Twelve gifted young pianists from China and Israel took part in a master class series in Jerusalem recently, in which they learned about one another and their cultures through the language of music.
The meeting at the Jerusalem Music Center (JMC) between the Chinese and Israeli youngsters – aged eight to 20 -- resulted in lively musical interaction.
The program included five days of master classes and concerts.
"It was a great success," says Prof. Arie Vardi, musical director of the project. "When you have some of the world's top teachers and pianists like Murray Perahia [president of JMC], Stephen Kovacevich and Dan Zhaoyi, the possibilities are terrific."
Music as an international language
China's emerging superpower status extends to the musical world. The six Chinese students who took part in the recent workshop in Jerusalem represent just a few of the republic's outstanding young talents, says Vardi.
"China today excels in European music and especially in piano," says Vardi. "They play the same classics as we have in our repertoire. We have a common language."
The participants could not really speak to one another but Vardi says the way the program was set up allowed for plenty of intercultural and interpersonal dialogue.
"In every other field there's trouble with language but in classical music there is no barrier -- everything is open and we can have a great connection," he says.
Each of the guests from China was partnered with one of the Israeli pianists to play piano four-hands -- a piano duet on a single piano. The six duos were coached by Michal Tal and Yaron Rosenthal, two of Israel's leading pianists and piano teachers.
Playing piano four-hands is really a "teamwork effort," Vardi explains. "It's a discipline of really listening to the other."
The JMC program also included an introductory workshop -- led by the Chinese pianist-conductor Xu Yi-An, who lives and works in Israel -- giving the pianists an insight into conducting a piano concerto.
JMC celebrates 40 years
Located in the picturesque Mishkenot She’ananim neighborhood of Jerusalem, the JMC was founded as an advanced training center for music education, dedicated to encouraging and developing Israel’s young musicians.
This year, the institution is marking 40 years of activity.
The highly-regarded musical institution was inspired by the vision of violin virtuoso Isaac Stern and officially founded in 1973. To open its anniversary celebrations, the center hosted the Chinese-Israeli joint master classes.
After all, the institution’s major goal is to “find, follow and foster brilliant young musicians from across the country, to offer them special workshops and to perfect their skills,” Hed Sella, executive director of the JMC, said in an earlier interview.
Vardi says the program was such a success that plans for a second version next year are already underway.
He says that while students obviously learn in private lessons, taking part in joint master classes is a far better learning experience. "The moment someone gets critiqued, he is at stake and can feel tense. But when you hear someone else's critique, you can learn a lot more," he explains.
The JMC is one of Jerusalem's guiding lights in the culture field. Over the years, there have been numerous cultural exchange programs.
The nonprofit group’s mission is described as "bridging the distance between Israel and the rest of the music world, and initiating and implementing much-needed programs and projects that the education system and culture establishment cannot provide."
The latest Chinese-Israeli project was initiated by Barry Swersky, an international attorney who has been active in the promotion of cultural relations between Israel and China over the past five years. It was supported by the Guilford and Diane Glazer Foundation of Los Angeles.