The Vancouver Symphony’s 34th season, which begins in early October, is titled “The Infinite Power of Music.” The careers of Israeli cellist Hillel Zori and his twin brother, violinist Nitai Zori, exemplify the abiding connections music creates. The brothers, who began making music in early childhood, are each noted performers in their own right.
Hillel made his professional debut with the Israeli Philharmonic under the direction of Zubin Mehta and has won several prestigious international cello prizes including the Rostropovich and Maria Canals competitions.
Nitai is the concertmaster of the Ra’anana Symphonette Orchestra, a municipal ensemble located in Israel’s southern Sharon Plain, near Kfar Sava and Herzliya. Nitai is also an active chamber musician and soloist and has performed with ensembles throughout Israel and the world. Nitai is a champion of contemporary music and has commissioned a number of new works for violin.
The brothers’ busy concert schedules do not afford them many opportunities to perform together, so the VSO’s opening concert is an especially welcome event. As an added bonus, the Zoris also get to renew their ongoing artistic collaboration with Vancouver Symphony Artistic Director Salvador Brotons.
“Maestro Brotons is a wonderful human being,” said Hillel in a recent email. “He is a great musician, open-minded, hard-working and smiley at the same time. I met him first in Israel when he was (a) guest with the Ra’anana Symphonette Orchestra. Maestro Brotons understands music in a multifaceted way, and hence working with him is also a learning experience.”
Nitai first worked with Brotons 12 years ago, when Brotons conducted the RSO in Israel. Nitai declares Brotons is “a great conductor and composer with the most warm and charismatic personality.”
The Zori brothers began their musical training early, under the tutelage of their father, also a professional musician. By age 7, Hillel and Nitai had begun learning cello and violin. Being twins might suggest a deeper or more unique connection, but Hillel is quick to play down that aspect of his creative relationship with his brother. “Making a big deal about being a twin was always ‘sexy’ for other people rather than for us,” he explains. “We are just brothers, and I do not recall any special issues just because we were born on the same day.”
Nitai concurs. “Being twin brothers is not an issue at all for us; however, we have a unique musical contact because we played together all through our childhood.”
Hillel and Nitai will be performing a little-known work for solo cello, solo violin and orchestra, by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns. La Muse et le Poète, composed in 1909, is a 16-minute dialogue between the two soloists and the orchestra. Saint-Saëns described the work as “a conversation between two instruments instead of a debate between two virtuosos.”
Both brothers agree. “Virtuosity is not a key element for the piece although it has demanding moments for both instruments,” says Hillel. “The composer explores the ranges for both instruments and creates a rich linear language that features Romantic colors.”
Nitai adds that the piece is fun to play because Saint-Saëns wrote so skillfully for specific strengths of violin and cello. “It is a lovely piece, very emotional and delicate,” he says. “The dialogue between the violin and the cello is very well composed because Saint-Saëns understood the idiom of both instruments.”
The concert also features Saint-Saëns’ Organ Symphony, along with works by Maurice Ravel, Aaron Copland and Georges Bizet.
Elizabeth Schwartz is co-host of the Yiddish Hour on 90.7 FM KBOO Community Radio and a freelance writer living in Portland.