Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Dan Eilat Hotel as the venue for the Eilat Chamber Music Festival

The 9th Eilat Chamber Music Festival took place at the Dan Hotel Eilat from February 24th to March 1st 2014. This was the second time the festival has been held at the Dan, a hotel of 375 rooms on Eilat’s north shore. Under the general- and artistic direction of Leonid Rozenberg, the Eilat Chamber Music Festival offered 14 concerts this year, its artists also running master classes for young musicians. Gilli Alon-Bitton of Carousel Artists Management and PR was artistic consultant and coordinator, with Yossi Schiffmann as presenter.

How is a resort hotel transformed to a classical music festival venue? I met with the Dan Eilat Hotel’s general manager Mr. Lior Mucznik on February 28th to discuss the question.

PH: What can you tell me about the Dan Eilat Hotel?

Lior Mucznik: The Dan Eilat is considered Israel’s number one vacation hotel today. The hotel has won several certificates of excellence and awards from several organizations, those including the Council for a Beautiful Israel. By the way, the Dan Eilat Hotel was listed as one of the 25 best vacation hotels of the Middle East, with the top ten being in Dubai. No other Israeli hotel made the list. An Israeli 5-star hotel right on the waterfront, with three pools of its own, the Dan Eilat caters to the Israeli- and overseas visitor, to families and to conference tourism. For obvious reasons, the summer is best suited to family vacationing. In other seasons we run events of a very different kind. The Dan is the main conference center in Eilat. As of the end of October up to February every year, we host a great number of conferences – medical conferences of all kinds, conferences for lawyers, accountants, insurance agents, biologists, solar energy specialists, hi-tech people, etc.

PH: What sections of the public interest you?

LM: We are interested in attracting many different sections of the community, one very specific group being the classical concert-going public.

PH: Do you host music festivals other than the Eilat Chamber Music Festival?

LM: No. But we take part in other Eilat festivals in that we accommodate guests attending them, whether it is the summer Eilat Jazz Festival or the Eilat Winter Jazz Festival.

PH: And the Eilat Chamber Music Festival?

LM: For some time, I have been aware that this is a festival of a superior standard, with high quality events. Two years ago, I took the decision to host the Eilat Chamber Music Festival here at the Dan Eilat. Last year’s festival, the first at the Dan, was in May in order to fit in with American actor John Malkovich’s schedule. He played in “The Infernal Comedy”, which was the main event of the 2013 festival. But May is somewhat problematic timewise, bordering on the summer season; because we need more rooms at the hotel for the Chamber Music Festival, I believe it should take place in the winter. So this year it was at the end of February and we can see how much more successful this timing is. (Next year’s will take place at the beginning of February.)

PH: What is the capacity of the halls?

LM: As concert venues, the Big Blue Hall seats some 500 people and the Tarshish Hall has 323 seats. We sold over 2000 concert tickets for the 2014 Eilat Chamber Music Festival!

PH: To Israeli- or overseas guests?

LM: To both. However, to encourage incoming overseas tourism, I have offered the concert tickets for free to overseas guests choosing to stay at the Dan. Some of these guests, of course, stay longer than the festival.

PH: How much of the hotel is occupied by festival-goers this week?

LM: That is difficult to estimate with any accuracy. I know how many people booked hotel-ticket packages through us, but there are other guests here who ordered concert their tickets separately. However, looking at our guests, it is obvious to me who the festival-goers are. What I can tell you is that, of the 375 rooms in the hotel, we kept 300 for those people attending the festival. The artists are accommodated at the Dan at our expense. There are no vacancies this week, meaning that, whatever the number of guests we have, the festival has attracted a great many people. I would estimate that more than 50% of the rooms are occupied by people here for the festival.

PH: I have noticed that there are many more concerts over the weekend than in the preceding days.

LM: Yes. Here we take into account the fact that people are freer to attend the festival over the weekend. It is a fact that there were considerably more festival guests from Thursday to Sunday.

PH: Have people living locally been buying tickets to the concerts?

LM: Most definitely.

PH: Would you like to talk about preparations made at the hotel for the festival?

