“Astrith Baltsan is an incomparable phenomenon on the musical scene in Israel,” wrote the judges who awarded her the Tel Aviv Municipality 2001 Rosenblum Prize for the Stage Arts. Her original lecture-concert series—multimedia events—became the largest classical chamber music series in Israel. Her imaginative story-telling style of presenting classical music brought new audiences to the chamber music concert hall—approximately five thousand subscribers who had previously rarely frequented non-symphonic concerts.
Astrith Baltsan was born in Tel Aviv on October 24, 1956. She has two siblings, Revital (b. 1953) and a twin brother, Avikam (b. 1956). Her mother, Ruth Garty (1925–1999), was born in Sofia and in 1949 emigrated to Israel where she met and married Haim Baltsan. Ruth was a physician.
Her father Haim (1910–2002), the oldest son of Ben-Zion Baltsan (1885–1941), Hebrew writer and Bible critic, was born in Kishinev and emigrated to Palestine in 1935. He was a writer and journalist and founder of ITIM, the Israeli News Agency.
As a young adult, Baltsan chose to pursue a career as a pianist rather than one in literature. She graduated from the Rubin Academy of Music and the Musicology Department at Tel Aviv University in 1980 (M. M.), and earned a D. M. A. from the Manhattan School of Music in 1983. In the early 1980s she performed in the US, Canada and France, winning prizes in several competitions, including the Banff Concerto Competition in 1984. She taught at the Rubin Academy of Music at Tel Aviv University between 1985 and 1992, at the same time serving as one of the founders of the Tel Aviv Arts School music program. In 1986 Baltsan was among the founding ensemble of the Musica Nova Consort, the first established contemporary music ensemble in Israel, and served as its artistic director until 1992. During the 1980s and early 1990s she also contributed to contemporary music in Israel through her premières, performances and recordings of music by local composers, notably Mordecai Seter (1916–1994), Yinam Leef (b. 1953), Yonathan Rechter, Oded Assaf, Hagar Kadima and Moshe Zorman (b. 1952). Later, she directed and narrated special concerts of the Israel Chamber Orchestra (1988–1996) and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (1990–2000). In the mid 1990s, together with her husband, Moshe Zorman—a composer and arranger who is active and plays a vital role in most of her multimedia concerts—she founded an adult education music school, Ha-Katedra le-Musikah (The Music Chair) at the Einav Center in Tel Aviv, where she and her husband serve as the directors and principal lecturers.
Since 1990 she has developed her unique chamber music lecture-concert, Classica be-meimad ishi (Classics from a Personal Viewpoint). Inspired by the ideas of Leonard Bernstein in the US and Arie Vardi in Israel regarding the popularization of classical music, Baltsan pursued new approaches of appealing to larger audiences by incorporating classical, pop and jazz music, as well as poetry, literature, film, video clips and dance into a coherent narrative, utilizing both her impressive stage presence and her gifts as a pianist, writer and story-teller. She also informs her work through imaginative, sometimes multicultural, pre-concert research. Baltsan views the entire program of a single concert that she develops as a new, revolutionary form of art; her approach has indeed influenced other lecture-recitalists in Israel. However, she is a controversial figure among musicians, who have publicly criticized her concerts for over-popularizing classical music and “talking down” to audiences. Nevertheless, she has won much respect for her ability to draw new adult audiences to the concert hall in times when support for classical music has otherwise been waning. She has also received praise for her unprecedented presentation style. In 2000 she began to perform regularly with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in its series of concerts for young listeners, which are also televised.
Among her best-received programs are: “Mozart—Words and Music” (1990–1992), with actor Moshe Becker reading excerpts from Mozart’s letters; “Beethoven—Moonlight” (1995–2000); “Ein Li Erez Aheret” (I Have No Other Land, on the sources of “Ha-Tivkah,” Israel’s national anthem, in 1999); “Clara Schumann Hosts a Brahms Marathon,” with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (2000); and “Hinnakh yafah, ra’yati” (on biblical texts in the classical canon and in Israeli works, 2001). After years of focusing heavily on the classical and romantic canon, Baltsan found ways to present a selective twentieth century repertoire in her recent concerts and has done so successfully, inter alia in programs on Stravinsky, Shostakovich and other Jewish and Israeli music. Her ability to draw large audiences to such concerts has established her as a major and unprecedented educator on the Israeli concert scene.
The Zormans have three children: Itamar (b. 1985), Rheut (b. 1987), and Alma (b. 1990).
“Intervals by Mordecai Seter,” “Timbres by Mary Even-Or,” and “Contrasts by Moshe Zorman.” A Guide for Performance of Israeli Piano Works. Edited by Miriam Boskovich and Yona Rosental Bogorow, 152–166, 232–240 and 248–259 (Hebrew). Tel Aviv: 1987.
Baltsan’s articles include historical context and technical details.
“Ron Weidberg’s Music: Impressions and Observations.” Israel Music Institute News 91/3: 5–8 (1991).
The best general article on Weidberg to date.
“Josef Tal’s Joseph.” New Israel Opera Magazine (Hebrew). Tel Aviv: June 1995.
An article on the opera Joseph by the founding father of Israeli music, Josef Tal.
“Hakhnisini Tahat Kenafekh: Twenty Compositions on a Bialik Poem (from Ben-Haim to Miki Gavrielov and Rita).” Mafteah (June 1999). This music teachers’ magazine is published by the Israel Ministry of Education and edited by Lia Lior.
Baltsan, Astrith (program author, pianist and narrator) and Danny Dror (film director). Five programs of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra directed by Zubin Mehta, televised by Herzliyyah Studios for the Israeli Education Channel, 2000–2002: “An Anthem Is Born,” on the sources of “Ha-Tikvah”; “To the New World,” Dvo?ak and American music, jazz and blues; “Violin Zone: A Tribute to Jascha Heifetz,” pieces for violin; “Swan Lake,” music legends in classical and ethnic music; and “Pictures at an Exhibition,” Moussorgsky’s original, Ravel’s orchestration, rock and popular versions.
Letters from Mozart (Hebrew). Tel Aviv: 2003 (forthcoming).
Includes her translations of Mozart letters and a CD with Mozart’s music played and narrated by Baltsan.