Gary Bertini


Born: May 1, 1927 Died: March 17, 2005
One of the most prominent conductors in Israel from the mid-'50s to the mid-'80s, Gary Bertini went on to make his mark internationally as a musician particularly interested in new music and opera. An adept public speaker, he also gave many illustrated music lectures for young people, in that respect becoming something of a Leonard Bernstein of Israel. Despite an association with the Detroit Symphony in the early '80s and various American guest appearances, Bertini's reputation is greater in Europe than in the United States. His generally well-regarded Mahler recordings, for example, have had only limited circulation west of the Atlantic.

Though born in Russia, Bertini was taken to Palestine in his childhood. Sources disagree whether he began violin lessons at six or 16, the latter age really too late to become a soloist, but in either case he soon developed interests in composing and conducting. He obtained a diploma in 1948 from the Milan Conservatory and another in 1951 from the Tel Aviv College of Music. Then it was on to the Paris Conservatory and the École Normale de Musique, where he studied composition with Arthur Honegger, Olivier Messiaen, and Nadia Boulanger. While in Paris, he also studied musicology at the Sorbonne.

Bertini returned to Israel in 1954 to teach conducting at the Music Teachers' College in Tel Aviv. The following year, he became music director of the new Rinat Choir, later called the Israel Chamber Choir; he held this position until 1972. He founded the Israel Chamber Ensemble, an orchestra and opera group, and conducted it from 1965 to 1975, the year he was appointed professor at Tel Aviv University's Rubin Academy. He then served with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra from 1977 - 1986. His other significant work in Israel during this period was as artistic advisor to the Israel Festival from 1976 to 1983.

He became especially active on the international scene starting in the mid-'60s, particularly with a series of guest engagements in Britain. The Scottish National Orchestra in Glasgow engaged him as principal guest conductor from 1971 to 1981, the year he began a two-season stint as music advisor to the Detroit Symphony. His work in Detroit done, Bertini shortly obtained his most significant appointment to that time, chief conductor of the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra, which he held from 1983 to 1991. During this period, he also turned an increasing amount of attention to opera, which he had taken up back in his Glasgow days with stints at the Scottish Opera and later at the Paris Opera. He acted as the Frankfurt am Main Opera's intendant and general music director from 1987 to 1991, and re-centered his operatic activities in Israel in 1994, when he was named artistic director of the New Israeli Opera in Tel Aviv. In 1997, he was transplanted to opera's heartland as music director of the Rome Opera. The following year, he also became music director of the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra.

Along the way, Bertini has become especially known for his work with twentieth-century scores and as a champion of Israeli composers, with more than 20 recordings of the latter to his credit. He has written music of his own in nearly all genres, but especially incidental scores, some 40 for plays produced in Israel; he received the Israel State Prize for composition in 1978. Little of his music has been recorded, but Bertini has made significant recordings of other people's works. Among these are the first commercial versions of Kurt Weill's two symphonies and Mahler's completion of Weber's opera Die drei Pintos.

There are 19 Gary Bertini recordings available.

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