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To Be(at) or not to be(at) - Interview

Eyal Ein Habar Chooses Conducting
 

At 42, IPO Principal Flutist decided to take up conducting full-time

An interview prior to his concert with the Ra’anana Symphonette
 

The beginning of the 2014-15 Season will be a turning point in the career of flutist and conductor Eyal Ein Habar. After more than 17 years as Assistant Principal Flutist of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, he will be leaving the orchestra in order to devote all his time to his second career, which he has been pursuing for the past decade – as a conductor.

Next week he will conduct the Ra’anana Symphonette. “I have conducted it many times and am glad to return”.

“I would like to give conducting the utmost opportunity”

Eyal comes from a musical family. “The original name was Einhaber, and my family looked for a similar sounding name, not that they exactly knew if it had any meaning”, says Eyal. His father, Yitzhak Ein Habar, played the accordion and the three sons are musicians. There was a lot of music in the house. Nitzan is one of the most in-demand Israeli saxophonists, especially in the light music and Jazz scene. Ofer Ein Habar, also a musician, runs the Kfar Saba Conservatory.

In Hadera there was another family with three musical sons – the Gronichs. Father, Otto, was the first conductor of the IDF Orchestra and had founded a wind orchestra in Hadera. As for the three sons: Ilan Gronich became a famous violinist and teacher, who has been teaching for years abroad; everybody knows Shlomo Gronich; and the third brother, Yaron, a trumpeter, was killed in the Yom Kippur War. “They used to say in Hadera that Otto (also meaning “car” in Hebrew) was the only ‘otto’ to ride a bike. There were other connections between our families, for instance, the mother was my brother’s kindergarten teacher. That’s how it is in a small town.”

Eyal’s career as a flutist catapulted. As a soldier he already appeared as soloist with Jean Pierre Rampal, one of the greatest flutists of the time. Both appeared with the Israel Sinfonietta Beer Sheva.

Later, Eyal began to appear and win prestigious prizes in Israel, such as the Francois Shapira Prize, as well as awards in international competitions in Holland and Japan. Since 1997 he has been Assistant Principal Flutist of the Israel Philharmonic. He has launched a successful career as a soloist and chamber musician. He is a regular member of the Israeli Woodwind Quintet and has appeared as soloist, and recently with oboist Dudu Carmel, in major venues around the world with the IPO and other orchestras.

Alongside his career as flutist he has also been developing his career as a conductor and has occasionally combined the two. “But now at the age of 42, almost 43, I would like to give conducting the utmost opportunity. Conducting two simultaneous careers doesn’t really work out. When you’re a member of the IPO you’re subject to a schedule. Time is very limited since the schedule is very rigid. As a conductor I have to be available for invitations of orchestras in Israel and abroad not only in advance but also for cancellations of other conductors.”

“I was always intrigued by a broad overview”

Parallel to Eyal’s work in the orchestra, he also serves as Head of the Wind and Percussion Department at the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music at Tel-Aviv University. He intends to continue this position with full steam. In spite of, or despite this, in the past decade Eyal has conducted Israeli orchestras including the IPO, as well as orchestras abroad. He is now attempting to build his connections and create greater exposure for himself.

When were you first interested in conducting?

“It’s difficult to talk about a certain point in time, but even when I was a candidate for the position of Principal Flutist of the IPO, when Ariel Zukerman and I were still in the IDF, we already talked about conducting. We played chess and talked about symphonies. In the meantime Ariel has left Israel and developed two simultaneous careers and is currently a well-known conductor in Europe, also appearing in concert tours.

“I had another eye-opening moment in 2003. At the time, there was the Classic Orchestra in Hadera, conducted by Omri Hadari, who returned to Israel after a long time abroad. They invited me to conduct them. I then had what seems to me today as a combination of guts and stupidity. By coincidence, the concert also fell on my father’s 65th birthday. The audience was full of friends and associates and everyone who knew and taught me.

“After the concert they asked me, ‘When will you return?’ I sent a recording of the concert to my friend, conductor Menahem Nebenhaus, and asked him if I should study conducting. He soon responded: Don’t study. You should conduct!”

Let’s return to the moments when, in addition to the conversations and your initial success 11 years ago, you identify the wish to leave your instrument for a larger instrument.

