Thursday, February 11, 2016

Notes from the 2016 Eilat Chamber Music Festival - three chamber music concerts

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Trio Wanderer (

The 11th Eilat Chamber Music Festival took place at the Dan Eilat Hotel from February 3rd to 7th   2016. Azure skies, the sparkling indigo blue waves of the Red Sea - home to flotillas of small yachts - and the relaxed feel of Israel’s southernmost city welcomed the many festival-goers who attended the concerts taking place in the Tarshish Hall and the larger Big Blue Hall of the Dan Hotel.

“From Russia with Love” opened the festivities, with Franz Schubert’s Sonata in A-minor D821 “Arpeggione”, performed by Israeli ‘cellist Hillel Zori and Russian pianist Ivan Rudin: Zori gave poignant expression to the singing qualities, harmonic interest and contrasts of Schubert’s sound world, with Rudin giving the stage to Zori all the way. However, in three of Liszt’s “Transcendental Études”, Rudin wielded the piano with the authority of the lion tamer: his playing bristled with fantasy, dynamic variety, warmth and spontaneity, at times meditative, at others, vehement.  Rudin was then joined by young violinist Marianna Vasileva (Russia-Israel) in Robert Schumann’s Sonata for violin and piano No.1 in A-minor. The two young virtuoso artists took on board the work’s quicksilver fluctuations and temperament with playing that was both intense and lyrical, well nuanced, finely coordinated and flexible. Together with Ivan Rudin, François Salque (France), no new face to the Eilat Chamber Music Festival, performed Frédéric Chopin’s Sonata for ‘cello and piano in G-minor opus 65, a momentous work in that it was the last Chopin published and in which he himself performed; it also represents the composer’s struggle with the ‘cello-piano medium and probably with his separation from George Sand. The artists gave a vigorous, noble and carefully balanced reading of this autumnal work.

Concert no.4 was a recital by violinist Yossif Ivanov and pianist Alexander Gurning, two outstanding young Belgian artists, both members of the unconventional ensemble – Trilogy. Their transparent sound, delicately shaped phrases, incisive playing and off-beat sforzandi (3rd movement) of Beethoven’s Violin Sonata opus 12 no.1 in D-major made for a fine representation of the composer’s early- but already distinctive style. In Edvard Grieg’s Sonata no.3 in C-minor opus 45, the artists addressed the work’s darker colorings and intensity, its lyricism, subtlety and the work’s references to the composer’s national music. Then to Igor Stravinsky’s Divertimento for violin and piano (1928) based on his ballet music to “The Fairy’s Kiss” and constructed around some melodies of Tchaikovsky. Also tinted with folk music features, the work held the audience’s attention with its rich canvas of sweet melodies, rich harmonic variety, heavy ostinatos, its fantasy and unpredictable changes. The recital concluded with Maurice Ravel’s “Tzigane”, in which both Ivanov and Gurning’s technical agility, fired by their own temperament and spontaneity, captured the composer’s interest in gypsy- and Hungarian culture.

