Noam Sheriff had something the rest of us lack

Noam Sheriff had something the rest of us lack


norman lebrecht

August 26, 2018

Shocked and saddened by the sudden death of a dear friend, I must mention a quality of Noam’s that I have seldom encountered in any other musician.

Tributes in the past 24 hours speak of Noam’s dedication to music and musicians, the respect he showed to everyone – from a first-year student to Leonard Bernstein – his insatiable curiosity and his sharp wit in three languages, often blended in one sentence. Not to mention that bubbling sense of fun.

The thing about Noam is that he always had time for everyone. No matter how pressing a deadline, how demanding a rehearsal, how late he was for lunch, Noam would give attention to every person that crossed his path. A walk to the shops with Noam was a theatre of human relations. He knew every passerby by name, and all of their life stories. He would stop and chat as I looked at my watch. He had time for everyone and he gave it with unthinking generosity.

In return, everyone had time for Noam. I once had to get from his house in the middle of the country to an appointment in Safed, in the Galilee, a 100-mile journey impossible by public transport. Noam said ‘Yossi will take you.’ Yossi was a neighbour who knew nothing about symphonic music but he knew there was a great man who lived on his street, a man who would do anything for others and expected nothing in return.

That was Noam. That’s who we have lost.


  • John Borstlap says:

    An allround human being with a mediterranean temperament…. I like the story how he treated time schedules. His music is fullblooded and human, inclusive the usual 20C bitterness, like Shostakovich’.


    NOAM was a very dear close friend. I often dined in his beautiful home near Haifa,
    and we met regularly in London and on tour. I conducted his music in Israel, Germany and Australia. Hard to believe that he is no longer with us. After Olly Knussen, this is very sad indeed.

  • Edward Cumming says:

    his study with Markevich (my teacher’s teacher) is evident — a very musical man.

  • simonelvladtepes says:

    There are things that are never documented by history. Noam Sheriff is the reason that Richard Strauss suddenly started to be played one day in the 90’s in Israel.

    Has anyone asked themselves how come both Wagner and Richard Strauss were not performed in Israel, but Richard Strauss suddenly started to be programmed regularly in Israel in the 90’s? Because Barenboim conducted a public campaign to program Wagner so that he can get credit for it if it succeeds and PR points in Europe either way (Mehta tried a different approach that failed), whereas Noam Sheriff went about it quietly, did not try to get any credit for anything, created no resistance and succeeded.

    How did he do it? Noam Sheriff knows the Israeli public the ignorance of the politicians. An average Israeli at the time would connect the name “Strauss” with a dairy brand, or, in music, with the waltz kings. So he programmed Richard Strauss in small unofficial venues for years. I remember going to some arts festival in the early 90’s in Jaffa, and Noam Sheriff was conducting Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra. I was shocked and delighted, but no one in the audience (it was a free open-air concert) seemed to be aware of what was going on. It was going on for a while both before and after.

    When the New Israeli Opera replaced the old one, Noam Sheriff’s orchestra (The Israel Symphony Orchestra Rishon LeZion) became its orchestra. Noam was able to program Strauss’ Elektra at one point at the end of the 90’s in the Caesaria amphitheater without anyone that I know of making a fuss. The MO was, if any politician trying to score points was going to make a fuss, the response would have been: “what are you talking about, we’ve been playing Richard Strauss for years, here is where we played his music…” etc. No politician wants to look stupid.

    Wagner could have been programmed regularly in Israel by now if Barenboim cared more about his ego and career than about Wagner. There was a way to finesse this issue delicately.

    I felt for decades someone had to tell this story. How many bigger events in history were shaped by people we know nothing of?