Yael Barolsky

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Released 02/11/2017
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IsraelYael Barolsky The RemedyYael Barolsky, one
of the foremost musicians in Israel, a maverick violinist with a knack for all
things contemporary (but in no way exclusively), Barolsky might sound like yet
another one of those technical wiz-kids, which she is, but that doesn’t even
come close to describing her. Coming from a well-rooted classical tradition,
Barolsky, as befitting that same tradition, became one with her instrument.
Hearing her play repertoire pieces hammers in the fact that she is deeply
embedded in 20th century contemporary performance practice. Her
debut CD, Meanderings, is yet another
manifestation of this fact – a collection of challenging and relevant violin
music, with one of the best performances of the Berio violin Sequenza this
writer has ever heard! But I actually came to know Yael Barolsky as a fantastic
improviser, who, had I not been told otherwise, seemed to negate her entire
classical training when putting on her improviser’s hat.Barolsky, like
our former guests, Maya Dunietz, and Kiki Keren-Huss, argues she has
always had a side requiring, and actively seeking freedom; quite a departure
from what we know of classical musicians, who usually treat moments of freedom
with absolute terror. However, Barolsky claims that it was exactly the
constricting confines of classical violin training that prompted this search for
freedom. Her first foray into free improvisation was with the late Israeli
composer, Andre Hajdu, who used to hold master classes for young musicians at
The Jerusalem Music Centre. At each one of these seminars he would choose one
of the young musicians and improvise with him/her in a duo formation. Barolsky
recalls this experience with starry eyes and claims to have found there an
outlet she had never experienced before. And indeed, for Barolsky, improv is
first and foremost an outlet – more than a research tool it is a recreational
tool, and a means to partake in a visceral musical activity where things do not
need to be analysed, or adhered to as supposed truths. Improv is a thaw,
repose, a means to communicate with others on a gut level, knowing that no
matter what is said, it cannot be wrong. Moving at a
fairly young age to London in continuation of her violin studies, Barolsky
discovers contemporary music practice when playing the scores of fellow
composition students. Not realising yet where her future trajectory might take
her, she finds herself dabbling in improv during these years mainly as a means
to balance out the rigorous classical training. More so, it was at this point
Barolsky started realising how improv informs her classical practice, and
mainly defined the boundaries of what she refers to as a “cage”: “I just wanted
to find a way to exit the cage, and relax. In fact, everyone I knew was trying
to find a way to exit the cage.” I’m assuming that the logical conclusion of
that statement would be: everyone was trying to find a way to exit the cage,
but not everyone could. Continuing her studies in Koeln, Barolsky attended the
Aleatoric Music Class of the composer-pianist Paulo Alvares, where she
banded-up with several other members of the class in creation of the
Phantasmophonica. This ensemble, made up of students from various musical
disciplines and even some amateurs, signified a shift for Barolsky, as it is
around this time she began to discover herself as a contemporary creature. More
so, by discovering like-minded and reckless souls who did not shy from
experimentation, she was strengthened in her own resolve to pursue an activity
placing freedom at the forefront. Barolsky allows us a glimpse into her world
at the time, and exemplifies how necessary it was for her to find a parallel
musical practice to the classical one that was, according to her, “so confined
to the rules”: Looking into the Berio Sequenza at the time, she had to receive lessons
regarding the work from Paulo Alvares, as her own violin teacher regarded the
1976 warhorse as inappropriately modern. Returning to Israel,
Barolsky truly finds her improvisatory voice. Her return coincides almost to
the day with the formation of the original and mythical Zimmer, a venue put up,
amongst others, by our former guests Guy Dubious, as a meeting
place for experimenters of all practices. Barolsky, and not only she, regards
the first (out of 3 and counting) iterations of The Zimmer as a venue that
managed to gather all generations of improvisers, experimenters and off-key
musicians in Israel. She recalls feeling as if she had fallen into a vast pool
of talented practitioners, and was immediately set unto what would become a
massive learning curve. Barolsky then becomes a member of an improviser ensemble
including the aforementioned Dubious, Ron Katzir, Shmil Frankel and herself –
The Zimmer Orchestra. Barolsky refers to this as her blooming period, as she
found herself on stage on a monthly basis accompanied by musicians coming from
a similarly attuned stance: “Everybody knew freedom, accepted equality and that
everything goes, and searched for democracy. I realised that the classical
world views a personal voice as essential, but never strove for equality in
music.” Suddenly, with free improv, Barolsky found a remedy for the incessant
analysis and verbosity surrounding the classical music practice: ”There was no
ego involved – it was clean. The fact that no one person knew the plan
immediately obliterated the “I” and brought out a lot of listening, a spirit of
collective, and an excitement of knowing you are performing something only once.
In certain constellations, such as the Zimmer orchestra, you also knew things
would always work, and always excite, but you never really knew why. Mainly, it
was for fun, for those who really wanted to play!”However, due to
her classical upbringing, Barolsky couldn’t help but question herself and her
love for this newly found refuge. And more so, whereas she realised that she
required the proximity of the improv world and its openness towards
exploration, she also recognized her need for the opposite as well. A telling
example of how Barolsky manages to juggle these two worlds is in her answer to
my question whether improv has made her more relaxed about score interpretation,
or has perhaps prompted her to take wider freedoms with scored music? Her
immediate response is a resonating no! In classical music Barolsky goes back to
the strict practice, adheres to the written gospel and sumps is all up thus:
“here (in classical music O.I.) I don’t dare.” However, some years down the
line, having gained a better understanding of the improv practices, Barolsky felt
the need to take a step back: “a 50 minute improv session is like going to a
therapist; it is truly draining. You find yourself spitting out whatever’s
inside at that moment, and by doing so you also discover what it is you have to
say.” Disocvering a bit more of that voice and its inner calling, Barolsky felt
the need for a rest. This did not mean quitting improvisation by any chance,
but simply taking a step back and making some room for other things. I ask Barolsky
if she would find similar comfort or perhaps an added value at listening to
past recordings of her improv sessions, to which she replies: “I almost never
listen to recordings, as it fulfils no purpose. I truly respect those who
analyse their own recordings and use this as training, but those aspects are
reserved for different practices as far as I’m concerned – improv is an escape.”

The same evening
we conducted our interview, Barolsky was scheduled to perform The Zimmer aided
by Sharon Gal, Shmil Frankel
and Ilan Green. It is always extremely informative to see a performance of
someone you had just interviewed about their art, as so many new things come to
light. And indeed, as I basked in the awesome and diverse sounds made by the
ensemble that night, I couldn’t help but notice how truly playful Barolsky was.
Yes, she was making beautiful sounds, listening, reacting, taking heed of her
surroundings, being respectful and yet letting her voice be heard; but none of
this seemed to be coming out of her conscious mind, rather more as an artefact
of that which she had come there to do: relax and have fun.

Instrumental Yes