At great effort and expense, the Spiro Ark through its department, Tzavta ("togetherness" in Hebrew), has undertaken to publicize a better image of Israel through offering regular, outstanding, cultural events, mainly at its West End Centre in Enford Street opposite the Landmark Hotel.
Sagi Hartov, Israeli cellist and cultural enthusiast was found to be the ideal person to run Tzavta. Like us, he shares the passion to arrange worthwhile Israeli activities and events which will have an impact both within and outside the Jewish community.
The Spiro Ark`s small but dedicated staff, for whom no challenge is too great, are an invaluable help in bringing our ideas to fruition. Although most of the events we organize are comparatively modest, we also arrange larger scale activities. One such has been to create a London-based International Israeli Music Competition.
When the idea was first mooted, some eighteen months ago, all those with whom we discussed it laughed and said that anyone engaged in such fantasies needed their brains tested- "impossible", "unrealistic" and certainly no one was prepared to assist financially, so that once again, the Spiro Ark and the Spiros had the task of "backing" a vision. But on the other hand we were encouraged by certain important individuals, such as Dame Fanny Waterman, creator of the famous Leeds Music Competition and composer Michael Wolpe, who told us that if such a dream did materialise, they would stand behind it.
Mrs Lilian Hochhauser, who has been a keen supporter of the work of both the Spiro Institute and the Spiro Ark, has been and is President of our music programme and was perhaps alone in giving us the confidence needed. Sir Sidney and Rosa Lipworth also expressed their support.
For the first year, 2008, we had 30 candidates from 5 different countries. This year we had 70 candidates from 25 countries! For this extraordinary result I must first give credit to the Israeli Cultural Attaches around the globe who have advertised the competition widely, via local orchestras, music academies concert halls, music shops, teachers etc. But then again, last year`s successful outcome has also helped, with the Spiro Ark Tzavta`s, name having achieved considerable international renown.
This year, we were also approached by the Bloch society to add a second competition on to ours, to commemorate the Jubilee anniversary of this Jewish composer`s death. And as we are "in the business" of spreading a knowledge of Jewish as well as Israeli History and Culture we welcomed the proposal.
Both the semi- finals and the finals of the two competitions were very exciting and demanding, with a consistent standard of excellence which made all the distinguished judges` job a difficult one. As regards the double competition, the entrants were required to play either a Bloch piece or that by an Israeli composer. Some even opted to enter the two.
Bloch`s work is in many ways very Jewish, but can communicate with all humanity as was witnessed this case. Candidates from as far afield as China and Latvia performed Bloch's works with intensity and true feeling. Particularly impressive was the performance of the ten year old prodigy, Sheka Kanneh- Mason who played the first part of "From Jewish-life" with quite amazing understanding and virtuosity.
The Baal Shem Tov piece was played both by violinists and cellists, successfully injecting their own personalities into this most Jewish of Bloch`s work.
The competitors in both competitions showed extraordinary understanding, albeit with different approaches from the different instruments played- flute, clarinet, oboe, violin. Each responded in their own way to the Mediterranean style which combined music from the East and the West coming out of Israel`s melting pot and which also represented three generations of composers.
In these two competitions, there may have been only two winners but, I am happy to say, there were no losers. And the very nature of the challenge gave all participants an opportunity to successfully immerse themselves in unfamiliar musical styles.
The Finals took place at the Royal College of Music and were introduced by Mrs Lilian Hochhauser who was very complimentary to the Spiro Ark `skeleton` organization for arranging such wonderful and important events; especially as far as both Jewish and Israeli culture is concerned. It takes hard work, dedication, sweat and sometimes tears to achieve such an enormous task.
Greeting were also given on a large screen by Israel`s Minister of Culture and Sport, Limor Livnat who said: "I am honoured to congratulate this 2nd International Music Competition, a unique and original enterprise. This initiative has been initiated by the Spiro Ark and its Tzavta department. 70 gifted musicians from 25 countries have performed a dream come true for any Israeli Minister of Culture and indeed for any Israeli!"
The evening was narrated by Hayuta Devir, the producer, editor and presenter of Kol Hamusika, the equivalent program to Classic FM and Radio 3 combined. The finals of the competition will in fact, be broadcast in Hayuta`s program in Israel.
The veteran Israeli composer and Guest of Honour, Yehezkiel Brown said in his moving address: "Israel, my native land is small in size and in population but as far as music in concerned, its international importance seems to be far greater than the size would suggest. Nevertheless I am sure I am speaking now on behalf of many of my fellow Israeli composers when I say how proud I am at this moment, realising that a musical competition, wholly dedicated to the music of my tiny little country takes place in this great city of London."
The winners of the Israeli Music Competition were the Myriad Ensemble, a chamber group. Their prize of £1,000 was donated by the enlightened Israeli Bank Leumi whose Managing Director, Mr Lawrence Weiss has written: "it is with great interest that we have watched now a truly international event. The Bank sees great value supporting events such as this one which promote Israeli culture to the rest of the world and as such is delighted to be involved with this year`s competition." In addition , the winners have been offered the opportunity to appear in a concert organized by JMI this coming November in the Purcell Room.
The Bloch competition was won by Irish violinist Roisin Walters. Her prize of £500 was donated by the Bloch Society. Roisin has also been invited to play in a further concert with the London International Symphony Orchestra, run by Mrs Sarah Aronson.
Following the Finals we received many complimentary messages. I would like to quote two: Sunny, a girl of 13 wrote: "I loved the competition. I am now inspired to take up the flute and spend much time practising." Her sister Yarden, age 9, was particularly impressed with the pianist Sasha Grynyuk. "I would like to hear his wonderful playing again."
The Spiro ark wished to thank all those who so generously supported the event: Bank Leumi, The Bloch Society, Jewish New Media Group, The RCM, Osem, Likud Herut UK, JMI and the Forum of Israeli Music, Israeli Music Institute, Jaffa and Gilad Limor.
From today, we are now working towards the 3rd International Israeli Music Competition.