Caffeinated Convos

Cup 9: Sharing a Passion

Name: Itamar Zorman

Age: 26

Location: Orchard Lake, MI (at The Village Palace again)

Beverage: Just water, but he also ordered a delicious chicken sandwich.


Another very lucky catch. I had the opportunity to sit down with Itamar Zorman, winner of the 2011 Tchaikovsky Competition, as well as drive him to the restaurant we ate at, and the rehearsal he had with James Tocco right after our interview. Awesomeeeee! 

He, like Paul Katz (Cup #8), was in town for the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival. I attended two of his concerts towards the end of the festival, one at Kirk in the Hills and the other at the Seligman Performing Arts Center. An absolute joy to listen to him. His playing is pleasingly intricate, but at the same time understandable. I get really pulled in by the beauty of it. He is very gifted in carrying the listener through the story he’s weaving.

Itamar is also very sweet. I was expecting him to have an ugly ego, but definitely not so. He’s really cool. :)

Q1: What do you want the audience to get out of your performance?

A: First, I want the audience to be able to follow the “story” or “narrative” of the piece I’m playing. When this happens, the goal is for them to feel what the piece is trying to say and to identify with, find how it relates to them, to their life and their imagination.


Itamar Zorman hails from Tel Aviv, Israel. He currently lives in New York City (and concertizes all over the world), but his family is still in Tel Aviv. He picked up the violin when he was 6 years old, for two reasons: 1) He really liked the sound of the violin, and 2) He wanted to play an instrument that his parents couldn’t really tell him how to play/practice. ^_^ (His father is a composer, and his mother a pianist.)

There wasn’t really a set point in his life when he officially decided to become a professional musician. He’s always wanted to play music…and the idea of having a solo career sort of gradually grew as the years passed by. And though being famous is very nice and all, he would’ve been content not being famous, as long as he could still make a living doing what he loves most. 


From 1991-2003, he attended the Israeli Conservatory, Tel Aviv and studied with Sally Bocke, David Chen, and Nava Milo. 

2003-2006: While serving in the army (No combat though, just performing in the army string quartet and doing office work), he spent 3 years at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, where he studied with Hagai Shaham (The Tchaikovsky Competition board made a very big error, saying that he studied with Zakhar Bron at the Academy, but Itamar doesn’t even know him personally!). 

2009-2012: Attended the Manhattan School of Music and the Juilliard School; At both schools, he studied with Sylvia Rosenberg primarily.

Mr. Zorman was lucky to have studied with Ms. Rosenberg because they are a perfect student-teacher match for each other. She has influenced his playing the most, "both in the technical side and the musical side, how to practice, listen, and much more." 



The happiest moment for Itamar during the 2011 Tchaikovsky Competition was when he was on the last page of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. He was SO happy that the whole competition was almost over (Competitors, if they’re lucky, get to go through 5 rigorous rounds, all in a span of 3 weeks. A grueling process, indeed.)

I asked him what his initial reaction was upon hearing that he won the competition, and he kind shrugged his shoulders. “Whatever comes out of it [the competition] is good.” Part of the winner’s prize is receiving management for 3 years (definitely good!). But he was more enthusiastic about having gotten through the competition in one whole piece.

Some tips for aspiring competitors:

1. Familiar Music

It helps to compete with old pieces that you’ve studied and put away. Dorothy DeLay always said you should study a piece 3 times before going out on stage to perform it.

2. "Just because you don’t win 1, 2, or 3 competitions doesn’t mean anything. There are many factors involved, such as the jury, the other players/competitors, etc." (Itamar has competed in a number of competitions in the past, both in his home country of Israel, as well as overseas.)

3. Work your way up the ladder. Start with local ones, state, national, and then international competitions.


Some things to remember about playing Bach:

"Treat it like any other music. And enjoy it like any other music."

Itamar believes that the 6 Sonatas and Partitas have some kind of a religious message, the Chaconne being the ultimate tragedy and climax. You notice that after the Chaconne, the music takes on a much more playful and lighter character. 

It also helps to know and understand the structure of the fugues and dances.

And of course there’s the technique of the chords. The chords are "very hard but essential in Bach."


Q2: What does music mean to you?

A: Music is fun…a language without words…a love. I love playing chamber music the most.

Q3: What do you like about the classical music world?

A: I get to meet many great people from all over the world. And it’s great that all of us have something in common - it helps with communication. And everyone really cares about music.

Q4: You play on a Pietro Guarneri from 1745. What’s it like to play on such an old instrument?

A: At first you’re very cautious, but it quickly becomes a friend. I take my violin with me everywhere.


At one point in our discussion, I asked him what he thinks is the best way to attract more audience members and/or patrons to classical music concerts, since the classical music world is struggling financially more and more these days.

1. Education

Music is a language. If a movie’s in a language you don’t understand, you won’t find it enjoyable, even if it’s one of the greatest movies ever made. Musicians need to help break down classical music into easily digestible terms and concepts, especially, for those who are not musically-trained. A really good pre-concert talk can do just that. 

Teaching and working with young students is also a great way to spread this high art to the masses.

2. Outreach

Musicians should go out into communities, such as remote areas, that may not have a concert series or where classical music isn’t very popular. Part of the problem is that some people just haven’t been exposed to this kind of music before - so we must bring it to them. Being able to watch a professional musician perform up close can be potentially inspiring.

Itamar is a founding member of the group, Israeli Chamber Project, and they do many outreach activities throughout their country and abroad. I would highly encourage you to watch their video, explaining what they do in much more detail, on their home page (lower right corner). It’s really fantastic what they’re doing.

3. Embrace new music

New music is just as important as old classical music. We must be supportive of our contemporary composers. Some of their music might sound a little strange to your ears, but keep in mind that the music of Mozart and Beethoven was also once considered new, avant-garde and strange. But now, they are staples of our repertoire. The same thing will happen eventually with today’s contemporaries.

I heard this great quote by Robert Mann (the teacher I mentioned earlier) paraphrased on WRCJ 90.9FM one time, and it was, “You should play new music like it’s been around for hundreds of years, and Beethoven like new music.” Very true. 


Hobbies: Following sports, particularly basketball, soccer, and tennis. I forgot to ask him who his favorite basketball team was (I didn’t think it was popular in Israel!), but in soccer, he really likes FC Barcelona as well as his fellow Tel Aviv team, and his favorite tennis player is Roger Federer; reading the news but also just reading in general, when he has the time - usually in Hebrew, just because he can get through Hebrew faster than English (It’s his first language, totally understandable). 

(I do have to mention though that his English skills (both speaking and writing) are incredibly good! It was very easy to communicate with him.)

Future Goals: Be knowledgeable about something else other than music, like science or something. But at the moment he’s very busy practicing and concertizing. :)


Lesson 1: Never give up. Keep pursuing your dream!

Lesson 2: Work hard, chill hard. "Hard work really helps. But I should relax and try to live a more normal life. I should let myself eat, sleep and keep in good physical shape."

Lesson 3: Don’t overwhelm yourself. He was referring to repertoire in this case, but this can be applicable to other areas of your life as well.


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