Menachem Wiesenberg is a composer, pianist, arranger and a distinguished educator. He is one of the most acclaimed, versatile and prominent musicians in Israel.
His compositions and arrangements span a wide range of styles and genres: from concert music which includes orchestral, chamber, vocal and solo pieces, to popular music, klezmer and jazz.
His compositions have been performed by some of the leading orchestras and ensembles in the world, including the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Basel Chamber Orchestra, Israel Philharmonic, Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, Israel Camerata Jerusalem, Jerusalem String Quartet, Ariel String Quartet, Borromeo String Quartet and more. His compositions have been performed, broadcasted and recorded all over Europe, the US, Japan, Taiwan, Colombia, Brazil, Australia, and New-Zealand.
As a pianist, Menachem has collaborated with leading performers such as Tabea Zimmermann, Hagai Shaham, Hillel Zori, Zvi Plessler, Charles Neidich, Chen Halevy, Mira Zakai, Christian Immler, Taiseer Elias and more. Additionally, Wiesenberg composed solo pieces, chamber music and concerti for many of them. Some of these performances were recorded and broadcasted internationally. As of late, Menachem Wiesenberg has collaborated with violinist Hagai Shaham, recording all of Mozart’s mature Violin Sonatas.
Throughout his career, Menachem has won many prizes and awards, including Israel’s “Prime Minister Prize’s for Composition” (1998 & 2012), “Landau Prize” (2008), and “ACUM Lifetime Achievement Award” (2010). He is emeritus professor at the Jerusalem Academy for Music and Dance, where he taught in the years 1992-2018.
Menachem picked up the piano at an early age with encouragement from his father, Daniel, who was a gifted and versatile musician. Daniel’s ability to switch organically from one musical genre to another had a tremendous impact on young Menachem. In addition to his father, young Menachem found another influential figure that would help mold his future musical persona in his first piano teacher, Ms. Anna Feinstein. She taught him how to deeply love, investigate and explore music with great enthusiasm and passion, and ingrained in him aesthetic and ethical values that will have shaped Menachem as an artist and as a human being in the future. At age nine, as her student, he first won a grant of excellence from the America-Israel Cultural Foundation. Since then, he has won multiple grants from the AICF – in solo piano, chamber music performance, arranging and music theory.
Menachem studied piano with Prof. Carol Klein at the Tel Aviv Music Academy and Economics at Tel Aviv university. After receiving his undergraduate degrees, he joined the IDF Orchestra as a saxophone player. Encouraged by the IDF Orchestra’s conductor Itzhak Graziani and composer Noam Sheriff, Wiesenberg began writing arrangements for the orchestra. Following his service, Menachem moved to New York City, where he studied piano at Mannes College under Edith Opens, and Music Theory and Analysis under Robert Cuckson.
Later on, Wiesenberg continued his studies at The Juilliard School, where he received his master's degree as a concert pianist, studying under Jacob Lateiner. During his years living in NYC, Menachem continued expanding his repertoire as a classical pianist, while exploring the contemporary NYC Jazz scene, as well as writing arrangements for Hebrew songs. The combination of these three channels was a steppingstone to a busy and versatile professional career in Israel, following his return in 1981.
During the 1980’s, Menachem has been active as a pianist, performing simultaneously in jazz, pop and chamber music. As a jazz pianist, he co-founded the “Israeli Jazz Trio” along with Eli Magen on bass and Yossi “Pepo” Levy on drums. During those years, he was gainfully employed as a recording session pianist, as well as a music director and arranger for various radio shows. He wrote music for television, including “Sesame Street”. The core of his work in the world of popular music was his collaborations with composer Nachum Heiman and singer Chava Alberstein. Menachem arranged a full album of instrumental version of Heiman’s songs, recorded by the flute ensemble of the London Symphony Orchestra. With Alberstein, one of Israel’s most renowned singers, he had a long-standing collaboration as a pianist, music director, and arranger. He worked on two of her albums – “At Home” (1983) and “Chava Alberstein Sings Yiddish” (1987).
