Varda Kotler, soprano

Who or what inspired you to take up singing and pursue a career in music?

I hadn’t planned nor even imagined a career in music. At the age of seven I started learning to play the piano and was fascinated. When I began my studies in Rubin Academy of Music at the Tel Aviv University, I discovered classical singing and found in it the most refined and personal expression of emotion. I was fascinated by the multitude of possibilities of the human voice: expanding one’s vocal range and expressiveness, creating an atmosphere and shades. I was equality intrigued by the relationship between text and music, a poetic text in dialogue with high-quality music entwined and merging to become one whole – this is Lied at its finest.

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?

The first was my piano teacher at the conservatory, Edna Solodar. She was strict but excellent, and gave me the foundation of a well-rounded musical education. The second was my voice teacher at the Academy, Netania Davrath, who was also an artist and a great singer in her own right.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

The first and biggest challenge was how to successfully balance a career with family life. My solution? Taking the family with me. First to Zurich, then to Vienna and even on worldwide tours. My daughter was privileged to attend excellent schools and is fluent in four languages, Of course, I could not have done any of this without the support of my talented husband.

The second challenge: There is no classical music record label in Israel. This meant I had to be good enough to win a contract in a European label. Recording is a great privilege and I must admit I was very fortunate. I know many professional singers who have never gotten the opportunity to record and that is a pity.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

At the National Library in Jerusalem, I found a music score by Israel’s best classical composer Paul Ben-Haim, who wrote really high-quality compositions. It was so thrilling to find a previously-unknown musical score in his own handwriting: works in German written as a young man in Munich alongside works in Hebrew, stemming directly from the Israeli soil with its Middle-Eastern shades. I had the material published and recorded a CD, the first ever recording of this music.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

In oratorio: Bach’s Magnificat, Mozart’s Gran Missa and Requiem. In opera: Rosina and in trouser role Siebel. In recital: I enjoy singing Lieder by Mahler, Schumann and Mozart. Fauré and Debussy are especially suitable to the character of my voice.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

Singers are free to choose their own materials for a recital, but building a program for a recital poses a great challenge, for even when one chooses his or her favourite composers the overall program needs to be balanced, both in terms of music and text. When it comes to opera, each singer is invited to perform the parts suitable for his or her voice. The same is true for oratorio.

When recording, I try to find unusual, little-known pieces or songs that have never been recorded. Discovering new music is exciting! When you offer high-quality music to a record label they know to appreciate it.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I have had the pleasure of performing at Kaufmann Concert Hall at 92nd Street in New York. Despite its size, this venue offers a very balanced acoustics.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Purcell, Schubert, Schumann, Mozart, Mahler, Wolf, Fauré, Debussy and Chausson are the greatest Lieder composers. Singing them is a great privilege. I have the utmost respect for composers, some of them are truly geniuses. One tries to learn their language, listen to the message they covey. It is awe inspiring.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I admire great singers who are also great musicians, such as Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau whose every performance is a masterpiece! Ian Bostridge and Anne Sofie von Otter offer countless nuances and a strong statement. Listening to Emma Kirkby is an aesthetic experience and Anthony Rolfe Johnson’s work is moving and so full of emotion. My favourite conductor is Simon Rattle.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Once, during a concert in New York I had the rare opportunity to sing with an amazing orchestra: the New York Chamber Symphony conducted by Hugo Weisgall. To this day, I can hear this orchestra’s unique, beautiful sound, full of timbre. What an experience!

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

First of all, humility. A true musician strives to perform the piece accurately, meaning to be loyal to the music score, articulation, leading the melody, development, dynamics. In order to convey the musical and artistic ideas in a piece it is necessary to first understand the thinking behind it, to grasp the spiritual being of the piece. For the true test of an artist is whether he or she were able to translate the notes into a spiritual experience and truly convey the composer’s message.

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