Israeli Chamber Project – Projects within the unending pursuit of musical exploration
Embarking on their second decade as a chamber ensemble, the Israeli Chamber Project starts the 2018/19 season with a unique program, coined the Debussy Effect.
With the music world marking the centennial of Debussy’s death in 1918, the ensemble takes the iconic French composer’s romantic Piano Trio and his later Première Rhapsody as point of reference, affirming the profound effect of his work on three of his compatriots, Ravel, Faure, and Salzedo.
The October 18th program at Merkin Concert Hall, featuring one of the group’s frequent collaborators in Peter Wiley, cellist of the Beaux Arts Trio and the Guarneri String Quartet, promises to be an interesting season opener to a busy year, including the ensemble’s first appearances in Europe, at London’s Wigmore Hall, as well as major venues across the U.S. and Canada, including Montreal’s Bourgie Hall, and Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center.
In 2012, four years into ICP’s foundation as an ensemble with a mission statement, I had the great pleasure to interview one of its founding members – pianist and executive director Assaff Weisman. Catching up on ICP’s upcoming events, the development of the ensemble’s reach within these years is remarkable; otherwise things have not changed all that much. Weisman, remains ICP’s proficient pianist with a precise touch and gentle soul. Articulate and soft mannered, he focuses on the group’s development of the American market. From the beginning, the group’s founder, clarinetist Tibi Cziger, serves as its artistic director, responsible for both programming and the logistics of all Israeli tours. “Additionally,” explains Weisman, “our board of directors offers invaluable assistance with the running of the organization, and this allows our artists to focus solely on making music.”
Although the group has slightly stretched out from its original eight – to eleven members, currently performing in alternating formations according to repertoire, their mission has hold true to its original initiatives, geared towards several goals: Giving back to the source of their mutual heritage, Israel. Bringing this heritage to international concert stages and in the process, building bridges with the non-political language of music and love for a profession in music that unites them.
In an increasingly volatile and politicized climate within the music industry, this is no small challenge and Weisman expresses disbelief in the fact that ICP has not yet been offended by demonstrations by political agitators, in an effort to mobilize attention against anything connected to Israel.”While some of our performers have already experienced such hostile measures during their performances, ICP has been spared such confrontations so far,” he says. “At the end we can only offer what we offer and we do this with utmost inclusivity, where dialogue is always welcome. Be that through our educational outreach programs for under-served school children in the US, or in Israel, with our efforts to bring classical music to remote locations, including some with a predominantly Arab population,” he explains.
In a 2017 article, Weisman shares personal experiences of building the group and reminiscences about specific challenges, ICP faced during these years.
photo credit: Yoav Etiel
Turns out that mutual respect and personal relationships are even more important than close proximity in connecting this group of musicians. “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. 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,” writes Weisman.
With great expertise, Weisman explains how the special situation in Israel became both a challenge and part of a solution for ICP: “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.”
In the meantime, ICP has built a home with regular concert performances in New York City, resonating with audiences here, as much as in Israel.
Being open for a good project remains the ensemble’s credo; hence the name. “A project,” describes Weisman, “is something evolving, not something with a finite end. Just like our involvement with music is about never-ending, continuous discovery. Each of our concerts becomes just that: a new project in our unending pursuit of musical exploration.”