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Rodan, Mendi

Mendi Rodan

Israeli Maestro Mendi Rodan (born 1929) is the Chief Conductor and Music Director for the Israel Symphony Orchestra. He is internationally recognized as a brilliant and inspired conductor who is frequently invited to guest conduct with leading orchestras in Europe, the Far East, South Africa, Australia, and the United States.

AJerusalem Post profile said that Rodan's "unique contribution to the music scene in Israel is most felt in the development of new orchestras and leading them to an international high standard, in the nurture of new conductors and composers, and in performance of Israeli works in his concerts."


Early Years

Mendi Rodan (birth name Rosenblum) was born in Yassi, Romania, one of three children, to Miriam and Solomon Rosenblum. Rodan said that even as a child he was attracted to music. Although no one played a musical instrument at home, he said, "My parents gave us a broad scale of disciplines, like foreign languages, mathematics, sport[s] and music."

Rodan's father, a victim of the Holocaust, was murdered in 1941. After his father's death, Rodan studied the more "practical" profession of engineering; however, his family's economic difficulties prevented him from getting a degree. But he proved successful in his arts studies, and, at 16, got his first job as a musician as a violinist with the Roumanian Radio Orchestra in Bucharest. At the same time, Rodan gave private lessons in mathematics to young students and played as an extra musician with different ensembles and chamber groups.

A press release from the Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester, New York, stated that Rodan studied violin and conducting at the Music Academy in Bucharest with Constantin Silvestri. In 1953, Rodan was made Chief Conductor for Roumanian Radio Broadcasting. That same year, he married his wife Judith; they subsequently had two children, Aviad and Orly.


Immigrated to Israel

In 1961, Rodan and his family immigrated to Israel. Soon after, Rodan made his debut with the Israel Chamber Orchestra, in Ramat Gan. An enthusiastic reception to his concerts ensured his musical future in his new homeland. Since then, he has taken an active role in all facets of Israel's music culture.


Illustrious Career as Conductor

From 1963-72, Rodan served as Chief Conductor and Music Director of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. During that time, he founded the Jerusalem Chamber Orchestra. Over the next 25 years, Rodan worked in a variety of distinguished positions, including Permanent Guest Conductor for the Oslo Philharmonic (1972-76), Music Director for the Israel Sinfonietta (1977-91), Music Director and Permanent Conductor of the Belgium National Orchestra (1983-89), Music Director for the Chamber Orchestra of the Education Corps of the Israel Defense Forces (1985-89), and Associate Conductor of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (1993-97).

During that time, Rodan also served as conductor for the Israel Festival for six years, music advisor to the International Music Center in Jerusalem, member of the Israel Music Council, and as conductor for several years for the Arthur Rubinstein Piano Master Competition and the Harp International Competition in Israel.

Over the years, Rodan has guest conducted for many prestigious symphonies and orchestras in Europe, including London, Frankfurt, Stockholm and Vienna, and in several cities in the United States, China, Venezuela, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico, and Canada. Many pre-eminent soloists have performed under his baton, including Arthur Rubinstein, Mastislav Rostropovitch, JeanPierre Rampal, Isaac Stern, Itzhak Perlman, Galina Vishniewska, Daniel Barenboim, Jacquelin du Pre, and many others. He has also conducted orchestra recordings for international companies and television stations.


Academic Appointments

In addition to his conducting, Professor Rodan has held various academic appointments, including head of the Jerusalem Rubin Academy of Music and Dance, membership in Israel's Higher Education Council, and Guest Professor and Conductor at Bloomington and Brigham Young universities in the United States, and at Conservatoire Superieur in Paris.

From 1999-2002, Rodan served as Professor of Conducting and Music Director of the Philharmonia Orchestra at Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester, New York. William Weinert, Professor of Conducting and Ensembles and Director of Choral Activities at Eastman, said of his colleague, "[Rodan] had extremely high standards. He was caring and supportive to the student players, but if a student repeatedly made mistakes, or played unmusically, he did not hesitate to lay down the law." Weinert added, "There was no question of a student daring to go into a session unprepared."


A Consummate Musician

Weinert called Rodan "a superb conductor, a consummate musician . . . He gave many inspiring concerts while here, and always brought tremendous energy and drive to his work." He recalled Rodan's first concert, Mahler 5, at Eastman: "I distinctly remember a rehearsal at which the second clarinet was unexpectedly missing. In an exposed passage where the part was especially necessary, I remember him singing the part confidently and beautifully in solfeggio from memory as he conducted."

