New Music – Thoughts and Insights

Working on new music or so-called "contemporary" challenges , Excites, and at the same time takes all energy and concentration and brings out frustration and anger. 


The most difficult task when you learn new music is the preliminary – endless counting beats, and subdivision of beats. Tiring, always frustrating. And there is no reference by ear (Listening to recordings of the piece do not help always). It is like learning a new language. Every new composition is a challenge by itself and is impossible to sight read (Like a new piece by a composer of the 18th and 19th century and even beginning of the 20th century.

Right now I am in the midst of learning the Yosef Tal Trio from 1973. It is not getting easier, even after years of performing new music. So much work and preparation for such an intense and painful composition.


In 10 days I will perform with my new trio, The Alexander Trio the Tal composition, along with a composer - from the younger generation - Hadas Goldschmidt-Halfon, and a trio by a dear friend, Moshe Zorman.


Arik Shapira, a special friend and sort of a mentor  passed away last week (1943-2015) RIP. I premiered two masterpieces of his on 1984 and 1991, and my whole perspective on music changed after working on a repertoire like his. A real avant-guard artist , controversial . One to remember and hopefully music history too.

In general, nowadays I try to find the balance between new and old: Playing only new music is not healthy (as my great mentor Gilbert Kalish said) and one has to work constantly on Beethoven, Schubert, Debussy etc.


But still, (again - this is a quote from Gil Kalish: "You have to perform new music because nobody else will") there is the need to play this music, only history will tell if the music will stay. But generally – (and I do have to tell the students too) what do I get from this? Is the hard work worth it?  


A few insights on the  challenge, the output and the reward of course.

Here are some thoughts and insights:

  • Years ago, in Tanglewood festival, a young student complained to Leon Fleischer: "Why do I have to play this music?" (The contemporary festival , in which every student had to play at least 6 new pieces), Fleischer answered: "so you can understand better Beethoven after".  I agree!

  • Playing atonal, serial or any new music which does not have a tonality makes you more aware of tonal music in perspective.

  • When you encounter new music in playing or listening, you sense sometimes negative feelings. These feeling are important and they have to find a place ino your system.

  • New music makes your playing freer : no fear of other interpretations or recordings, always feeling as a pioneer or creator. There is not enough heritage of interpretation to lean on: you have to count of your senses and the score only.

  • New music of course is relative: Late Beethoven is of course new music for its time.

  • In new music there are less boundaries, and there is more permission to test your limits. Always the feeling is as you are on a cliff: looking down and then up.

  • When I worked on the Ligeti's concerto in 1993 , I spent more than six months learning and working on the piece. It was the most challenging  and exciting piece I ever played (except the Berio concerto "echoing curves", also a four month work). The big reward is that learning repertoire was real fast after that.

Working on Israeli compositions is sort of a mission: many are my colleagues and friends, and their music has to be heard. I never know if the audience will approve or like, but it is essential. It is always a great feeling when the composer is happy. Then you feel you made a little history.


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