The year 1987 was a pivotal year in Menachem’s career. He decided to divert his artistic and creative energies from the jazz and pop scenes to a new musical path. That year, he met the world-renowned Alto singer, Mira Zakai. Their collaboration spanned 12 years, until her retirement from performance, during which time he performed with her as a pianist, composer and arranger. Menachem and Mira developed a meaningful relationship, a strong combination of personal and professional friendship, that lasted for many years. While writing for her, Menachem constantly continued to refine his craft as an arranger of the traditional Israeli Songbook, which eventually came to fruition in a compilation of arrangements entitled Shir Eretz (“Song of Land”), written for a special concert with Zakai, commissioned by the Israel Festival in celebration of the State of Israel’s 40th Anniversary. The concert was recorded and broadcasted by Kol Israel, Israel’s radio broadcasting authority, and later released as an album. For his contribution to the culture of Israel as an arranger, Wiesenberg won the “Council of Culture and Art” award, along with Zakai. The collaboration between the two gave birth to two other special projects that were also issued on albums: “Ravel: Mélodies Hébraïques / Hemsi: Coplas Sefardies” and “Norbert Glanzberg – Sounds of Memory”, both produced by “The Diaspora Museum” in Tel-Aviv.
During the same year, Menachem started working with the Program for Outstanding Young Musicians, an educational program designed for Israel’s most gifted young performers, at the Jerusalem Music Center, Mishkenot Sha'ananim, founded by Isaac Stern. Since 1987, he has been coaching chamber music groups, and served as the director of the music theory program and director of the piano summer courses. The most prominent students whom he coached in chamber music and piano duets have become accomplished musicians with successful international careers. They have kept in touch with Menachem and even commissioned and performed his compositions in their concerts. During his work at the Jerusalem Music Center, Menachem met world renown violist, Tabea Zimmerman, for whom he dedicated some of his most important compositions.
During the same time, Menachem continued to thrive as a composer. While lecturing at Levinsky College of Education, he was teaching a few young children's choir conductors, who would eventually become some of the leading figures in this field in Israel. Within the framework of an initiative led by the late conductor Maya Shavit, entitled “Composers Writing for Children”, Menachem was approached by these students to write original concert music for their children's choirs. As a result, he ended up writing his first compositions – “My Mother Dances the Waltz”, “For Every Time there is a Season”, “Go to The Ant You Sluggard”, “Three Water Girls”, as well as choral arrangements. The existence of text in these pieces functioned as a compositional anchor for Menachem’s first attempts in writing original concert music, and proved to be a breeding ground for his future as an original composer. It was while working on these compositions that Menachem realized his true calling is in writing original concert music. In that moment he decided to define himself as a composer first, and to continue exploring and expanding the concert music field, on his own.
His composition journey continued further when Menachem wrote his first instrumental composition, for cello and piano, titled “Like the Clay in the Potter’s Hand”, composed in 1991. He wrote it for a broadcasted recital, for which he joined forces as a pianist with cellist Doron Toister. Though it is an instrumental composition, it is inspired by text – a Yom Kippur piyyut. “Like the Clay in the Potter’s Hand” ended up being a base for future compositions; Toister, who was then the principal cellist of the Israel Symphony Orchestra, encouraged the orchestra to commission from Menachem a full-scale cello concerto. Composed in 1992, the Concerto for Cello and Symphony Orchestra, was derived from the original chamber composition. A few years later, in 1998, Wiesenberg wrote a Concertino for Cello and Strings Orchestra, which was a concise version of the 1992 Cello Concerto. This series of compositions, each drawing upon thematic material from the previous work, have become a tradition of a sort for Menachem, who has continued to write additional series. A few years later “Like the Clay in the Potter’s Hand” was arranged for viola and piano (dedicated to violist Tabea Zimmerman), and the text that originally inspired Menachem was eventually composed as a separate work for choir a-cappella, without any thematic relation to the instrumental composition.
His next chamber composition was his string quartet – “Between the Sacred and the Profane”, commissioned by Israel Music Heritage in 1991. In 1998, the piece was performed by a new and young string quartet, who studied with Menachem at the Jerusalem Music Center. Later, this string quartet would become known internationally as the “Jerusalem String Quartet”. In 1998, Menachem won, for the first time, the “Prime Minister’s Prize for Composition” for both his Cello Concerto and “Between the Sacred and the Profane”. Since then, “Between the Sacred and the Profane” has become a canonical piece for string quartets, performed by quartets such as “Aviv String Quartet”, “Huberman String Quartet” and “Borromeo String Quartet” (who performed the piece in 2014 as part of a special homage concert to Menachem in Boston, MA).
