For this entry of Expat Drummer I interviewed Elliot Beck, Assistant Principal Timpani/Section Percussion of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Prior to his appointment to the IPO he was a percussionist with the Grand Rapids Symphony, and obtained his Bachelors of Music at the University of Michigan, Masters of Music at Temple University and a Performance Certificate from Carnegie Mellon University. He joined the Israel Philharmonic in the fall of 2015.
What were you doing before you accepted the position at the IPO?
After I obtained my Artist Diploma at Carnegie Mellon I was playing in a few regional orchestras around the Grand Rapids area, and then I won a job with the Grand Rapids Symphony in the Spring of 2014.
What was your audition experience like?
The audition was pretty standard, First Round screened, Second Round was unscreened with the music director, Zubin Mehta, present and the Third Round was a rehearsal the following day with the whole orchestra. This part entailed playing the excerpts with the orchestra. The committee was very similar to an American audition committee, about 8-10 orchestra members and the MD. Where it gets a little different is that after the audition there is a TWO-YEAR trial period. After you make it through the trial period you become an orchestra member for life.
What is your role in the orchestra?
Since I am still under probation and they are still “trying me out” I tend to play the principal percussion parts. Currently we are in a bit of a transitional period, it used to be that the players had their specialty instruments (Cymbal person, Snare Drum person, Mallet person, etc…), and as the section has been turning over that has gone away. If it is a lighter program (less than 4 percussionists needed) I will usually play timpani for the whole concert and give the Principal Timpanist that concert off, and vice versa.
Is there a style of playing that is preferred?
The playing style here is pretty varied. Some players have studied in Germany and others in the United States, as well as Israel. The former Principal Percussionist, Alon Bor and former Principal Timpanist, Gideon Steiner, both studied with Fred Hinger. The only percussion instrument that really has a stylistic “sound” is the cymbals. Alon Bor was especially known for his cymbal playing, so that sound is in everyone’s ear.
As for timpani, Zubin Mehta prefers a darker, rounder German sound which complements the orchestra’s style and our concert hall’s acoustic. It’s a little different than my more American timpani background, but fortunately no one has said I need to change my technique, as long as I am producing the right sounds! The Principal Timpanist, Dan Moshayev, has more of a German style of playing and it has been really interesting to share and learn from each other.
What is your season like?
We have a 10-month season, with 2 months off, but there is usually a tour in the summer that most will do. The Israel Philharmonic is a very busy orchestra. We will play a program 6-8 times, and we will make a few changes throughout, maybe a different concerto or overture. We play a lot in Tel Aviv, but also do run out concerts in Haifa and Jerusalem. We also do a bunch of youth concerts, kids chamber concerts and a program called the IPO in Jeans. IPO in Jeans is a program where we will have a celebrity host that interviews the conductor and soloist during the concert.
What is your touring schedule like?
Last year we toured the United States, China, Greece, Germany, Greece (twice), India and South America. This year we have one, maybe two tours! A lot of countries we go to regularly, but we have around a 3 to 4-year touring cycle between countries.
What is it like living in Israel?
Israel is a Jewish country, so the Sabbath is respected. In fact, the orchestra has a policy to never play on the Sabbath. In the city a lot of stores are closed and bus service shuts down on the Sabbath. And whenever there is a Jewish holiday it is a National holiday!
What is the Expat Community like in Tel Aviv?
Tel Aviv is a very cosmopolitan city. Walking down the street you can hear Hebrew, Arabic, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian and English. You can find pretty much any type of food in Tel Aviv. You can get Indian food, Ethiopian food, Mexican food and Sushi all over the city. Tel Aviv is a city of about 400,000 people, and there are a lot of younger people here.
How do you stay connected with pop culture and news?
In my pursuit of learning Hebrew I have sworn off as much English entertainment as I can (Star Wars was an exception). I watch Israeli TV shows and listen to Hebrew podcasts, and I read Israeli news. I keep in touch with friends and family with all of the normal ways.
Is there any advice that you have to someone thinking about moving to another country?
Be patient! It will take you a long time to figure out the bureaucracy of a new country. When I would try to do something like get a drivers license, there were so many steps to go through. As long as you realize that it will take a little longer than you expect to get something done, you won’t be frustrated.
Chris Tusa 11/12/2016