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Pianist Matan Porat finds new perspectives in Berlin

Three times is a charm, but to be invited for a fourth time this summer to what Alex Ross calls “the classical world’s most coveted retreat,” the Marlboro Music Festival, requires some extraordinary talent.

And talent, the young native Israeli composer/pianist, Matan Porat, has in abundance. What had started for Porat as a 4 hands piano stunt with pianist Alain Planes three years ago at Marlboro continued, even while being busy alternating with Franck Krawczyk in the piano accompaniments for famed British director Peter Brook’s innovative, scaled down “Magic Flute” Lincoln Center debut production.

This production was first presented at the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord in Paris last year, which the avant-garde inclined Brook had taken over in 1974 partially because of it its rubble appeal. Planes himself bailed out on last minute of the scaled down Paris production which suited Porat, who has a weakness for unusual projects, just fine. I met Porat the first time this summer, as he improvised a piano accompaniment to Buster Keaton’s “The General” silent film, arranged at the downtown Parkside lounge. This idea was actually inspired by Richard Goode, when, at one of the Marlboro summers, Porat entertained with brilliant improvs on the piano during a screening of the movie “Metropolis.”

Porat‘s career as pianist started out unusually, for he only began formal piano lessons when he was enrolled at the Tel- Aviv University. Here he began studying composition. Beforehand he had only focused on piano, with his first teacher Emanuel Krasovsky at age 18, whom he describes as a huge artistic influence.  He also started to participate in workshops for Daniel Barenboim’s famed West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in 2002 in Spain, playing in chamber groups. After his Bachelor’s, he met Portuguese star pianist Maria João Pires at a master class in Paris, who invited Porat to follow her to her farm in Belgais, Portugal as her personal pupil. This was an intense period of artistic exchange, he said, playing for several hour lessons, listening to the world class performer play for him, and interacting with four hand playing sessions. The experience was of a very special nature.

“There was also a children’s choir, for which I composed. It was a unique collection of characters and quite an experience,” remembers Porat, and he goes onto explain how he, after that year, was ready for a completely different experience, namely his two years of studies for his Master’s degree at Juilliard, under Joseph Kalichstein. His New York summers were spent at Marlboro, which he remembers fondly, as well as other renowned festivals, such as Verbier and Ravinia. Equipped with references, he had an opportunity to perform for Murray Periaha, in New York – it was Schuman’s Davidsbündler Tänze, which convinced Perahia, who at the time was suffering severely from the consequences of a hand injury, to invite the talented Porat in 2006 to continue his studies with him in London. At the same time, Porat continued his composition studies with George Benjamin.

His biggest struggle seems to be how to divide his time between both of his passions: composing and performing. He plays a lot of solo piano as well as chamber music and gets at least a good handful of commissions, as he says, without having to look too hard for any of it.

But one thing is clear: both performing as well as composing have become equally essential for Porat. “I do not usually like to perform my own works,” says Porat, who likes to think about the recital experience in a creative manner, away from the traditionalist concert setting.

“The recital should be an experience, in which the performer can take his audience on a real journey. There is no need of stifling the performance through the expectations of the program. I value the excitement and spontaneity that becomes possible, when the audience is to trust and follow the performer, similar to the situation during a rock concert.

“The program should be building up through the momentum of its performance, not by the programmed schedule. “For example:  During my concert next season in Montreal, I will start with a Scarlatti Sonata, creating variations on it by playing similar pieces by other composers from Couperin to Boulez, which creates a spectrum of possibilities. This happens by relating Scarlatti and each of the proceeding pieces by motifs or characteristics, rather than by trying to create stylistic coherence. “

Matan (sketched by Roman Rabinowich, friend and pianist)

Every couple of months Porat likes to return to visit his family and friends in Israel, often connecting his stay with performance- or composition opportunities. In 2007 he created an operatic project for Tel-Aviv University based on “Animal Farm” and he is thinking about another opera production he has in mind, but does not want to elaborate on at the moment.

For the 8th year, he will partake in the Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival, directed by Elena Bashkirova, second wife of Barenboim. Porat has had many occasions to work with Barenboim and describes him as perhaps the most inspiring musical figure in his rather broad spectrum of influences.

Bashkirova, a renowned pianist who performs internationally, just commissioned two pieces by Porat, “Night Horses” and “New Requiem”, for her recently founded Berlin Metropolis Ensemble.

Berlin has become the ideal environment for Porat, who enjoys the creative vitality of the Metropolis. He compares Berlin with the exciting, vibrant and artistic atmosphere of Paris during the 1920s or London in the 60s and yet Berlin has kept its quaint, not overbearing characteristics such as with New York or London. A bonus is that the city attracts a lot of artists with, as well as without, talent — it’s still affordable.



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