After writing “Between the Sacred and the Profane”, Menachem realized that in addition to delving into the Jewish tradition, he was interested in doing the same with local Arab traditions. It was then that he started his long-standing collaboration and close friendship with the oud virtuoso player Taiseer Elias. This collaboration began with a concert of Jewish and Arabic musicians as part of the 1990 Israel Festival, which led to a special concert at Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris in 1991, entitled “Encounters”. In addition to performing European classical music, Menachem and Taiseer performed a composition by Wiesenberg, entitled “Encounters I”, written especially for that concert. Due to the success of “Encounters I”, Menahcem developed it into a new piece – “Encounters II: Concertino for Oud, Piano and Strings Orchestra”. It was premiered in Lille, France, as part of a large event dedicated to the establishment of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Since then, Wiesenberg and Elias have performed these compositions numerous times around the world.
In 1995, Menachem wrote “Encounters III” – a version of the Concertino for Oud and Piano as a nonet with oboe, clarinet, bassoon, violin, viola, cello and double bass. A year later, commissioned by Cellist Uri Vardi, Menachem wrote another composition incorporating Elias on oud – “Trio (Lamento) for Oud, Cello and Piano" – to commemorate the life of prime minister Itzhak Rabin, who was assassinated in the year prior. Menachem’s relationship with Elias gave birth to another large ensemble composition: Concerto for Oud and Symphony Orchestra, commissioned by the Haifa Symphony Orchestra and their conductor Stanley Sperber, which premiered it in 2000.
The objective of the “Encounters” series was to bridge two musical cultures, later morphed into “Encounter IV” in 2006, in which Wiesenberg created a musical dialogue between the European Classical and the Klezmer traditions. “Encounters IV – Suite Concertante” was written for two violins, one in the Kelzmer idiom and one in the European Classical. The composition was commissioned by the Klezmer Violinist, Sophie Solomon, in collaboration with The Jewish Music Institute in London, and performed by Solomon on Klezmer violin, Dora Schwarzberg on Classical violin and the Yehudi Menuhin School’s String Orchestra, conducted by Malcolm Singer, at Queen Elizabeth Hall. Like Menachem’s previous compositions, “Encounters IV” has also continued on through multiple iterations: a version for full chamber orchestra with winds (2007); a version with a flute replacing the Classical violin; “Klezmer Suite” for a piano, clarinet, violin and double bass quartet (2016). In 2020, Wiesenberg wrote a new version for viola and clarinet, for Chen Halevi (clarinet) and Yuval Gotlibovich (viola), in which both soloists share the Classical and Klezmer parts.
Menachem had another type of dialogue with compositions that were a source of inspiration for him, which led to his 1999 piece “An Octet Movement – Homage to Mendelssohn”, commissioned by Keshet Eilon Festival. The unusual orchestration choice was inspired by the famous octet by Mendelssohn, which according to Wiesenberg, was full of joie de vivre and youthful energy. He believed that performing an octet would be a great choice for the young students at Keshet Eilon music seminar to perform. The piece is melodically and rhythmically based on a musical phrase at the beginning of Mendelssohn’s Octet. Menachem also drew upon Mendelssohn’s orchestration – dividing the octet into two separate string quartets – as well as from his form, the only composition of Wiesenberg’s using the sonata form. Above all, the sense of vitality is very present in Wiesenberg’s composition, another tribute to Mendelssohn who wrote his Octet masterpiece at the very young age of 16. The piece was also performed by “Ariel Quartet” with the “Jerusalem Quartet”, and at the International Chamber Music Festival in Jerusalem, Sarasota International Festival in the US, and by the soloists of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra at their Chamber Music Hall, as well as the Louvre Auditorium in Paris. In 2001, Menachem arranged the Octet for a String Orchestra under the title “Overture for Strings”, commissioned by the Be’er-Sheva Sinfonietta. In 2007, the Overture was performed by the Israel Camerata Jerusalem, and in 2008 it was performed and recorded by the renowned Mahler Chamber Orchestra, performing it without a conductor.
Another dialogue Wiesenberg had with the European Classical repertoire is his Concerto Da Camera “La Folia”. It is a type of a Concerto Grosso for flute, oboe, bassoon, french horn and string orchestra. The piece was written for and commissioned by the Israel Camerata Jerusalem, for a concert centered around compositions based on the “La Folia” theme from the Baroque period. All four movements of the Concerto Da Camera are based on the melodic framework of the original “La Folia” and organized in a fast-slow-fast-slow order, the reverse order of the traditional Baroque concerto. The composition was written in 2000, during the second Intifadah and the collapse of the Camp David Peace Accords. Those events had a great impact on Menachem, who chose to express his feelings by presenting the Baroque theme in the dark key of C minor (instead of the traditionally D minor), and the morbid temper of the final movement, where the quote from Corelli's sonata is clearly heard.
