Ofer Ben-Amots was just six when he dared touch the new piano in his Haifa home. It was love at first sound — and they’ve been married ever since. Fifty-two years later, the world famous composer marvels at the relationship between accident, design and G-d in human destiny.
“The story of how that piano arrived at our house is an interesting one,” Ben-Amots explains in the IJN conference room. “My grandfather was Bulgarian and spent three years in an internment camp there during the Holocaust.
“In 1961, he was notified that he was entitled to reparation in the form of money, a car or a piano. He wanted the piano.”
Ben-Amots, who was born in 1955 in Haifa, started studying the piano at six, gave his first recital at nine — “Mozart, Bach, Israeli folk tunes” — and composed his first song in the Israeli folkloric tradition at 12.
“That was a very naïve attempt,” smiles Ben-Amots, 58. “But I immediately felt that if I could invent melodies that fit with words, it’s the best thing I could ever do.”
Chair of the Colorado College music department for 19 years and a prolific composer, he has given considerable thought to the human-divine partnership in the creative process.
“I am as secular as you can go on the one hand, and as religious and pious as you can be on the other,” he laughs. “I don’t know how to put the extremes together. But I love it all.”
His numerous compositions — “From Darkness to Light,” “Celestial Dialogues,” “The Dybbuk Suite,” “The Heart and the Fountain” — encompass opera, orchestra, and intimate arrangements for cantor and klezmer.
A student of Israeli composer Ram Da-Oz, who also taught him how to tune pianos in Haifa, as well as distinguished professors at universities in Switzerland, Germany and the US, Ben-Amots flies high the wings of his talent.
Although Ben-Amots clearly loves Mozart and Bach, he gravitates toward Jewish themes. Whether utilizing psalm or legend, the composer gives an exquisite voice to his heritage.
“Every folk genre has its idiosyncrasies,” he says. “But Judaism is different because there was a tremendous historical gap. In the beginning you heard incredible music in the Temple: very advanced, the singing of psalms, ‘hallelujah.’ Then, when the Temple was destroyed, music was suddenly forbidden.