At Kfar Blum, a Hello and a Goodbye

The Upper Galilee Chamber Music Festival adds classes for strings and vocalists, while bidding farewell to its director of 11 years.

The acoustics happen to be particularly good at the hall of Kfar Blum, which is where Idit Zvi of Israel Radio's Voice of Music set up the Kfar Blum festival 26 years ago. Its correct name is the Upper Galilee Chamber Music Festival. The regional council helps run it. The formula is simple: Chamber concerts in the evenings and the same groups rehearse in the mornings, an opportunity for the public to hear them free.

The evening concerts were broadcast live on the radio but over the years, as the Israel Broadcasting Authority encountered financial difficulties, the broadcasts were substantially reduced. After 14 years at the concert helm, Zvi (a pianist ) gave way to for a year to Uri Pianka (a violinist ) and then to an esteemed Jerusalem musician, flutist Michael Melzer. He is deputy director of the Jerusalem Academy of Music, has for the most part produced outstanding students and is someone who can explain music and communicates with audiences well.

Melzer, while keeping with the original enterprise, added light concerts in open-air venues in the afternoon hours and popular concerts in Upper Galilee spots close to the festival. The musicians who perform at Kfar Blum are mostly familiar faces to those who attend concerts in the big cities plus a few guests, usually Israeli musicians based abroad. The regional council highlights it role by having the supervisor of the culture portfolio join "the well-wishers to the audience" and the artists on stage.

Rumors of friction between the artistic and administrative managements were taken as a normal occurrence between those who study and those who provide sustenance. The regional council's concrete support is evident in ticket sales, sponsorship and funding when income does not cover expenses, mostly incurred in musicians' stays at the Pastoral Hotel in Kfar Blum. This item is not small, to put it mildly.

Michal Fattal

Meltzer announced this year's festival (July 26 through August 2 ) will be his last as artistic director. In a conversation, he stressed that the festival's financial problems are not the reason for his decision. Its annual budget peaked at NIS 1.5 million and the enterprise yielded a profit most of the years he was in charge. Ticket sales grew the last six or seven years (except during the Second Lebanon War ). So why is he leaving?

Because Upper Galilee people, he says, are not interested in change or more concerts outside Kfar Blum. "It was always a fight," he says. "The [regional] council people are unwilling to support or approve special artistic initiatives and always prefer to play it safe and stick to Mozart and Brahms only."

Michael Melzer is not among those who advocate exposing audiences to challenging modernist experiments; he himself is known for nurturing ties to Baroque music. The Kfar Blum Festival never appeared inclined to experiments that a conservative audience might be afraid of.

How does the council help the festival in ongoing management?

Melzer: "It provides administrative staff and ushers.

It's not clear you even had to consult with them about the concert programs.

"The truth is, I have no answer. Maybe I was just being too nice."

The obvious question is whether it's possible to hold the festival without any ties to the regional council. Melzer and the others involved decline to address the question, but it may be something being considered. Critical here is the cost of hosting artists at the expensive Pastoral Hotel. Melzer angrily notes that the hotel, which owes at least part of its success to the reputation created by the festival, does not offer any significant discounts to the annual music festival, which reserves dozens of rooms.

The regional council responded to Meltzer's remarks:

"The Voice of Music Festival in the Upper Galilee is a function of the Upper Galilee Regional Council. The council is the initiator, organizer and producer of the festival.

"The council's culture department is the organizational anchor of the festival and has been for all the years of its existence. The department is not involved in the festival's programs and never dealt with them. The festival's budget is built each year by the festival director in collaboration with the committee. The artistic program is derived from the financial framework.

"In all the years of the festival, the council supported it directly with funding, services and production work and even guaranteed financial deficits. Prof. Michael Melzer is the festival director for the 11th year - and he played a major role in the reputation the festival built up and for that he has earned the thanks of festival-goers over the years."

An innovation

The most prominent innovation this year is a merger with another summer project that the Jerusalem Academy of Music has run in the Jezreel Valley - the international summer institute for strings and voice for young musicians. This time the institute, whose artistic director is the cellist Zvi Plesser, is moving to Kfar Blum and will run parallel to the festival. It features both local and guest teachers. The public may attend the classes free.

The rest of the program adheres to the regular pattern with two events standing out: performances of a 16th century comedy in a production by directed by Julia Pevzner (an Israeli making her mark on stages abroad ) and Beethoven's "Kreutzer Sonata." The sonata will be performed in its standard version (for violin and piano ) and also in an arrangement for a quintet. There will also be a tribute piece to the sonata by Michael Wolpe and a lecture by him that promises insights into the performance of the work in Beethoven's day. Another Beethoven attraction will be the eighth symphony in a chamber version.

Artists participating in the festival include violinist Jonathan Brick and violist Ran Efrat, both based abroad; pianists Ohad Ben-Ari and Jonathan Zak (who will accompany singer Rona Israel-Kolat in a Schumann lieder ); guitarists and cellists from abroad, including Gary Hoffman; and flutist Moshe Epstein. Singers include guest tenor Domenico Baltzani from Italy, Yaela Avital, Anat Edri and Maria Kavalsky.

Lovers of new music will be interested in a concert by the composers' forum, featuring works for a female singer and instruments by Hagar Kadima, Tzipi Fleisher, Hadas Goldschmidt, Alona Epstein and Tali Assa. Festival concerts will also star young soloists on strings (participants in the summer institute ) with the Israel Chamber Orchestra, and there will also be a special performance for children of Mozart's short opera "Bastienne and Bastienna."