Opening the chamber of secrets

Oct. 27, 2009

On Wednesday night, the Israel Chamber Orchestra (ICO) opens its new season with a program that features Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto, performed by the 1977 Arthur Rubinstein Piano Competition winner Gerhard Oppitz, as well as Symphony #4 by the same composer and the world premier of Jan Radzinsky's Double Concerto for Violin and Cello.

The place on the podium will be taken by Roberto Paternostro, the orchestra's newly appointed artistic advisor. The romance between the ICO and the busy international conductor, who was born in Vienna to Venetian parents, studied with Hans Swarowsky, Christoph von Dohnanyi and Gyorgy Ligeti and later became the assistant to Herbert von Karajan, started three years ago.

"I conducted Mozart's early opera Il Re Pastore, performed by the ICO and soloists. Then an all-Mozart program followed and both the orchestra, the audience and the critics responded enthusiastically, so we started thinking how we could continue our collaboration in a more connected way," says the tall and charismatic Paternostro as he sits in a street caf? in the very heart of Tel Aviv. "Finally, in mid-February 2009, I was offered the position of artistic advisor, and as such I have the authority to create season programs, to invite soloists and to take the orchestra on tours. In fact, these are the responsibilities of an artistic director."

Recalling his early student days in Vienna, Paternostro says that "the Israeli Chamber Orchestra once had a great name and everyone came to play with it; Shlomo Mintz, Rudolf Barshai, Pinhas Zukerman, to name a few. So I told the ICO management that I am eager to do everything I can in order to try and bring the orchestra back to the place where it should be both artistically and financially."

A WELL-CONNECTED European musician, Paternostro has already cared for international exposure for the ICO.

"For 2010," he says, "I've got invitations to two important festivals in Austria. One is the Haydn Festival in Eisenstadt which takes place every September in Esterhazi Palace, with all the major orchestras - such as the Vienna and Berlin philharmonics - coming there to perform. Then, two days after Haydn Festival, we move to the Brukner Festival in Linz. This is important because all of the press is there and in Austria they have enough money to pay to musicians."

Paternostro is also finalizing details for an ICO tour in Germany in December 2010 with pianist Elena Bashkirova as soloist. Recordings are also on the way.

"I will try and bring fine conductors and soloists to the ICO, and my old friend pianist Gerhard Oppitz is just the first," he says.

But important as they may be, the international tours are only a part of Paternostro's program.

"For this orchestra, technique is not a problem at all - it has excellent string, woodwind and brass sections. I suggest that what [the musicians] need is to work on developing their signature sound under the guidance of one conductor, rathen than different guest conductors. This season, aside from tours, I have five concerts with the ICO and this is a great deal of time to work together.

Paternostro explains that part of the process is making correct choice in terms of repertoire. "I live in Vienna, but my father is Italian - I will bring his knowledge of Austrian music and Italian fire," he smiles kindly, adding that he is happy that Austrian violinist Elizabeth Wallfisch will work with the orchestra on Baroque music programs, of which she is a renowned specialist. And yes, he is going to perform pieces of local composers.

"Obviously, there are no magic solutions, and this all demands a lot of effort from both the orchestra and the conductor, but I believe that within two or three years from now we can do it," he concludes.

The Israeli Chamber Orchestra will perform its opening program October 28 and 29 at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. The concerts start at 8:30 p.m.