Please enjoy this post by All Classical Portland’s 2022 International Arts Correspondent Sophie Lippert! Sophie is a multi-talented Portland musician and artist who has been given the opportunity to live in Tel Aviv, Israel for the next 12 months. She’ll be sharing her journey with us online and on the air with a series of blogs and performances. Stay tuned as we learn more about Sophie as well as the rich music, food, and culture of this region Sophie will call home for the year.
Part 1: Venturing into the Unknown
Music has always been an anchor for me.
Whether I’m tickling the keys of the piano, bowing or plucking my cello, or listening to recorded tracks or live performances, music serves as a constant; a place of refuge, comfort, joy, emotion, and trusted companionship.
My connection to music is especially important when life takes turns toward the unexpected—and it certainly did when I took a monumental leap into the unknown, and relocated to Tel Aviv, Israel in December 2021!
This transition was a big surprise to everyone in my life—including me. For the previous 10 years, I’d established a life in Portland as a performing pianist, teacher, and entrepreneur. I’d played as a concerto soloist with the Seattle Philharmonic and Olympia Symphony, performed at venues such as the Keller Auditorium and the Portland Art Museum, and collaborated with many of the Pacific Northwest’s finest multi-genre musicians as founder of Connections Concert Series. I’d recorded my first full-length solo piano CD, worked as resident recording artist with Classic Pianos, and played several thrilling Thursdays @ Three programs right here on All Classical Portland.
So, when the opportunity arose to relocate to Israel with my partner for a year, the decision wasn’t an easy one. I’d planted roots, both personally and professionally; built a house and a community; and had finally reached a place in my career that felt stable and sustainable.
And yet—when a tantalizing opportunity for growth arises, it’s hard for me to say no! 35 years of life has taught me that taking big leaps outside of my comfort zone yields amazing results—though often, they’re not the particular results I’d anticipated.
Setting the stage...
My musical background is a great example of this. I grew up as a student of traditional classical music, and I have deep respect, reverence, and love for the incredible beauty and artistry classical music contains. When playing melodies by Chopin and Grieg, harmonic progressions by Bach and Debussy, rhythmic patterns by Gershwin and Villa-Lobos, I find myself completely transported and taken over. As a professional performer, it is an incredible honor to embody and share music written by some of the greatest composers that ever lived.
That said, my love of music is not limited to the most famous composers in history—nor is it limited to classical music itself! I’ve always loved listening to music of all genres, especially those connected to the culture of a place (be that sultry Brazilian bossa nova, or mesmerizingly rhythmic Indian tabla, or boppy New Orleans brass). And I’ve become particularly passionate about music written by women—who have historically been dramatically underrepresented.
In the past several years, I’ve taken a big leap in two primary ways: beginning to collaborate frequently with diverse, non-classically trained musicians, and dramatically overhauling my performing repertoire to include almost exclusively music written by women. In doing so, I’ve made the most miraculous discovery: not only do I deeply love this new music I’m playing, but it’s greatly enhanced my capabilities as a pianist, a teacher, and even a business woman. It has allowed for deeper levels of curiosity and openness; and, perhaps most importantly, expanded capacity to —both to myself, and to my musical collaborators.
Into uncharted territories, we go!
As my partner and I packed our belongings into two huge shipping containers, and prepared for a year away, I wasn’t sure of all the areas in which my time in Israel would foster growth—but I did know that, if there was ever a time for music to provide a precious foundation and sense of anchoring, this was IT!
And I set a few intentions for myself even before our arrival in Tel Aviv:
- To expand my musical horizons—both as a listener and a player.
- To attend an eclectic array of local concerts, collaborate with diverse local musicians, and explore new repertoire that distinctly represents Israeli culture.
- To be a sponge for the music of this place!
“Where words fail, music speaks.” —Hans Christian Andersen
I’m infatuated by music’s ability to communicate, and create connections between people and cultures, in a way that doesn’t require words. There’s nothing better able to transcend boundaries of spoken language—and build bridges between cultures where there were previously barriers—than harmony, melody, and rhythm!
This is particularly important given the language barrier I’m faced with. Though Tel Aviv is a huge metropolitan hub, and many people speak English, Hebrew is undeniably the most prevalent language—both in spoken and written environments.
Music, however, dissolves all of these communication barriers; sets a table filled with endless place settings, and invites anyone to join—no matter their culture, religion, skin color, body size, abilities or disabilities, socioeconomic background, gender, sexual orientation, and more. There is always a seat at the musical table for me—for you—for everyone. I’ve always found this component of the musical language astounding in its almost magical ability to allow everyone to feel welcome. There is no exclusivity in a series of notes on a page, a drummer playing jubilant rhythm, or a clarinet player soulfully carrying a soaring melody above an accordion. And even songs with words in a language I don’t understand usually contain an intensity of emotional expression that helps me feel immediately connected to them; when I listen, I understand the sentiments behind the expressions, if not the literal translations of the words (sung) themselves.
The unique musical ecosystem of Tel Aviv
As with so many parts of this city and its culture, the musical landscape in Tel Aviv is decidedly its own. The most famous jazz club is a tiny hole-in-the-wall that seats only 30 or so patrons; experimental, edgy artists and small ensembles play nearly every night. The stunning and sleek Tel Aviv Art Museum regularly features fantastic performances for several hundred patrons in its steep, dramatic concert hall; from classical crossover, to performance artists, to touring quartets and other small ensembles. The quirky Yiddish Library, tucked away in a cavernous and mostly-abandoned old bus station, houses an eclectic collection of shows each week; including a weekly klezmer concert, with an open jam that follows. And the outdoor music scene is perhaps more vibrant than any enclosed hall. In the neighborhoods and streets of Tel Aviv you’ll encounter everyone from solo street performers, to wild and cacophonous percussion ensembles, to beloved jazz ensembles. And of course, there are dozens and dozens of dance clubs and concert venues, where edgy pop, rap, R&B, and electronic artists play until nearly sunrise every day of the week.
In upcoming posts, I’ll be sharing short profiles of concerts I’ve attended at several venues across Israel, including the three I mentioned above: Beit Haamudim Jazz Club, the Tel Aviv Art Museum, and Yung Yiddish Klezmer Library. The incredible richness and diversity within the musical soundscape here is truly special.
In closing: an ode to the power of music
Now more than ever, as I build a life thousands of miles away from my family and friends, I’m wowed by music’s ability to communicate artistry, emotion, and human experience in a way that resonates with so many people.
Tel Aviv is a vibrant international city nuzzled within the Middle East; a melting pot of races, cultures, and ethnicities. And music’s ability to transcend barriers of language and background is absolutely represented in the artistic environment here.
And, I’ve over and over again been wowed by how much music, more than nearly any other element, makes me feel connected—and anchored—to this fascinating place.
One of my personal heroes, Leonard Bernstein, encapsulated this sentiment beautifully: “Music… can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.”
Here’s to music! An anchor, a bridge, a companion, a “namer of the unnameable.” I’m so looking forward to continued adventures in Israel—always with music by my side.
Stay tuned for the next blog in Sophie’s Musician Abroad! series coming in June 2022! You can also learn more about Sophie at sophielippert.com