Upside-down kind of concert
A music festival in Tel Aviv aims to disrupt the musical order of regular concerts of classical music, rock or jazz and pop.
The term "hafarot seder" - disturbances - was coined during the first intifada as a neutral term for something between legitimate protest and riots. Now Ilan Volkov, the director of a new contemporary music festival running this evening through Saturday at the Left Bank Club in Tel Aviv (from 7 P.M. till midnight) has chosen this term for a description of the festival. It aims to disrupt the musical order of regular concerts of classical music, rock or jazz and pop. There will be electronic music and noise, intuitive music, free improvisation and underground bands, inventive instruments, avant-garde and installation music, all mixing together in a small basement club in the heart of the city.
"I would never have managed to organize this sort of thing abroad in just two months," says Volkov, "even though my name is known much better there than here. In Israel it is easy to telephone people, and rock or electronic musicians are not surprised when someone from the classical music world phones them."
Volkov, 28, has been conducting symphony orchestras for about 10 years. When he was 19 he conducted England's Northern Sinfonia and three years later was invited to be the assistant to the amazing Seiji Ozawa at the Boston Philharmonic, which he conducted during subscribers' concerts. Now Volkov is the chief conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, and the youngest conductor ever to lead a BBC orchestra. He has conducted operas in Glyndebourne and Proms festival concerts, conducted soloists such as Daniel Barenboim and Mstislav Rostropovich and made guest appearances with the New York, London, Detroit and Atlanta philharmonic orchestras.
How do you come from there to installations and noise?
"Until high school, I really listened only to classical music," says Volkov, "but at Thelma Yellin [High School in Tel Aviv], I met people with different ideas, and I fell in love with that music. Today everything is open: Radiohead can make noise, and noise music is quite acceptable among young people, albeit mainly in a rhythmic framework, but quite often even when the beat is removed, they don't find it strange."
Volkov feels that change is inevitable, even in the classical orchestras.
"These days you find works with electrical and electronic instruments and a mixture of all the possible styles.
"I think that in another 50 years the orchestra will look completely different: the players will be multi-instrumental, the violinists will know how to play Arabic violins, the wind players will master saxophones and flutes, harpists will play African harps, and of course the music will change accordingly. For children this mixing is natural even now.
"I love the classical repertoire," says Volkov, but do not surrender to the dictates of the orchestras that invite me.
He can afford to quibble
"They have to sell tickets and think that if their program includes works written after 1920, sales will fail, but they are mistaken. When I receive offers to conduct only the romantic repertoire, and this applies to most of the offers, these days I can afford to quibble.
"Not long ago, for example, I demanded a work by Gyorgy Ligeti. Perhaps the musicians did not understand what they were doing, but the final result was just fine."
"An orchestra," he says, "needs someone who has his finger on the pulse, who will search for contemporary music, who will listen to a lot of discs in all the styles and read a lot of sheet music, and who know how to choose what is best. That is a full-time job, and orchestras don't have money to employ such a person."
Volkov says that this leads to the formation of "ghettos," with each orchestra locked in its own style and the various locales not adapting themselves to the changing times.
"Young people do not enjoy going to the Tel Aviv Museum," says Volkov, "and older folks will not feel comfortable at the Left Bank."
Still, Volkov initiated this festival, which he says is just the opening chord for more such events.
"I have no budget, only a love for music," he says, stressing the volunteer enlistment of all the artists and the symbolic rental the club is charging. He promises to keep his audience apprised of upcoming events via the festival's Web site (www.hafarotseder.com), where MP3 clips from the concerts will also be available.
One of the prominent names at the festival is avant-garde pianist Mila Donietz, who is a member of the Biluim rock band and founder of the contemporary Givol Choir. Tonight she will be presenting a work that no one knows, and which is therefore called "Hafta'a" ("Surprise"); Donietz will also perform in what the program defines as the illusory version of "Midnight Peacocks," with Yoni Silver, Haggai Fershtman and ("the legendary") Hezi Shohet - musicians who are also connected with the local fringe music scene.
Friday opens with "Tsinor Hakesem" ("The Magic Pipe"): inventive instruments such as the pipebone, pipes, wind instruments, a monkey wrench and computers - an electronic-acoustic arrangement by musician Asaf Talmudi. The sounds practically decide for themselves how to play this work, in its premiere performance. The music is based, among other things, on the feedback between the source of the sound and its recording. Like the previous evening, there will also be some grating stylistic contrasts, with this grating actually being the desired effect: Saxophonist Harold Rubin, who plays practically only free improvisation, will try a written piece called "Charisma" by avant-garde composer Iannis Xenakis; alongside an ensemble of classical musicians playing contemporary avant-garde music and the electronic experimental choir, "17 MiGs of Spring," considered pioneers of the underground Russian scene in Israel.
"This music has a larger audience than people think," says Volkov. "People love improvisation and are open to these types of sounds. Here in Israel, however, everything is a bit restricted: It is impossible to earn a living from this type of music, and the good artists operate overseas and do not come here often enough to have an influence, plus there is a limit to what one can learn from discs."
What is your motivation for coming from the outside and founding something here?
"I have done nothing so far in Israel, and the time has come to be involved and also to help bring the many free jazz composers and players who are wandering around abroad and who will certainly not be back."