IPO Musicians: Yigal Meltzer

The IPO’s Principal Trumpet connects generations – in his family and his community – to a musical heritage.

 

In 1991, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra was seeking a fourth chair, utility trumpet player. One of the musicians who auditioned, nearing the end of his army service, was a young man playing in the Israel Defense Forces Orchestra.

“When I heard that the Philharmonic was conducting tryouts,” recalled Yigal Meltzer, now 49, “I told a friend, ‘Listen to me good: That position is mine.’ I decided I’d get the job and indeed I did.”

Ten years later, the orchestra’s Principal Trumpet position opened.

“Now I decided that position would be mine,” he recalled in a 2015 video interview. “And I practiced like a fiend.”

Along the way he suffered a rare spasm of uncertainty before a mysterious show of support materialized.

“One night after practicing,” he said, “I got in the car and asked myself, ‘Is there even a chance that this will happen?’ Then I saw a sticker on another car that said: ‘Yes, it’s possible.’ That moment I was convinced I’d get the job.”

And indeed he did.

Meltzer is now in his 18th season as the IPO’s Principal Trumpet, a position that requires, among other qualities, a soloist’s self-confidence and a counselor’s sympathetic ear.

“First of all,” he explained, “I have to make sure that the trumpet section sounds good. That means if we need to have a rehearsal I call for a sectional. But I also have to make sure that the group is getting along with each other. If two members have a problem I have to get in there, sit down with them, and try and solve it. That’s a very important part.

“In general,” he continued, “getting a unified concept of sound, articulation and phrasing has a lot to do with behavior.”

While Maestro Zubin Mehta is the only IPO Music Director Meltzer has known, there are many guest conductors in each Israel Philharmonic season. This season, for example, there will be about 100 performances, and someone other than Mehta will be on the podium for many of them.

“For some conductors, if they don’t have anything special for the brass section, they just want to make sure it sounds good: unified and in tune. That’s enough for them,” Meltzer explained. “Sometimes we’ll work on something by ourselves before rehearsals for a series, which can be four or five days, depending on the program. We work on lengths of notes, different articulation and dynamics. Then, the conductor may come in and ask for something totally different. Then obviously we’ll change. It just depends.”

 

A MUSICAL HERITAGE

Yigal and sister Nurit with their mother and younger sister.

Respecting the complications of group dynamics comes naturally to Meltzer. His own musical lineage traces back a century in his mother’s family, many of whom performed silent movie scores live in London theaters.

“My grandmother grew up in the 1920s and her whole family made their living playing in movie theaters,” he said.

By 1930, Meltzer’s grandparents had moved to New Zealand, taking advantage of good jobs and other incentives generated by Britain’s Empire Settlement Act of 1922.

“That’s where my mother was born,” he said. “She became a pianist and a singer and, in 1964, she and my father, who was not a musician, moved to London. She got her music degree, had my older sister Nurit, and in 1968 they came to Israel.”

Yigal was born there the next year, followed within a few years by another sister.

“We grew up with classical music in my house,” he recalled. “My mother, who happily is still alive, was a wonderful musician and taught voice at the Jerusalem Academy. My big sister was a really good French horn player, but she quit the horn in favor of piano, which she now plays and teaches.”

 

COMPETING INTERESTS

The few forks that Meltzer encountered along the way to the IPO quickly tilted towards brass.

As a child, he had been encouraged by his mother to learn an instrument of his choice. Fond of the sound of the clarinet, he picked that. Then one day his mother took him to a youth orchestra in Jerusalem. Outside the conservatory he found himself staring into the bells of three student trumpets who were playing a rousing version the “Dallas” theme.

When they finished, he turned to his mother and said, “I want to play the trumpet!”

He would never change course again, even when he fell in love with football. In high school, he became such an accomplished goalie on his hometown team on Moshav Neve Ilan that his coach invited the Beitar Jerusalem youth team to come watch him and consider drafting him.

“It was very clear that I had to make a choice,” he said. “But in fact, my choice had already been made. Music was the path for me.”

That athletic prowess can be sensed in the discipline with which he approaches music. While he doesn’t play football anymore, he stays fit by running, swimming and going to the gym. When, for her Pianoways blog in 2016, his sister Nurit asked if he had a book that would help her readers improve their performing skills, he recommended The Inner Game of Tennis.

Recently he explained why.

“Tennis is just the platform,” he said. “The important thing is the inner game. That’s one of the things I like about being a trumpet player: you always have to look inside for the best way to connect with your higher self and not to force it. I approach the trumpet from that philosophical way of thinking. I don’t think it is the common way, but for me the whole inner process is really, really intriguing.”

Meltzer has also appeared as a soloist with The Israel Chamber Orchestra, The Camerata Orchestra Jerusalem, The Tel Aviv Soloists, The Be’er Sheva Chamber Orchestra and the modern music ensemble Musica Nova. He is active in Tempera, a group he co-founded consisting of trumpet, saxophone, percussion and piano.

“I wanted to play something that’s really different and it’s really very challenging and satisfying,” he said. The group plays all kinds of music, including original work that composers write for them. While the IPO is his priority, he knows that the orchestra is happy to see its members playing in outside groups and enhancing their performing and creative abilities. “The orchestra knows that way it gets a better player.”

 

PASSING THE TORCH

Sharing his insights and skills is something Meltzer has done throughout his life, and since the launch of the Israel Philharmonic’s KeyNote education programs, which happened just as he became Principal Trumpet, he has regularly been one of the IPO musicians heading out to schools to interact with students. [READ STORY]

Another surprising and rewarding experience connecting with children came on one of the IPO’s celebrated tours to China. The tour finished in the city of Harbin, where Meltzer stayed an extra day to perform with the orchestra’s Brass Quintet. Unable to find a proper rehearsal space within the hotel, the five musicians decided to practice on the patio outside one of their rooms.

“We said, ‘If they come and throw us off then okay, we’ll find a different place,'” Meltzer remembered. “But they didn’t, and what happened was as we were playing these pieces, which were like dance pieces, a few Chinese families stopped to listen, and their kids just started dancing. And it was so nice: one of those beautiful things in music. It overcomes the language barriers and people just respond to it. You aren’t able to talk to them, but still you are communicating with them.”

His personal music tradition, with roots reaching back a century and more, already has branches reaching into another generation. With his wife, a music therapist who plays viola in numerous amateur chamber groups, their four children have all connected to it. Their youngest, a 9-year-old daughter, is now studying piano and saxophone. Their next oldest, another daughter who is now entering the army, was an excellent saxophonist before discovering even greater talent as a painter. Their second son, currently serving his army years in a very elite combat unit, “is also very musical.”

Then there is 24-year-old Haran Meltzer, a 2018 winner of the America-Israel Cultural Foundation’s Rachel and Dov Gottesman Family Prize for Cello.

“My son is the fourth generation of musicians,” Meltzer said proudly. “He is an exceptionally good cello player and an up-and-coming star. When he was younger he played a solo with the IPO and Zubin really loved him. He’s now studying in Hanns Eisler [Hochschule für Musik], a really good school in Berlin.” 

A year from now, as Meltzer ends his third decade with the Israel Philharmonic and second as Principal Trumpet, the orchestra itself will enter a new generation when Maestro Mehta passes the baton to Lahav Shani.

“I think Lahav is a great choice the orchestra has made,” Meltzer said. “He’s extremely talented and a terrific pianist. I think Zubin is also very happy with Lahav replacing him. As the years go by he’ll just become more versatile and deeper in his role as conductor.”

And, Shani will be able to count on a Principal Trumpet with generations of depth leading his trumpet section.