Dr. Astrith Baltsan is a pianist and performer who shares her talents with the world in the form of a special type of concert series-known as "Classical with a personal dimension", and in the form of courses, given together with her husband Dr. Moshe Zorman, in the framework of a private institution which she established, known as the Music Cathedra in Tel Aviv.
The concert series include guided concerts (which Astrith calls "personal concerts") about particular composers, such as Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Stravinsky, Shostakovitch; concerts around particular themes, such as the Faust legend, Music based on verses from the Bible, the Music of National Anthems; and concerts focusing on different styles, such as Spanish and Sephardic music, Israeli music, and style periods in history (e.g. Classic, Romantic, etc.). These concerts have been in existence since 1990.
A series consists of 5 concerts throughout the year, and these concerts are given in Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem, where a total of 12 series are run concurrently, in order to accommodate for the large number of subscribers (approximately 7000!). All the concerts feature Astrith playing the piano and explaining the concert, and many also involve other performing artists as well (including other instrumentalists, vocalists, actors, and dancers), depending on the topic and the pieces to be performed. There is also usually a multi-media integration in the concerts, which includes the use of video and picture slides when applicable.
The courses given in the Music Cathedra, which began in 1996, are an outgrowth of Astrith's vision of providing non-musicians with musical understanding and appreciation, and enabling them to enhance their knowledge and enjoyment of music in a more systematic way. The number of students in the Cathedra is approximately 700, made up of mostly middle-aged and retired people, and also younger people, especially teachers on sabbatical, taking courses for credit and/or for personal enrichment.
The courses are on a variety of subjects. Each course is 2 hours weekly and spans an entire school year:
• Courses in the “Musical Lexicon”, for learning basic musical terminology, concepts, elements and structures of music (Over the years, similar courses have been called “Aural Comprehension”, “Listening and Thought”, “Muses and Music”).
• Courses in musical masterpieces, designed to acquaint the audience with the repertoire that is to be played in the concert halls during the current season (including operas as well).
• Courses in music history.
• Courses on specific composers, often grouped together by alliteration. Each year a different course has been offered on a group of composers. For example: “Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Bartok”; “Mozart, Mendelssohn, Mahler”; “Schubert, Schumann, Chopin, Schoenberg”. The most recent course offered is on the “Giants of Opera—Mozart, Wagner, Verdi, Puccini.”
The popularity of the concerts and the Cathedra, combined with Astrith's goal to reach larger audiences, has brought about some more initiatives and innovations over the last few years:
• Concerts "for the whole family" in cooperation with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, guided by Astrith's explanations and commentary, begun in the year 2000.
• Televised concerts from recordings of the above Philharmonic concerts, broadcast on educational television starting from 2002.
• A new series of books in conjunction with CD recordings, which include explanation and analysis of music, as well as pure performance of musical masterpieces. The first of the series-a compact disc on Mozart is coming out in June, 2003.
Since the "personal concert" is a unique feature of Astrith's contribution to music education, Section I of the following chapter will relate to the contents of one such concert using "thick description" and rich detail, so as to enable the reader to have a vicarious experience of this type of encounter with music. In order not to harm the narrative flow of the total experience of such a concert, interpretation and comments will be kept to a minimum here. Instead, analysis and discussion will be reserved for the end of Section I and for all of Section II, where the salient features of the concert will be extracted and examined in depth. This examination will also go beyond the individual concert to analyze what happens in Astrith's lessons in general, her views on music education for adults and adolescents, and the feedback from her students, obtained from informant interviews and questionnaires.
1. The full transcript of this "concert with commentary" is found in Appendix A-1.
2. The full interview with Astrith is in appendix A-2, and the feedback from participants in the courses and the concerts are in appendices A-4a-p and A-5.
to the full dissertation
Astrith Baltsan's Hatikva project - Jerusalem Post's special cover story for Israel's Independence day