On the Road with Yoram Levy

Yoram Levy is Principal Trumpet of the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra (TSO) and a former member of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. He is also Coordinator of Brass and Lecturer in Trumpet at the University of Tasmania’s Conservatorium of Music. Dale caught up with Yoram between Hobart and Launceston on the way to a TSO concert.

Yoram LevyDale: You started your orchestral career as utility trumpet of the Israel Philharmonic (IPO) between 1982 and 1990 under its Music Director Zubin Mehta – what are your lasting memories of those years?

Yoram: I was 27 when I won the job. The playing was always influenced by style, phrasing and string playing. The wind and brass playing was influenced strongly by the strings. Mehta led this to a point, but the string tradition in Israel really had its roots in the string traditions of Eastern Europe – the orchestra was formed by Toscanini with refugees from Eastern Europe in the 1930s. The influences were similar to those in Philadelphia, Boston and New York, as well as to a lesser extent in Montreal and Pittsburgh – all of these orchestras were strongly influenced by European migration.

The brass playing in IPO in the 60s and 70s could perhaps have been perceived as being the weakest in the orchestra, but it wasn’t – there were some very strong individual players in the brass section.

Mehta was hesitant to award the principal trumpet job to a local. It took Yigal Meltzer, my replacement, more than 12 years until he became the first Israeli born principal trumpet in 2004.

The person who almost single-handedly inspired Israeli trombone playing today is Ray Parnes, a former principal trombonist (since the late 60s) of the IPO and a Jewish native of Louisville, Kentucky. Ray taught two members of the current trombone section.

Dale: What did Mehta expect from the brass section in IPO?

Yoram: Mehta was educated in Vienna, so he had the sound of rotary trumpets in his head. He was also chief conductor in LA and New York while he was working with us so he was exposed to a wide range of orchestras and brass sections over the years – he knew what a good section sound was. Phil Smith was appointed principal trumpet of the New York Phil on his watch and he had also worked with Tom Stevens who was principal trumpet in LA. Stevens was a very influential person in the American trumpet world.

Mehta probably had a lot more power in our orchestra in moulding the brass section than he would have received anywhere else, but it was (and still is) a very cosmopolitan orchestra with influences from all around the world.

Dale: Prior to joining the IPO you studied with James Thompson in Montreal, Vincent Cichowicz at Northwestern University in Chicago and Vincent Penzarella in New York. What were the strongest influences from your time in North America on your development as a musician and teacher? Has Arnold Jacobs’ famous “Song and Wind” approach also influenced your playing?

Yoram: When I arrived in Montreal in 1976 James Thompson was principal trumpet. Mr. Thompson possessed a lyrical and brilliant sound which was influenced by Voisin and Ghitala of the Boston Symphony. His Montreal/Dutoit recordings of the French classics are a testament to that style.

Mr. Cichowicz used to be second trumpet to Bud Herseth in the Chicago Symphony (CSO). He left the CSO to teach full-time at Northwestern in the early 70s and started to attract students from all over the world – I remember sitting in the green room at Northwestern when I was a student and Hakan Hardenberger showed up for a lesson with him. Among others, the class included some Scandinavians, Japanese, Italians and me.

Arnold Jacobs was a strong influence on Cichowicz and others in the CSO section over the years – many would discuss issues with him as he was doing his research into breathing. I also took some lessons with Jacobs during my time there – when you were in Chicago that was the thing to do.

Vince Penzarella had some playing problems caused by an accident which Jacobs had helped him to fix over in Chicago – on his return to New York he set himself up as a sort of “East Coast” Jacobs, a brass guru who was heavily influenced by Jacobs.

When I started to teach upon returning to Israel I modelled myself on Mr.Cichowicz and the way he did things. He didn’t get into mechanical explanations like Jacobs did but his genius was that although the concepts were the same – song and wind, releasing air, singing – as a human being he had an understanding of the individuals he was dealing with. While wanting to pass on the concepts and working towards achieving a carefully thought out plan with each of his students, he would tailor his approach to each student to their unique personality. That was my personal experience of his teaching.

My view of things is that you have to be reactive as a teacher, responding to each individual student, while having a clear agenda in terms of the materials used, the musical and technical skills all students need to achieve. You want to equip them with enough concepts so that when they are not with a teacher they can teach themselves.

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