Interview with conductor Amos Talmon

21. September 2010
Amos Talmon

Amos Talmon is regarded on the international scene as a unique phenomenon among conductors. For many years he pursued a career in international trade, but gradually he yielded to his passion for music and started to devote himself to it actively as a conductor.

Can you recall the moments when music entered into your life? Do you come from a musical family or did you come to music by following your own paths?

I grew up in music loving home: my mother immigrated to Israel from Vienna and father from Lodz and both were very keen on classical music. So, virtually already as a baby I was constantly exposed to music. I can still remember when my father took me to attend the first concert at the Mann Auditorium when I was five years old. Since then, every Friday, my father would take me to the local record stores and would buy me a record of my choice.

Can you tell us something about your original profession and the journey that led you to the career of a professional conductor?

I inherited a small company which was dealing with pulp and paper. Over the years, this company has grown to be a major player in Israel: my business took me to four continents of the world and whenever I had the chance, I attended concerts and operas. At the same time I noticed that while in the office, or while driving or while at home on my couch, I always listened to music and always conducted it... I also became aware that the focal point for me when in the audience at a concert was the conductor - his technique, his interpretation, his rapport with the musicians, his style etc etc. At a certain moment, the notion that I should give it a real try started to percolate down to my mind. One day I saw an ad in the daily newspaper for a conducting workshop for amateur conducting. I applied and attended it enthusiastically. At the end of the workshop, the students were given some 30 minutes to conduct a symphony orchestra. I conducted the first movement of Beethoven symphony No.1; when I finished the orchestra gave me standing ovations...! This was the moment when it dawned upon me I should embark on the musical path of my life.

Do you see your relatively late entry into the professional music scene as an advantage or as a handicap?

I whole heartedly see it as a major advantage. On one hand, I bring with me life experience and business experience which, I feel, help in my dealings with music and music activities. This, I sense, is reflected in my interpretations as well as in my dealing with the more mundane aspects of making music. I believe that part of the success of my concert season in Israel, The Grand Symphonic Series, is rooted in my earlier activities. On the other hand, I feel, indeed I am told, I bring with me fresh enthusiasm and ideas which are free from the orthodox conventions of making music.

Which repertoire is closest to your heart?

I feel my musical soul is best reflected within the Romantic repertory: Beethoven, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Dvorak, Franck, Bruckner, Tchaikovsky, Verdi, Khachaturian, Borodin. I also love early 20th century works of Mahler, Respighi, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Kalinnikov etc. I am also at home with classical works of Haydn, Mozart, Schubert and the entire Viennese school. Of late, I have become familiar with more works of Czech composers like Smetana and Suk. Just a couple of weeks ago I performed for the first time the string serenade by Suk in Firenze and loved it.

Which of your concerts up till now do you regard the most highly? What have the highlights been for you?

Of the top of my head I can think of several concerts: my very first concert with Young Israel Philharmonic where I had the sensation of a all time first... my first concert with Israel Philharmonic... my Beethoven No. 7 with Prague Radio Symphony in Cesky Krumlov a couple of years ago... my concert in Beijing with Beijing Symphony, having done in the Forbidden City an Israeli work, performed to perfection by the Chinese musicians... my Rossini's Stabat Mater earlier this year with Slovak Philharmonic and Slovak Philharmonic choir... Another notable event was my concerts in December 2008 having conducted the Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma. This concert will also stay with me forever, partly because of its amazing warm reception by the orchestra, by the audience and partly because the morning of the first concert I fell on a staircase and opened my head: I was brought by ambulance to the hospital where 15 stitches were required. I conducted these concerts with a hug white turban of bandage on my head....

You have set up the Music Angels foundation and are also musical director of the Herzliya Center for Performing Arts. Where do you find the energy for all your activities?

I feel the music is by the most effective energizer: I enjoy seeing our young talents thriving in our concerts and I also feel motivated by the response of our audience which holds our concerts in high regard.At the same time, I also get a kick of the enthusiasm displayed by our guest conductors and soloists who seem to enjoy appearing within the Grand Symphonic Series both from a music stand point as well as from the overall experience of being with us in Israel.

What do you feel about today's program? Do the compositions that have been included suit your natural disposition?

I feel very much at home with this program, I love Rossini - in fact, this season we will be doing several of his overtures in our series. I feel Weber is a milestone in the evolvement of romantic writing and on top of all that, Brahms Symphony No.4 - a culmination of romantic sentiments with classical subdued style: I regard this symphony, though a symphony without glitz and "fireworks" as one of the pinnacles of the symphonic experience.

You work closely with Czech orchestras (such as the North Czech Philharmonic Teplice, the Radio Symphony Orchestra Pilsen, and the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra), and you probably know what you can expect from them. What do you think is typical of Czech musicians? (And please feel free to be critical!!!)

First let me underscore that I love to conduct in Czech Republic! Czech Republic is a country close to my heart. In our modern history, Czech Republic is always affectionally regarded since the days of Masaryk and later on when Czech Republic supported the State of Israel from the days of inception. I also wish to mention my concert last year with Prague Philharmonia which I enjoyed immensely. As for the Czech musicians, one trait pops up immediately: one feels that a Czech musician comes from a strong background of great tradition. This is reflected in both technique and style of playing. In addition, I also feel that Czech musicians are open to new ideas and interpretations.

I am sure you are one of those people who are capable of turning their dreams into reality. What would you like to accomplish in the future?

My quest is to press conducting orchestras all over the world. My dream is to enhance the exchange of young soloists with soloists in countries where Jews had been part of the local legacy: Czech Republic, Poland, Germany to name a few. With the help of some of my associates like Lubomír Herza and Eva Kalhousová, we have done a few things already but I feel we can and should more.