Yossi Arnheim wanted to study biology. But important people, in his life, took him in an altogether different direction. In an in-depth interview, Arnheim, principal flutist with the IPO, talks about music, marriage, teachers and students, and how it is best to go with the flow and be open to surprises, just as it is often best to put one’s ego aside and make room for other flutists.
How did you come to play the flute?
Yossi was born in 1955 in Tel Aviv. His association with music began in 1963, when he studied the recorder in elementary school. He gave up the recorder in order to sing in the school choir but his music teacher, who had spotted his gift, did not give up. “Each time, he would encounter my mother in school, he would tell her that I should play an instrument, any instrument as I was talented.” Yossi’s mother had little means and was unable to offer him music lessons. When he was asked, in grade 5, whether he wanted to play an instrument, he said yes, so his teacher tried to find him an affordable place where he could study. A youth orchestra happened to open at that time in Jaffa. “When they asked me what instrument I wanted to play, I said the oboe. But the orchestra had no oboe teacher so I went for the second option which was the flute.”
Yossi studied at the Jaffa center for three years, until the age of 15, when his teacher told him he could no longer help him. The teacher discussed his case with Uri Teplitz, then principal flutist with the Philharmonic, and the latter agreed to take the boy on.
Drafted into the army after the Yom Kippur War, Yossi served for a year as a radio operator in the communications corps before being posted to the IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv. Thus it was that, in 1975, he was able to return to playing the flute. After completing his service, he studied at the academy of music in Tel Aviv under Uri Teplitz and another two years in Munich. During his last year in Israel, Yossi was already playing as a substitute flutist with the Philharmonic.
Is the flute a means of expressing emotions for you? And do you feel a need to play when you are happy or sad?
“When you have to play (in concerts, rehearsals or when you practice), you channel your emotions to express the music you are playing. I never play because I just fancy playing. I play primarily in order to maintain a high level. I have a routine set of exercises, most of which are unconnected to the works I perform. I express emotion during rehearsals, concerts and at home when I practice specific works and get to know them. It is not just an issue of expressing emotions but also ideas which you have about a work. It is a combination of intellect, imagination and emotion.”
Does your family life operate in the shadow of the orchestra?
Yossi’s wife, Avigail, is a former musician who served as a substitute clarinet player for the Philharmonic. “We met at Tel Aviv University and we went together to Germany to study. When we returned, she worked as a substitute musician for a number of years before going into music management. She managed a contemporary group called Nova Musica and then the Tel Aviv Museum of Art’s concert program for 13 years. She currently serves as manager of the Felicia Blumenthal Center and is also involved in theatre.
“We have three children and one grandchild. My eldest daughter works in music after having seesawed between the plastic arts, cooking, and singing. Today she is a successful voice coach working in the field of speech therapy. My other two children do not work in music despite being talented. They even have some opposition to this. We tried to push them in this direction but they are both strong-willed and they are doing what they want to do.
When I ask myself, what does music mean to my children, I realize that they see it as something which took Daddy and Mummy away from home every evening and left them with a babysitter. So clearly this experience influenced how they relate to music.”
Tell us about your audition for the Philharmonic.
“In the early 80s, a few months before I completed my studies in Munich and before giving my final recital, the Philharmonic announced it would hold an audition for a piccolo player. The, then, principal player was suffering from problems related to stage fright and he had asked to be released from his post. Mehta understood the problem and said that, if he found someone suitable, he would hold an audition for the post of assistant to the principal flutist. The orchestra called me and asked me to audition for the post. I flew from Germany for the audition, played 2-3 weeks here, flew back to Germany for my final recital and then went on tour with the Philharmonic. Leading flutists from here and other orchestras took part in the audition which made me anxious but, in the end, I received a unanimous vote. I would like to think that the audition was fair.”
“So, from 1983, I have served as principal flutist (at one time the orchestra had a principal and an assistant flutist; today it has two principal flutists). The principal and assistant flutist always played equal parts except in specific cases when Maestro Mehta decided otherwise. In the flute section, there is a tradition of harmony and mutual encouragement. Much of this is due to Uri Shoham who was a special person who succeeded in instilling reciprocity in the entire section: he passed this on to me as well as to Lior Eitan who was his student.”
What made you choose the Philharmonic as your permanent home?
“That is just the way things happened. This is what most university music students here aspire to. The Israel Philharmonic has an aura of prestige: it has the best musicians, the highest standard, the best salaries so this is what every musician wants. It is the dream of all academy students. Today, since there are a lot of good students at the academy, they are forced to pursue careers abroad.”
Yossi says that each student ultimately finds his niche or goes into teaching, where there is a growing demand for flute teachers. “Today musicians are looking for outlets beyond the Philharmonic but, in my time, this was the ultimate objective.”
Is there a particularly memorable Philharmonic concert which you were part of?
Yossi remembers well the first concerts the IPO performed in Russia in 1989, not because of the concerts themselves but because of the people and the way the Jewish audiences applauded the orchestra. “It was something extraordinary: the orchestra was surrounded with so much love. Anyone who could invite the musicians to their home did so. The concerts had a festive atmosphere.”
Do you think that the Philharmonic successfully represents Israel abroad?
“I think it does this very successfully. Audiences who come to a Philharmonic concert cannot ignore the fact that this is an Israeli orchestra. There are countless people who do not think in political terms all the time.”
Do you have any hobbies?
“I am ashamed to say that I do not. I do not feel the need to do something extra, since I already do so many things in the field of music (performing, managing, teaching….)”
To read the complete interview, please click here.