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Matti Kovler, artist-entrepreneur: Great products always carry a great vision

January 21st, 2009 · 7 Comments · Entrepreneurs

A Jew Among the Indians: this year’s BMOP’s winning composition: The Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP), a major orchestra dedicated exclusively to performing, commissioning, and recording new music, presented its 11th annual Boston ConNECtion concert on January 17th at Jordan Hall (Gil Rose, conductor) featuring works by William Thomas McKinley, Michael Gandolfi, Peter Maxwell Davies, John Heiss, Kati Agócs, and Matti Kovler’s Cokboy – A Jew Among the Indians. Right after she saw this final version of Matti’s piece, my daughter, Sophie Delphis, sent me an enthusiastic email, of which this is an abstract:  “I have seen Matti’s piece in a number of transformations this past year: with piano, with a small group of non-classical musicians, and now with an orchestra. In this third version, the wider palette of sounds available to him has apotheosized his vision. The reaction I hear from the majority of people about him, and specifically this piece, is their surprise at the broad range of sources that find themselves into his music. It is certainly not every young, contemporary composer who has the knowledge and the courage to explore both “schmaltzy” and abstract motives, and incorporate them so easily into the same piece. It is only fitting then, perhaps, for Matti to work with a large ensemble, wherein the breadth of soundscape can corroborate the breadth of his material. Cokboy is in many ways an epitome of Matti, the man: sensitive, Romantic, part mystical, part comical.”

Vision of the Baal Shem in America: I heard the first version, and I was pleased to find out that a fan posted the latest version on YouTube (see below). Despite the limitations of this video shoot, I am confident that you will get the right feel about this great piece. It is a symphonic poem where the composer recites a part of Jerome Rothenberg’s extraordinary poem, Cokboy. A displaced Jew is transported into a whole different world: “saddlesore I came/a jew among the indian/vot em I doink in dis strange place.” Discordant sounds hit his discombobulated mind where a mish-mash of times, things, and peoples richochet off the image of his grandfather, until this image itself merges into the Baal Shem’s presence. The Baal Shem wearing his shtreimel unites with the old-new world (“the local all thought he was a cowboy/maybe from Mexico/ “a cokboy?”/no a cowboy.”), and reconciles humans among themselves (“we will watch the moonrise/through each other’s eyes”) and with the spirit. The way Matti intensely and humorously mingles Hassidic chanting within the movie-style theme that progressively builds through the piece is simply stunning – as is his peaceful classicist postlude in which all the displaced people of the world may heal and communicate.                       

Note: As you listen to the music, you can navigate inside and through as well as zoom-in/out the pictures and the text of Cokboy – and also look at this zoomorama in full screen. 

Meet with Matti Kovler: Matti Kovler, 28, was born in the Soviet Union and
 spent his childhood in Moscow, where he started to play the piano and write small
 pieces. When he was 10, 
his family emigrated to Jerusalem and he encountered the Hungarian-born composer Andre
 Hajdu (who studied at the Paris Conservatoire National de Musique under Darius Milhaud and Olivier Messiaen). By his late teens, Matti was already a successful composer and had an opera already staged, Ami and
 Tammy, inspired by the story of Hansel and Gretel. Following his army service in Israel, he received his
 bachelor’s degree from the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance (working with Menachem Wiesenberg and Michael Wolpe). He earned his master’s degree from the New England Conservatory (NEC), and is currently working towards his Ph.D., also at NEC.  His teachers and mentors in this country include John Heiss, Anthony Coleman, and Michael Gandolfi, to name a few. He was a 
Tanglewood Fellow in the composition program in Summer 2008.

Many high-tech entrepreneurs bootstrap their companies. Artists bootstrap their entire existence and live from their ability to express themselves – and can do this quite successfully. This is the case with Matti, who makes a living as the current director of the
 NEC Children’s Choirs, teaches privately piano and composition, receives scholarships and gets commissions for his compositions, the latest one being the commission of a large scale vocal orchestral work from Carnegie Hall for the Osvaldo Golijov and Dawn Upshaw Workshop (to be performed on May 9 &10). His goals? To work even more and be able to create a touring company one day.

Sophie Delphis & Marylene Delbourg-Delphis 

More about Matti Kovler: This site offers an earlier version of A Jew Among the Indians as well as Shoresh Nishmat, performed at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall during a concert celebrating Israel’s
 60th anniversary, as well as his Clarinet Quintet. Upcoming performances include his
 string orchestra piece Nineveh, scheduled to premiere in Boston on
 January 31, 2009. More compositions are offered on this personal site, especially  Enosh, a rock opera, and the The Escape of Jonah, an oratorio that was performed at the
 Jerusalem Music Center in June 2008.

More about Jerome Rothenberg: Born in New York in 1931 from Polish-Jewish immigrants, Rothenberg is certainly one of the most prominent American poets, and an amazing translator and anthologist. He is the author over seventy books. For details see:

Incidentally, for high-tech readers, he is the father of Matthew Rothenberg, who worked for Ziff Davis for a number of years and is now the Director for editorial and content at The Ladders (

More about Zoomorama (Special thanks to Franklin Servan-Schreiber)

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