Interview with Alex Bernstein

Photo credit: Ivan Pruss (from a concert at the Dvorak hall in Prague)

“Even among important violin soloists, Blacher’s abilities stand out.”


I met Alex Bernstein when we worked together during the runup to the Music Makers Israel Festival last winter. The collaboration between him, Keshet Eilon and Music Makers Chicago culminated in a wonderful event that was applauded both by its audience and by the media. As we worked together, I learned a number of things about him, including the fact that he is himself a conductor and also the publisher of Opus Magazine, which focuses on classical music. When I interviewed him, he told me about his experiences as a conductor, about Opus and also about his acquaintance with violinist Kolya Blacher, who will be playing in the Chamber Music at its Best concert to be held at Kibbutz Eilon’s Bar-Uryan Hall on April 12th at 21:00. Of Blacher he says, “His mere presence makes a whole orchestra strive to play better.”


– We met when we worked together to produce a joint festival, and that was when I learned that you are yourself a musician and conductor. Tell us something about the conductor’s role in an orchestra.


Truth to tell, without a conductor, musicians often not only manage perfectly well – sometimes they actually manage better. However, on occasions when the combination is successful and the conductor has a personal and detailed conception of the work, the result can be very convincing indeed. I understood the answer to the question “what is the conductor’s role?” better when I watched conductor Riccardo Muti working with the Israeli Philharmonic.


It happened at the time of the Philharmonic’s 80th anniversary. During the celebrations, a number of leading conductors, all of them interesting, performed with the orchestra. In my opinion, with Riccardo Muti the orchestra’s sound and balance were exceptional and quite remarkable. No less impressive in my view was the fact that he managed to accomplish all this right from the start of the first rehearsal, that’s to say, with very few words. His conceptions of phrasing, sound and balance were defined in his mind to such a level of detail and conviction that the orchestra simply played, quite naturally, what he communicated to it.



– Please tell us about Opus Magazine, of which you were one of the founders


As far as numbers go, Opus is the most widely read Hebrew classical music magazine on the web. Those who write in it are well known musicians – Professor Oded Zehavi, Professor Chaim Taub, Matan Dagan and many others. It publishes articles and criticism and it is designed for people interested in receiving high quality information on musical issues.


This coming May we shall start to distribute the magazine in an innovative format as a digital monthly, and it will touch upon the hottest and most interesting musical topics.


On April 12th, the Bar-Uryan Concert Hall at Keshet Eilon will host a remarkable musical ensemble: pianist Salim Abud Ashkar, violinist Kolya Blacher and the cellist Claudio Bohórquez. They will play two works: Dvořák’s “Dumky” Piano Trio (Opus 90) and Brahms’ Piano Trio No. 3 in C minor, Opus 101.



– In the past you conducted a concert at which Blacher was a soloist. Can you tell us something about working with him and what you think listeners should expect?


His musical abilities stand out even among important violin soloists. He’s a modest and exceptionally intelligent man and a versatile artist: a soloist, a leader – for many years he was lead violinist in a number of the finest orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. He’s a soloist, a concertmaster and also a very active chamber musician (and even an actor!), and he does all these things at the very highest level.


What amazed me personally when working with him was his ability to listen very intently, and the mere fact of his presence can make an entire orchestra strive to play better. I heard him two years ago in a very special performance of Brahms’ violin concerto, and I’m very curious to hear what he’ll do with the Trio in C minor.

Here you can see Alex Bernstein conducting the Israeli Camerata Jerusalem

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