For chamber music aficionados, Trio Wanderer’s performance was a reason to visit the 2016 festival. This was the second time the French trio has performed at the Eilat Chamber Music Festival. All three players were graduates from the Paris Conservatoire before studying at the Bloomington School of Music and the Juilliard School. Today, violinist Jean-Marc Phillips-Varjabédian and ‘cellist Raphaël Pidoux have teaching posts at the Paris Conservatoire; Vincent Coq teaches at the Haute École de Musique, Lausanne. Joseph Haydn’s Trio in C-major Hob.XV:27 (1797) was a fine opener, with much fresh, positive and communicative playing and Classical elegance.  The first of a set of three trios, they were published as “Sonatas for the Pianoforte with Accompaniment of Violin and Violoncello”, showing where Haydn’s demands were (and they were well met by Vincent Coq), his range and writing for the keyboard pointing to the fact that it would have been played on a large English grand piano. In Franz Schubert’s Piano Trio no.2 in E-flat major, opus 100 D.929, the artists negotiated the appealing and majestic Allegro movement splendidly, with its Schubertian major-minor duality, to be followed by Pidoux’ sombre and meditative playing of the haunting ‘cello melody in the Andante movement. With tempos never achingly slow in any one movement, the artists stood back to present Schubert’s emotional world, its tensions and nostalgia relieved by good-natured lightness of texture as they attentively addressed each human gesture and mood. The concert ended with Piotr Ilych Tchaikovsky’s Trio in A-minor opus 50 (1882), a large-scale work on many levels, a work dedicated to the memory of Nicholas Rubenstein (brother of pianist and composer Anton Rubenstein) but also colored by Tchaikovsky’s own melancholic state of mind.  The artists gave expression to the composer’s intense emotionalism and melodiousness in the opening elegiac movement.  The simple folk-like theme (introduced by the piano) provided the subject for the eleven variations of the second movement, in which the trio presented each with its individual character – the Scherzo of Variation 3, the sweeping minor lines of Variation 4, the music box/drone effect of Variation 5, the elegant waltz of Variation 6, the contrapuntal interweaving of Variation 8, the Mazurka in Variation 10. Then, in the Finale, beginning with a jubilant variation, the artists take the listener back to the heavy-heartedness and mourning of the first movement, leaving the listener coming to grips with the intensely sad final layering of a tragic funeral march with the first movement theme, then fading and dying away. Trio Wanderer’s convincing and moving reading of the work left the audience in silence at its conclusion…laudation well earned by the superb performance of Trio Wanderer. For its encore, Trio Wanderer performed Ernest Bloch’s Nocturne no.2.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Baritone Thomas Zisterer and pianist Maria Neishtadt perform at a "Classical Viennese Soiree" at the American Colony Hotel (Jerusalem)

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Baritone Thomas Zisterer (

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A “Classical Viennese Soirée” was the subject of the second concert of the new chamber music series taking place in the Pasha Room of the American Colony Hotel (Jerusalem) on January 23rd 2016.  Supported by the Austrian Cultural Forum and organized and coordinated by Ms. Petra Klose (K und K Wien) in cooperation with the American Colony Hotel and its general manager Mr. Thomas Brugnatelli, the recital featured Austrian baritone Thomas Zisterer and pianist Maria Neishtadt (Russia/Israel).

The first half of the program consisted of classical baritone repertoire, opening with a whimsical and charming rendition of Papageno’s opening aria from Mozart’s “Magic Flute”, a pan flute hanging around Zisterer’s neck, in which the bird catcher sings cheerfully of the pleasure of catching birds, musing that it would be nice to catch pretty girls, making one his wife. With the ominous chords introducing Franz Schubert’s “Der Jüngling und der Tod” (The Youth and Death) the atmosphere darkened and Zisterer and Neishtadt took on the mood of the Lied, in which Josef von Spaun’s text tells of a young man in the face of death. This was followed by an evocative, crafted and beautifully narrated performance of “Der Lindenbaum” (The Linden Tree) from Schubert’s “Winter’s Journey”.  The artists then created the delicate autumnal setting for Alexander von Zemlinsky’s love song “Selige Stunde” (The Blessed Hour) from the composer’s opus 10 collection, indeed a treat, considering the fact that Zemlinsky’s many fine songs in the late Romantic idiom of Brahms remain sadly neglected by performers. Then two songs from Gustav Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder (1901-1902); first the intricate perpetuum mobile of  “Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder” (Do not look at my songs), in which Friedrich Rückert’s text asks the reader not to look at his texts before they are finished, claiming that bees do not allow anyone to observe their cell-building.  Zisterer and Neishtadt created the wonderment, the intensity and questioning of Mahler’s only overt love song (a gift to his new bride Alma) “Liebst du um Schönheit” (If you love for beauty’s sake). The artists concluded the first part of their program with a flexible and emotional reading of “Mein sehnen, mein wähnen” (My yearning, my dreaming) from Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s opera “Die tote Stadt” (The Dead City), certainly an outstanding piece for the lyric baritone.

