Born 13 January 1936 at Ramat Gan near Tel-Aviv, composer Ami Maayani belongs to the second generation of the founders and builders of Tel-Aviv City. He graduated from the Academy of Music in Jerusalem as a violinist and violist in 1953 and pursued studies in composition under the tutorship of Paul Ben-Haim, and in conducting with Eitan Lustig (1956–1960). After three years of military service in the Israeli Defence Force, he continued his academic studies at the Technion, the Israeli Institute of Technology in architecture, and graduated with a B.Arch. in 1960. During the years 1961–1962 and 1964–1965, he furthered his studies in New York City, in urban planning at the Columbia University, and at the Electro-Acoustic Music Center with Prof. Vladimir Ussachevsky.
While practicing architecture, being involved in site planning of some major projects in Israel and designing public buildings and dwellings, he studied philosophy at the Tel-Aviv University, graduating with a M.A. in 1974. The subject of his thesis was the Philosophy of Music – Studies in the Aesthetic Writings of Hegel, Schopenhauer, Wagner and Nietzsche.
Maayani is the founder and conductor of the Israel National Youth Orchestra, the Tel-Aviv Youth Orchestra, the Haifa Youth Orchestra and the Technion Symphony Orchestra. During the years 1970–1973 and 1976–1980, he was the chairman of the Israel Composers’ league, chairing the Israeli Section of the ISCM.
The years 1975–1980 saw Maayani as assistant director of the Rubin Academy of Music and Dance in Jerusalem, serving also as a member of the High Council of Culture and Arts. In 1984, he joined the faculty of the Samuel Rubin Israel Academy of Music at the Tel-Aviv University, today the Buchmann–Mehta School of Music, as a professor of composition and conducting. He headed the Academy between the years 1993–1998 and 2000–2004, the year of his retirement. Maayani designed and supervised the building of the Clairmont Concert Hall at the Academy, both architecturally and acoustically.
During the years in which Maayani had been heading the Tel-Aviv Academy of Music, he developed the Symphony Orchestra and the vocal department. Among the major projects and performances with the orchestra which he conducted were many symphonies from the core repertoire (Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Bruckner, Mahler, Bartók, Hindemith and Saint-Saëns’ Third Symphony – the first performance in Israel with a pipe organ), and full productions supervised and conducted by him of the opera Saul and David by Carl Nielsen (Israeli premiere and the first performance ever outside Scandinavia) and Bizet’s Carmen.
Maayani was a guest lecturer in leading American universities and music schools, and at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, China, in 2004–2005.
Although music always came first for Maayani, he was a practicing architect for over ten years. Simultaneously he started composing in 1959 and has ever since worked on his ever growing catalogue of compositions uninterruptedly. He has written for practically every genre, every instrument and instrumental combination. Although his catalogue demonstrates a partiality towards the harp – and his first major composition is a concerto for harp and orchestra (1960, premiered in 1963 in Holland) which was chosen as the obligatory work of the Israel International Harp Contest in 1965 and again at the International Harp Contest in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1969 – his works include an opera, four symphonies, ballet music, two song cycles for voice and orchestra, eleven concerti for a solo instrument and orchestra, works for symphony orchestra, chamber music of all kinds, solo compositions for various instruments and electro-acoustic music.
Numerous are the prizes and awards his œuvre has brought him; among them the ‘Engel’ prize of the Tel-Aviv municipality in 1963; the prize of the education and culture ministry in 1964; the ‘Casino de Divonne’ prize, Paris 1967; the IBA (Israeli Broadcasting Authority) prize for the celebrations of the 25th anniversary of the state of Israel, for his song cycle Jüdische Lieder in 1973; the ACUM (Society of Authors, Composers and Music publishers in Israel) prize in 1974; and an ACUM lifetime achievement award in 1994; 1st prize for his Hebrew Requiem – Symphony No.3 in the International Holocaust Competition, held by the Hecht Foundation, Haifa 1978, Landau prize for the arts of the ‘Payis’ (the state lottery in Israel) for his life works in 2001.
Maayani’s music has been performed extensively in Israel, Eastern and Western Europe, USA, North and South America, China, Japan and Korea. He was the first Israeli composer whose music was heard in Russia, China, South Korea, and Peru. His composition Qumran – Symphonic Metaphor was the first Israeli composition work to be performed in Germany post World War II (Berlin 1974). Maayani’s represented Israel in the European and South American tours of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra under Zubin Mehta. The
Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra commissioned from him the Scherzo méditerranéen for its 1983 European tour as the representative Israeli work. This work was also chosen by Zubin Mehta for the South American tour of the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra in 2006.
Major performances of Maayani’s music took place in different cities: Mizmorim – Songs of Thanksgiving and Praise in New York with the American Symphony under Julius Rudel (1965); the first harp concerto in Utrecht, Holland, with Susanna Mildonian as soloist and the Utrecht Symphony Orchestra under Paul Huperts (1963); the Concerto for Percussion and Eight Wind Instruments in Paris, performed by the Ars Nova Ensemble conducted by Edgar Cosma (1967); Deux Madrigaux in Paris, with Chantal Mathieu and the Paris Woodwind Quintet (1974); Concerto symphonique for harp and orchestra in Heidelberg, with Florence Sitruk as soloist and the Heidelberg Philharmonic Orchestra under Romely Pfund (2002); Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in Beijing, China, with Albert Mamriev as soloist and the Beijing Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Tan Li Hua.
Maayani won international recognition for his entire music written for the harp, which includes three concerti, chamber music for various ensembles and harp, thirty six songs for voice and harp, and solo harp compositions. Most of his harp music was commissioned by famous harpists such as Nicanor Zabaleta, Kathleen Alister, Lucile Lawrence, Edna Philips, Susanna Mildonian and Naoko Yoshino. His music was chosen as set pieces of various International Competitions in Israel, France, Switzerland, Russia, USA and Japan.
Maayani sees himself as the successor of his master teacher Paul Ben-Haim (1897–1984), the founder of the Israel Mediterranean School and the style of music, and considers his own contribution to the contemporary Israeli and Jewish music thus: Maayani clearly defines his music as Eastern Mediterranean. He based his music on biblical cantillations and Jewish traditions, emphasizes version of the Ashkenazi and Sephardic liturgy, setting them into the perspective of the Baroque and Classical music forms blended with Impressionistic harmonies and colours of the Mediterranean trends (French Impressionistic composers); see the Twelve Fantasies for Piano in Prelude and Fugue Form, based on Medieval modes and Ethnic scales – homage to J. S. Bach commemorating the 250th anniversary of his death in 2000. Maayani’s vocal music is closely associated with the Old Hebrew language, since the time of the Old Testament through the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Jewish Poets of the ‘Golden Age’ of Spain and the Modern Hebrew, revived in Israel more than a hundred years ago. His music includes the Yiddish, Ladino and Aramaic languages used by Jews in the Diaspora.
Most of Maayani’s music has been recorded and released in sixteen CDs by FONS Music Foundation.
Maayani is also the author of a monumental and exhaustive mongraph on Richard Wagner (in three volumes) and on The Music of the Ancient Nations and The Music in Plato’s Dialogues, the only major contributions to these subjects to appear in the Hebrew language. FONS Music Foundation is preparing the publication of his autobiography.