“Each orchestra comprises different kinds of players. There are those who come to play and do their job the best way they can. I was always intrigued by the broader overview, the greater picture of the score, even in the wind quintet in which I play. Over the years I studied ancient music performance in Holland, which also expanded my knowledge. I understood that I wanted more. It is also possible that since the repertoire of the flute is limited, I aspired to larger ensembles. I found myself studying more than the instrument dictates.”

Are you identified as a flutist when you conduct? Don’t they look at you from above?

“Two things – firstly, my teacher Mendi Rodan prepared me for this confrontation. Secondly, don’t forget that I come from there. I have been sitting in an orchestra and have seen young conductors and older ones who know or don’t know how to do the job. If there is any question about me, it vanishes very quickly.”

“After a few minutes with the orchestra, Mehta can give a psychological analysis of each player”

There are some known conductors who have never studied conducting in an organized way. Does their knowledge come mainly from sitting in the orchestra and watching other conductors?

“That’s true. In this profession, there is a lot of room for observing and internalizing the work of great conductors. I have been doing this for many years. I can, for instance, see the wonderful qualities of Zubin Mehta, who is truly a great conductor. He is the best accompanist. The soloist feels like he is in the practice room and Mehta is the best rehearsal pianist he could imagine. He feels the soloist and goes with him everywhere. He is supportive and encouraging.

“Mehta also uses this trait in works without soloists, when the orchestra members are soloists for a moment. He gives to them, i.e., he leads – is lead. Moreover, I can tell you that over the years Mehta has been able to read the players in any orchestra in a matter of minutes. After several minutes, he is able to analyze each player psychologically.”

And yet you went to study?

“Yes, I had a few teachers and from each I learnt something different. Mendi Rodan had wonderful hands. I could sense these excellent hands even in his handshake. It is difficult to explain, but one could read the musical work from his hands. In this way he also read the hands of his students.

“A conducting lesson is usually without an orchestra. Instead there is one or several pianists playing the score – the orchestral part – and the student must conduct them. Mendi Rodan would look at the student and suddenly tell him: “You forgot to give the second horn his entrance.” You understand that he is reading every motion of yours. He also knows each work by heart. He knows what happens in bar 234 or bar 10, even when the score is not in front of him.”

“This matter of total mastery of the material was stressed again and again by another teacher of mine, the Finnish conductor Jorma Panula. I took a course with him in Bulgaria and his message to me can be summed up in three rules: A) Learn the score! B) Learn the score! C) Learn the score! There is no such thing as to stand in front of an orchestra and not know each note in the piece, as complicated as it may be. You simply have to know everything.

“American conductor David Zinman talked to me about the relationship with the players: ‘Be kind to your players’, ‘Be nice’, ‘Give them a sweet’. It is also a matter of mentality. American orchestras are the most obedient; if you stop conducting for a second, there is such a hush that you can hear yourself thinking. Hence, Zinman’s recommendations to be nice go beyond being ‘politically correct'”.

Riccardo Muti’s Perfection

Is any conductor your role model?

“I think that of all the conductors I know Riccardo Muti is the ideal figure, in every aspect: knowledge, presence, correct conveyance of wishes to the players, excellent hands, perfection that speaks to me. It is hard for me to talk about him in terms of teacher-student, but on the occasions he conducted the IPO there was a connection between us, and not long ago he let me conduct the Rome Opera orchestra, where he appears three times a year as Principal Guest Conductor.

“The last time I came to him in Rome, he let me conduct Schubert’s Fifth, which was, naturally, not standard repertoire of the orchestra. The players told me that they cannot remember such a gesture of Muti to any conductor in the past decade.”

How are you preparing for your forthcoming program with the Symphonette?

“I have played two of the works and know them of course: De Falla’s El Amor Brujo, a piece written in the spirit of a gitaneria (a gypsy piece combining music, dance and pantomime), and due to its success De Falla orchestrated it.

“Gluck’s opera Orfeo ed Euridice is also well known to me, and here the audience also has the opportunity to hear me as a flutist in the “Dance of the Good Spirits”. The central piece of the program will be Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater for soprano, mezzo-soprano and string orchestra. I learned this piece in depth, because as a flutist I never had the opportunity to play it. Despite this, I remember the presentation and score very well.”