Shira Shaked

Shira Shaked has been playing in various constellations in Israel and abroad. Apart from regularly performing solo and chamber recitals, Shira has played with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra (Israel), Stony Brook Orchestra (U.S.A), Symphonet Ra’anana Orchestra (Israel) and Tel Aviv University Orchestra (Israel) and participated in festivals, including the Pittsburgh Jewish Music Festival (2013), West Village Musical Theatre Festival (2012), The Eilat Festival (2010) and the Tel-Aviv Piano Festival (2008). Her collaborations include a performance with Prof. Pavel Vernikov for the Russian-Israeli National Channel (2009) and two albums recorded with the Israel Prize awarded poet Natan Zach (2008, 2011). Shira also took part in numerous masterclasses held by Prof. Pnina Salzman (Israel), Ms. Joanna MacGregor (England), Prof. Pavel Gililov (Russia), Prof. Albert Tiu (Philippines) and The Tel-Hai Piano Master-classes (Israel). She has received scholarships from Stony Brook University, New York, and The Tel-Aviv Music Academy, Israel.

1. What or who inspired you to want to be an artist? 
As a matter of fact, it was my older brother. He used to sit by the piano and practice for so many hours. And there I was, at the age of four, listening to him repeating these phrases over and over again, refining them and trying to get everything together. I remember the exact day it happened: one afternoon I just went to the piano, pulled out some piano sheets from his bag (of course, I placed them upside down on the rack since I had no idea how they were read), and quickly figured how to play all of his tunes by ear. That was when my parents decided that I should probably join my brother’s next piano lesson, and the rest is history.

Come to think of it, this had nothing to do with inspiration, or at least was not perceived as such by young me. It established itself as a part of my life — I slept, I ate, I played the piano. Piano was and still is very natural for me, like home. Of course, going to live concerts, both classical and non-classical, always lights up my inspiration; there is nothing like this kind of energy.

2. What was your creative journey that has brought you to where you are in your career today?
Since piano performance is a major part of my life, I always make sure that no matter what path I choose to take, music will always be there. I studied with private piano teachers until the age of eight, and later on spent ten years at the Shtriker Israeli Conservatory. These were crucial years in my musical evolution. It was there that I first got decent stage experience. I had a very demanding teacher who always knew how to squeeze out the very best of me on stage. I don’t remember practicing too much as a child, and my teacher would make comments on this to my mom, but would then note that, despite this, I would give a very temperamental and powerful performance on stage.

Instead of enrolling in an arts-focused high school, I chose to stay in the public school system, where I had been a part of a special program for gifted children and made many friends since I was ten years old. In the army I was recognized as an “Excelled Musician,” which allowed me time to practice, and even to begin B. Mus studies in Piano Performance at the Tel-Aviv Music Academy. It was only after my release from the army that I became certain that I want to pursue a professional musical career.

After receiving my first degree I proceeded to M. Mus studies at The Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. Along the way, I also got to play much non-classical stuff, and I guess that I always liked to play on both teams. Now, as I study for my doctoral degree in New York, I get to do much from both: accompany opera, as well as Broadway singers, give solo and chamber recitals, improvise… I play everything, really. This gives me great satisfaction. There is nothing like self-fulfillment. Artists should constantly strive to stretch the limits of their abilities.

3. What do you need as an artist today? 
I really feel that I need my music to get to more people. Nowadays recital halls tend to be empty, and this is a very sad situation. Yes, if I am Mitsuko Uchida I will probably sell out Carnegie, or Avery Fisher Hall twice or three times in a row. But the vast majority of classical performers don’t get to be heard much. We always have to bring our own audience and create our own buzz while networking, and that is very frustrating and time consuming. Paradoxically, the burden of constantly trying to reach out to more and more people has nothing to do with our profession. Hell, we are musicians. We don’t understand a single thing in PR. It’s a shame that there are so many great musicians out there – thousands even – that you will simply never hear of.

4. What creative project are you working on now?
Aside from working on my doctoral degree, which entails a great dosage of performance, I also have a very big concert coming up in mid-September. I am going to perform a full duo concert with maestro Maxim Vengerov. It will take place in Heichal Hatarbut, Tel-Aviv, and I am really excited about it. It is a real honor for me to share a stage with him, and I hope this will open up more opportunities for my musical career.

5. Where do you see yourself and your career in 10 years? 
My ideal average day ten years from now would probably be to wake up in the morning to accompany some Broadway singers in a reading, run for a chamber rehearsal with my ensemble, by evening find myself giving a solo recital in front of 500 people, and at night performing my own songs someplace dark.

6. What does it mean to you to be an Israeli artist?
I guess the answer doesn’t have to do only with being an Israeli artist, but more in general– what it is like for me to be an Israeli outside my country. As cliché as it may sound, I always feel like I am an ambassador. Each time Israelis here in New York or abroad succeed, it fills me with great pride. I love the fact that there are so many Israeli artists all over the world – musicians, dancers, film makers, actors… This fact alone goes to show that Israel has so much to offer.

As opposed to many artists who come here to study or to “make it big,” there’s also a great number of Israeli artists who come here simply because they don’t have much choice. Sadly, being an artist in Israel is a daily struggle, more so than in many other places. Government support for the arts – artists, institutions and education – is sparse, to say the least. And so many artists try to make a living elsewhere. But I choose to see the bright side. Thanks to artists who rightfully represent Israel abroad, the world gets exposed to the fantastic things we are doing.

7. What does it mean to you to have an organization like AICF supporting Israeli culture in the past 75 years?
The America Israel Cultural Foundation is a wonderful and a very important organization for us Israeli artists. But you know what? Almost too important. I wish that there would be more organizations like AICF, ceaselessly working to promote and support Israeli culture with such devotion. More important, though, this kind of support should first and foremost come from the government. When I was in Moscow I was told that even the homeless there would know how to sing the opening of Eugene Onegin. That’s just prioritizing, nothing more.

So yes, I am very thankful and appreciative towards the blessed work done by AICF. It is very important that people keep supporting it and secure its future. Still, I wish AICF would represent the norm and not the exception.