The Philharmonie is unusually quiet as we walk through the light-flooded lobby, joined by Israeli violist Maya Tal. The young professional musician joined the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra, or OPL, a mere few months before Covid struck the European continent and much of our beloved cultural life was put on hold. The pandemic has left its mark on this building and its ensemble, the OPL. Rehearsals have had to be reorganised and the auditorium, which usually seats 1,500 people, currently only admits 100 spectators. Yet, Maya Tal does not regret the decision which she and her husband took to move to Luxembourg – even though they knew very little about the country to start with, they are more than happy with their choice.
Before you came here, did you know anything about Luxembourg?
Honestly, I didn’t know much. I had two friends who had been living here the past few years. They are both freelance musicians. And they told me that it’s a beautiful place, filled with landscapes and forests and just the most amazing architecture, and that there’s an orchestra here that plays really well. And my husband and me were thinking that it would be a really nice place to start our life together.
Did you see those descriptions confirmed?
I did. I thought in the beginning that the people here were extremely genuine and kind, and that was just a huge relief.
In the very beginning, before Covid began, when still on trial, I didn’t have much time to travel. I was playing in the orchestra full-time, and during the weekend I was just resting. But when Covid started and we were all sent home, I started seeing views of Luxembourg outside the city centre, and they were really just breathtaking. I remember taking a car and driving by everywhere. And we couldn’t get enough of it. We would come back home and the very next day we would travel once again. It was just beautiful.
Was there any view or experience in particular that stuck with you?
I think the first time that I visited Grund, I was just amazed. It’s not really nature per se, it’s still somehow inside the city, which was even more special. There is this wall in Grund where you have this river, the Alzette, I stayed there for two hours just to absorb what I was seeing. Now I’m used to it, but when I first saw these kind of nature and valleys around here, it struck me. It was really an amazing experience.
May Tal was born in Tel Aviv in 1993 and started playing the violin when she was 6 years old. She studied in Israel and Germany, and is currently enrolled in a Masters programme at the Hanns Eisler Hochschule in Berlin, under Prof. Tabea Zimmermann. Since moving to Luxembourg in 2019, she and her husband have come to enjoy the high quality of life offered by the country.
Was there any one element in particular that convinced you to give Luxembourg a shot?
I think this would not have anything to do with the country itself. It would have to do with the Philharmonie. The Philharmonie treats its musicians with utmost respect and you can sense in the country that music is well-loved, that it’s respected, that the government supports it everywhere they can. I’m not really familiar with the terms of being a freelance here in Luxembourg, but as an employee of Philharmonie and subject to the government here, I felt that music here enjoys a very high priority. Which is not always the same where I come from.
Is that Luxembourg’s biggest advantage?
The love for the arts is felt. I think especially now, in this crisis, because art seems like something that is really not mandatory, but in fact it really is. And just the fact that Philharmonie kept on going whatever way it could was a real testament to this kind of work environment.
Is there a reputation of Luxembourg among international artists?
My professor – I am still a student actually in Berlin – Tabea Zimmermann, her husband was a chief conductor here, his name was David Shallon. She was here many times, and from her I only heard the nicest things about Luxembourg. But I think, you can’t really understand what it’s really like to be here until you live here.
After 2 years of living here now, if you had to tell a friend about the country, what would you tell them?
I would tell them that it’s really serene, that it’s calm. Never have I lived somewhere that I could fulfill whatever I wanted. I have the time and the energy to do everything. It’s not exhausting, like living in a big metropolis. So, it’s really comfortable and very adapted to families. And people are really kind, I cannot demonstrate enough – where I come from, people can be very loud and in your face, and people here really respect the individual.
In a way we are not involved with a lot of Luxembourgish communities, which I feel is a problem. Because at the orchestra there are very few musicians who are originally from Luxembourg. And it is felt, also in the way that we play. There are many different education systems blended into one orchestra, unlike living in Germany or France, where you have just this one type of school and music education. And since we are not involved with a lot of Luxembourgish natives, I feel like a lot of it is missed. We are not super close with our audience which is mostly Luxembourgish, I would say.
Would you say that this blending of different backgrounds is actually helpful to the OPL?
It is. I feel like you are never a foreigner in Luxembourg. I feel like it’s the biggest advantage of living here. Because when you walk on the street, you don’t feel like, ‘Oh, I don’t speak this language and it’s a problem’. I feel like wherever you go, you will find a group that will be similar to your mentality or background. I have a very good friend in the orchestra, and she’s Armenian. We come from very different places, but they are really feeling like the same. So, even if there aren’t many Israelis here, I don’t feel alone here at all. Which is special.
How long are you thinking about staying in Luxembourg?
I think the future is unclear to us all, as musicians. I can only hope that I will stay here for a long time. My husband and I, when we had just met, we had no idea that we were going to live in Luxembourg, but then here we are. Of course I would like to stay here, that is the hope. Starting a family here would be really amazing.