Entering the Pasha Room with an armful of long-stemmed red roses, and handing them out to some of the luckier ladies in the audience, Thomas Zisterer opened the program’s section of Austrian operetta- and entertainment music with “Dunkelrote Rosen” (Dark red roses) from Karl Millöker’s opera “Gasparone”. A tender and accessible song, the audience was taken away to the gentle, unabashedly sentimental, light-hearted and flirtatious popular music genres of Vienna of the 19th- and early 20th centuries:
‘I bring dark red roses, beautiful woman,
And you know exactly what that means!
I cannot say what my heart feels
Dark red roses tenderly suggest it…’
Moving just a little eastward, we heard the artists in Austro-Hungarian composer Emmerich Kálmán’s waggish and playful “Ganz ohne Weiber geht die Chose nicht” (Quite without women things do not work) from “The Czárdás Princess” (1915) an operetta set in both Budapest and Vienna. Much at home in this genre, Zisterer, freely expressive on stage and light of foot, entertained the audience with his jaunty and rakish performance of the delightfully risqué song. Kálmán and Austro-Hungarian composer Franz Lehár were the leading composers of what has been referred to as the “silver age” of Viennese operetta. From Lehar’s “Merry Widow”, a hot ticket at the Theater an der Wein, we heard “Ich hol’ dir vom Himmel das Blau”, its message referring to the uncertainties and disappointments of love. Then to the jolly, lusty “Heurigenmarsch”, a song from Robert Stolz’ operetta “Around the World in 80 Minutes”, complete with humorous comments from the piano. (“Heurige” refers to wine from the earliest harvest as of November 11th. Bars in the environs of Vienna serving it are referred to as “Heurige”.)  Hans von Frankowski’s “Ja, das sind halt Wiener G’schichten” (1940) (Yes, these are Viennese Stories) is typical in its expression of Austrian joie de vivre combined with fatalism and melancholy, as heard in songs in Viennese wine tavern- and cabaret songs. Following the artists’ suave rendering of “Tarragona” from Nico Dostal’s operetta “The Queen’s Courier” (1950), Thomas Zisterer and Maria Neishtadt concluded their recital with the warm, simple sentiments of Rudolph Sieczynski’s best-known song “Wien, du Stadt meiner Träume” (Vienna, city of my dreams) one of a number of nostalgic, sentimental songs about Vienna  written by the composer. Providing German speakers and especially the Austrians present at the recital with smiles, a little nostalgia and much enjoyment, the operetta songs of the second half of the concert provided the audience with a classy evening's music and a flying visit to Vienna of bygone days, its people and its opulent popular bourgeois music scene.

Thomas Zisterer studied at the Tirol- and Vienna Music Academies. An artist of outstanding versatility, personality and relaxed stage presence, Zisterer can be heard performing early music, opera, children's opera, operetta, musical comedy, Mahler's Lieder, Haydn and Beethoven’s settings of Irish, Scottish and Welsh songs and even tangos; he performed the latter at the Tirol Landestheater (Innsbruck, Austria) with Carlos Gardel. His true, fresh lyric baritone voice, stable in all registers and unforced, sounded especially well in the intimate Pasha Room of the American Colony Hotel.

Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, pianist and organist Maria Neishtadt studied at the Mussorgsky Music College, graduating in piano performance from the St. Petersburg State Conservatory. She furthered her music studies at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. A winner of several international awards, Ms. Neishtadt has performed in Europe, China and Israel and has won critical acclaim for her interpretation of Chopin works. A skilful and highly competent accompanist, she gave much life and substance to the works performed at the Jerusalem concert, addressing colour, texture and fine detail in some challenging (quasi-orchestral) accompaniments, together with Zisterer, changing musical guises from work to work.


