It’s not often that you get to play music with your childhood singing idols, but 32-year-old cellist Yoed Nir has recorded with two of them: the iconic Israeli songsters Arik Einstein and Shlomo Artzi.
The Israeli-born musician’s string work is featured on some 450 albums recorded by many well-known artists in different genres, such as Judy Collins, Regina Spektor, Rufus Wainwright, Diane Birch, Sonya Kitchell, Shawn Colvin and Yael Naim.
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ISRAEL21c caught up with Nir by phone as he was about to depart Barcelona for St. Petersburg during his month-long European tour with Spektor. He is nearly always on the road or in the recording studio when he’s not appearing on the late-night and early-morning talk show circuit.
His versatility certainly wasn’t hurt by his early exposure to the diverse styles of music in his homeland.
“I think growing up in Israel gave me a mixture of all the musical cultures, and that absolutely gives me the advantage of exploring other fields in music,” he says. In recent years he’s developed a passion for melodic Brazilian music like bossa nova, and hopes one day to play with artists such as Gilberto Gil.
Meanwhile, Nir and Spektor appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on August 16 following their concert tour of the West Coast; and with Judy Collins in a Public Broadcasting System special filmed at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. He provided accompaniment for Collins’ newest disk, Bohemian, creating all the string parts from one cello, recorded in his home studio in Manhattan.
The teacher got him hooked
Yoed Nir grew up in Ganei Tikvah, a suburb of Petah Tikvah that won the five-star prize in the Beautiful Town Competition held by the Council for a Beautiful Israel for 10 consecutive years.
Part of what makes it a desirable place to live is its music conservatory, where Nir’s father took him when he was seven to look at different instruments and choose one to learn.
When he met cello teacher Ma’ayan Matityahu and listened to her play, he fell in love with the sound and the decision was made. Fortunately, cellos are available in junior sizes for little hands.
“All my siblings play instruments, but I’m the only one who continued on to make it a career,” he says.
Matityahu trained him in classical cello, and later took him to the Israeli Conservatory of Music in Tel Aviv. Following high school, he played for soldiers all around the country as part of the IDF’s string quartet for outstanding musicians. He took first prize at the 2002 International String Competition in the Czech Republic and graduated from the Jerusalem Music Academy in 2005.
Through David Sela, his cello professor there, he met his future wife, Anat, a classical pianist and singer-songwriter. “She’s working on her first solo album of really beautiful music that we are producing with another friend, Ziv Shalev, to be released next year in Israel,” Nir says.
After graduating, he began performing throughout Israel and Europe, most notably with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in 2007. Later that year, he and Anat moved to Manhattan, where they sometimes give recitals as a duo.
He’s done solo appearances, most recently at the Rose Theatre in New York’s Lincoln Center, and has performed in the Beacon Theatre, Radio City Music Hall, Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall and Merkin Concert Hall in Manhattan; the Kodak Theatre, Greek Theatre and El-Rey Theatre in Los Angeles; and San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall.
“In Israel, I did a lot of recording and played with a lot of different artists — most of the major artists in Israel — on many albums. I decided I can always go back, but I had a dream to move out and explore possibilities other places can offer, especially New York,” he explains. “New York is a great place to play world music, jazz, pop, rock … everything. I have developed as a musician in many ways.”
At least twice a year, Nir visits his family in Israel, though he has not publicly performed in his homeland since 2007. “My family supports me,” he says. “They miss me a lot, but they know I am going with my heart.”