The Battle for the Baton

A young conductor chalks up some successes at home.

The situation is nothing new for Noam Tzur, 22 - he already conducted the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra last year in a work by his uncle, composer Menachem Tzur. But the young musician admits that once again he has "butterflies in the stomach."

"The fears and the excitement are especially strong when I have to deal with seemingly simple works, such as Mozart's `Linz' Symphony, which we will be performing this evening in Jerusalem. In other words, with music with which most of the audience is very familiar."

Tzur is the scion of a musical family - his father is a former bassoon player, his mother plays the viola. He had already decided at the start of his studies at the academy in Tel Aviv, where he learned the profession from Itai Talgam and Noam Sharif, that his dream was to be a conductor.

Before that he studied the trombone and some piano. In recent years his life has consisted mainly of taking part in workshops, master classes and competitions in Europe, and also conducting there at regular concerts. This summer he will be conducting in France and Switzerland.

The arena is full of young candidates, says Tzur, and the battle for a baton is difficult. Dozens of conducting students and graduates of music academies travel from competition to competition, from workshop to workshop, seeking to gain prizes, exposure to experts, professional advice, and work offers. For example, one of the competitions featured the opera orchestra from Cassel, Germany, and immediately after Tzur was invited to conduct it.

In April Tzur took part in a big competition in St. Petersburg. He says it was the most demanding and challenging situation he has experienced so far and he is proud that he reached the semifinals.

"I sent the organizers a videotape in which I can be seen in action, and I was among the 40 contestants chosen from all over the world. Twelve of them reached the semifinals. During the first stage I had some luck, when I was chosen by lottery to conduct Sibelius' Second Symphony, with which I was already familiar. During the semifinals the situation was more complicated, of course."

The deep end

"At this stage of the competition, everyone is expected to demonstrate his or her skill at leading an orchestra in a work that is completely unfamiliar to both the conductor and the musicians. This time, a symphony by an unknown Soviet composer was selected. A little bit of luck can do no harm here because those who conduct first or second are at a disadvantage while the orchestra uses them to learn the piece. Naturally, the final competitors work with an orchestra that can play the piece with greater ease.

"I ended up conducting second, and I didn't succeed in reaching the finals. By the way, all six who reached the finals were those who were drawn to conduct last, which appears to prove my theory. But I have no complaints; it is impossible to achieve ideal and perfectly fair conditions."

With which conductor do you dream of working?

"The most important authority is a man who is very familiar to the conducting world, as opposed to the general audience, a man who is not prominent as a conductor. I am referring to the veteran Finnish teacher Jorma Panula, who teaches mainly in Stockholm. The man is 72 years old, people have been coming to him from all over the world for decades, and he has taught at least all the famous Finnish conductors. Interestingly, he also taught Danny Kaye.

"At the rehearsal itself, Professor Panula doesn't say anything to the student, allows each person to work as he wishes, to make mistakes. Afterward he sits with the student, watches the videotape along with him and reviews every tiny detail. The last time I worked with Panula was at a summer course in Estonia, and I still have something to learn from him. The problem is financial as well - each course costs an average of $3,000, including tuition, flights and room and board."

Tzur is continuing for the time being on the expensive and mandatory route. At present he is waiting for responses from four competitions to which he has applied, one in Tokyo, two in Germany and one in Denmark. In the meantime he is chalking up successes at home. Last week he conducted the Tel Aviv Collegium Choir and musicians at the Abu Ghosh Festival, and was immediately invited to conduct at the festival next year too.

In the concert with Tzur and the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, the soloist in Mozart's "Turkish" concerto will be Yevgenia Pikovsky. The concert is this evening at 8:30 P.M. and tomorrow at 6 P.M. at the Henry Crown Auditorium in Jerusalem, and on Saturday night at the Kfar Sava Cultural Center.