While coaching at the annual summer program for Outstanding Young Musicians at Jerusalem Music Center, Menachem met world renowned Tabea Zimmermann, with whom he co-instructed many ensembles. The two developed a fruitful professional relationship resulting in several recitals in Israel, as well as in the Dubrovnik Festival, Croatia. They performed pieces by Schumann, Shostakovich, Bach, and Brahms, as well as Wiesenberg’s original compositions. A number of these recitals were broadcasted on “Kol Ha’Musica” radio station, and several of the works later appeared on CDs. For one of their recitals in 1997, Wiesenberg decided to re-orchestrate his piece “Like Clay in The Potter’s Hand” for viola and piano. In 1999, Wiesenberg dedicated his viola-solo composition entitled “Monodialogue” to Tabea Zimmermann. The piece includes a special gesture for Zimmermann – Menachem wrote a musical theme based on the letters of her first name, and a rhythmic motif (an amphibrach) based on its pronunciation. Since then, Tabea Zimmermann has performed “Monodialogue” internationally numerous times, and the score was eventually published by Schott. Years later, Wiesenberg adapted the solo piece for cello, which was performed and commissioned by the cellist Hillel Zori. Zimmermann and Wiesenberg’s collaboration continued in 2008, when Wiesenberg dedicated his Double Concerto for Viola and Cello to Zimmermann, in memory of her late husband, conductor David Shalon, which she performed along with Hillel Zori on cello and the Die Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Orchestra in Bremen.
Another facet of Wiesenberg's oeuvre is his collaboration with his wife, choreographer Mimi Ratz-Wiesenberg, on multiple projects. For her 1998 choreography, entitled Massa Isha (1998), Menachem composed music for her a pre-existing choreography. However, in 2000 Mimi choreographed her piece “Anna’s Adventures” to an already existing piece – Menachem’s Quintet for Percussion and String Quartet (which was a reduction of his Concerto for Percussion). Mimi’s piece “Off-white” (2010) was born of a dialogue with an existing composition of Menachem, entitled “Metamorphosis II” for Piano solo. In 2007 Mimi choreographed “Voices” – a challenging and unique concept, in which she created two different choreographies for the same composition – Menachem’s “Monodialogue”. “Voices I” was performed by a female dancer and a violist, and “Voices II” by a male dancer and a cellist. Both performances were presented at the 2007 Kol Hamusika at the Upper Galilee festival. In 2003, Menachem and Mimi decided to collaborate on a new project, in which the composition and choreography were created simultaneously; one artist fed and inspired the other throughout the process. The result was the performance “Keep the Light On”. Through his collaborations with Mimi, Menachem was able to get a closer look into the world of dance. As a result, the movement of the human body, and its rhythmical expression had a great and long-lasting impact on Menachem’s compositions in general.
Beyond being a composer, arranger and a pianist, Professor Menachem is a well-known and influential educator, having taught generations of instrumentalists, conductors, composers, and music teachers. For over 40 years, he taught at multiple institutes: Levinsky College of Education, Program for Outstanding Young Musicians at Jerusalem Music Center, and at different faculties at the Jerusalem Academy for Music and Dance, where he founded the Cross-Disciplinary Music department. He also held senior positions at the Jerusalem Academy of Music, such as dean and member of the institutional hiring committee. Naturally, his cross-disciplinary approach for education emphasizes the combination of various practices used in different musical genres and introduces them to students coming from different backgrounds. The base of Menachem’s theoretical approach stems from the European Classical theory and expands outward to other musical genres and styles. The core of his pedagogy, in any discipline, is to develop musical sensitivity, integrity and intention in every musical choice, breaking the artificial barriers between practice and performance, theory and practicality, and genre separation.
Over the years, Menachem has developed a unique and individualized approach to teaching. He emphasizes the importance of one’s sense of time in music, using specific practices, developing coordination, and exercises to develop, internalize and utilize advanced rhythmic capabilities and control. Menachem stresses the importance of using these rhythmic exercises lyrically and developing a rhythmic feel in a clear and defined framework that will eventually lead to using rubato properly. In addition, Wiesenberg uses improvisation as an educational tool for composition, as well as a holistic approach to teaching harmony, counterpoint, keyboard harmony and analysis.