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Pianist Maria Neishtadt (

Friday, January 29, 2016

Ariel Halevy and Misha Zartsekel perform works for two pianos at the Blumental Center (Tel Aviv)

Misha Zartsekel and Ariel Halevy
In “A Celebration of Two Pianos” a new piano duo on the Israeli concert scene – Ariel Halevy and Misha Zartsekel – played to a full house at the Felicja Blumental Music Center (Tel Aviv) on January 21st 2016. Born in Jerusalem, Ariel Halevy began his piano studies at the Conservatory of the Jerusalem Academy of Music, receiving bachelor and master’s degrees from the Mannes School of Music (New York). As a soloist and recitalist he performs internationally, also leading a busy teaching life. In 2015, he recorded late Brahms piano works for the RomeoRecords label. Born in Rostov, southern Russia, Misha Zartsekel moved to Moscow at age 9. He immigrated to Israel in 2000, working with Rietta Lisokhin in Haifa as well as Prof. Itzhak Katz and Yaron Rosenthal at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. A recitalist and chamber musician, he has soloed with orchestras in Israel and abroad.

The program opened with Johann Sebastian Bach’s Concerto for two Harpsichords in C-major BWV 1061, the composer’s only work for two keyboards. Probably originally composed for two harpsichords from the outset, an orchestral accompaniment was added, possibly not by Bach. In the latter, the keyboard instruments play less against the orchestra, conversing more with each other, so that the two keyboards alone produce a full and satisfying musical setting. And now that we have come a safe distance from the stringency of the Authentic Early Music Movement, it is time to reconsider the performance of Bach on the piano. Halevy and Zartsekel gave a bold, clean and fresh reading of the concerto, their use of the sustaining pedal never blurring a line as they presented each motif with articulacy. Their absolute precision of timing provided a most splendid basis for the counterpoint to play out its complex game of melodic strands. Following the personal expression of the 2nd movement – Adagio ovvero Largo – in which the artists allowed themselves immerse themselves within the affect, they gave an exhilarating, dynamic and contrasted reading of the final movement – Fuga – a true celebration of the king of Baroque contrapuntal forms.

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Johannes Brahms was introduced to a set of divertimenti for winds attributed to Haydn in 1870. He liked the theme of the second, the Chorale St. Antoni, a hymn sung by pilgrims on St. Anthony’s Day, copying the melody into his notebook. In 1873, he showed the two-piano version of his variations on the theme to Clara Schumann; she and Brahms gave it its first airing at a private gathering in Bonn that year. An orchestral version followed, being referred to as opus 56a, whereas the piano version is 56b, was published later. Critical of his own previous- but well-received sets of variations and those of his contemporaries, he wrote to violinist Joseph Joachim in 1856, claiming that in writing variations “we cling nervously to the melody…we don’t handle it freely” and “we merely overload it”. Brahms’ “Variations on a Theme by Haydn” were a turning point on that score. They are also a mammoth undertaking on the part of the pianists. Halevy and Zartsekel gave a rich rendition of Brahms’ “orchestration” of the piano. Nuanced with the strong, rewarding timbres of the Romantic soundscape, the artists’ playing took the listener from lyrical, singing melodies, to moments of urgency, to the sober, haunting message of the “minore” Variation IV, to a variation of breathless garrulousness that pushes bar-lines aside as it forges its way ahead (Variation V), to chordal textures, to the lovingly-treated and gently hesitating personal utterances of the Siciliano ((Variation VII), to the illusive sleight-of-hand of the last variation, ending with the wink of an eye. Their committed playing of the massive Finale endorsed Brahms’ aim to extend the boundaries of the variation form.

Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Suite No.1 opus 5, the “Fantasie-Tableaux”, inspired by a stay in the Russian countryside, was the composer’s first attempt at writing program music. It was written when the composer was just 20 years old. The work, however, shows a mature approach to the technical, tonal and interpretive resources of the two-piano medium. Each movement is headed by a quotation from one of four poets. Halevy and Zartsekel created each of the tableaus insightfully, lending magic and luxuriant colour to the layering of the opening Barcarolle, with its underlying hint of sadness, then evoking an intense description of night “La nuit…l’amour” (Night…Love), the cascading scales and copious trills forming the material of fantasy. A quote from Lord Byron’s poem “Parisina” introduces “La nuit”:

“It is the hour from when the bough
The nightingale’s high note is heard;
It is the hour – when lovers’ vows
Seem sweet in every whisper’d word;
And gentle winds and waters near,
Make music to the lonely ear…”

