The Piano Festival at Tel Aviv's Suzanne Dellal Center, opening Wednesday and running for five days, will deliver on the audience's expectations of witnessing the unexpected, says Etti Anetta-Segev, the festival's artistic director.

"I think this festival is not entirely in the mainstream," Anetta-Segev says. "This festival takes place in relatively smaller halls, it doesn't need to attract audiences in the thousands, and therefore there is no justification for focusing only on the mainstream. Around a third of the performances are mainstream types; then there is the second group of promising young performers; and the last group consists of alternative works.

"The festival audience is looking for these things," she says. "It's a curious audience that is searching. They come thinking 'let's see what's new' and they know that we will select for them the most interesting alternative artists. The proof is in the fact that the concerts that sell out first are not necessarily the ones you'd expect to sell out. This year, for example, the Collective's concert was one of the first and fastest to sell out."

Anetta-Segev, who is in her fifth year as the festival's artistic director, says "the first requirement of participating artists is to something different. There's no point in coming to the piano festival to see a routine performance by, let's say, Yizhar Ashdot."

But the example Anetta-Segev gives actually reveals the dual nature of the piano festival, which does indeed like to experiment but is also careful not to exaggerate with the experiments.

Ashdot performed at the Piano Festival three years ago together with Rea Mochiach and assorted keyboards and other gimmicks. The piano on the stage remained idle. "I thought it was nice, it was an interesting interpretation of the concept of the festival," says Anetta-Segev, "but some in the audience were disappointed. We received letters of complaint. But when I say 'something different' it need not necessarily be too large a deviation. Sometimes it's enough if people limit the size of the band or bring a piano to a concert where there usually isn't one."

She says the piano is the codeword for the festival's artistic concept: "A piano is an instrument with a tremendous range. It's a string instrument and also a percussion instrument. It's classical and also rock 'n' roll. It has an endless richness and it connects many loose ends. This is the source from which the various festival concerts are derived. The goal is numerous styles of music, to open up, expand and try to focus as much as possible: to choose the best things."

Can she recommend a few notable concerts among the 35 in the festival?

"Firstly," she says in an ironic teacher's tone, "the tribute to Batzir Tov [in which Ilan Virtzberg, Eran Tzur, Yirmi Kaplan, Dana Adini and Daniel Solomon perform Virtzberg and Shimon Gelbetz's wonderful album of poems by Yona Wallach]. It's an old dream of mine, and it's one of the most beloved Israeli albums, an album that sounds great today as well.

"Another thing I'm proud of is the Yishai Levy concert," Anetta-Segev continues. "He's much more than a Middle Eastern singer. He's always done things a little differently; his whole approach to singing, to the presentation of a text. He doesn't live in the world of endless musical trills."

Mediterranean piano?

Anetta-Segev makes sure to include at least one Mizrahi singer in each festival, but says "the Mediterranean genre is less excited about a piano festival. They need to create another show, not the usual Middle Eastern party and they are not always excited about that. It's easier to get Eran Tzur excited about these things. It also doesn't pay off commercially: to invest a great effort in a concert for 300 people that might not continue after the festival."

Anetta-Segev also focuses the spotlight on Ram Orion's concert, which will host Rogel Alper ("his last album is terrific and moving, and this concert is going to be completely poetic," she says ); the concert where Arik Berman sings Nick Cave (and hosts Rona Kenan ); the Danny Sanderson concert, which will highlight songs from his fine first solo album, "Godel tiv'i"; the concert by Netanela, who will host Linoi Akala, a participant on "Kochav Nolad" (appearing at the recommendation of Anetta-Segev, who was excited by Akala's musicality on the television show ).

This year, like last year, the festival does not have a gala opening event. Is that intentional?

"The tribute to Batzir Tov was supposed to open the festival, but it moved to Friday because of technical considerations, so it's not intentional. However, I feel that perhaps there is no real basis for a gala opening concert. In the festival's first years, the focus was on pianists such as Yoni Rechter and Shlomo Gronich, but how many times can you feature Yoni and Gronich? The festival has moved a little away from there and maybe because of that I didn't make the effort and didn't insist on having a big opening."

The full name of the festival is "the piano hosts" and in most of this year's concerts, the main artist will host another artist. Experience shows, at least the way I see it, that in many cases the hosting is forced and affects the performance. What does Anetta-Segev think about this?

"I agree with you," she says. "Sometimes it really is forced, and I'd be happy if there was a little less hosting. If it were up to me alone, there would be a little less. But sometimes the artists themselves want to check if a certain connection works, and apart from that, the festival is influenced by what's happening elsewhere - and elsewhere, everyone is hosting someone."

Here's an opportunity for you to function as an alternative.

"I agree with you 100 percent. I also tell the artists: host someone unknown. You don't have to feature Rita, who is a wonderful guest. Host some young and brilliant keyboardist, host your grandmother. That's the fun thing in the festival, but I agree that in general it would be okay to ease up a bit on the guest artists."