Israeli violinist’s career on the rise

Netanel Draiblate
Netanel Draiblate

Israeli-born violinist Netanel Draiblate, concertmaster to “three-and-a-half” orchestras in the region, has seen his solo career blossom of late.

Draiblate, who makes his home in Odenton, serves as concertmaster to the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, the Lancaster Symphony Orchestra, the Lake Forest Symphony and the project-based experimental PostClassical Ensemble.

In a typical year, Draiblate performs one or two solos, but between October and the end of this coming January, he will have performed five solo concertos.

Last month, ASO Music Director Jose-Luis Novo tapped Draiblate to perform a solo piece and immediately, Draiblate selected Antonín Dvořák’s “Concerto for Violin in A Minor.” Choosing underperformed pieces and breathing new life into standards through the composition of new cadenzas, such as the two he wrote for recent performances of Brahms and Beethoven concerto solos, is part of how Draiblate differentiates himself from other soloists.

Though he usually listens to a variety of recordings, so he won’t become, in his words, “very square,” for the “Debussy, Dvorak & Brahms” ASO performance, he studied the recording of his teacher Pamela Frank, winner of the Avery Fisher prize.

At 33, Draiblate has already shared the stage with classical music giants including Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman and Yo-Yo Ma. Each, Draiblate said, left a lasting impression, but he spoke most highly of his six seasons performing under world-renowned conductor Daniel Barenboim in the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. The ensemble, co-created by Barenboim and Palestinian-American intellectual Edward Said, brings together Israeli, Palestinian and Arab musicians.

Barenboim and his youth orchestra are frequently politicized, but Draiblate said that he and his fellow musicians, though aware of the situation, were there to learn and perform under a musical giant.

“We all wanted to work with [Barenboim],” said Draiblate, referring to the Israeli and Arab musicians. “If he was a no-name conductor that would start something like this, it wouldn’t happen. But, because it’s him and he’s bringing his guys from Berlin, then we have an excuse to come and learn.”

Through his training he learned to channel an emotional experiences to fit each phrase.

“If you’ve ever seen the movie Whiplash, there’s a scene in the movie where [the conductor] says, ‘The two most destructive words in the English language are: good job,’” said Draiblate. “I would rather you tell me you hated it than good job. … If I can put an experience of my past into the music in one way when I play and I think about it, it produces the music in a different way which will hit the audience.”

That emotional connection shines through in Draiblate’s first solo CD, Perspectives, recorded with pianist Lura Johnson, general manager of PostClassical Ensemble. Notable pieces are the Felix Mendelssohn “Sonata in F Major” and the Edvard Grieg “Sonata in F Major.”

Johnson and Draiblate perform as the duo Times Two. Like every good partnership, it happened by mistake. Draiblate, in need of an accompanist to run through a piece before performing in Brazil called on Johnson to rehearse.

“We went through a run-through and the connection was so good. We didn’t have to talk about anything and we thought it would be a shame not to follow up on that — so we did and very shortly came up with the idea to record a CD.”

The two are touring and will discuss their next recording collaboration while on the road.

When not performing, Draiblate serves as the director of chamber music at Georgetown University and works with the ASO’s youth education outreach. He is passionate about engaging younger audiences. The challenge, he said, is to get audiences “out of the house the first time; once they come to the concert they want to come back.”

Draiblate grew up in a musical household in Bat Yam, Israel.

Both of his parents are violinists and began the young Draiblate on an violin at age 6 and entered him into a conservatory at age 8. Though his parents are retired from performing — his mother still teaches in Israeli schools — they still offer advice.

“I don’t know if it’s because they’re musicians or because they’re Jewish, but my dad — we did a rehearsal yesterday and my dad had some advice after the rehearsal. It’s good because it’s a set of other ears that are differently tuned, the taste is different,” said Draiblate.

His younger brother Yoni, a cellist, also plays with the ASO and lives in Philadelphia.

When tasked with putting together an Israeli chamber group to back singer Adrienne Haan during recent performances of “Tehorah” at Carnegie Hall in New York and the Austrian embassy in Washington, Draiblate called up his brother and a few other musicians they knew from Israel.

Many of the musicians Draiblate performed with during his military service, he said, have likewise found success around the world.

Draiblate has not performed in Israel recently. But through researching his doctoral thesis on Israeli music, which he completed last May at the University of Maryland, he saw firsthand the thriving music scene and marveled at the amount of talent to come out of such a small country.

“There’s a very special spot in the classical music hall of fame for Jewish musicians. It’s more like the culture, the soul goes into it that you won’t find in other cultures,” he said. “It adds another aspect to the performance.”

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