A long mu­si­cal love story

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - JES­SICA DUCHEN

SHIRLEY BRILL and Jonathan Aner’s new record­ing is a land­mark for the two Is­raeli mu­si­cians. But it is also just the lat­est step in a long, mu­si­cal love story that has taken the Bril­laner Duo across the world to study with some of the great mu­si­cians of their day and, more re­cently, to Ber­lin, where the clar­inet­tist and pi­anist have set­tled with their two small chil­dren.

One Ger­man news­pa­per praised them as, “One soul and one breath… a com­pletely sub­lime ex­pe­ri­ence.” And now they have been signed by the Ger­man record la­bel Hänssler Clas­sics. Their first CD com­prises the Brahms Clar­inet Sonata No.1 and the Janáþek Vi­o­lin Sonata in a tran­scrip­tion for clar­inet by Brill her­self.

Per­haps it’s lucky that Brill did not stick with her first in­stru­ment, the pi­ano. As a school­girl, liv­ing near Tel Aviv, she was mak­ing good progress at the key­board, but feel­ing dis­con­tented be­cause she wanted some­thing more so­cial from mak­ing music. “I wanted to play with other peo­ple, rather than by my­self, and to play in the or­ches­tra. But I didn’t know which in­stru­ment to choose.” The head teacher rec­om­mended she try the clar­inet with a new teacher who was about to join the school: “It was love at first sight — both with the clar­inet and the teacher, who was soon like my third grandpa,” Brill says.

It wasn’t quite love at first sight when she and Aner met at a music sum­mer school when she was 16 and he was 20, but the pair were soon drawn to one an­other and played in cham­ber en­sem­bles to­gether. “Grad­u­ally we be­came a cou­ple,” Brill smiles. “Since we left Is­rael, we have gone ev­ery­where to­gether. We went to Ger­many to study to­gether, we went to the States to­gether and then back to Ber­lin.” The cou­ple are not re­li­gious but, says Brill, they al­ways ob­serve the Jewish hol­i­days: “That was al­ways im­por­tant to me and it’s some­thing I want for my kids too.”

In Lübeck she stud­ied with the clar­inet­tist Sabine Meyer and in Bos­ton with the lead­ing Amer­i­can soloist Richard Stoltz­man. Aner pur­sued pi­ano and cham­ber music stud­ies; to­day he has a flour­ish­ing cham­ber ensem­ble, the Oberon Pi­ano Trio and is also a pro­fes­sor of pi­ano in Frankfurt.

“We’re both very open-minded peo­ple and we see music pretty much the same way, per­haps also be­cause we started very early,” Brill re­flects. “We’re lucky to be able to play to­gether, live to­gether and com­bine ev­ery­thing. He’s a fan­tas­tic, phe­nom­e­nal pi­anist and I learn from him all the time. It’s a dream to be able to play with him and to be to­gether.”

Be­sides the duo, cham­ber music and solo work, Brill has also been a mem­ber for many years, on and off, of Daniel Baren­boim’s West-East­ern Di­van Or­ches­tra; last year, she be­came a pro­fes­sor at the new Baren­boim-Said Akademie in Ber­lin. The WEDO was founded in 1999 by Baren­boim and the Pales­tinian-Amer­i­can aca­demic Ed­ward Said, aim­ing to bring young mu­si­cians from Is­rael and the Ara­bic coun­tries of the Mid­dle East to work to­gether at the high­est level. Brill re­turns to the WEDO’s in­ten­sive pe­ri­ods of re­hearsal and tour­ing when­ever her fam­ily and work­ing life al­lows.

“Baren­boim suc­ceeds in bring­ing some­thing very spe­cial out of the or­ches­tra,” Brill says. “Be­cause we are peo­ple from all sorts of coun­tries with dif­fer­ent back­grounds and tra­di­tions, we see music slightly dif­fer­ently and the lev­els of play­ing vary, but he even­tu­ally man­aged to make us re­ally like one per­son, with a very uni­fied ensem­ble. This is what he’s al­ways talk­ing about: we all play in the same way, we think the same way and we laugh at the same jokes — to show the world that Is­raelis and Arabs can get along to­gether. It is pos­si­ble!”

The same prin­ci­ples un­der­pin the new Akademie, at which up to 90 young mu­si­cians from across the Mid­dle East study to­gether in a state-of-the-art build­ing that in­cludes an im­pres­sive new con­cert hall, the Pierre Boulez Saal. Brill’s pupils there in­clude a gifted young Syr­ian clar­inet­tist: “How of­ten does it hap­pen that an Is­raeli and a Syr­ian guy are work­ing to­gether, think­ing the same things, hav­ing the same goals,” she re­flects. “We meet some­times twice a week, for a cou­ple of hours. It’s some­thing unique and spe­cial for me, not just as a teacher, but also be­cause the hu­man­i­tar­ian side is very im­por­tant.”

The Bril­laner Duo’s CD of Brahms and Janáþek Sonatas for clar­inet and pi­ano is out now on Hänssler Clas­sics

Is­raelis and Arabs laugh at the same jokes


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