A violin virtuoso

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A violin virtuoso

One of my highlights of my career was playing at the United Nations General Assembly Hall in New York,” says musical maestro and violinist Larry Brandt, who grew up in Cape Town, attended Herzlia and has since made Aliyah.

“I played there for the official International Holocaust Memorial ceremony of the UN. At one point in the ceremony, orchestra members who are descendants of Holocaust survivors were asked to stand up,” he continues. “Almost the entire orchestra, myself included, rose to its feet. It was a powerful moment and sent a strong message to all those present,” he says. We spoke to Larry about more musical moments in South Africa and Israel.

Tell us about your career in violin:

After graduating Matric at Herzlia High School, I moved to Israel and started studying towards my Bachelor’s degree in violin performance at Tel Aviv University. I was also enrolled in the university ulpan and started studying while simultaneously learning Hebrew at an academic level.

I then completed my Master’s degree in violin performance. While still studying at university I started working in the music industry, freelancing in orchestras including the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, recording discs for other musicians, and performing in various concerts. I played in the band of famous Chassidic singer Avraham Fried for two years. I was a member of the university symphony orchestra, and we toured around the world, performing with famous artists and conductors, such as Zubin Mehta, Itzchak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, Gustavo Dudamel, Kurt Masur, Mischa Maisky and many others. It was an amazing experience! I am currently a freelance player in the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, as well as continuing my activities as a recording artist, performer and violin teacher.

In what ways is the music industry different in Israel compared to South Africa?

I did not have a lot of experience in the industry in South Africa before moving to Israel, so it is hard for me to tell. What I can say is that the number of world-class musicians who come to perform in Israel is just phenomenal. In South Africa you can wait years for a big-name artist to come on tour, and in Israel it is a monthly occurrence. The level of playing here is very high and we get musicians from around the world coming to study and teach.

What motivated you to make Aliyah, and why would you recommend it?

Making Aliyah was an ambition of mine since I was a child. I really loved the idea of living in a Jewish state, where everybody is brethren and everything you do advances the Jewish people as a whole. When I finished school and was looking to continue my violin studies in a higher education institute, despite offers of a scholarship to go study in the United Kingdom I realized that the only place I want to build my life is in Israel. I have not regretted my decision for a second!

What have been some of your favourite pieces of music to play?

A favourite to play in a symphony orchestra is probably Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. In solo repertoire I really enjoyed playing Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy, which is a lesser known work (certainly compared to Bruch’s Violin Concerto) but very satisfying to play. I graduated from Tel Aviv University with that concerto.

What has been the most challenging aspect of your music career?

Getting used to the Hebrew terminology in music. In Israel they use the solfege ‘dore-mi’ system, whereas South Africa and much of the world uses alphabetic letters to describe the notes. Getting my solfege level, including all aspects of ear training, up to university standards was a real challenge for me.

Tell us about the other work that you do or have done while living in Israel:

I worked for almost five years at the Student Authority of the Jewish Agency, meeting with young people who came to Israel on programmes like Birthright, giving them tours of the university and informing them of their student rights if they choose to study in Israel as Olim. The main emphasis of this work was sharing our personal stories, and the message that “We made Aliyah and succeeded, you can too”.

I also started working for a high-tech company in Tel Aviv called Tonara. Israel is per capita the leading country in the world for start-up companies, and I was very excited to get involved with one, especially at a very early stage in the company’s development. We developed advanced music software that actually listens to the musician playing, and can follow where he is in the music score. This enables features such as automatic page turning, freeing the musician to concentrate on playing.

The big revolution in Tonara was the development of polyphonic score following (following more than one instrument or part played simultaneously). Computer programmers and musicians had worked on this problem unsuccessfully from the 1980s, and until today Tonara is the first company to have succeeded in developing a working algorithm.

What would you say to young people who want to make it in the music industry?

The most important ingredients are practising a lot and gaining experience . Going to watch other musicians at concerts is also invaluable, as is networking. Hard work and persistence really helps.

What is your message to the Cape Town Jewish community?

You should know that you have a very special community! One of the challenges when I came to Israel was establishing myself in the Jewish communities here, which is somewhat complicated when everybody is Jewish. I believe that it is very important to belong to a shul (and to go pray there!) and to be involved in the community and its activities. The South African Jewish community in Israel is also thriving, thanks to the efforts of Telfed and other organisations. I would recommend to anybody considering making Aliyah to do it! Yes it is challenging, but all it takes is a leap of faith, and the rewards are immense.

What are your plans for the future?

I am completing my first album, a disc of beautiful and uplifting Shabbat songs, with violin and guitar. I’m working with the accomplished guitarist Nadav Bachar, and I hope to release it before Rosh Hashanah. I am interested in distributing it in South Africa and other Jewish communities.

Visit www.larryviolin.com for more information.