Rising Israeli maestro Wellber loves Strauss, accordion too

Thu Mar 27, 2014 4:06am EDT
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By Michael Roddy

DRESDEN, Germany (Reuters) - Omer Wellber says it's usually after the second question that journalists start asking him what it's like to be an Israeli-born conductor. He doesn't say how long it takes them to start quizzing him about his love for the accordion.

At 32, Wellber is undoubtedly the first "sabra" - an Israeli-born Jew - to make a huge hit conducting Verdi's "Aida" in Padua, Italy, where he stepped in at short notice in 2008.

He has conducted, as Daniel Barenboim's assistant, at La Scala and the Berlin Staatsoper. He also has conducted at the Israeli Opera, the Valencia Opera House, the Dresden Semperoper and will make his debut at England's posh summer opera showcase at Glyndebourne in May conducting Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin".

And yet what do interviewers ask him about?

"As an Israeli, you are always an Israeli," he said. "This comes first, the music comes second."

It has been a fast and furious trajectory, taking Wellber, who lives in Italy, to a world far away from his upbringing in the Negev Desert town of Beersheba. He admits he is hyperactive.

"I call my mother and only by saying 'hello' ... she can feel the hyper thing."

His late father was the leftist head of Israel's powerful teacher's union and was close to the Bedouin community, as a result of which Wellber has a first name used by Arabs or Jews.   Continued...