Ronn Yedidia’s career in music has taken him from child accordionist to composer of music serious enough to be performed in major concert halls. It’s a career that is impossible to define and even harder to pigeonhole. On Sunday, May 7, Yedidia and friends will perform at Merkin Hall, 1’9 W. 67th St., in New York, and area residents will have the opportunity to decide for themselves who the real Ronn Yedidia is.
Born in Israel into a creative household, by the time he was 6, Yedidia was performing on the accordion an instrument then popular in Israel at celebratory events. "At my first performance I couldn’t even see the audience because the instrument was bigger than I was," said Yedidia, a Leonia resident, in an interview.
A concert of music by Ronn Yedidia will be performed in New York on Sunday.
"Most of what’s written for the accordion is in transcription and is of the light classical type," he went on. While still a pre-teen, Yedidia, who became something of a virtuoso on this prosaic instrument, shifted interest to the piano. For a time, the Yedidias, father and son, traveled around Israel, performing like a ‘0th-century version of the Mozarts, Leopold and Wolfgang. Yedidia had become something of a prodigy on piano, just as he had on accordion.
But Yedidia wanted more. When he realized that most of the great repertory was in piano, he put away the accordion, and concentrated on learning to unlock the exquisite beauty of the piano. By 15, Yedidia had begun studies with Pnina Salzman, a prot?g? of Alfred Cortot, a late 19th- to early ‘0th-century pianist and conductor. "My teacher changed my life," he said. "And she became the link to those whose work I began to admire: Rachmaninoff, Rubenstein, and particularly Vladimir Horowitz."
By this point, Yedidia had started to compose. "When I was 1′ and still touring, I wrote some little pieces. One of them was a tarantella, yet another, a dance. My father thought they were charming." With such encouragement, Yedidia began to compose in earnest. From writing and playing these musical tidbits, Yedidia saw that there was no reason why he couldn’t do more. "I became frustrated," he said. "For me, the stage alone no longer was sufficient. I was missing something by playing music not my own." Out of this restlessness came a more serious piece, an etude that Yedidia composed to challenge not just his dexterity but his mind too.
The direction of his life’s work began to come clear. "It freed me when I realized I could create my own music and improvise as I wanted while I performed. After that first etude I composed a much larger work, which served to establish me as a composer in people’s minds in a big way."
And it served to broaden Yedidia’s horizons. "When I finished my military obligations, I thought now it’s time to pursue a career in music." That thought became more a reality when, with a group of other young Israelis, he traveled to the United States to perform during the American bicentennial celebrations. "I was struck with the American music bug for sure and knew I would stay," he laughed.
That first foray to the States introduced Yedidia to jazz greats Chick Corea, Oscar Peterson, and Herbie Hancock. "Their ideas were new to me and I loved how they played. I started writing fusion and jazz pieces and won a prize at the Israeli Jazz Festival. It’s called "Prophets."
Over the next years, Yedidia was admitted to and then finished his studies at Juilliard, formed a jazz fusion band, founded a school, and wrote his break-out work, the "Sonata No. 3," also called "Outcries."
The music that Yedidia will present during Sunday’s concert reflects his desire to work on a broad palette. One of those pieces, "In and Out," composed with Yuval Edoot, "is structured, but allows room for improvisation. We don’t know what’s going to happen until we step onto the stage," he said. Also to be performed that night are his "String Quartet No. ‘," some songs, and "Mi sheberach," a commissioned work based on Jewish liturgy.
The program reflects Yedidia’s persona; no musical genre can hold him. He writes complex, muscular works, sometimes romantic, technically brilliant, the kind that Horowitz, his hero, would be comfortable playing on his nine-foot Steinway. Or the music can be playful, like his song "Come Back to Bed," which Patti Smith might sing, or even Cassandra Wilson. And there’s his pop-sounding "M’Silot Khayay," written in the spirit of Israel.
Who is Ronn Yedidia? One concert on a Sunday evening in May won’t give you the answer.