Violinist Lior hopes to 'fiddle' a way to peace

DAVID SAFFER meets an acclaimed musician whose first 'gig' was singing Ma Nishtana at the age of three

VIOLINIST Lior Kaminetsky is known as the "Fiddler on the Tank" in Israel.

Wowing audiences globally, Lior hopes his "fiddling" skills can help bring peace in the Middle East.

He is currently ending a five- city UK tour, sponsored by Israel Connection. And some fans at Leeds, Manchester, London, Oxford and Birmingham gigs could be forgiven if they have a feeling of deja vu.

Why? Because Lior performed alongside his father and three brothers at Dan Panorama Hotel (formally the Moriah Hotel) sedarim in Jerusalem for many years.

Nowadays, Lior strums a different tune around the world - but come Pesach he will celebrate in his home city.

"I'm a seventh generation Jerusalemite," the 33-year-old violinist said proudly.

"All my grandparents were born in Jerusalem, although Passover was not a family event but a performance as my father led the hotel sedarim.

"We accompanied him on a stage and I loved it.

"I must have been three when I first performed, singing Ma Nishtana. It was a unique time."

Lior lost his parents, Jacob and Ofra Kaminetsky, over the past decade and lived in Los Angeles for five years. But he's now living again in Jerusalem with his New Yorker wife Rachel and young twins.

Lior's father was an accomplished cantor. As his assistant and in his own right as a cantor, he took High Holy Day services in Stockholm, Tokyo, Los Angeles and Israeli communities.

And he is forever thankful for a musical background, playing the violin since six years of age.

Two brothers are pianists and one a clarinettist, but Lior is the only one who took up the violin and as a profession.

"My teacher told me it was a very difficult instrument to learn," he recalled. "By fifth grade my next teacher asked if I did it as a hobby or profession. I said a profession." Lior added: "My Israeli teacher, Hagi Shachan, is a model for being a mensch. He is great soloist and a great teacher.

"Often, a teacher is a great soloist and performer but doesn't know to teach, or they are great teachers who don't know how to play any more.

"Hagi does, which is a great for me."

The dichotomy of fiddlers versus violinists is a complex issue.

"The violin offers lots of expressions," Lior explained. "Fiddlers improvise. Violinists are much more traditional with a classical way of playing. I do both, which is why I love playing the violin so much.

"Often people are not really connected to classical music because they feel it is not related to them.

"My doctorate is actually in classical music and violin performance, but most my performances are a combination of classical and popular music, Jewish music and almost any style.

"With other musicians, I love improvising with the violin.

"In Africa, I've played with Zulu dancers and in America with reggae, jazz or rock stars. You have to be adaptable, which is part of my character."

Notable performances have come at Independence Day Israeli festivals and in New York at the Lincoln Centre - a night Lior modestly described as a "big event". It helped make his name.

At home as a soloist, in a duet or in tandem with his Mediterranean Klezmer Ensemble band (six and 10 piece), which he founded a decade ago, or local musicians, Lior has performed in 30 countries taking in North America, Africa and Europe.

Proficient in classical, Israeli, klezmer, Mediterranean, Carlebach, Sixties and Broadway styles, Lior bridges traditional and modern music with East and West influences.

Solo musicianship is combined with piano performance, vocals and whistling together with explanations, storytelling and audience interaction.

Improvised melodies reflect his virtuosity as a performer, arranger and composer.

Blessed with the "gift of the gab", Lior's performances are never boring.

During a packed repertoire, there is plenty of chat, including his experiences on a yeshiva programme that combined Torah studies with 18 months' service as a medic in the Israeli Defence Forces.

Musically, though, he loves improvising with the violin in different ways, inviting people from the audience on stage or being interactive with them.

Music students have also come to recognise Lior as he takes workshops on Jewish music during biblical times.

"The Jerusalem Temple was not only a spiritual place, it was an important musical centre with an orchestra and musical elements," he said.

And for the next generation of violinists he has created a programme that includes explanations and activities to appreciate music and develop musical improvisation, creativity and listening skills.

Looking to the future, Lior noted: "My family is the most important thing in my life, but I love touring the world as a musician exploring new cultures and letting the violin open new doors in my life."

As for the burning question of peace in Israel?

"I see myself as a person who seeks peace both abroad and at home," he noted.

"I've been lucky enough to learn and interact with other cultures during my worldwide tours, interacting on a personal level and through my music.

"Many people know how to play or express themselves clearly out loud, but being a musician means first and foremost knowing how to listen, and only later to react accordingly.

"Peace seeking is not solely a matter for politicians to deal with but it's a concept for private people to seek in their daily lives.

"This means being able to listen before you express your own ideas.

"It is the basic understanding that sometimes we need to sacrifice part of our own convenience in order to give the other person his place.

"It is to be able to make peace with your wife and children, or perhaps with a professional competitor who threatens your status.

"It is giving dignity and respect to every person, whoever he is - approaching each person with a smile and compassion, rather than coming with prejudiced opinion due to the way she or he looks or what other people say about him or her.

"To be a peace seeker means to appreciate who you are but at the same time allowing others to be who they are, concentrating on the good and connection.

"I really hope there will be peace. That is the main purpose - for everyone to live in peace together. But it's not so simple.

"One of my goals in my musical career is to help bring peace through the violin and cross cultures with music."

© 2012 Jewish Telegraph