Composer Noam Sheriff Wins Israel Prize for Music

The musical director of several Israeli orchestras, including the Rishon Letzion Symphony Orchestra, receives NIS 100,000 in prize money.

Composer and conductor Noam Sheriff has won the Israel Prize in music, which comes with NIS 100,000. The selection committee included the director of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, Ilan Schul; composer and arranger Rafi Kadishson; and composer Betty Olivero.

The committee noted that Sheriff is "an artist and performer of international stature," who has been widely recognized and has "made a deep impression on musical culture in Israel."

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Sheriff is an active teacher and educator, "whose students include many of the leading musicians in Israel and around the world," the committee noted, and he has been awarded other prestigious prizes.

He was born January 7, 1935 and grew up in Tel Aviv and studied with composer Paul Ben-Haim. He also studied philosophy at the Hebrew University. From 1959 to 1961, he studied at Berlin's Hochshule fur Musik. He has maintained his contacts with Berlin's musical circles and taught music theory at the Cologne Academy of Music in the 1980s. Sheriff's sister is the late poet Bat-Sheva Sheriff and his wife is the composer Ella Milch-Sheriff, who also has a thriving career.

Sheriff burst onto the scene in 1957, at the opening of the Mann Auditorium, when his composition "Festival Prelude" was chosen by Leonard Bernstein for its premiere performance. In 1959, he won the Philharmonic Prize again, this time for his "Song of Degrees."

An active composer, conductor and educator, Sheriff is the musical director of several Israeli orchestras, the most important being the Rishon Letzion Symphony Orchestra. In that role, he began performing the works of Richard Strauss, which had been banned in Israel, and the German composer has since been performed on concert stages across Israel.

Sheriff stresses in interviews the connection between conducting and composing and mentions in this context, as a shining example, his favorite composer, Gustav Mahler, who was the conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

The three most talked about works in Sheriff's repertoire are the oratorio "Mechaye Hametim" (Revival of the Dead ), widerly performed around the world; "A Sephardic Passion" (performed in Spain in 1992, the 500th anniversary of the expulsion of the Jews; and "Psalms of Jerusalem." Other important milestones include teaching at and managing the academy of music in Tel Aviv. He currently is musical director and conductor of the Haifa Symphony Orchestra.

Sheriff, a music instructor for many years, showed that it is possible to explain works to listeners with no formal music education and endear them to the audience. He does so with charisma and a non-academic, straightforward way of speaking, not to mention his humor. He pioneered concerts with explanations, when in 1972 he developed the Saturday morning 11:11 series at Tzavta in Tel Aviv. The copycats were many.

Leading musicians perform his works, here and abroad - the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic, the Bavaria State Radio Orchestra and the BBC Orchestra. Apart from "serious" music, he has composed scores for dramas and comedies, including Ilan Eldad's "Sinaia" and Ephraim Kishon's "Te'alat Blaumilch" (The Allenby Canal ) and for documentaries and radio skits.

The Israel Prize announcement was made Monday night by Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar.