Sunday, March 24, 2019

Vera Vaidman performs all J.S.Bach's unaccompanied works for violin and 'cello in Tel Aviv. Concert No.3

Photo: Davide Iadiccio
The third of Vera Vaidman’s four weekly recitals of all J.S.Bach’s unaccompanied works for violin and violoncello took place at the Israel Conservatory of Music, Tel Aviv on March 22nd, 2019. Performing the ‘cello works on the viola, Weidman mostly uses the Watson Forbes arrangement for viola, but she also consults  all ‘cello sources. (The original manuscript  of the ‘Cello Suites is lost.) An extraordinary undertaking, Vaidman performed the series in New York last year.

It was for six years, between 1717 and 1723, when Johann Sebastian Bach, in the employ of Leopold, prince and ruler of Anhalt-Cöthen, whose principality followed the Calvinist faith, that Bach composed mostly instrumental (but not organ) and secular compositions. These included the two sets of pieces for solo string instruments: one set for violin and the other for ‘cello, with the composer entering practically uncharted waters, especially when it came to a bass instrument. For the Suites for Violoncello, Bach chose the somewhat old-fashioned genre - the suite, opening with  with a Prélude, the longest movement, the dance movements following it in the same order of  Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, a pair of so-called “gallantries” -  Minuets, Bourrées or Gavottes - and ending with an English Gigue.   The earliest manuscripts, copies penned by Bach’s second wife, Anna Magdalena, bear no indication of how Bach thought the pieces should be played, leaving the works eternally clouded in mystery and up to the personal interpretation of the performer. They have become staple repertoire for the viola repertoire ever since being transcribed into alto clef.

Vera Vaidman opened with ‘Cello Suite No.3 in C major BWV 1009, as she took the listener into the Prélude, its forthright opening descending figure opening up Bach’s kaleidoscope of voice play, string techniques and daring dissonances, leading on to the movement’s mighty pedal point, as its gestures emerged one by one via some understated flexing. The dance movements that following displayed spontaneity and clarity, the artist preferring to present the Sarabande, with its series of triple and quadruple stops, as rich in dynamic variety, majestic and contemplative, the Bourrées carefully detailed and charming, not especially light-of-foot, with the final Gigue intense coloured with a fine play of light and shade. In Vaidman’s deep, contemplative playing of the Prélude of ‘Cello Suite No. 2 in D minor BWV 1008, a movement based on a simple arpeggio figure, she showed the listener through the elements making up the ever-increasing complexity and tension of its continuum. The courtly dances to follow remained in the realm of introspection, from the Allemande’s melodiousness and coups de théâtre, the urgency, pondering and temperament of the Courante, the Sarabande, its serious, broad gestures wrought with respect and some ornamenting, the two not-entirely-relaxed Bourrées unmannered, to end with her noble, breathing and flexed playing of the Gigue, playing reflecting the joy of the dance.

Following intermission, Vera Vaidman performed Bach’s Violin Sonata No.3 in C major BWV 1005. Here, in this sonata da chiesa, where the unique opening Adagio reveals Bach at his most experimental and daring, Vaidman’s playing of it was personal and riveting, not only in its rhythmic pulse but also in its unabashed display of the movement’s bold chordal- and dissonant elements. Bach the illimitable improvisor surely stands behind the gestures of this first movement. No less complex is the second movement, a mighty, immense Fuga, a weighty task for performer (and listener) as, at 354 bars, it opens with a subject is taken from  the chorale “Komm, heiliger Geist”, with an almost  frivolous countersubject of evenly descending chromatic half notes, then to reach the point of “al reverso, at which the fugue subject and countersubject become the inverse of what they started out to be. The movement ends with the composer reminding us of where he started out, as a literal repeat of the opening fugal exposition rounds off the work. Vaidman’s playing of the fugue is intelligent, highly articulate and well delineated as she melds its curiously split-charactered subject and countersubject into a brilliant whole that almost dares the audience not to breathe till she signs out of it with an open 5th. Following a cerebral but lyrical reading of the Largo, with Bach now writing in a pared-down two-voice texture, Vaidman draws the work to an impressive conclusion with the Allegro assai, a true virtuosic tour-de-force, its profusion of melodic lines originating from a single running line. Its dazzling and playful course serves as a reminder of Bach’s deep understanding of the  violin’s multi-voice capabilities and expressive range.

For an encore, Vera Vaidman sent the audience home with the charm and French delicacy of Bach’s Gavotte en Rondeau from the Partita for solo violin No. 3 in E major, BWV 1006. Not playing on a Baroque violin, she plays on  aluminium-wound gut strings but with Baroque bows, engaging in some vibrato  “for timbral warmth...not to be producing a sterile sound”, in her own words, playing “music on the modern violin/viola but in the spirit of Baroque.” Vera Vaidman’s Bach concerts are surely a highlight of the 2018-2019 concert season.


Monday, March 18, 2019

"The Sound of Goosesteps", lecture-concert on anti-Semitism in musicals. Eyal Sherf (lecture/vocals), Alla Danzig (piano)

Actor/singer/cantor Eyal Sherf (photo: Ziv Hadash)

“The Sound of Goosesteps, Echoes of the Nazi Threat in The Sound of Music, Cabaret and
The Producers”  will be the focus of a lecture-concert presented by Eyal Sherf, with Alla Danzig (piano) on March 28th 2019 at the Khan Theatre, Jerusalem.


Much has been said about the representation of the Holocaust in a variety of genres. Musicals have often been overlooked, perhaps due to their general perception as escapist entertainment. Yet, as an American art form, the musical is a fascinating source through which to examine ever-changing attitudes to Nazism and the Shoah.

What artistic differences have arisen regarding the visual representation of Nazis in The Sound of Music? Why were the Jewish creators of Cabaret accused of anti-Semitism and what is behind The Producers’ “rise below vulgarity”?

The lecture-concert will present the topic through discussion, clips from stage versions and screen adaptations of the shows, as well as live performance of songs from the three musicals.

Singer, actor, cantor and lecturer on musical theatre, Eyal Sherf received his Master of Arts in Musical Arts from New York University and is a graduate of the Acting Program of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, England. He has performed in several productions in New York City. and is currently appearing in Gebirtig in Israel’s Yiddishpiel Theater. He has appeared in a number of Israeli television series. Eyal Sherf served as cantor of Temple Beth-El, Cedarhurst, New York, continuing his cantorial work at various other synagogues.

Performances: Thursday March 28th  - English: 19:00
                                                              Hebrew: 21:00
The Khan Theater, 2 Remez St., Jerusalem
Tickets: 02-6303600


Pianist Amir Katz soloes with the Israel Chamber Orchestra in Tel Aviv, conductor: Ariel Zuckermann

Amir Katz (photo: Robert Recker)
“Liszt - Concerto for Piano” was the title of the Israel Chamber Orchestra’s recent concert  conducted by the ICO’s house conductor Ariel Zuckerman, with pianist Amir Katz soloing in two works of the concert. This writer attended the event on March 12th 2019 in the Recanati Auditorium of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

The program took the listener on a whirlwind tour of Europe, from Scandinavia to Central Europe and somewhat eastwards. It opened with Danish violinist, conductor, teacher, and composer Carl Nielsen's Little Suite for Strings, Op.1. Written at age 22, when he was still a student at the Royal Danish Conservatory in Copenhagen, it began its existence as a string quintet; however, on the advice of his teacher Niels Gade, Nielsen reset it as a nonet. With Zuckerman conducting without a baton (throughout the concert), he presented the work with the ICO’s moderately-sized string section, preserving the work’s personal, chamber character. The Praeludium, of a contemplative and  elegiac mood, set the scene, (its downcast statement revisited in the Finale), with Zuckerman choosing to keep the graceful middle movement’s character reserved in its lilting waltz rhythm, as the Finale, intense and vibrant with the occasional dark shadow, closed with a sweep of positive energy. The ICO’s players gave a subtle, transparent and meaningful reading to what is indeed an appealing work, one also displaying some excellent string writing.

Moving into the world of more vociferous emotions, Zuckermann and the ICO were joined by Israeli pianist Amir Katz to perform Franz Liszt’s Piano Concerto No 1 in E flat major, S124. Culminating from a long gestation period, there are at least six complete drafts of the concerto, many bearing the title “Concerto symphonique”, indicating Liszt's intention to have the orchestra play as vital a role as the soloist. The exhilarating work was first performed in 1855, with Liszt himself as the soloist and no other than Héctor Berlioz as conductor. Immediately following its grandiose opening, Katz invites the listener to join him in one of Romantic repertoire’s most dashing joy rides as the piano bursts in with robust panache in a virtuosic cadenza following the orchestra’s bold statement of the initial theme. The cascade of ever-transforming ideas, of blistering octave passages, of traversing and criss-crossing the keyboard in all manner of virtuosic techniques momentarily clears the way for such poignant, personal moments as Katz playing alone or the piano’s delectable dueting with the clarinet, those to be swept away by orchestral tutti of considerable intensity. In the radiantly tranquil second movement (Quasi Adagio) Katz gives tender, glowing and deftly crafted expression to one of Liszt’s most ravishingly beautiful pieces (not devoid of dramatic outbursts) as he engages with oboe and ‘cello with delicacy, his subtle holding back here and there endorsing the fragility of the movement’s sentiments. Then comes the dancing third movement, in which the triangle plays a surprisingly central role, with Zuckermann and Katz maintaining finespun balance with the minuscule, glistening soloist, as they enter into effortless, suave dialogue with it. The concerto ends with Liszt opening up the floodgates and ending the work with a rousing march, first charming and then pacing in devil-may-care momentum to a very exciting finale. Zuckermann and Katz clearly share common ideas on what is indeed one of the most breathtakingly difficult piano concertos ever to be written, with Amir Katz’ consummate technical brilliance merging with his most delicate gestures of poetic expression..

Liszt is best-known for his virtuoso piano music, which has, together with that of his Polish contemporary Frédéric Chopin, become a cornerstone of the classical keyboard repertoire. Following the intermission at the ICO’s Tel Aviv concert, Amir Katz returned to the stage to perform Frédéric Chopin’s Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise Brillante in E-flat major, Op. 22 (“spianato” -  evenly, without contrasts, without any great agitation or anxiety). Strange bedfellows (in Shakespeare’s words), the two pieces are totally different in agenda.  Enigmatically, Chopin added the solo piano Andante in 1843 or 1835, having written the Polonaise in 1830-31, publishing the two as  “Grande Polonaise Brillante, précédée d’un Andante spianato”. (His performance of them  in April 1835 was the last grand concert given in Paris by “Chopin the virtuoso”.) Katz, with his signature silken touch and introspective nature, takes the listener out of the world of reality into that of timeless wonder and reflection, infusing the nocturne-like Andante with magic, highlighting hidden melodic lines, allowing for understated flexing and ornamenting the piece with gossamer asides. With the fanfares of the horns announcing the Polonaise, one is swiftly (and somewhat brutally) transported out of the pianist’s personal musings and into the opulent, glittering 19th-century European concert hall, as piano and orchestra engage in an exhilarating dialogue of manifold moods and timbres. Unlike some performances of this work we hear, here orchestra and piano focus on layering and balance. Katz presents the virtuosic soundscape with pizzazz and a sense of immediacy, joy and elegance, embracing the many aspects of its its dazzling and sometimes-lyrical text, its ornaments and figurations, with articulacy and enjoyment. The decor of the Recanati Auditorium has seen better days, but close your eyes and you are hearing the Polonaise from a box in one of Europe’s opulent chandeliered concert halls.

The concert concluded with Franz Schubert’s Symphony No.3 in D major, D.200, composed in 1815, the most productive year of Schubert’s life. Paying  homage to symphonic predecessors such as Haydn and Mozart, the symphony celebrates the sunny character of  the key of D Major. Maestro Ariel Zuckermann’s performance of it gave expression to the freshness and energy of the writing of the 18-year-old composer, from the spirited opening Allegro maestoso, with its bubbling clarinet theme, to the graceful Allegro con brio, the bold, almost-boisterous Minuet with its strongly accented third beats and tempo changes, its Trio reminiscent of jolly rustic Austrian dance melodies, and on to the playful Presto vivace movement, bristling with interest and exuberance.  The performance also gave the audience many opportunities to enjoy the ICO’s high-quality woodwind playing throughout.



Saturday, March 9, 2019

Women's status in the arts - International Women's Day at the Willy Brandt Center, Jerusalem

Courtesy Willy Brandt Center, Jerusalem

To celebrate International Women’s Day, March 8th 2019, the Willy Brandt Center (Jerusalem) hosted “Women Unite”, a panel evening to discuss women’s status in the arts. Panel members were Muna Khleifi, Dalia Manor and Masha Zusman, all women in the field of the arts; Petra Klose was the event’s moderator.


Petra Klose, the Jerusalem Willy Brandt Center’s “Social Art” project coordinator, opened the evening by welcoming guests (there were two men present) and introduced the three panel members. She stressed that the subject of women’s status in the arts was not an issue for just one day a year, but that it should be an ongoing agenda. She mentioned that the Jerusalem WBC is run solely by women but that in most organizations, men hold the senior positions.


Each panel member spoke of her background and work. Born in the Ukraine, Masha Zusman immigrated to Israel in 1989. As a child, she had wanted to engage in music, dance and drawing, but ended up studying Physics, earning her PhD in Theoretical Physics in 1999 from Ben Gurion University. At age 28, she enrolled at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design (Jerusalem), making her way into the world of art with great success. Zusman’s work has been exhibited in numerous solo and group exhibitions including the Tate Modern, London; Essl Museum, Vienna; Centraal Museum, Utrecht; the Israel Museum, Jerusalem; and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. In 2005, Zusman co-founded the Barbur Gallery in Jerusalem, a socially engaged, independent, artist-run space, in which she is currently still involved. She is an activist and teacher and has been teaching in the Fine Arts Department of the Bezalel Academy since 2007.


Muna Khleifi lives in Ramallah. Not an artist, as a young girl she did have contact with the arts, taking part in after-school activities. Working with the British Council, the first organization to present overseas arts to the Arab community, she was promoted to being project manager, bringing guest artists to hold workshops and present such events as Shakespearean plays. Her most conscientious project was bringing the musical “Stomp”, with its large cast, to perform at a festival in Ramallah.  Khleifi changed jobs, taking on the role of project administrator of the Barenboim Foundation. Her close connection with music stemmed from her children, who both studied music, and her involvement with their music studies. In her work with the Barenboim Foundation, she brought renowned artists to perform for the Arab community. The Barenboim-Said Music Centre offers tuition in European music to local children. She spoke of problems to be solved - the fact that this music was unfamiliar to the community and that Palestinians were not in the habit of sending girls to learn music. As the result of her working through schools and making contact with parents, things have changed; many children now attend the conservatory, taking part in five concerts a year.


Art historian Dr. Dalia Manor studied at Tel Aviv University, where most art history students at the time were women. She then taught art history in high schools and wrote art criticism in newspapers, also engaging in curatorial work. Dalia Manor’s major focuses are Israeli art, modern art and national identity and she has published numerous articles, catalogues and reviews on art in Israel. Her book “Art in Zion” deals with the link between art and national ideology, specifically between the artistic activity that emerged in Jewish Palestine in the first decades of the 20th century and the Zionist movement. After living in London for 12 years Manor returned to Israel, teaching in colleges and doing curatorial work. Eight years ago, she became director and curator of the Negev Museum of Art.  


Dalia Manor spoke of the fact that the latest survey (2017) has showed that in art exhibits at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and the Israel Museum, only 30% of exhibits were by women; this was higher than in previous surveys. She added that this statistic was no lower than in many other countries. She pointed out that the market value of male (living) artists is higher. Due to this conservatism, women artists have been pushed aside. She said that change is coming about slowly. The Bezalel School, for example, is intent on finding a female department head, but so far without success. Khleifi spoke of there being many successful women in the Palestinian music industry, but that they are not part of the management; decisions are still left to men. She spoke of the fact that there are many Palestinian women artists, but that the majority are men. Zusman spoke of the tiny Barbour Gallery in Jerusalem’s Nachlaot neighbourhood, of which she was one of the five founders; the other four were men, but that the ratio is now changing. Still involved in it, she said that the “female touch” should continue, that women have a totally different vibe and manage to solve problems more easily. Masha Zusman is enjoying success in her teaching job at Bezalel and is seeing more and more successful women artists.


There was some discussion about women’s work in the plastic arts. Manor said that it has often been considered to be too much about the body and the emotions. Till now, in which case, being recognized as a good artist has meant women needing to paint like men.


Present at the event, Stephanie Merdler, international relations manager of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra Foundation, told those present that the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra was founded in 1936, but that the first woman to conduct the IPO did so only in 2018! Following initial reticence among the orchestral players, the atmosphere warmed up to the conductor as they worked with her, the end result being that there was excitement in the air. Stephanie Merdler also emphasized the need to promote women composers here and overseas.


The artists and audience began to discuss how to bring about change in women’s status in the arts. One audience member claimed that much would depend on good curating to choose fine women artists. Another spoke of the relevance of where the money was coming from.  Dalia Manor spoke of the importance of awareness, that art history teachers should not only teach their students about male artists, but bring their attention to the great women artists of the early 20th century and earlier. Muna Khleifi said that the empowering of women should come from the media, the home and education in the schools, even in pre-school education. (She did mention, however, that some women in high positions tend to suppress other women!) She said a woman of skills should just be herself, what she is, and take initiative to do what she believes in, this saving her the energy needed to struggle. One year, Masha Zusman and her colleagues of the Barbur Gallery noticed that all the exhibits had been works of male artists, so they changed their principles on the matter. Masha Zusman is now seeing more and more successful women artists. Dalia Manor insists that we still have a lot of work to do, that she puts hope in the younger men in top positions promoting women and that we should challenge the public to demand more presence of women in the arts.


Following the symposium, panel members and guest mingled to exchange ideas over a glass of wine.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

"Bohemian Rhapsody" - the Israeli Vocal Ensemble (director: Yuval Benozer) performs music of Czech composers and Freddie Mercury

Photo: Aharon Shatzkin
The Israeli Vocal Ensemble’s recent concert “Bohemian Rhapsody - from Dvořák to Freddie Mercury” took place on February 21st 2019 at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Conducted by Yuval Benozer, most of the program focused on works of Antonin Dvořák, with the addition of some other repertoire. Established in 1993 by its conductor and music director Yuval Benozer, the Israeli Vocal Ensemble, comprising 17 professional singers, performs a wide range of repertoire in prestigious halls and festivals in Israel, in its own series, as well as with Israel's leading orchestras.

The concert opened with Dvořák’s Mass in D major for soloists, choir and organ. Commissioned by wealthy architect and benefactor Josef Hlávka for the consecration of a private chapel on his country estate, Lužany Castle in southwest Bohemia, it was first performed there on September 11, 1887.  Dvořák himself conducted and the two female parts were sung by Hlávka’s wife, Zdeňka (soprano), and Dvořák’s wife, Anna (alto). Intended for use in religious services, as opposed to a concert performance, the work is more lyrical and prayerful than dramatic, its pastoral mood perhaps reflecting Dvořák’s love of nature. It also makes references to the folk melodies of Dvořák’s homeland. Dvořák was a deeply devout Roman Catholic and his faith is manifest in this score. The IVE performed it in its original version, with Yuval Rabin-organ and soloists Maria Lyubman-soprano, Nitzan Alon-alto, Tal Koch-tenor and Yoav Weiss-bass-baritone. The performance, employing a large range of contrasting dynamics, highlighted Dvořák’s acute sense of melodic line and contrapuntal writing. Not to be ignored is the composer’s writing for organ, as was heard in Yuval Rabin’s reflective and sensitive playing of the introduction to the Benedictus. There were some fortissimo sections in which the choral sound emerged somewhat forced and not quite “covered”. The vocal quartet has few opportunities in this work but the soloists acquitted themselves splendidly as a quartet or weaving single vocal lines through the choral texture, singing with expression and beauty of timbre. Particularly notable was Nitzan Alon’s singing in the Credo, her voice emerging with natural warmth and richness, the overall effect of this in responsorial exchange with the choir emphasizing both the personal and communal nature of prayer.

From the sacred to the profane, we then heard eight of Dvořák’s Moravian Folk Songs; six of the duets from Op. 29 and Op. 32 were arranged for four-part mixed choir and piano by Czech composer Leoš Janáček. Dvořák’s Moravian Duets, a cycle of 23 Moravian folk poetry settings for two voices with piano accompaniment, were composed between 1875 and 1881. They celebrate the composer's ethnic heritage and illuminate the daily joys and sorrows of small-town life in Czechoslovakia in peaceful times. The duets were an enormous and immediate success, helping to further Dvorák's international career, popularizing him among his countrymen and providing hearty music for domestic use. The central theme of the songs revolves around human relationships, mostly love (and not without heartache), with the composer employing daring harmonies with unresolved chords to denote sorrow or bitterness. Benozer and his singers gave much delicacy, warmth and expression to the nuances of each song - vivid, pensive and colourful, as in “Dyby byla kosa nabróšená” (The Slighted Heart), delicate melancholy in “Velet’, vtáčku” (Fly Sweet Songster), intensity and strong timbres in “Holub na javoře” (Forsaken), infectious dance rhythms in “V dobrým sme se sešli” (Parting Without Sorrow) and a rich selection of moods in the provocative “Zelenaj se, zelenaj” (Omens). Performing the Moravian songs in their original language is no small undertaking. Adding to the IVE’s singing of these appealing miniatures and reflecting the text of each song was pianist Raviv Leibzirer’s wonderfully artistic and intelligent accompaniments.

Josef Löw (1834-1886) was a popular piano teacher, organist and composer. The prolific Jewish composer, a German-Bohemian national from Prague, made his name with character pieces for piano, organ and harmonium; he also wrote a treatise on the playing of keyboard duets. Indeed, presenting an atypical item in today’s public concert halls, Yuval Rabin presented two of Löw’s pieces for harmonium, taking the audience into 19th century European domestic middle-class music-making, making the audience’s acquaintance with music of a melodious and naive character, its sections gently contrasted by means of registration changes.

Apart from its title, the last item on the program, “Bohemian Rhapsody”, one of the strangest, most inspired and least-understood songs in the history of rock, seemed somewhat incongruous alongside the well-cushioned European Romantic music of Dvorák or Löw. Originally performed by the British rock band Queen, the “Bohemian Rhapsody” was written by Freddie Mercury for the band's 1975 album “A Night at the Opera”. “It's one of those songs which has such a fantasy feel about it. I think people should just listen to it, think about it, and then make up their own minds as to what it says to them…”, in Freddie Mercury’s words. Benozer and the IVE singers gave a highly polished, articulate, whimsical and imaginative performance of Philip Lawson’s clever a cappella 6-voiced arrangement of the song, attesting to the ensemble’s flexibility. The audience liked it, too!

Here was another concert of interesting programming and fine presentation by Yuval Benozer and the Israeli Vocal Ensemble.


Thursday, February 28, 2019

"Musical Europe", an opera gala concert hosted by the Romanian Cultural Institute, Tel Aviv, features artists from Romania, Israel and the USA at the Jerusalem International YMCA

Photo courtesy Romanian Cultural Institute, Tel Aviv
On the occasion of the Romanian presidency to the EU Council, a gala opera concert was held by the Romanian Cultural Institute (Tel Aviv) at the Jerusalem International YMCA on February 19th, 2019.

Opening the event, Mr Marton Laszlo Salamon, director of the Tel Aviv Romanian Cultural Institute, spoke of the Jerusalem International YMCA as one of Jerusalem’s finest historic buildings, also referring to it as an “oasis of multiculturalism” and thus a highly suitable venue for the evening’s concert. He spoke of Romania, president of the EU Council from January to July 2019, as a country promoting tolerance, discouraging hatred, respecting equality, the Jewish minority and cultural diversity. The opera evening would be proof of this diversity, he said, with artists from Romania, Israel and the USA.  Mr. Eyal Ezri, Deputy Director of the Department of Culture and Head of Cultural Institutions, also offered words of welcome.

The program consisted of songs, arias and duets, all accompanied by Ukraine-born vocal coach Dr. Sonia Mazar. Producer and artistic director, Mr. Mircea Cantacuzino introduced the artists and spoke briefly about each of the works and their composers. The program opened with “Revedere” (Seeing you again) a Romanian Lied by singer, composer and professor of the Conservatory of Bucharest Aurel Eliade (1870-1941), a setting of a poem by renowned Romanian Romantic poet Mihai Eminescu (1850-1889). It was given an intense, resonant and gripping performance by baritone Valentin Vasiliu (Bucharest).  In a lighter vein, the audience enjoyed Vasiliu’s singing of the irresistibly sentimental Neapolitan “Ti voglio tanto bene” (I love you so much)  by Ernesto De Curtis (lyrics: Domenico Furnò)

Opera singer, recitalist, teacher.and cantor soprano Menorah Winston (USA) has had a distinguished career in Romania and Israel. At the Jerusalem concert, she gave a  moving performance of “Song to the Moon” (in Czech) from Antonin Dvořák’s “Rusalka”, in which the mythological water sprite requests to become human in order for the prince to love her. Winston was joined by Valentin Vasiliu to perform a scene from Act II of Verdi’s “La Traviata”. They presented the Violetta-Germont duet, in which Alfredo's father, Giorgio Germont,  demands that she break off her relationship with his son for the sake of his family. The artists played out the drama of the situation, with Vasiliu’s authoritative Giorgio challenged and mellowed by Violotta, as Winston gave credence to her vehement, pleading and noble sentiments.

An evening of opera is incomplete without music of Mozart. Soprano Maria Yoffe, who immigrated to Israel from the Ukraine in 1996, has a distinctly silvery and powerful voice and a fine technique; her performance of Variations on “The Magic Flute” attested to these qualities, as she contended easefully with the concert piece’s arpeggios and large leaps. Israeli Opera mezzo-soprano Audelia Zagouri and Vasiliu engaged in a charming, empathic performance of “La ci darem la mano” (There we will give each other our hands) from Act I of “Don Giovanni”. In the aria, we witness Zerlina torn between Giovanni's exhortations and her fidelity to Masetto, her weakening resolve and the final dueting in thirds as the flirtatious Don Giovanni wins her over. Audelia Zagouri’s natural stage presence and stable, fresh voice were well suited to her coquettish portrayal of the youthful widow Norina from Act I of Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale”, as she sang “So anch'io la virtù magica” (I too know your magical virtues).

In a duet from Puccini’s “Tosca”, Vasiliu made for a convincing Scarpia - the corrupt, lecherous police chief keen to  manipulate Tosca’s jealous nature to snare her for himself - as Maria Yoffe portrayed Tosca, a celebrated singer entrenched in a situation of  horrifying violence and passionate devotion, resisted the advances of the villainous Scarpia in what was indeed a fine theatrical performance.

Graduate of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, Kira Zibnitzky possesses a  mezzo-soprano voice that is warm, rich and well-anchored. In "L'amour est un oiseau rebelle" (Love is a rebel bird) the provocative habanera from Bizet’s “Carmen”, its text counselling on the untameable nature of love, her portrayal of Carmen was a little too reserved and noble for such a free-spirited gypsy as Carmen. Zibnitzky and soprano Monica Schwartz joined to offer a lyrical, gently lilting performance of  “Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour” (Beautiful night, o night of love), the much-loved barcarolle that opens Act III of Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffmann”. The opera, set in a world of the fantastic, the uncanny and the magical, comprises three love stories. One features a wind-up doll called Olympia. Olympia sings just one aria "Les oiseaux dans la charmille" (The birds in the arbor), indeed ,one of the most challenging arias in opera repertoire, requiring a nimble, yet strong, lyric coloratura voice capable of incredible ornamentations and range. Monica Schwartz, her voice creamy, bell-like and gliding easefully into its higher registers, gave an impressive performance of the aria, entertaining the audience splendidly with her spontaneity, humour and theatrical flair, with Sonia Mazar twice required to wind the doll up for the show to go on!

Taking on board the large range of works, Sonia Mazar accompanied the singers with musicality, consummate skill and grace, attentive to every turn of the music, careful to give the stage to the singers and lyrics. I felt she could afford to be a little more forthright. The festive event was of much enjoyment to those attending.


Monday, February 25, 2019

The Music of San Marco - Andres Mustonen (Estonia) directs the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra and Hortus Musicus in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem

Photo: Maxim Reider

For Concert No.4 of the JBO’s 2018-2019 concert series, the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra was joined by violinist/conductor Andres Mustonen (Estonia) and his ensemble, Hortus Musicus (Estonia).  The collaboration - “Music of San Marco” - was also an event of the 2019 Mustonenfest. This writer attended the concert at the Jerusalem International YMCA on February 17th 2019.


This concert explored the music of several composers and the style of music that defined St Mark's Venice in the period that saw the end of the Renaissance and beginning of the Baroque eras, the practice of “cori spezzati” (divided choirs) - music performed by multiple choirs, often in alternation, in what later became known as the “Venetian polychoral style”. At St. Mark’s Basilica, this style of music was developed in a kind of institutional way, dependant on the church’s specific architecture, the availability of certain instruments, certain musicians, and especially by the presence of certain composers. Venice – and St. Mark’s in particular, one of the most prestigious musical institutions in Italy – were at the forefront of musical trends for nearly a century. At the Jerusalem concert, offering a representative selection of works from key figures, most of the works written and/or performed at St Mark's, several of them featuring two “choirs” - the JBO (strings, theorbo, harpsichord) and Hortus Musicus (strings, recorders, early winds, percussion, organ), indeed, two distinctly different ensembles in timbre - entering into musical dialogue. At San Marco, the groups, placed in different parts of the basilica, engaging in antiphonal performance, were also not necessarily equal in instrumental (or choral) combinations.


The program opened with both ensembles performing two pieces from Biagio Marini’s “Affetti Musicali” (1617). Each of the 26 pieces of this collection was given a descriptive sobriquet after prominent Venetian family names. In his introduction to the publication, Marini refers to the theory of “conversazione” (conversation). His compositions may have been intended as ‘test’ pieces, meant to inspire conversation among his listeners, thereby arousing their “affetti”. In their published form, the “Affetti musicali” constitute a record of those discussions and the affetti they inspired, as well as conventions of vocal music.  Marini also suggested that instrumental music might convey emotional content equal to that of vocal music.  Marini reached Venice in 1615, joining Monteverdi’s group at San Marco. The concert’s rich selection of antiphonal works included a geographically-inspired piece “La Padovana” by Lodovico Viadana, its colourful exchange the synthesis of polyphonic instrumental music for two (instrumental) choirs, as had developed in Venice. Gioseffo Guami received some of his early training at San Marco probably as early as 1557, studying with Adrian Willaert and Annibale Padovano, then serving there as a singer, in 1588 being appointed to the post of St. Mark’s first organist. Most of his instrumental music was published in a collection of 1601. Two of his double-choir canzonas, comprising many and varied short sections, were heard at the concert. One of the key figures of the Basilica was, of course, was Giovanni Gabrieli. Greatly influenced by (his uncle) Andrea Gabrieli’s writing for cori spezzati, Giovanni brought the spatial technique to a sublime level, a marriage of sound and space; he even received permission to hire freelance singers and players to enlarge the virtuoso ensemble which had been established in 1567. Contrasting their tempos, metres, and rhythms, Mustonen conducted and led several of G.Gabrieli’s innovative canzonas. Claudio Monteverdi took over the management of San Marco’s music program in 1613. The Jerusalem concert featured several of the illustrious Monteverdi’s vocal works (with instruments) - both sacred and secular pieces - opening with “Zefiro torna” (Zephyr returns) to a text by Ottavio Rinuccini. Scored for two tenors and continuo, using a constantly recurring bass line, with dissonances used with great freedom as an expressive tool. Hortus Musicus members tenor Anto Õnnis and baritone Tõnis Kaumann addressed the work’s graceful yet florid vocal lines and its word painting with spontaneity and exuberance. Bass Riho Ridbeck joined the two above-mentioned singers in a theatrical performance of “Dell’usate mie corde” (To the sound of my worn strings) with its strong contrast between expressions of anger and those of love, a piece from Monteverdi’s 8th Book of Madrigals suitably titled "Warlike and Amorous Madrigals”. The program also included two of Monteverdi’s sacred motets. In “Salve Regina” (Hail, holy Queen) Õnnis and Kaumann’s voices wove convincingly in close imitation and canon to create the prayer’s brooding soundscape, the work then concluding with an ecstatic invocation. The three singers joined to give a finely blended performance of the strophic Christmas hymn  “Christe Redemptor omnium” (Christ the Redeemer of all), its atmosphere not indicative of the fact that the piece’s origins were, in fact, a contrafactum (a secular work.)


The Jerusalem International YMCA may not be the right venue for the acoustic effects and ceremonious grandeur of music of the Venetian polychoral style; still, Andres Mustonen drew all the threads of the program together, partnering the highly-coloured Hortus Musical sound with the elegant Jerusalem Baroque sound and incorporating the very beautiful and informed singing of Hortus Musicus’ vocal soloists.

Photo: Yoel Levy