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A Piano Duo in the Oasis of Peace

Sunday 8 December 2013, by Christina Valentin, Public Relations

Tami originally hails from Tokyo, but has been living in Israel for 15 years. Her husband Yuval is a Jewish Israeli born in Jaffa. As young pianists, they met in 1994 at the newly opened campus of the Mozart Foundation in Poland. They were among a group of gifted musicians selected from all over Eastern Europe and the world. The couple began to play together as well as plan their future together.

Both Yuval and Tami had realized that they wanted to be pianists while they were young. Yuval was encouraged (from age 7) by his teacher, Judith Lazar, while Tami, as a teenager, was afforded by her Korean Aunt, Nam Yun Kim, a noted violinist, the opportunity to study music in Paris.

Their decision to join up as a duo started in a 1994-5 residency they spent together in Poland. Apart from the solo main route, Yuval had been studying chamber music in London, and had already played in several piano duos.

For these two accomplished pianists, the idea of performing together as a duo fit well with their aspiration to spend their lives together. And indeed, the couple proceeded to win acclaim for scintillating duo performances, for which they won first prize in 5 international competitions (Tokyo, Osaka, Rome, Oslo, Sicily), leading to concerts throughout Europe and the world.

Following their Eastern European experience they established their piano duo at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Canada. When they wished to settle down, they felt they had two choices: Japan or Israel.

Tami had left Japan as a teenager to study in France, before arriving in Poland. At the time that they met, Yuval had recently completed his Artist Diploma in London. Their decision to live in Israel was based on two factors: that Yuval had spent more time in his native country and it would be easier for them to settle there; also that Israel, being a nation accustomed to immigrants, tends to be more accommodating to newcomers than does Japan.

Yet Israel too is no easy country for strangers. Tami had almost no knowledge of the country or its culture before meeting Yuval. Like everyone, she had heard of the difficult conflict existing here. So before they came to settle, she made several short visits. Despite the differences from her homeland, and from Europe where she had spent the last nine years, she found that she liked the country.

“It has a very special energy. Although it is quite different from Japan, there is something familiar. Actually, it’s a nice mixture between Japan and Europe.” She gives an example of relations with neighbors. “In Japan, if you leave your house, the neighbors will ask you where are you going, whereas in Europe everyone is so private. In Paris, nobody would dream of asking you such a question. Here in Israel, you can enjoy privacy but also a warm interaction with one’s neighbors.”

For ten years they rented a little house with a modified studio in the village of Burgata, not far from Netanya. Wanting to acquire a home of their own which could accommodate two grand pianos - they began to seek a house in the countryside.
When it comes to their views in the region, it is very clear. Yuval tells that he has always been a peace seeker. Already as a teenager, while stationed in Rome during the first Lebanon War, he felt terrible about the images shown on the Italian screen. Later, the second Intifada (the Palestinian struggle for independence) enhanced his thoughts: “I was afraid of all that hatred. But instead of turning an automatic finger of blame towards “them” and saying “they” are our enemies, I wanted to examine our own side more. I wanted to take more responsibility for what we did to create such a level of animosity and became very suspicious about the “peace process” and Israeli policy.

Eventually, I reached the conclusion that the Israeli government is not really seeking peace, but prefers to preserve the conflict. And suddenly all the actions and decision making made more sense".

Over the years, Yuval felt isolated because such a way of thinking goes against the mainstream in Israel. “If you say you believe in the possibility of peace, this makes you almost a traitor,” says Yuval. He felt suffocated when these topics where discussed.

So when he first came with Tami some 8 years ago to WAS-NS and sat in the Ahlan Cafe with Rayek, he felt that here the atmosphere is different, and that he could finally breathe again. Both he and Tami immediately felt drawn to the village, yet they thought of it as a distant dream. And there were no houses at the time for sale.

After buying land in another village (Givat Yeshayahu), selling it, buying a house there and planning its renovation with a piano studio, they saw one day there was a house for sale in the Peace Oasis. There was no doubt in their mind! In order to purchase it, one needs to approach the village committee in charge of screening potential members. Actually, they found the people on the committee to be warm and friendly. Another station was to attend a two day encounter for Arab and Jewish couples aspiring to live in the community. They were very relieved and grateful to hear that they were accepted.

Tami and Yuval say they have met amazing people here. “If you want peace,” says Tami, “there is no other choice than coexistence. ”Living with Palestinian neighbors comes natural to them. They have kept friendships they made during their time abroad (in Europe and North America) with people from Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt.

But the community here is really special and they salute the veterans with awe. A few months after moving in, they decided to have their student annual concert in their home. However, the number of guests climbed from 50 to 80... (consisting of student families and the people of the Peace Oasis) and this would have been too many for indoors. But, as this was summer, they were able to conduct the concert on the roof. Although it seemed crazy to haul two grand pianos up to their roof, professional movers did the job.

The timing was special because, this being the holy month of Ramadan, the gathering came at the time of the Iftar (evening meal after the fast). As a result, several families brought along a pot luck meal, which was enjoyed alike by Jews and Palestinians.
Twenty of their best students (from youth to Academy) played for the people of the village. Tami and Yuval played at the end and the responses were that it was a most magical and inspiring evening. Although they have given concerts in many illustrious venues, they say that this particular evening had a very spiritual effect, on account of the view over the coastal plane at the twilight hour, the turnout of supportive people, and the mixed crowd of inhabitants and outside guests.

Yuval and Tami say that before big concerts you are always excited, but if you are well prepared and get a feeling for the audience, it is an elevating experience. They have been a piano duo since 1996. Everything they play, they play together, but teach separately. When they are playing together, they mostly play on two pianos, but sometimes also with four hands on one.

Both of them hope that “living together” in Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam will be a “living example“, and that the place will have more and more impact on society at large.

Tami and Yuval moved into WAS-NS last February and they cannot imagine living (or dying) anywhere else.


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