The Jerusalem Post
The setting at Tel Aviv's Mann Auditorium is a customary one. The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, in full force but casually dressed, is set for rehearsal. The young conductor raises his baton, and the musicians plunge into the sparkling score La Mer by Debussy.
"Okay, okay!" interrupts a husky voice from within the orchestra. "You have been through two sections already. Now rehearse them. Don't just perform."
The voice is a familiar one. The IPO's music director and chief conductor, sitting among the players, has crossed the lines. His expressive face, adorned with a newly-acquired beard, projects intense interest and a wide range of reactions: anger, disagreement, bemusement and obvious approval. Once in a rare while, he looks happy and shouts "bravo," and the orchestra bursts into applause. Other times, he jumps on to the podium and shapes the conductor's motions.
The event has, in fact, little to do with the orchestra's daily routine. For the first time, Israel's leading musical body is hosting an international master class in conducting, conceived and directed by Zubin Mehta.
Five young conductors are taking part. Three are Israelis working abroad: Gisèle Buka-Ben Dor, 27; Israel Edelson, 31, and Motti Meron. The other two are Mark Gooding, 30, from London, and Felix Kruglikov, 29, originally from Odessa, but who now lives in New York.
During five days of intensive work - two three-hour sessions a day - five compositions are studied with two orchestras; the IPO and the orchestra of Tel Aviv University's Rubin Academy of Music. Each conductor gets a try at every work and is assigned one for the concluding concert at Mann Auditorium tomorrow night. The entire affair, open to the public, will be videotaped by the Jerusalem Music Centre. The film has already been sold to the BBC.
"There are lots of conductors in the world today," says Mehta. "Why is it that there are so few good ones? This is not a rhetorical question, and I haven't got an answer."
He views this workshop as a unique opportunity for the young conductors, most of whom were picked by him. In the workshop, they can work out professional problems with a top orchestra. "To try out Stravinsky's Rite of Spring with an orchestra of the IPO's calibre is, for them, an invaluable experience," says Mehta. "They make mistakes, and under different circumstances, a great orchestra could have shouted them down. On the other hand dealing with a younger, less experienced group from the academy will demand more artistic initiative. This has its rewards, too, for young people are easier to convince.
"I am not trying to impose my outlook on the participants, which is impossible anyway in so short a time. "It is more an exchange of ideas. I give them the benefit of my experience and of my mistakes. I do not insist when we disagree, and they are welcome to prove me wrong. It doesn't happen too often, though," the maestro adds with a smile.
"There are, however, many matters they absolutely must be in control of while facing an orchestra, and it is these points that I try to strengthen."
Although this class is a first of the kind for Mehta, he cherishes the original meaning of the Italian word maestro - the teacher, and he is keeping in mind an offer of a conducting chair at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia.
The young conductors, tense and somewhat confused, what with their every movement on the podium being recorded, the hour-long closed sessions with Mehta before each rehearsal, the endless interviews and encounters with players and the public. They try to put up a brave front.
"Mehta's knowledge, experience - his 'octopus ears' that catch just everything happening anywhere in the orchestra - are overwhelming," says Gisèle Buka-Ben Dor. After each session she feels a need to sit quietly for a few hours in order to recall, to absorb and to reconsider everything. "His every word is a lesson. It is not specific places, but principles that you take with you."
How does it feel, we ask Gisèle, who is expecting her first baby in January, to conduct uninterrupted a long section of the Rite of Spring and then receive Mehta's bravo ?
"It is an ambivalent feeling. You are happy, for technically he gave his okay. You also know it was not all that perfect. How will it be in professional life?"
Mark Gooding, a bassoon player with experience from within the orchestra ranks, says the situation is something like what an infant might feel were he tossed into a swimming pool. It can crack you, but if you survive, you are better off. Gooding feels a bit intimidated by the limelight, the TV cameras and the need to rearrange one's interpretations on the spot. Still, he appreciates the experience of working with a truly great international orchestra: "It enhances your knowledge and boosts confidence, and if somebody sees me and likes what he sees, well, that's an icing on the cake."
The members of the IPO, having the rather thankless task of repeating one movement for three hours in a row, appear supportive and patient. "When the conductor is in any way exciting. It is fascinating to follow the lead," says Eli Eban, a clarinet player. "And Mehta's comments provide insights about the art of conducting we would hardly gain otherwise."
Michal Haran, the principal cellist and an aspiring conductor, concurs. "Sure we help the conductors, but we also learn a great deal. In our orchestra, to work on so few works for a while is a rare blessing."
On the second day of the class, we request some preliminary conclusions from Zubin Mehta. "One thing I know already: at the next such class, whenever it happens, there will be no TV. It is sometimes awfully hard to hold back - I get so angry. But you just can't show it in front of a camera."