Born in Israel in 1979, Asaf Maoz is a graduate of the Talma Yellin School of the Arts, the Rubin Academy of Music in Tel-Aviv, and the Rostock Hochschule für Musik, Germany. He served in the IDF as a distinguished musician and has won several competitions and scholarships from the America-Israel Foundation, Yehudi Menuhin’s “Live Music Now” and the Fundación Barenboim-Said.
In 2013 he joined the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra as a second violin. This November he will perform as a soloist with the IPO at the Beverly Hills Duet Gala during their US tour.
What made you choose the violin?
It was sort of chosen for me. When I was five, my parents took me to a teacher who said I should try playing the violin instead of the piano since I had good coordination. From the beginning I loved it. Later I tried to pick up the piano but it didn’t really work, I’m a true violinist.
It also has such a beautiful sound. With age and improvement I’ve found I can play in different groups – quartet, chamber orchestra, and the violin is always a major part. I love this usage of the instrument in different groups or combinations.
Who has had the largest influence on your career?
There are two musicians that are the main influence on my identity. One is Daniel Barenboim, whom I played under for almost 15 years. I think his way of analyzing and talking about music and trying to find how to produce sound really made an impact on my playing. It’s a very logical approach to things.
On the other hand is a Hungarian conductor, Gabor Takacs-Nagy – he for me is the influence on how to play the most passionately and to never stop trying to find energy. He encouraged me to always try to find more and more, play as much as you can to bring out the passion and the beauty of the music as the composer intended.
You grew up in Israel; did you attend IPO performances as a child?
Of course! I grew up first sneaking into the hall and then at some point they introduced the youth club and we were able to enter for free. Then all the way through the army service I heard all the big names and I adored them. I knew the faces of the musicians and getting into the orchestra I recognized some of them. I was so happy to sit with them on the same stage and perform with them.
What was the audition process for the IPO like?
Well, I learned they were holding auditions after getting an email from my mother. At the time I was living in Germany and she said she read in the paper that there was an opening in the IPO and that I should audition because she wanted me to come back to Israel. So I applied. Maybe because I had been away for years I felt I was unknown and therefore under less stress. I felt very comfortable. I even enjoyed my audition and was extremely happy to get in.
I think it’s the preparation that is horrible, you practice hours and hours and you prepare mentally but once you are there you can feel calm. When I realized that day that I am playing for Zubin and the orchestra and that I have to impress them – that was the most stressful moment but then it was fine.
Is there a specific memory of playing with the IPO that stands out for you?
Last season we played in Boston’s Symphony Hall during a tour to the US and I remember the concert being extremely energetic. It wasn’t an easy tour but suddenly we came on stage and there was a spark – everything came together, there was amazing energy on stage. I remember that concert giving me such exuberance.
Who are your favorite composers and why?
I really love playing Brahms and all of his symphonies. I think he managed to find a way of composing that is complex but also so simple. I both enjoy playing him and learn from it – I can find new melodies and harmonies. I find it challenging to bring out all the music that is written. I love the challenge but I also love the simplicity in the challenge.
What do you like to listen to when not performing or rehearsing?
I listen to a lot of jazz but not modern jazz, more old fashioned pieces. I like to listen to classical music as well, but the problem is I get very involved and can’t have it in the background. I try to listen to other things so I can let my mind go free.
If you weren’t a musician what career would you want to have?
That’s easy; I would have loved to become a tennis player. When I was 14 I had to make a choice between music and tennis because I had important competitions in both on the same day. I’ve never regretted my decision but it’s an easy question! About six months ago I got back into playing and play twice a week. I’m trying to become at least a very good amateur.
As of now I see myself staying at the IPO and imagine becoming more invested in my private life and family. I just got married and we are thinking about having children. I also hope that now that there are many new young members that we can bring some interesting changes to the orchestra. We are very much involved in the community outreach program and trying to bring our experiences to a new audience.
Also, I plan next year to start my own swing band. I used to play in one Germany and I need in my life something that is non-classical. Swing music is very popular in Israel and a lot of people go swing dancing but always to recorded music. I hope to have maybe ten people in the band and imagine twenty couples dancing in front of us.