Yael Weiss

April showers will bring May flowers, and the hot June sun will bring summer music fun. Every summer, AICF artists are all over the world playing different summer music festivals and series, bringing the best of new and old composers to families. On June 22nd in Bloomington, Indiana. the Jacobs School of Music Summer Music Festival will welcome back pianist Yael Weiss and the Weiss-Kaplan-Newman Trio. Ms. Weiss has performed across the United States, Europe, Japan, Korea and South America at such venues as the Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall and London’s Wigmore Hall. She has been praised by the Washington Post as “a pianst who delves deeply and tellingly into that cloudy area where fantasy morphs into improvisation, inventiveness being common to both.” Ms. Weiss has also presented master-classes for top institutions worldwide and served on the faculties of Indiana University and UCSB, and is the founder of the daily audio podcasts, Classical Minutes on iTunes. Ms. Weiss shares with us her artistic journey and the life of an artist.

1) What or who inspired you to want to be an artist?
I grew up surrounded by music, in an environment where practicing music was simply assumed to be a part of life. It was probably not until I was in my early teens that I consciously made a decision to devote my life to music, performing as a pianist and spending my hours studying the great masterpieces. I remember some special musical moments from those years in Israel that inspired my decision to live a life with music – an incredible performance of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony with the Israel Philharmonic and Leonard Bernstein in Tel Aviv was something that has always stayed in my mind for its great and communicative music-making. It was also around this time that I discovered the piano works of Schumann – I used to play one of his major pieces every year for a masterclass at the Mishkenot Shaananim Music Center in Jerusalem, and I remember thinking that if someone can write music that is so moving, personal and full of color I just had to spend the time to understand it and realize it as best as I could imagine it at the piano.

2) What was your creative journey that has brought you to where you are in your career today?
This is very difficult to summarize in just a few words, but let me try. As a musician, the journey is never-ending, and this is one of the wonderful things about doing what we do – being a musician means being on a path that always keeps surprising.  There are always new discoveries, new perspectives on interpretations of great well-known works, newly written music to introduce to the public, new projects to explore, even new ways to reach and communicate with listeners (such as this blog!). In terms of my background educationally, I was lucky enough to have wonderful teachers in Israel and to continue my work in the US with truly great artists.  I’ve learned so much, not only from my teachers, but also from the many conductors and instrumentalists I’ve performed with. And, of course, I also continue to always learn from my own students!

3) What do you need as an artist today?
To do the work of a pianist, I need a piano, a bench, scores, a pencil, sometimes a metronome, an iPad (I often used it for my scores)… And, of course, there’s one more essential thing: an attentive audience. The life of a musician is incredibly demanding, and yet one also needs the peace of mind to concentrate fully on important creative work. In my opinion, we must always find a healthy balance between our solitary work and at the same time making sure that we pass on the fruits of our labor to others – whether these are seasoned audience members, occasional concert goers or people for whom our kind of music is a complete mystery… This is not only a matter of survival for us performers, but also for classical music itself.  Classical music is a great art, an inseparable part of our culture throughout the generations, and it now lives only marginally in most people’s awareness. Without the performances of excellent musicians, the works of the great composers will disappear from our culture.  They are not like paintings that can be viewed in a museum… in order to exist, these great works of art have to be realized and experienced here and now.

4) What creative project are you working on now?
My main focus at the moment is a cycle of the complete 32 Beethoven Piano Sonatas which I am performing over the next couple of seasons. This is a project I have been dreaming of doing ever since I performed the “Hammerklavier” Sonata during my student days, as part of a one day marathon of the complete cycle played by a dozen students. I’m interested in programming the pieces in unusual ways, creating combinations that highlight the unique qualities of each masterpiece and help the listener to experience them in a new light. Another project that I’m incredibly excited about is my “Classical Minutes” podcasts on iTunes. I’ve been posting these daily shows for several months now and it has been absolutely fantastic to see the number of subscribers grow  with each passing week. The shows are free, a quick couple of minutes each morning to inspire, motivate and inform practicing musicians and music lovers. I’m taking a short summer break at the moment, but there are about a 100 shows available now for free download! New “Classical Minutes” shows will be starting again later this summer.

5) Where do you see yourself and your career in 10 years?
I prefer to live in the moment… but if I do think ahead, I hope that in ten years I’ll still be excited waking up each morning and looking ahead to a fresh day of musical discoveries. I am thinking this may become a Beethoven decade for me – I would love to have the opportunity to record the complete Beethoven Piano Sonatas and include some material that could shed some small new light on those works. Also, I would like to do a lot more Schumann. My first commercial CD was of some of the more unusual Schumann piano repertoire and I would like to continue to explore this world alongside that of Beethoven.

6) What does it mean to you to be an Israeli artist?
Music itself transcends nationality, but obviously, I do inevitably represent Israel in everything I do, and when I travel and perform I always hope to show that Israel has so many great things to offer – that we are something more than just the headlines on the front page of newspapers… In terms of music-making itself, when composers are identified as “Israeli” it is more likely to mean that their work has a distinctive “Israeli” quality. I don’t feel that one can say the same thing about performers. Just a few days ago, I returned to New York from several weeks in Israel, and while there I gave a masterclass at the Buchman-Mehta School of the Tel Aviv University. Listening to the wonderful young Israeli musicians there, I can’t say that their playing has a uniquely “Israeli” character. On the other hand, I do enjoy  performing works by Israeli composers in my recitals – I don’t know that being from Israel helps my understanding of the pieces, but I can at least complain to the composer in Hebrew if something in the score isn’t clear…

7) What does it mean to you to have an organization like AICF available in the art world?
This is a huge help for Israeli musicians. When I grew up in Israel, my musical studies were funded by the AICF, and I remember the bus trip every summer from Bat Yam where we lived to the northern Tel Aviv area where the auditions were held for the annual AICF scholarship. Performing in those auditions was the culmination of a year of work – and then the weeks of waiting for the results were always filled with tense anticipation. The AICF is a very special organization – in fact, many years ago, it also helped support the musical studies of my mother and my uncle when they arrived in Israel from Russia after the war with nothing in their pockets. I hope that many generations will continue to enjoy the support and opportunities that the AICF offers.

Yael Weiss