“Les larmes” (Tears) began with an almost visual picture of single teardrops falling onto a bare soundscape; then, as the textures fill out, the artists take the listener into the inner regions of the senses, the “sculpted” tears ever returning, laden with longing. Sweeping away the melancholy state of mind of the previous movements, “Pâques” (Easter) is an exuberant and extroverted depiction of bells ringing out on Easter morning, the characteristic “noise” and repetitiveness of bells present in a myriad of astounding textures. Beyond the technical versatility and strength required in playing the “Fantasie-Tableaux”, this performance was clearly the result of deep enquiry into the fine details and meaning of this masterpiece.

Ending on a more light-hearted note, the artists performed W.A.Mozart’s Sonata in D-major for Two Pianos K.448, the composer’s only work for two pianos. This was not one of the composer’s duets played by him and his sister; indeed, the first piano part was played by Josepha von Auernhammer, a young woman who, it seems, had designs on the still single Mozart in 1781. In this work, constituting Mozart at his most galant, Halevy and Zartsekel brought the spirit of the Viennese salon and its fine entertainment to the audience at the Blumental Center, with Mozart’s graceful, songful music, its elegance and exhilarating virtuosity amounting to a true masterwork. In playing that was solid, positive and well contrasted, the opening movement breathed Mozart’s joy and positive outlook, also his modesty, as the two artists listened, matched and supported each other, with the Andante (2nd movement) setting the listener’s heart afloat with its charm and tender gestures, the artists’ phrases finely chiselled. With the engaging energy of the Allegro molto, the artists sent the audience home with a sense of well-being in which Mozart’s playful, refreshingly naïve and carefree agenda was alive with the joy of the piano duo.

Playing as a duo for only a year, Misha Zartsekel and Ariel Halevy share the music with warm resonance, clarity, precision and well balanced sonorities, with a strong sense of cooperation and of sharing.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Harpsichordist Kenneth Weiss (USA) conducts the Israel Camerata Jerusalem in "Dancing with Venus". Soloist - soprano Sophie Graf (Switzerland)

Kenneth Weiss (satirino,fr)
"Dancing with Venus" was the third concert in the Israel Camerata Jerusalem's 2015-2016 concert
series of "The Human Voice". This writer attended the concert in the Henry Crown Auditorium of the Jerusalem Theatre on January 19
th, 2016. The Israel Camerata Jerusalem, in its 32nd season, was founded - and continues to be directed by Maestro Avner Biron. An atypical concert for the Camerata, "Dancing with Venus" comprised mostly Baroque works and was conducted from the harpsichord by one of today’s most illustrious harpsichordists Kenneth Weiss (USA) with Swiss soprano Sophie Graf as soloist.

The program opened with Jean-Féry Rebel's "Les Elémens, a work that might be best described as a "choreographed symphony". A violinist in the French court orchestra, and a pupil of Lully, Rebel held several posts at Versailles, also gaining prominence in Paris. Rebel invented the "simphonie de danse", a form actually independent of ballet or opera; the work performed at the Camerata concert was the last and most famous of his works of that genre. "Les Elémens" began as a dance suite to which the composer later added his unique and daring opening movement "Le Cahos" (Chaos). For the Camerata audience members expecting an evening of elegant Baroque music (that was indeed in store) they were surely not prepared to hear an opening chord which could only be described as an orchestral tone cluster appearing well before its time! In his introduction to the work, Rebel makes his intentions clear: "…it was chaos itself, that confusion which reigned among the Elements before the moment when, subject to invariable laws, they assumed the place prescribed for them within the natural order". He explains the musical depiction of the elements thus: "the bass represents the earth, the flutes the babble of water, air is represented by the piccolo, with the violins depicting fire. In the music, all evolve to a single tone, representing the creation of nature”.  Weiss conducted from the harpsichord (one of several instruments in Israel built by Henk Klop, Holland). Weiss’ adaptation (Rebel's full score has not survived) abounded in a constant change of instrumental combinations and colors, fine flute solos and duets (Esti Rofé, Naama Neuman), lightness and transparency of textures and the treatment of ornaments, hemiolas and elegant gestures fitting to the stately choreographed gestures of the French Baroque suite.

