Artist Interview: Israeli Chamber Project
Now in its second decade, the Israeli Chamber Project (ICP) brings distinguished musicians together for what Time Out New York says is “not a muster of peacocks, but a hive mind in which egos dissolve and players think, breathe and play as one.” For the final concert in our 33rd season, we sat down with pianist Assaff Weisman to discuss their program, the mission of this collective, and their goals moving forward.
Erik Petersons: Your program with the Society on May 15th is entitled Jewish Voices and features four rarely-heard works. How did this program come together and what can the audience be listening for?
Assaff Weisman: One of the driving forces behind ICP's programming is an exploration of lesser-known works that we believe are worthy of attention. As much as we love the standard repertoire (and we do!), we find that repeating the same list of familiar works can sometimes feel stale and predictable and robs both musicians and audiences from expanding their horizons and discovering some truly magnificent music that surprises and delights in a way only a new work can. It may come as a surprise, but despite the name of our ensemble, this was the first program we curated around Jewish composers. We love the stylistic breadth that this program offers, despite its focused theme—from Karl Goldmark's unabashed romanticism, to Copland's unmistakable, jazz-infused American voice, to Bernard Herrmann finding inspiration in music of the British Isles and Italy, and Shulamit Ran's humorous modernist edge. Her Private Game for clarinet and cello takes on an additional hidden meaning in our ensemble, performed by our husband-and-wife team of Tibi Cziger and Michal Korman.
EP: How did the Israeli Chamber Music Project form? Tell us about the mission of the group and how much time you spend together every year.
AW: ICP was formed ten years ago. At that time our founding members were living in the U.S. and Europe—a result of the immense challenges of funding for the arts in Israel. We formed the ensemble in order to create a framework that would allow us to return to Israel, our home, more frequently to perform, teach, and give something back to the place where we began our musical journeys. At the same time, we wanted to use our presence in the U.S. as a base from which we could tour and showcase Israeli culture to audiences abroad. We hold three tours in Israel each season and about the same in North America, with additional concerts in Asia or Europe. The group gets together for an intense period of rehearsal prior to each tour so we see each other off and on throughout each season.
EP: What has been the most interesting or memorable place you have performed as an ensemble?
AW: We've been fortunate to perform at some spectacular venues over the years—from Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall to Weill Hall at the Green Music Center in Sonoma and Beijing's Forbidden City Concert Hall. And while it is tremendously exciting to perform at such high-profile venues, it is often our outreach work in smaller communities and schools that is the most memorable and gratifying. One of the first such experiences was at a jazz club in Israel's southern Negev Desert. Tibi, Itamar, and I performed Bartók's Contrasts for an audience of parents and kids who were seated on the floor around us, while I battled an old upright piano and all three of us dealt with the challenging acoustics. Still, the energy and concentration in the room were palpable, and I would like to think that those present remember this performance as well as we still do.
EP: Having just celebrated your tenth anniversary as an ensemble, how has the group evolved over the past decade? What are your goals moving forward?
AW: Our group was very much a start-up, and we've been lucky for it to have found an audience and continued to grow over the past decade. Perhaps some of whatever success we have found can be attributed to the fact that we didn't know any better (launching a non-profit during the heart of the 2008 financial crisis, for example) and just forged ahead, trying to bring our vision to life. Going forward our goal is to keep expanding our reach to new audiences and impact more underserved communities. We are thrilled to make our London debut this season at Wigmore Hall and to offer some new outreach programs to schools in Israel, the NYC area, and beyond.
EP: The day after your concert, you will be holding a master class for students in the city. Describe the master class experience and what you hope students will take away from the experience.
AW: Each masterclass experience is very different because it is a dynamic between unique individuals. As such, we try not to come into these interactions with a set agenda but instead hope to make a connection with students by listening carefully and getting to know them through their playing. Our hope is to offer them something to take away from the experience that will help them grow as musicians and people.
The Israeli Chamber Project performs on Wednesday, May 15, at 7:30 pm at the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater. For tickets, visit the concert page. For more information about ICP, visit their website or Assaff Weisman’s articles on the formation, mission, and history of the group that he contributed to 21st Century Musician.