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About This Concert

Jews & Music returns this season with a musical conversation between world-renowned Israeli mandolinist Avi Avital and Philharmonia Scholar in Residence Francesco Spagnolo. Expect a riveting performance of solo and chamber music, punctuated by a conversation on the many musical worlds that intersect one another in Avital’s innovative approach to Baroque music.

Avi Avital mandolin
Francesco Spagnolo
Scholar in Residence
Philharmonia Baroque Chamber Players

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Congregation Beth Sholom, San Francisco
2:30 PM
mandolin and leader

Avi Avital

The first mandolin soloist to be nominated for a classical Grammy, Avi Avital has been compared to Andres Segovia for his championship of his instrument and to Jascha Heifitz for his incredible virtuosity. Passionate and “explosively charismatic” (New York Times) in live performance, he is a driving force behind the reinvigoration of the mandolin repertory.

He has commissioned over 100 works for the mandolin including concertos for mandolin and orchestra by Anna Clyne, Jennifer Higdon, Avner Dorman, David Bruce and Giovanni Sollima which he has performed with orchestras and conductors such as the Munich Philharmonic with Krzysztof Urbański, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Robert Spano, Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI and Ryan Bancroft and the BBC Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Daniele Rustioni.

Highlights of the 2022/23 season see performances of the Mandolin Concertos by Jennifer Higdon, Anna Clyne and Giovanni Sollima commissioned for Avital, alongside tours with the Academy of Sat Martin in the Fields, Il Giardino Armonico with Giovanni Antonini, B’Rock and Arcangelo, duo recitals with Ksenija Sidorova (accordion), Olga Pashchenko (harpsichord/fortepiano) and Omer Klein (piano), and a tour of Australia with cellist Giovanni Sollima. Avital launches his new venture, the “Between Worlds Ensemble” with a three-part residency at the Boulez Saal in Berlin. The ensemble was formed to explore different genres, cultures and musical worlds focusing on different geographical regions and in its first year will feature traditional, classical and folk music from the Iberian Peninsula, Black Sea and Italy.

Avi Avital collaborates with musicians across many genres including Mahan Esfahani, Kristian Bezuidenhout, Alice Sara Ott, Andreas Scholl, the Dover Quartet, the Danish String Quartet, Brooklyn Rider, Omer Klein, Omer Avital, actress Martina Gedeck and Georgian puppet theatre Budrugana Gagra. His versatility has led to features as “Portrait Artist” at the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival, BOZAR in Brussels and the Dortmund Konzerthaus (Zeitinsel). He is a regular presence at major festivals such as Aspen, Salzburg, Tanglewood, Spoleto, Ravenna, MISA Shanghai, Cheltenham, Verbier and Tsinandali.

An exclusive Deutsche Grammophon artist, his sixth album for the label “The Art of the Mandolin” has been received with high praise and top reviews in The Times, Independent, Gramophone, BBC Music Magazine as well as the international press. Previous recordings “Bach” (2019), “Avital meets Avital” (2017), “Vivaldi” (2015), an album of Avital’s own transcriptions of Bach concertos (2012) and “Between Worlds” (2014) also received numerous awards.

Born in Be’er Sheva in southern Israel, Avital began learning the mandolin at the age of eight and soon joined the flourishing mandolin youth orchestra founded and directed by his charismatic teacher, Russian-born violinist Simcha Nathanson. He studied at the Jerusalem Music Academy and the Conservatorio Cesare Pollini in Padua with Ugo Orlandi. Winner of Israel’s prestigious Aviv Competitions in 2007, Avital is the first mandolinist in the history of the competition to be so honoured. He plays on a mandolin made by Israeli luthier Arik Kerman.

Scholar in Residence

Francesco Spagnolo

Francesco Spagnolo is the Curator of The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life. He is also an Associate Adjunct Professor in the Department of Music and the Center for Jewish Studies, and is affiliated with the Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion, the Institute for European Studies, the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, and the Religious Diversity Cluster of the Haas Institute.

His publications include

  • Italian Jewish Musical Traditions (Rome-Jerusalem, 2001)
  • The Jewish World: 100 Treasures of Art and Culture (New York, 2014)

Spagnolo hosts cultural programs for Italian National Radio (RAI) in Rome, and is a Scholar-in-Residence with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra in San Francisco.

As the Curator of The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, Dr. Spagnolo holds the primary responsibility regarding the intellectual and academic interpretation of its holdings, recommends acquisitions, deaccessions, and conservation priorities, presents and publishes in national and international settings, plans exhibitions, and public and academic programs, mentors and supervises all personnel in curatorial duties, teaches University courses, and cultivates major donors. Since the beginning of his tenure at The Magnes, he has curated (from conception to installation) over 30 individual exhibitions and 200 public programs (including talks, symposia, screenings, performances, etc.) in collaboration with presenters ranging from UC Berkeley faculty and students to visiting scholars, artists, and members of the community. He has presided over more than 100 individual collection gifts and has led the acquisition of new important collections, including the Mark and Peachy Levy Family Judaica Collection (2016), the Taube Family Arthur Szyk Collection (2017), the Roman Vishniac Archive (2018), and the Berman-Bloch Collection of Israeli Art (2019). In 2021, he selected a mezuzah case to be displayed in the Official Residence of the Vice President of the United States in Washington, DC.