Born at Versailles, François Colin de Blamont (1690-1760), protégé- and successor of Delalande as master of the Chapelle Royale, also a painterat the court of Louis XIV, is virtually a forgotten composer. His cantata "La toilette de Venus" was published in 1723 in a collection of French cantatas. The librettist is not mentioned, but from other sources he has been discovered to be Charles-Jean-Francios Hénault (1648-1737). Rarely performed, the cantata calls for pairs of flutes, oboes, violins and 'cellos as well as continuo. In this performance, the Israeli premiere of the work, Kenneth Weiss once again directed from the harpsichord, with Sophie Graf singing the text in which the text addresses cupids, zephyrs and the Graces. Graf's performance was well shaped, light and fresh, at times more intense and triumphant, with some delightful word painting, as she and the orchestra “conversed” with each other; all were held in delicate timbral balance by Maestro Weiss. Relaxed and communicative, Sophie Graf, her singing silvery and easeful, was joined by the Camerata's new minimal-vibrato Baroque "look".

Typical of the Camerata's imaginative programming, the orchestra then presented Ottorino Respighi's "Ancient Dances and Airs", Suite no.3 (1932) composed for string orchestra, its melodies being arrangements of lute songs by Besard, a Baroque guitar piece by Roncalli and lute pieces by Santino Garsi da Parma, as well as other anonymous composers. A musicologist and antiquarian, Respighi (1879-1936) makes reference to old styles, setting the material and its wistful melodies with an informed ear, blending them into delicately set works for the modern orchestra. Weiss and the players performed them with understated poise and majesty, their sensitive handling of phrases and textures spoken with articulacy and elegance, the final variations taking a more dramatic turn.

The concert concluded with a representative selection of orchestral suites and arias from Jean-Philippe Rameau's operas "Pygmalion", "Dardanus" and "Platée". Rameau only began writing operas at age 50 but, in his 30 remaining years, he wrote some 30 works for the stage – musical tragedies, ballet-operas, pastorales, lyric comedies and comic ballets. His first "acte de ballet" "Pygmalion", a one-act opera with a minimal plot, enjoyed immediate success. Following Sophie Graf's elegant treatment of the opera's recitative and aria describing and celebrating the sculpture of a young woman coming to life, we heard a suite from Rameau's lyric tragedy "Dardanus", with Weiss and the players highlighting the contrasts and scoring potential of the music, its small solos, measured elegance, excitement and virtuosity. Then, from "Platée (1745), one of Rameau's finest lyric works, we heard Graf as La Folie in one of the opera's highlights "Formons les plus brilliants concerts". Warning Platée that she is deluded if she believes Jupiter really loves her, Sophie Graf was coquettish and theatrical, utilizing the music and words to express vocally and with movements and facial gestures.  Graduating in both harp and as a lawyer in Geneva, Ms. Graf took postgraduate studies at the Guildhall School of Music (London) and at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (Glasgow). A soloist, opera singer, ensemble singer and recitalist, this was her first appearance with the Israel Camerata Jerusalem.

No newcomer to Israeli audiences, New York-born Kenneth Weiss studied with Lisa Goode Crawford at the Oberlin Conservatory (USA) and with Gustav Leonhardt at the Sweelinck Conservatorium (Amsterdam). He presently focuses on recitals, chamber music, teaching and conducting. One of his most unique of his many projects was in collaboration with choreographer Trisha Brown, where he was musical director of “M.O.”, a ballet on Bach’s “Musical Offering”. Weiss has held teaching positions at the Norwegian Academy of Music, the Barcelona Conservatory and the Juilliard School of Music (New York). He is currently teaching at the Paris Conservatoire. Directing the Israel Camerata Jerusalem for the first time, Kenneth Weiss offered both players and audience an evening of superbly crafted, sophisticated and stylish performance.

