MusicTalks is a program that presents classical music performed by skilled young musicians to people in an informal yet intimate setting. The program enables musicians and the audiences to engage in conversation between the musical numbers which heightens the sense of interest and personalization.

Elad Kabilio is the founder and artistic director of MusicTalks. Elad is both a soloist and a teacher at the Manhattan School of Music. He has performed at established venues including Carnegie Hall, the Joyce Theater, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Morgan Library, and in various festivals.

Elad recently discussed his experiences as a musician and teacher via an exclusive interview.

Musical instruments and teaching

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you get interested in music and what are your instruments of choice?

Elad Kabilio (EK): In my case there's no poetic story telling how I fell in love with music. I come from a family of musicians and I'm the youngest, so I was born to a world where each family member picks up an instrument. Moreover, I was "assigned" to the Cello before I was even conceived as my mom had a master plan - the third child was set to play the cello. The miracle in this story is that my mom's plan actually worked, all siblings are professional musicians and I couldn't imagine myself doing anything else.

MM: How did you break into the music industry and what have been some of the highlights of your career so far?

EK: Surprisingly enough, many important connections were made while I was in school doing my post-grad at Mannes College of Music and Manhattan School of Music, where I teach today. Right after I finished school I started my concert series "MusicTalks" - which brings classical music to new audiences by offering intimate and engaging concert experience.

My school years gave me the skills and tools for such an adventure and I had no doubt that MusicTalks is my destiny. I was also given great opportunity to collaborate with Michele Wiles, principal dancer at American Ballet Theater which led to a wonderful four-year tenure as music director of Ballet Next where I performed with Misty Copeland and other notable dancers and choreographers to critical acclaim.

This was an unexpected addition to my career which made me grow as an artist and collaborator. The dance world opened a new horizon for me in terms of opportunities, challenges, and inspiration.

MM: When did you decide to start teaching and how did you end up at the Manhattan School of Music?

EK: Leonard Bernstein, our family hero, always said that musicians are educators. In our family it isn't different. All of us teach along with the performance career. Teaching is a such a great gift as it makes you push yourself and your student every day. It gives opportunity to reexamine the work we do as performers and challenges us to find a way to put in words what we do while we play, while we interpret music so we can inspire a new generation.

MM: As a teacher, what are some of the most important lessons to pass on to students?

EK: For me, the most important element is understanding what's the meaning of the music. Music is not just notes, it's not just black dots on paper. We need to examine what was the composer going through at the time, what inspired the work so the performer can present a version of a piece that is loyal to the intention of the composer.

MM: When and why did you decide to start MusicTalks and what can audiences expect from these evenings?

EK: MusicTalks was conceived in my head during my army service in Israel. I was a cellist in the Israeli Defense Force String Quartet where I was touring Israel and performing mainly for dignitaries.

However, I had a life changing experience when I was sent to perform with the quartet for an elite combat unit. We had to perform for soldiers which were the same age as us at the time but those soldiers didn't have any desire to listen to classical music. This was an awakening for me, understanding that my generation is feeling Classical Music is old, stale, long and foreign - all words that I would never be able to use to describe my music. I then understood that I need to find a way to connect to this audience and change its perception, by offering a conversation that breaks down the barriers between the musicians and the audience. By offering shorter concerts with engaging conversation we make the music more relate able and give the audience a chance to experience something unique.

I'm not trying to have MusicTalks make people pick classical music as their first choice but at least it would help people appreciate this wonderful form of music, after all it survived for hundreds of years for a reason.

Live performances and future projects

MM: How do you secure the musicians who perform during these evenings?

EK: The core of MusicTalks' collective of musicians was formed while we were in school. It happens to be that New York attracts some of the best musicians to its music schools and great collaborations and friendships are being formed there. It’s always great to perform with musicians that you consider to be your friends and you know very well.

MM: What kinds of conversations and feedback have occurred as a result of these evenings?

EK: My favorite element about MusicTalks concerts is "Post-Concert". Our concerts are all about forming a bond with the audience - sharing insights and performing great music. At the end of the concerts so many audience members feel the urge to say talk to the artist and thank them personally. They want to share their experiences and of course ask questions. Now, if I, as a musician, am able to push my audience to think and be curious about the music - my work here is done.

MM: How do you hope MusicTalks will evolve in the future?

EK: I would like MusicTalks to be a standard format for classical music concerts. As in every Jazz or pop concert, the artist addresses the audience by simply saying "good evening", the artist always shares an anecdote or tells a story and this shouldn't be different with classical music.

MM: What else are you currently working on and do you have anything more to mention?

EK: MusicTalks gave me the opportunity to push myself as an artist and to get outside of my comfort zone. The Klezmer concert I will be presenting on December 3, 2017, at On Stage at Kingsborough is a perfect example. While I try to expose new audiences to classical music, I try as an artist to expose myself to other forms of music and Klemzer is so dear to my heart as it also represents some of my Jewish heritage. I discovered that I can also play Klezmer music and apply my musical experience and technique in a different style. Through my research of Klezmer I learned to appreciate this joyful and spirited art form and it gives me new and fresh experiences.