LM: Yes. Prior to the festival, it takes a week to set up our two large halls – the Tarshish Hall and the larger Big Blue Hall – to build stages, to install risers. We need to prepare other rooms for the master classes as well as practice rooms for the artists. In the week set aside for setting up the halls as concert halls, we do not host conferences. Another aspect is the business of planning and marketing the festival, the packages, the special prices and the decision to keep many rooms reserved for festival-goers right up to the last moment. The festival centre is then set up here, as are ticket stands. We need ushers. Then there is the subject of catering and the printing up of new menus; the lobby menu, for example, takes on a more Viennese flavor, with Apfelstrudel and Sachertorte served. And, following the last evening concert each day, our chefs are there with hot soup, pastries, chocolates and wine for everyone. These post-concert spreads have been much appreciated by audiences. The festival ends with a cocktail party for the artists. All the above details come together within one week after months of planning.

PH: Do you bring in extra workers for the festival?

LM: No. We organize it using our own staff. Only when it comes to ushers, we do employ extra people in order to have enough of our security people manning the hotel.

PH: What about pianos?

LM: We have one piano in the hotel. More pianos are brought in for the duration of the festival. And, of course, there is also the importance of tuning them.

PH: Do you consider all of this profitable businesswise?

LM: That I really cannot say and it is not even our top priority in this case. But, as far as putting the Dan Hotel Eilat “on the map”, this is indeed an important and auspicious event.

I spoke to some of the festival audience members to hear their opinions on the festival and on the Dan Eilat as a concert venue. A couple from Tel Aviv – she a biochemist and he in the tourist business – was attending the festival for the third time. They have, however, stayed at the Dan Eilat several times. In Tel Aviv, they subscribe to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra’s concerts and the New Israeli Opera. Attending six concerts of the present festival, they were happy with the acoustics of the two Dan Hotel halls; with a tendency to back pain, she found the seats uncomfortable. Now attending the festival on a regular basis and full of enthusiasm for it, they mentioned their surprise at the fact that the festival was not highly publicized.

I approached a couple from Eilat. Both now retired, he is an engineer by profession and she worked in air travel. A keen music-lover, she remembers when there were no classical music events in the town. She now attends all classical music events in Eilat, most of them taking place at the Eilat Conservatory. She and her husband have been attending the festival from the day it started, this year choosing to hear two concerts. With a special love for chamber music, she finds the Big Blue Hall less friendly than the smaller, more intimate Tarshish Hall. Another Eilat resident seen at the concerts was Dutch-born Mrs. Agnes Brevet. A pianist, ‘cellist and flautist and teacher at the Eilat Conservatory, she and Leonid Rozenberg have spent much time exchanging ideas on the quality of Eilat’s musical life. Feeling that something was missing in the town’s cultural existence, Mrs. Brevet wanted to contribute to improving it. She contacted the Arnica Foundation in Holland and, with the support of this foundation, she and Rozenberg started the Eilat Chamber Music Festival nine years ago. She has remained involved in the festival ever since and has only praise for the Dan Eilat and for the wholehearted and generous way the hotel has taken the festival under its wing. Mrs. Brevet spoke of the halls at the Dan as, despite not being built as concert halls, being as good as any of the hotel halls the festival has used, and far superior to the Eilat Theatre.

A couple visiting from Manchester, U.K., combining a good-weather vacation with fine music, was attending the Eilat Chamber Music Festival for the third time. The two, he a lawyer and she a social worker, attend concerts and opera at home. Not staying at the Dan Hotel, they were attending five concerts of the festival. Referring back to when the festival took place at the poorly situated Eilat Theatre, the two were more than satisfied with the two Dan Hotel halls. Two other non-Israelis attending the festival were a journalist couple from Berlin, Germany. This was their first trip to Eilat. Regular concert-goers in Berlin, they had heard about the Eilat Chamber Music Festival from a Jerusalem friend and were surprised there had been so little publicity for the event. Staying at a hotel within walking distance of the Dan, they attended three concerts; they found the Dan Hotel halls to their liking and were impressed by the variety of musical events offered. “Trees, Walls, Cities” (the Brodsky Quartet with mezzo-soprano Lore Lixenberg)had left a strong impression on them.

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