The members of the Israeli Chamber Project live all over the world, but for more than a decade this ensemble has remained committed to both their music and each other. They have emerged as one of the leading chamber groups of our day, performing at venues like Carnegie Hall and London’s Wigmore Hall, and appearing on radio programs for NPR and WQXR. Throughout their career, the group continues to carry on a mission of bringing music to some of the more remote places in the world and using their art to unify disparate peoples.
Readers of 21CM will already be familiar with ICP through pianist Assaff Weisman’s essays describing how the group persisted through their first decade, as well as how their music has helped bridge social and political divides. During a recent visit to DePauw University, 21CM director Mark Rabideau took the opportunity to chat with Weisman, violist Guy Ben-Ziony and clarinetist Tibi Cziger about the importance of getting out of the practice room, why every musician should prioritize learning about the business of music and why playing for young children can make such a difference.
Mark Rabideau: I think one lesson [of “The Art of Listening”] is to learn to better empathize with one another.
Assaff Weisman: Empathy is a big word here. God knows we need it, in this day and age. As artists, we’re trained from a very young age to be in a small room with ourselves, with our sound. Criticizing ourselves, seeking our personal truth. That can lead to a kind of insular lifestyle, where we’re just in ourselves – in our heads – all the time. I think it’s important to realize that it’s a big world out there. I certainly didn’t go into music with the purpose of effecting big changes – I went into it for personal satisfaction and pleasure – but when you realize that what you have is something that can move people – what a shame not to use that.
Rabideau: Guy, you seemed particularly elated when you were playing in the public schools for kids who had such a powerful, visceral response to the most contemporary music you performed. I could see how pleased and hopeful that made you feel.
Guy Ben-Ziony: I was surprised. I didn’t expect that. My friends told me that they’ve experienced this more often, but it was wonderful to see. We played [György] Kurtág. This is a composer that’s still alive, and his music is not at all compromising or trying to be kind to the ears. It’s really modern music at its best but it’s also very sophisticated. It was a short piece, but that was the thing they clapped [for the most]. We spoke about it with them and played it again.
I grew up in a small town in the north of Israel. I remember artists coming to our little town and my father taking me to listen to them. These things really touched me. I remember moments of amazing inspiration as a child, and I heard musicians I actually play with today. I’ve said [to them], more than 30 years ago, you came to our little town and you played this and this piece. They are amazed, and I find it so nice. I hope someday someone will come to me and say the same thing.
Rabideau: You all grew up in Israel, but you’ve moved around the world. Some still live in Israel, some are in the States, and some are in other places. How do you balance that, logistically?
Weisman: I’m often asked to come and give talks at conservatories about launching an ensemble. I highly stress to the students how difficult it is when all of the people are not in the same place. The logistical elements are just compounded. Everything becomes challenging with visas and travel. Now many of our members have families and kids, so there’s also childcare when people are away for a long period of time. All of that has to be considered. So I highly recommend [that] beginning ensembles not do that! Don’t learn from us! Do something different. But as long as we’re here, we’re going to try and make it work.
Rabideau: What are some of the skills that you wish you had learned earlier in the process?
Ben-Ziony: Today, orchestras are not as safe [secure] a working place [as they once were]. We see orchestras close down. I think academies should teach people to think out of the box. Because even if you get the job, I’m not sure everybody’s happy with it. You secure yourself a salary every month, but you’re into a machine which kind of often kills your creativity.
Tibi Cziger: When I left [Israel] at age 22 for [the University of Southern California] to do my master’s, I remember I was struck by how professional everything was. How seriously people take themselves when it comes to music administration. That’s something here [in the United States] that’s probably taken for granted. For listeners around the world, this is not as common. It’s something they can learn from. The field of business of music should be taught – it’s a business like any other business. You have to have that strong base to let those artists do what they have to do.
Weisman: When I think about myself as a college student in New York, my path now seems very likely. I had no interest in anything besides the craftsmanship of playing the instrument. I thought that was the only thing that would ever be important. It was only many years later after founding this ensemble that I found out that I might have some other qualities that might be useful. I think that every conservatory student should be able to craft a business plan, read a balance sheet, take writing classes and get out of the practice room. I absolutely consider the instrumental playing and the artistry the most important thing, but you will not have a career if you are in the practice room. That’s not where the world is, that’s not where life is. You have to get outside and talk to people.
These interview highlights have been edited for clarity and length.