Benny Hendel’s program notes were well researched and informative.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Prague String Trio in a performance at the Czech Embassy, Tel Aviv

Pavel Kirs, Sang_A Kim, David Schill

On January 14th 2016, the Prague String Trio gave a recital at the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Tel Aviv. The trio is supported by the Dvořák Foundation for Young Musicians.  Members of the trio are violinists Pavel Kirs and Sang-a Kim (Korea) and violist David Schill. All three young are seasoned soloists and chamber players, with David Schill an accomplished orchestral player; the three are presently studying for artist diplomas at the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music, Tel Aviv. Founded in 2012, the Prague String Trio won 1st prize and invitations for more recitals at the International Competition for Chamber Ensembles at the Burg Kniphausen Academy, Wilhemshaven, Germany. The trio plays at major Czech festivals and at other international festivals. Its concerts are broadcast by the Vltava Czech radio station.

Mr. Arthur Polzer, press-, scientific- and cultural attaché of the Czech Embassy in Tel Aviv, opened the evening with words of greeting and information on the trio and its members.  Pavel Kirs also offered some explanations on the two works on the program. 

Antonin Dvořák (1841-1904) composed his Terzetto in C major opus 74 in 1887, at the height of his career. It came about by dint of circumstances: the composer’s mother-in-law rented a room to a chemistry student Josef Kruis, who was taking violin lessons. He was sometimes visited by Jan Pelikán, a string player in Prague’s National Theatre Orchestra, who was possibly his teacher. Dvořák, who enjoyed playing the viola, wrote the Terzetto within seven days, with the aim of playing it with them.  As it turned out, the work was too difficult for the student and was premiered by players of the Prague Chamber Music Society.  At the Tel Aviv concert, The Prague Trio gave expression to the work’s lyrical, sweet-toned flowing melodies and warm harmonies, together with its gently melancholic appeal, keeping a careful distance from over-sentimental playing. The graceful and indeed dense Larghetto gives way to a Scherzo rich in surprises.  Following their spicy performance of the third movement Furiant with its vivacious Bohemian dance mannerisms, the players gave the final movement’s recitative-like, harmonically mischievous (original but folk-like) melody and variations much variety of mood and texture; the movement plays out major-minor ambivalence. David Schill highlighted the composer’s skillful working of the viola line, the role of which would ordinarily have been played by the ‘cello.

Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967) composed the Serenade for string trio opus 12 at a traumatic time of his life. Together with Bartok and Dohnányi, he had taken part in the so-called “musical directorship” in the 1919 Hungarian Soviet Republic, for which he became resented after its suppression by the rightist regime. He was blacklisted and performances of his works were banned. For two years he disappeared from the national- and international music scene. His teaching post was restored in 1922. The Serenade for Two Violins and Viola, one of the few important works written from 1919-1920, takes its inspiration from the treasury of folk music Kodály had collected together with Bartok. In the opening Allegramente, the Prague String Trio wove in Hungarian folk melodies with driving energy, to be contrasted by an expressive viola melody. The players proceeded to address the mystery and anguished agenda of the second movement – Lento ma non troppo – its disturbing pianissimo tremolo passages played by the 2nd violin (Sang-A Kim) and providing a haunting harmonic framework to the quasi-dialogue between 1st violin (Pavel Kirs) and viola (David Schill). This personal utterance takes the listener to the depths and despair of the composer’s mind. Then, creating much interest with the energetic Vivo movement, characterized by tempo contrasts, its variety of textures and rustic references to Hungarian folk idiom, the three artists brought the work to brilliant close.

For their encore the artists played the Cavatina from Dvorak's "Miniatures" opus 75a. In January 1887, the composer wrote to Simrock, his German publisher, "I an writing little miniatures...for two violins and viola and I am enjoying the work as much as if I were writing a large symphony..."

With their innate musicality and outstanding ability, members of the Prague Trio, engaging in one of the less common trio combinations, collaborate closely to strike a fine balance between intelligent, carefully detailed performance and the spirit of music as derived from its folk sources, its influences and the composer as a person. The Tel Aviv  Czech Embassy hosts recitals on a monthly basis.