Violin Worship at Kibbutz Eilon

Thirty-eight budding violinists from abroad braved the security situation to attend the Keshet Eilon Violin Mastercourse - which ends August 12 with a gala concert in Tel Aviv.

Keshet Eilon is an educational enterprise that entices both ear and eye. Its international atmosphere is stoked by students from a wide variety of countries - from the United States to Korea - and by the participation of famous instructors, some of whom have for years been symbols of the art of the string instrument (including Shlomo Mintz, Ida Haendel and Ivry Gitlis).

The violin master course at Kibbutz Eilon radiates youthful charm as well as seriousness, diligence and ambition. It is imbued with a healthy competitiveness that is softened by new friendships and the pride of belonging to this singular institution.

As for the audience - even music aficionados who are wary of overdosing on violin sounds are likely to change their tune after attending the workshop. There are private lessons open to the public, master classes, serious concerts, light performances on the lawn (featuring violin folklore from the world over), a workshop on making and maintaining the violin, and even physiotherapy lessons for string players in pain.

Keshet Eilon is primarily a one-man project, the work of a kibbutz member who - to his own surprise - turned out to be a master fund raiser and administrator full of infectious enthusiasm. Gilad Sheba, born in Eilon, scion of the founders of the kibbutz, spent 25 years as a music teacher in the regional school. But for the past 12 years, he has exerted all of his energies in the workshop, a non-profit association that began with an annual budget of NIS 150,000 and which has now swelled to nearly NIS 400,000.

Kibbutz Eilon has its share of financial difficulties, and has gone through a painful privatization process, but the violin workshop (which is not part of the official kibbutz economy) continues to grow and prosper. A new concert hall was dedicated two years ago, and the budget to complete its furnishings acoustic treatment has been assured. An old barn has been transformed into a pleasant, modern building with a rich musical library, and study rooms.

Donors and admirers

Sheba does it all with the help of donors and admirers, in Israel and abroad. Their money makes it possible to carry on the master course that is held for three weeks every summer, as well as the new facilities. In an effort to secure additional funding in the long term, fundraiser concerts are held during the year in the homes of Keshet Eilon's benefactors in cities such as Herzliya, Brussels and New York. The Ministry of Culture chips in with partial funding - last year it was NIS 350,0000, of which about half was allocated to the new construction.

The benefactors include the Yoo family - Korean-Americans who live in Belgium. The Yoos recently held a concert in Brussels to help raise funds for the master course. Esther Yoo, 8 years old, may not yet be an official student at Keshet Eilon but she has been in Eilon the past two summers - with her mother and nanny. This was to be exposed to the atmosphere, as well as to get private lessons from the inspired violin instructor Itzhak Rashkovsky, who carries the burden of music director of the workshop. (Rashkovsky's base during the rest of the year is London, where he lives with his wife, the outstanding Israeli violinist Ani Schnarch, who also teaches at the workshop).

How can anyone explain the ability of the mastercourse to continue drawing students from abroad at a time such as this? Some of the explanation may be attributed to the fact that nearly half the students already study with the workshop's instructors in their home countries, year round. One notable phenomenon is the teacher Nam-Yun Kim from Seoul, who arrived in the Galilee with a flock of nine students. She continues to teach her students at Eilon, but they also receive tips and lessons from the other instructors on staff.

Here are some more facts about Keshet Eilon:

* Recidivism - the students come back. A perusal of the roster of students shows that at least 50 percent are repeat students (the best known among the students is the virtuoso David Garrett).

* Cost. Participation in the workshop costs $2,000, but only one-quarter of the students pay the full fee. The others receive scholarships (including all of the students from Russia, and most of the Israelis).

* Volunteering. Shlomo Mintz (whose official title is "Patron") and Itzhak Rashkovsky teach without remuneration, and the other teachers receive what Sheba calls "an honorarium" (he says that in contrast to the wages paid at sought-after workshops abroad, which can amount to $1,000 a day, here they suffice with a few hundred dollars for the entire workshop).

* Conditions. The students live at the dormitory of the school in Eilon, in rooms of two to four people (albeit with air-conditioning).

As for Israeli violinists at the workshop - this year there were ten - are they the best students of violin in Israel? Gilad Sheba says no, "not always, not every year."

Why? "Because sometimes an entire group of excellent Israeli students may go abroad for the summer with their teacher. There are workshops for young violinists there, too," he says.

The Keshet Eilon Violin Mastercourse will come to a close this Monday, August 12, with a march of violinists (accompanied by piano) that will be held at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center.

The concert will open with a performance by seven students - from Korea, Yugoslavia, Kazakhstan, Japan, Russia and Armenia - representing the all-star squad for this season. Afterward, as every year, the entire plenary ensemble of all 60 participants in the master course - students and teachers - will play a selection of musical works, with all hands on strings.