in the USA, now to appear with the Symphonette. Nimrod David Pfeffer will arrive from the Metropolitan Opera of New York, after a very successful run of Don Giovannis at the Israeli Opera a few months ago. Guy Braunstein who served as Konzertmeiser with the Berliner Philharmoniker for ten years and has recently embarked on a career combining conducting and playing, is going to appear with us. Another event which nicely fits the special tradition of the Symphonette creates a first encounter onstage of the two Greilsammer brothers, David and Michael. David, the pianist, is very famous in the contemporary and early music scene and leads the Gnève Chamber Orchestra, very successfully. Michael is a singer and violinist in the reggae and pop spheres and has a fan audience in Israel and France. They have never appeared on the same stage in Israel and this year it happens, in Raanana."


Kagarlitsky's Presence

"Keren Kagarlitsky's presence in the Orchestra's artistic team, alongside myself and David Sebba, the Symphonette's Resident Conductor, is accorded a major outing in the forthcoming season. She has taken responsibility over auditions and her presence will be felt during the subscription series. During the forthcoming season, she will conduct three programs, one of which hosts winners of the Tel-Hai International Masterclasses, taking place next month in Sde Boker. ", thus Omer M. Wellber.

Kagarlitsky has studied conducting under Avner Biron and Stanley Sperber and composition under the guidance of Menahem Wiesenberg at the Jerusalem Academy. Regarding her involvement in the Symphonette's next season she says, "Today my main occupation within the orchestra is conducting and writing arrangements. In order to create a new piece I need a state of mind and I'm not currently there. I will compose when I feel right about it. I'm currently satisfied in occupying my time with conducting and writing arrangements. "


Which of your arrangements are to be played in the forthcoming season?

"During the month of May the orchestra will host the Jerusalem Duo, saxophone player André Tsirlin and harp player Hila Ofek. I've heard them and thought that the audience of the Symphonette must hear them too. They will play various arrangements for their concert with the orchestra and that's where I enter as an arranger. The summit of their joint concert will be Mozart's concerto for flute harp, but here the flute part is replaced by a soprano saxophone, to be played by Tsirlin. I was pretty sceptic at first, hearing about the idea, but then I heard them and the flute solo was utterly transformed. I promise that the audience will be as moved as I was. "


The Mantra of the Musical

"In January I will conduct another special program with the JAMD Chamber Choir. It is an exciting piece previously premiered by the orchestra at the Stresa Festival in Lombardia, Italy. Composer Oren Lok has interwoven ancient Tibetan mantras into an orchestral and choral fabric, under the guidance of Lama Gangchen Rinpoche. We will share the North Italian success with our own Raanana audience."

"The structure of the piece is a whole meditative cycle, as performed in the Buddhist ceremony", says Oren Lok, the composer. "Each movement is based upon Tibetan Buddhist Mantras. The mantras per se are simple tunes, fairly similar to Gregorian chants. They are built from a fairly small number of notes. Each mantra serves as an anchor to the movement.

Each mantra or prayer has its own personality, textually and musically. When composing the piece, I took that grain of personality and developed it into the symphonic movement that I thought it wanted to become. Some of the mantras took center stage, others were more in the shadow. Some became movements full of humor and others more solemn movements. Each mantra has personally evoked in myself counter subjects and other kinds of melodies. In my opinion the final outcome is rather like a reflection upon meditation and life, which is often the opposite of meditation."

Composer and conductor Yonatan Cnaan, already renowned as composer of musicals for the Bat Yam festival and the Broadway festival, will conduct one of the subscription series programs. Alongside the classic repertoire which includes pieces by Respighi, Mozart and Prokofiev, he will also conduct his own piece – A Theatre Song Suite to be performed by Eti Vaknin.

Cnaan talks about the piece, "This is a theatre piece with roots in the world of the Musical. It is essentially a string of musical monologues of various women, very colorful and unusual characters, a musical description of a critical moment in life. A mother in law teaches her daughter in law about the concept of marriage. A delusional mother of a naïve daughter sings to her neighbors about the brilliant future which awaits her daughter and herself. We will get acquainted with all the characters during February", promises Cnaan.