Weinert added that it was wonderful to have Rodan at Eastman, ". . . not only for his own fine qualities but because they provided all of us a link to an older tradition dating to the middle of the 20th century." He explained, "Mendi has a long memory of how great orchestras actually sounded in real life (rather than recordings) under great conductors of the past, and this is important to pass along to new generations – which is why it is so fortunate that he has remained in teaching throughout his career."

When asked to define excellence in a conductor's performance, Rodan said one must be ". . . a sincere and authentic interpreter of the composer." He added that musicians need to understand the personality of the conductor and his body gestures, so that the conductor can communicate with the musicians and transmit the artistic message to the audience.

A 1991 Jerusalem Post article described Rodan's success in building up the Israel Sinfonietta in Beersheba from the small, simple chamber orchestra he inherited in 1977. The article noted: "An orchestra is no democracy, and Rodan's reign gave full vent to the regal prerogative. Whether shaking a baton at a recalcitrant player, or pounding it on a music stand, Rodan demonstrated that no demand was too great to ensure a spontaneous performance. Young musicians, straight from the 'womb' of the conservatory, were rudely awakened to expect the unexpected. Interpretations changed from rehearsal to rehearsal, and performance to performance. The only anathema was routine."

A quality that is very important for a conductor, especially one of Rodan's caliber, is to challenge himself, his musicians, and his audience in interpreting new works, said Yossi Schiffman, a co-director of the International Spring Festival Rishon LeZion in Israel. "Rodan has always been at the forefront of performing the newly written works and giving them a fair chance," he said.

Rodan has received many accolades for his performances. The Daily News, from Johannesburg, wrote, "The refinement of texture and the complete identification with Beethoven's dramatic world was proof indeed of what a great conductor can do for an orchestra." In a review of the opera "Emperor of Atlantis," Opera News wrote, in 1998, "Mendi Rodan led a sensitive, flowing reading of the two scores, and the orchestra responded with precision and dedication."

A Jerusalem Post review said, "Preserving lightness, speed and eliciting brilliant playing from all musicians in the orchestra from beginning to end, the rendition was a great credit to Mendi Rodan . . ." Another Jerusalem Post article quoted some musicians from the Israel Sinfonietta who said, "Mendi Rodan has a phenomenal memory, a comprehensive knowledge of orchestral material and uncanny baton technique. He can extract every subtlety from a musical score."

Rodan is currently serving as Chief Conductor and Music Director for the Israel Symphony Orchestra Rishon LeZion, and is Professor Emeritus of Conducting at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance.

Conducting is an "exciting and complex process [for] expressing feelings and thoughts," said Rodan. When asked about his greatest, most memorable events, the 75-year-old conductor replied, "Year after year [it] was, and still is, to perform with great musicians, great artists." It is this, he said, that gives him "inspiration and spiritual influence."

As far as plans for the future, Rodan said that he wants " . . . to contribute to the education of young generations of musicians, conducting and traveling as much as possible to know the world better, and to give my best to the performances as conductor in Israel and abroad."


Awards and Honors

Rodan is the recipient of numerous awards and honors: Israel's Ministry of Education and Culture awarded him the Frank Peleg Prize for "1997 Musician of the Year," for excellence of performance in Israel and abroad, for premiering Israeli music, and for promotion of the young generation of musicians. In 1991, Rodan was named "Laureate Conductor" of the Israel Sinfonietta. The Ordine al Meritto (Medal of Distinction) was conferred upon him by the president of Italy in 1986 in recognition of his artistic achievements and for performance of Italian music all over the world.

Additional honors include establishment of a Mendi Rodan Student Scholarship by Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Prize for the Promotion of Israeli Music, A.C.U.M.Prize for Artistic Achievement (from an Israeli association of writers and composers), Honorary Fellow of the Jerusalem Music Academy, and Honorary Citizen of Tucson, Arizona, in the United States, in 1974. Rodan has also served as a jury member in several international composition and conducting competitions, in Israel, Italy, Berlin, Poland, and Croatia.

"To sum up," said Schiffman, ". . . whenever you see [Rodan] on the conductor's podium in front of an orchestra, you may rest assured that the musical event is in very good hands, you are into a rich artistic experience, one you would most likely cherish for a very long time."


Periodicals

Jerusalem Post, June 21, 1991.

Opera News, April 11, 1998.


Other

Interviews, e-mails, December 6, 7, 25, and 28, 2004; and January 14, 2005.

Press release, Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester, New York, April 27, 1999.

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