Artist Spotlight: Duo Mantar

Duo Mantar, comprised of Israeli mandolinist, Jacob Reuven, and American guitarist, Adam Levin, create a compelling chamber combination that is both enjoyable and refreshing. Each artist is a successful solo and chamber musician and comes together to both improve and expand the available repertoire for mandolin and guitar. Their first of many joint projects is one that focuses on Israeli music. They commissioned new works by Josef Bardanashvili, Ittai Rosenbaum, Oren Lok, and Jan Freidlin.

They have also discovered an original masterpiece for mandolin and guitar by Yehezkel Braun and a new arrangement of traditional Hebrew songs by Marc Lavry.  This captivating collection of works will be presented together for the first time on the Naxos Label in late 2020/early 2021. The release will be followed by extensive touring in the United States, Israel, Spain, and across parts of Europe. The Duo is also proud to have commissioned internationally recognized Israeli-American composer, Avner Dorman, to compose a double concerto for mandolin, guitar, and string orchestra. This piece will be premiered in 2022 in Israel, Europe, and then in the United States. The duo will begin working on a Mediterranean project in the coming season while continuing to expand the Israeli repertoire.

What or who inspired you to want to be a duo?
We think the inspiration starts and stops with our instruments. We wake up every day with the mandolin and guitar on our minds. It’s a passion, an obsession, our love. It’s like a young child that needs to be fed and taken care of. You have to teach them, learn from them, encourage them, love them, and inspire them to be better each and every day. Our families were and still are by our sides and without them, music careers would be impossible. Their loving support, encouragement, and praise have given us the fire to continue in our Herculean sport. 

As a chamber music group, we look to one another to inspire as well and push the other to the next benchmark. We feed off of the other’s energy. From the time we sit down together on stage until the moment we walk off and celebrate our concert or recording, or whatever it may be, we are exchanging energy. Think Newton’s Third Law!

What was your creative journey that has brought you to where you are in your career today?

It’s crazy how this world works. It really is! Yaki and I met in the strangest of conditions. My father, an amateur guitarist, and mandolinist was browsing YouTube for mandolin players and came across Yaki performing Eugene Ysaye’s Obsession transcribed from violin to mandolin. My dad pinged me and told me to listen to this hotshot play the very same piece I had also transcribed for guitar. I was amazed at his artistry and his technical fetes on the instrument and was immediately compelled to write him. I wrote him and applauded him and he wrote back almost immediately, said thank you very much for the compliments, and told me that my timing could not have been any more perfect as he was proposing two recordings with guitar and he didn’t have a guitarist. Well, who did you think became the guitarist? Yours truly.

Photo by: Bogdan Urma Photography LLC (www.bogdanurma.com)

I happened to be traveling to Europe and made a pit stop in Spain to meet him and make sure there was a musical chemistry. You hear these crazy stories about chamber music groups never getting along and only getting up on stage to perform together. There was none of that. It’s as if we grew up together. The brotherhood was natural; our wacky sense of humor and taste for the impossible was also present. An there you have it: Duo Mantar was born. We started mapping out our Israeli music project as well as carve out a program we could present while assembling our Israeli set. He traveled to the United States, I traveled to Spain and Israel, and the rest is history. We have an absolute blast performing together. The energy is vibrant and our friendship and love for music follow us on and off the stage wherever we go.

What creative project are you working on now?
We toured together for over a month in late 2019 across the United States and recorded our first album together of Israeli music. It was recorded in Toronto with the great audio engineer, Norbert Kraft. We can’t wait to release this album on the Naxos label later this year or early 2021. We plan to tour extensively following the release of this recording. The repertoire is very eclectic from folk music to pristine and lyrical tonal compositions to avant-garde atonal crunchy music. There is something for everyone.

We just completed the process of commissioning a new double concerto by one of our favorite contemporary composers, Israeli-American, Avner Dorman. Jacob has played his tremendous mandolin concerto countless times, which has received praise worldwide. Biased on the success of his mandolin concerto, we can only imagine the impact of this new double concerto. We will premiere the new concerto worldwide in 2022. We literally can’t wait to get our hands on it! We have a lot of other irons in the fire, so let’s leave it there. We don’t want to give it all away.

What do you need as an artist today?
Artists lead rather simple lives thus the answer is -in theory- rather simple. A space to practice, forums to share ideas, halls to perform, audiences to enjoy the music, family and friends to support you, mind/body/spirit health, and students to disseminate information and knowledge that you have accumulated over the years. Actually, it’s not that easy. 

Photo by: Bogdan Urma Photography LLC (www.bogdanurma.com)

What an artist needs will vary based on their surrounding circumstances such as city, country of study, training, and work, and societal burdens such as taxes, healthcare, and educational costs. These circumstances will dictate one’s style and quality of life long term.

To survive in this field one must have the training to become a music entrepreneur, which is the knowledge and tools that young artists are not being necessarily being educated about at top conservatories worldwide. I have seen entrepreneurial musicianship programs pop up at several conservatories in the states, which is reassuring, however, we still need to provide young generations of musicians the much-needed information on how to be advocates for ourselves.

We also need to measure our expectations of ourselves. Perfection is unattainable, however, seeking it can be unhealthy if we aren’t careful. Taking care of your well-being, including your mental and physical health is crucial to longevity in a career that is filled to the brim with stress and high-intensity work.  We always find ourselves working constantly, but if we don’t balance our personal life with our work, we may be adversely effecting one or, worse, both. Balance is the name of the game.