At 6-foot-5, Amit Peled could be mistaken for a basketball player, and in fact he did play hoops when he was growing up on a kibbutz in northern Israel. However, he began taking cello lessons at age 10 to impress a girl four years older.
He never got the girl, but the cello was a slam dunk.
Peled grew up in Kibbutz Yizre’el. After his service in the Israel Defense Forces (playing in the IDF Orchestra), he accepted a music scholarship to Yale University and has been in the United States since.
Now a professor at the Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Peled, 46, concludes an East Coast tour of the institute’s Mt. Vernon Virtuosi with a performance at the JCC MetroWest in West Orange on June 13.
“The Mt. Vernon Virtuosi is very important to me,” said Peled in a phone interview. “I formed it last year to help talented young musicians gain the experience needed to get a job with a major philharmonic orchestra. These are my students at Peabody, and the competition for jobs is so intense. I felt I needed to give them an edge if I could.” Peled conducts the ensemble and will play a cello solo at the JCC MetroWest concert.
Peled arranged a tour that features a small group of concerts in the fall, during winter break, and in the spring. “Last year we had a schedule in Maryland, Virginia, and around Washington, D.C.,” he said. “This year, we decided to add two concerts in Massachusetts and the one in West Orange.”
Peled, who has performed as a soloist with orchestras in noted venues that include New York’s Carnegie Hall and Alice Tully Hall, Salle Gaveau in Paris, and Tel Aviv’s Mann Auditorium, was named one of Musical America’s Top 30 Professionals of the Year in 2015. He performed a cello concert three years ago in the Maurice Levin Theater at the JCC MetroWest.
“I look forward to returning to New Jersey with my young orchestra,” he said. “I really feel the audience will enjoy what we have to offer. We will have around 15 musicians. I will both conduct the orchestra and feature an individual cello piece that I feel is very important, the ‘Hassidic Suite’ by Joachim Stutschewsky.”
Stutschewsky was a Ukrainian-born composer who lived from 1891-1982. He came from a family of klezmer musicians and championed Jewish music and its composers.
“The piece has impassioned moments with different moods that lead into dance,’’ Peled said. “I perform it as a tribute to communities … that were lost in the Holocaust and that this beautiful music will always survive.”
Peled arranged the “Hassidic Suite” in four movements for strings. The first two, the “Bessarabia Song” and the “Latvian Song,” feature a sound that can be described as austere, but the rhythm picks up with the third movement, “Nuts and Wine,” and becomes quite lively with the fourth, “Dance.”
“The last movement often gets the audience going,” said Peled. “The piece will be the highlight of what I believe will be a special night of music in West Orange.”
In 2017, Peled was the publisher for a children’s book, “A Cello Named Pablo,” written by Marni Fogelson and illustrated by Avi Katz. It follows Peled’s journey from the basketball courts of rural Israel to the world’s great concert halls playing one of the most famous instruments of all time and continuing the legacy of the great Spanish cellist Pablo Casals.
From 2012-2018, Peled performed on Casals’ 1733 Goffriller cello, which was loaned to him personally by Casals’ widow, Marta Casals Istomin.
If you go
What: Mt. Vernon Virtuosi, conducted by Amit Peled
When: Thursday, June 13, 7:30 p.m.
Where: JCC MetroWest, West Orange
Cost: $25, $20 members
Tickets: jccmetrowest.org or 973-530-3400