Composer Yonatan Gutfeld on Life, Death, and Poetry

“I walk around New York City with my guitar,” says Yonatan Gutfeld. “That’s how I spend my days. I teach in pre-schools, music in Hebrew, and I perform at events for the Hebrew-speaking community.”

Raised in Jerusalem, he studied the cello and served as pianist and singer in the Israeli Air Force band. He then studied at the Jerusalem Music Academy and the Rimon School of Music. He’s released two albums: Hamatos Shel Ha’atid and Time’s Tyranny.

Since 2013, Yonatan has lived New York City, where he teaches, performs, and writes music. Gutfeld spoke to us about his LABA project and the Israeli poet Ori Bernstein (1936-2017).

Gutfeld sings Vehaya Mehager.

When he was younger, my father took classes with Ori Bernstein and talked about him fondly.

Bernstein was an important figure in Israel in the ’60s and ’70s. He was a professor at Negev University and a lawyer, and he ran AMCOR, the big refrigerator company.

About three years ago I was in Israel buying books, and I saw Ori’s book, and I bought it. I didn’t yet know if he was famous or important; I just knew he was someone my father liked. I met him through his poems.

The book is called Mishehu, which in Hebrew means “someone.” But it could also be read as Mi Shehu, “Who he is.” The narrator is a person in the last days of his life. I imagine him reflecting on life, and all these dreams or hallucinations interrupt him.

The only thing he can see is the garden through his window. But he thinks about the places he’s been to, exotic places, with interesting people. I have the impression that his life has been very full and exciting.

The poems are about preparing for something. He talks about emigration, like he is preparing for emigration, and he is asking himself how he can prepare for this. He says in one poem that a man ends his life with objects that he brought home from all his journeys. After he dies these objects will be thrown away by his children. And all his stories will be thrown away.

This song is Vehaya Mehager. It means “He would emigrate.” It’s a man emigrating in his imagination to the places he’s already visited.

Gutfeld performs at LABAlive 2: LIFE + DEATH
Thursday, April 18, 2019 // 7.30p
Theater at the 14th Street Y

Buy your tickets now.