Pianist Elisha Abas: “It’s my job to bring classical music to young people throughout the world.”Pianist Elisha Abas is on a mission: He is working to revive classical music and bring young people back into concert halls. The way he’s going about it, however, is straight out of 17th century France.
The New York-based Israeli, concerned over the rapidly fading genre of classical classics pondered: “Concert hall audiences are a sea of gray hair. What will happen when they’re gone?”
Abas began tackling the problem with a revised age-old approach: Initiating intimate gatherings hosted by Manhattan’s young arts enthusiasts in their private homes or penthouse apartments. Abas performs Chopin, Liszt or Rachmaninoff for the invited few and afterwards audience and performer head out to an East Village club or bar to chat and knock back a few.
“It takes away that barrier between audience and performer,” Abas comments, leaning back in a stiff wooden chair at Tel Aviv’s Conservatory of Music. In Israel for a two-week visit, Abas is slated to perform for a few hundred arts patrons arranged courtesy of yet another arts enthusiast, best friend attorney Liat Sterstzer.
Raven black hair brushed back ’80s style and dressed in a grey P-Coat, black jeans, a vintage pale yellow floral design shirt and plaid Converse, Abas looks every bit New York. He even jokes about post-performance Manhattan sponsors. “Chopin Vodka sponsors me. Seriously. They provide bartenders too,” he grins.
His roots, however, are decidedly Israeli.
Abas’ great-great grandfather was renowned Russian composer/pianist Alexander Scriabin and his personal mentors include Arthur Rubinstein and Israel’s “First Lady of Piano” Pnina Salzman. He started performing publicly at six and shared stages with masters like Isaac Stern, Leonard Bernstein and Zubin Mehta.
In his 20s he stopped performing and settled in Israel to get a law degree and play pro-soccer. Now in his early 30s, the performance bug bit again during a recent visit with his New York-dwelling brother.
“I played privately for some friends and they urged me to perform for some other people. People started organizing these private ‘salon performances’ and I developed a following,” Abas explains.
When an enthusiastic exchange student rented Carnegie Hall for an Abas performance and it was a sell-out, he knew where he needed to be. That was a year ago and although his wife and children remain in the suburbs of Tel Aviv, he continues to perform and shuttle back and forth while broadening his repertoire to include concert hall tours.
So is this reminiscent of 17th century France “Salon Gatherings” or 16th century nobility “drawing room” recitals?
“Absolutely,” Abas nods vigorously. But less formal. And on a wider scale. Because Abas, who also serves as an “arts agent” for the UN’s International Agency for Economic Development, sees his mission as broad.
“It’s my job to bring classical music to young people throughout the world. To get rid of the notion that classical is only for the elite, sophisticated, or those with trained ears,” Abas concludes. “Because that is absolutely untrue. Music belongs to everybody and that’s where it should stay.”