As told to Greg Cahill
Keep Connected chronicles the ways in which string players and organizations are supporting and keeping in touch with their audiences or students throughout the global coronavirus pandemic. Even as society reopens, virtual concerts and social-media outreach programs are a phenomenon that have kept performers in the public sphere, since concert, festivals and other large gatherings remain largely restricted.
Strings caught up with violinist and composer Ittai Shapira, who has been described by the New York Times as “an Israeli dynamo with a flourishing solo violin career.” Shapira’s 2012 Champs Hill Records release Shapira: Violin Concertos was of two of his own compositions: “The Old Man and the Sea,” inspired by the Hemingway classic, and Concierto Latino. Both were recorded with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.
He recently premiered and recorded, on 2019 release Shapira: Midnight Journeys, his Concerto for Violin and Cello, “Sephardic Journeys,” coupled with his Violin and Clarinet Concerto, “Midnight’s Children,” a multidisciplinary project in close collaboration with Sir Salman Rushdie and visual artist Alexander Klingspor. You can hear his Concierto Latino here. Shapira is quarantined in New York City.
Tell me about your daily routine.
I continue to practice and compose with the exact same schedule and discipline.
What have you learned about yourself as a person and as a player while working and living in solitude?
Practicing my craft and passion gives me clarity, hope, and confidence.
Are you performing online?
I developed guided violin practicing, therapy through music, and music education tutorials for specific institutions. I developed medical therapies for COVID first responders and patients through my compositions for Harvard Women’s Hospital, Mt. Sinai, and Therapists at the Contemporary Freud Society through my non-profit for music and healing. I also developed practicing tutorials through my duets for celebrated performer and teacher Hagai Shaham and his class at the Tel Aviv University, a Feher Foundation Project in collaboration with BBC Now. I felt there are already plenty of living-room concerts and decided to only offer something I felt would add to the bounty of material available on the web.
What is the response like?
Very positive, and I was asked to develop more of the tutorials, happily!
Why is it important to stay connected on social media?
It is important to keep a presence and stay connected with colleagues and friends during a very extreme time—and equally important not to confuse “likes” and comments with anything concrete.
What have you learned about your audience?
I am touched by the support and miss the live experience!
How do you rate your experience with virtual performance?
I think the platforms need improvement, the potential is enormous.
Is this something you will continue even as performance venues reopen?
Yes, but in a way that is complimentary and does not cancel out the demand for live performances.
Any tips for other string players considering this path?
Keep an online presence and make sure to take it as seriously as any live performance in a concert hall.
What are your goals going forward as performance venues reopen? How will you continue going forward as a player?
I plan on continuing to perform my compositions, provide therapy through music for hospitals and schools, and to learn more about integrating it with the digital world.
What other projects are you working on?
“Tateuchi Duos” with violinist and conductor Florin Parvulescu, for students the Tateuchi Music Center. This includes practice and rehearsing technique videos, and a lesson plan about the various cultures, countries, songs, and dances the duos are inspired by. I am also developing a long-term project called “The Covenant” dedicated to pianist Constanze Beckmann. This includes programming in schools and future concerts focusing on Resilience through Music.
Is there a message you’d like to share with our readers?
I was not brought up religiously, but always thought of performing as sharing a prayer. I now realize that a concert is more like a communion, a shared responsibility between the performers, listeners, and everyone involved. With the outpouring of passionate music-making and empathy, we need to devote more time and energy to engaging communities around us, so they understand that music is essential to the human experience, thought process, and overall health. The industry needs to engage, advocate, and insist on the same standards as other professions in terms of compensation, advance payment, and royalty distribution, and avoid the temptation to flood the internet with services that are given away for free, thus in risk of becoming diluted and devalued.
Music has connected every part of our lives, and without it, they would be empty and void. We must learn to connect with the digital world, and come up with many possible creative solutions for live performances. In the meantime, governments and municipalities should be engaged so they understand that music and the arts should be supported and not shoved to the sidelines at times of difficulty. History shows consistently that the arts are essential in times of need—maintain tradition and lead the way to change!
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