The odds of getting an ensemble off the ground can feel like those of launching a new restaurant. Most groups disband within a few short years for reasons that are often similar: Establishing a name in an already crowded market is tough, and the administrative burdens that come with it can make even the most organized group want to crawl into a hole. As the Israeli Chamber Project prepares to celebrate its tenth anniversary, we look back at what brought us here, at the challenges we faced and the lessons we learned along the way.
1 Work With People You Respect
You’ve formed a group and agreed on what to call yourselves – you may even have a couple of concerts lined up. Everyone is energized and the future looks promising, but the honeymoon doesn’t last forever. Soon, you and your new colleagues will face your first challenges – anything from temperamental differences, conflicting opinions on concert offers or how long to hold that fermata. Most likely, you’ll encounter all of these and more.
Conflicts are a natural part of any group dynamic, but when you work with people you respect, it’s much easier to accept those times when your individual input is overruled. You don’t necessarily have to be best friends with your ensemble mates, but what does matter is that you hold each other’s work in high regard and respect one another as people.
With ICP, we had good fortune in that most of our members grew up together in Israel, getting to know one another as part of the country’s small but very lively musical scene. Several of us met as students, so when it was time to come up with a roster, ICP’s founder and clarinetist, Tibi Cziger, already had some people in mind. At the time, pianist Yael Kareth was the only one of us living in Israel. Cziger, cellist Michal Korman, harpist Sivan Magen, violinist Itamar Zorman and I lived in New York, while violist Guy Ben-Ziony and violinist Daniel Bard were based in Europe. Despite the difficulties of running a group across three continents, our commitment to each other as musicians and people strengthened our commitment to the ensemble.
2 Know Your Identity
Knowing your identity is critical for reasons way beyond marketing. Naturally, you want to stand out from other ensembles, but you also need to know what you stand for. Are you a group that champions neglected composers or focuses on the core repertoire? Do your concerts support a broader mission or are you strictly about the music? It is especially powerful if you can point to an origin story, making it easier for people to grasp what sets you apart and why your voice is needed.
Back in 2008, seven of our eight founding members were pursuing careers outside of Israel – emblematic of a broader “brain drain” from the country, where lack of government funding, little to no private philanthropy and a small market severely limited the possibilities for a sustainable career in chamber music. But we all felt a strong connection to our cultural heritage and, wanting to give back to the community that had first guided us, we saw an opportunity to foster connections within Israel’s fragmented society while bringing a distinct musical energy to audiences abroad. Of course, we wanted to do this in a sustainable manner, which led to the birth of ICP.
What started as two annual tours across Israel (including places on the periphery, where live classical music is hard to come by, as well as metropolitan centers), quickly became three, and we were fortunate to bring along such distinguished guest artists as Peter Wiley, Antje Weithaas and Liza Ferschtman. Meanwhile, with five of our members in New York, we established a U.S. base of operations for North American tours. Today, though our founding members are still spread across the globe, we’re able to increase our activities on both sides of the Atlantic through a careful expansion of our roster, long-range planning and intensified fundraising.
3 Have a Clear Idea of Each Member’s Role
There is no one way to run a chamber ensemble. You should feel free to create a structure that suits your particular needs, but it’s very important for everyone to know what they’ve signed up for. Are you the kind of group that reaches decisions by consensus, majority vote or top-down action? Who will handle administrative duties? (And the more success you experience, the more of these you’ll have to deal with.) Establishing roles allows each member to assess whether this ensemble is the right fit. In ICP, only two of our artists take on administrative roles. Tibi Cziger serves as the artistic director. He’s responsible both for programming and the logistics of our Israeli tours. Meanwhile, I serve as executive director and I handle our North American activities. Additionally, our board of directors offers invaluable assistance with the running of the organization, and this allows our artists to focus solely on making music.
4 Flexibility is Key
Things happen. Marital statuses change, people have babies, they move to a different country, they sustain injuries. Any one of these can threaten to derail your hard-earned success. Or, you can choose to turn them into opportunities. ICP has experienced everything mentioned and more (think concertizing through a war zone), and we have always tried to extract the positive from any situation. So a geographical move may wind up strengthening the administrative structure, and an injury provides much needed rest for one member while allowing another to shine. When two of our artists – a couple since pre-ICP days – had their first child, we incorporated feeding stops into our travel schedule. All of us took turns babysitting backstage as the new parents performed, bringing the ensemble closer together. Through all the bumps in the road, what kept ICP going was the connection between our exceptional members and a belief in our core mission – to give back to our home country while showcasing Israeli culture abroad. We have faith in our audience to be moved by a wide range of musical styles if we present them with integrity and humility, and we are continually reminded of music’s power to reach across divides of culture, politics and socioeconomics.
No doubt, there are still many opportunities for growth. But here we are, about to celebrate a decade of meaningful music-making, and we’re looking forward to many more. If our experiences can help launch or sustain your ensemble, we would consider that among our successes as well.
To learn more about the Israeli Chamber Project, visit israelichamberproject.org