Avi Avital — Biography

Grammy®-nominated mandolin virtuoso Avi Avital has been acclaimed for his “exquisitely sensitive playing” and “stunning agility” by the New York Times, while Israel’s Haaretz has described Avital’s playing as “everything you never dreamt a mandolin could do . . . truly breathtaking in virtuosity and dedication.”

Avi Avital was born in 1978 in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba (Be’er Sheva). He began learning the mandolin at the age of eight and soon joined the flourishing mandolin youth orchestra founded and directed by his charismatic teacher, the Russian-born violinist Simcha Nathanson. After attending the Jerusalem Academy of Music, Avital went to Italy, where he studied at the Cesare Pollini Conservatory of Padua with Ugo Orlandi, “a real mandolin professor, with whom I learned the original repertoire of the mandolin, rather than the transcriptions of violin music I’d specialized in until then”.

Finding this music “beautiful, but rather limited”, Avital faced what he has described as something of an identity crisis: the music he most loved to play was not necessarily that written for his own instrument. Eventually he found his true direction: “One of my aims is to redevelop and redefine the mandolin and its repertoire.” In 2007, Avital became the first mandolin player ever to win Israel’s prestigious Aviv competition for soloists. 

Avital’s performances have been received with great enthusiasm at such leading international venues as New York’s Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, London’s Wigmore Hall, the Berlin Philharmonie, the Vienna Konzerthaus, Lucerne’s KKL and the Forbidden City Concert Hall in Beijing as well as at the Tanglewood, Spoleto and Ravenna festivals. He has collaborated extensively with artists such as clarinettist Giora Feidman (his great mentor), soprano Dawn Upshaw and trumpeter-composer Frank London.

Among his 2014 highlights were an Australian tour with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra plus concerts with the Venice Baroque Orchestra (in Croatia, Italy and Mexico) and in Berlin, Paris and Poland as well as numerous recitals throughout Europe, Canada and the US.

Plans for 2015 include a North American “Vivaldi” tour with the Venice Baroque Orchestra; concerts in Germany with I Musici di Roma, in China with the Cologne Academy, with the Hamburger Symphoniker and Israel Camerata, the Mahler, Lithuanian and Amadeus chamber orchestras, the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra and the Danish String Quartet, as well as collaborations with Mahan Esfahani, Andreas Scholl and Richard Galliano; “Between Worlds” recitals in Taiwan, the UK, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Brazil; and further recitals at the Verbier, Salisbury, Torgau and Bristol Proms festivals.

Avital has released numerous recordings in the disparate genres of klezmer, Baroque and new classical music. He won Germany’s prestigious ECHO prize for his 2008 recording with the David Orlowsky Trio. In 2010 he became the first mandolin player to receive a Grammy® nomination in the category “Best Instrumental Soloist”, for his recording of Avner Dorman’s Mandolin Concerto with Andrew Cyr and the Metropolis Ensemble.

In 2012 Avi Avital signed an exclusive agreement with Deutsche Grammophon. His debut album features his own transcriptions of Bach concertos for harpsichord and violin in arrangements for mandolin and orchestra. His next recording, entitled Between Worlds, was released in 2014. This genre-defying tour of the globe ranges from Dvořák, Bloch, Villa-Lobos and Piazzolla to folk dances from Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Spain and Cuba and features guest artists including Richard Galliano, Giora Feidman and Catrin Finch. In his newest recording, scheduled for release in March 2015, Avital re-imagines the sounds of Venice in a vivid homage to Antonio Vivaldi, presenting four popular Vivaldi concertos accompanied by the Venice Baroque Orchestra. It also features tenor Juan Diego Flórez and Avital performing gondolier songs and a Vivaldi trio sonata with lutenist Ophira Zakai and harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani.