Tuesday, January 17, 2023

A STAR TREK - The Israel Camerata Jerusalem (conductor: Avner Biron) hosts British 'cellist Steven Isserlis and presents the world premiere of "Blue, Yellow Smoke" by Lior Navok (Israel)


Steven Isserlis (photo: Tom Miller)

Of the Israel Camerata Jerusalem's Instruvocal Series, the title of "A Star Trek'' was appropriate. This writer attended the event on January 10th 2023 in the Henry Crown Hall of the Jerusalem Theatre. Conducting was Camerata founder, musical director and house conductor Avner Biron. 'Cellist Steven Isserlis (UK) was soloist. 


The concert opened with a world premiere - Lior Navok's "Blue, Yellow, Smoke" - a work commissioned by Maestro Biron and the Israel Camerata Jerusalem. The piece, written on Russia's invasion of the Ukraine, is atonal, offering orchestra members plenty of solo utterances. Definitely a mood piece, it comes across as intensely personal in expression, as it shifts between sombre, dejected moments and agitated passages, the harp role - disturbing in its gestures, possibly suggesting the fatal  ticking of a clock - added to the eerie aspect of the work. Known to be an outstanding pianist, Lior Navok (b.1971), a founding member of the Butterfly Effect Ensemble (a group specializing in forging live scores for silent films), has created a textural/emotional soundscape that is both powerful and aesthetically appealing.


Referring to himself as a "cellist, author, musical explorer and general enthusiast", Steven Isserlis navigates a diverse career as a soloist, chamber musician, educator, author and broadcaster. As he gave vivid expression to the different elements of Dmitri Shostakovich's Concerto for 'cello and orchestra No.1 in E Flat major Op.107, I kept thinking how naturally the work emerged from under Isserlis' fingers, how much he was one with the music, his performance impressive, and not just due it its virtuosic demands as one of the most difficult concerted works for the cello. Shostakovich wrote it for his close friend 'cello virtuoso Mstislav Rostropovich, who memorized the piece in four days, performing the premiere on October 4th 1959. With a healthy dose of verve, Isserlis launched into the playful, cheeky and whimsical scenario of the opening Allegretto, its four-note theme accompanied by an almost droll march in the woodwinds, the movement's course then to reshape and distort musical ideas. The soloist invited the audience to gambol along with the proceedings, as a crashing timpani stroke then issued in the second thematic area.  All rhythmic energy was swept away as the Moderato was introduced in tranquil, sombre sounds, the solo horn nostalgically preparing for the entrance of the soloist, the movement emerging with sublime lyricism, dancing a mournful dance, the music's course then taking on otherworldly sounds and Shostakovich's hallmark sense of isolation. Isserlis' playing of it was fragile, eloquent and introspective. The third movement, an extended cadenza, brimmed with interest, variety and contrast, but what also stood out was Isserlis' strategic pacing and attention to the composer's every detail, gesture and mood. As to the Finale - Allegro con moto - with its Russian dances, Maestro Biron and soloist pulled it off with breathless, fiery verve and a touch of the wicked. Throughout the work, the unique solo horn part (seemingly the 'cello soloist’s "alter ego") was performed with mellifluousness and sensitive shaping by Alon Reuven, the horn at times engaging in extended dialogues when the orchestra was silent.  


This was followed by Max Bruch's "Kol Nidrei" (arr. 'cello and strings). An Adagio on Hebrew Melodies, consisting of a series of variations on two main themes of Jewish origin, it was first published in Berlin in 1881. In a performance that ranged from intense moments to delivery of the most innermost pianississimo sounds, Isserlis' rendition came across as spiritual as he took time to address the content of each motif and nuance. Soloist and orchestra met throughout in transparency and with subtle teamwork. The artist was playing a Montagnana 'cello (1740), an instrument boasting superb breadth of sound and range of colour.


 For his encore, Steven Isserlis played the "Song of the Birds" (El cant dels ocells), the traditional Catalan Christmas carol associated with the great Pablo Casals. This was not Casals' setting with orchestral accompaniment, but for the 'cello alone. Isserlis' personal, filigree playing of the poignant . melody was graced with spreads. 

The event signed out with W.A.Mozart's Symphony No.41 (Jupiter) in C major K.551, Maestro Biron's reading of the work highlighting Mozart's sheer brilliance as a composer, the work's emotional range and the composer's invincible spirit that always drove him to succeed against all odds. Both bracing and touching, the Camerata's playing gave expression to Mozart's joy, his innocence and whimsy, with melodies reminding one that Mozart was an opera composer. The orchestra's playing was abundant in light, radiant textures, hearty, buoyant tutti moments and the C-major tonality sense of well-being. 

Lior Navok (liornavok.com)

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra hosts recorder player Maruša Brezavšček (Slovenia) at a Christmas concert in Jerusalem. Works of Bach, Corelli, Vivaldi and the world premiere of "Concerto alla moda" by Avner Hanani


Maruša Brezavšček (Yoel Levy)

As to be expected, "A Christmas Concert'', event No.2 of the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra's 34th season, took place in the festive season. It was also affiliated with the Hallelujah Festival of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. This writer attended the concert at the Jerusalem International YMCA on December 27th 2022. Soloists were soprano Daniela Skorka, mezzo-soprano Hagar Sharvit, tenor Itamar Hildesheim and baritone Guy Pelc; also, Bar Zimmerman-oboe and recorder player Maruša Brezavšček (Slovenia). JBO founder and music director David Shemer was to have conducted from the keyboard, but the corona virus had caught up with him and, at less than 24 hours' notice, Aviad Stier stepped in to play the organ and harpsichord parts in most of the works performed.   


Opening the evening was J.S.Bach's church cantata "Ich bin vergnügt mit meinem Glücke" (I am content with my good fortune) BWV 84, composed in Leipzig in 1727. The work is scored for soprano soloist, SATB voices (for the chorale) and a small instrumental ensemble of oboe, two violins, viola and basso continuo. Consisting of a sequence of alternating arias and recitatives, with a concluding chorale, the effect was delightful as competent young oboist Bar Zimmerman gave expression to the lavish oboe obbligato role. Following each shape and nuance of the vocal line, soprano Daniela Skorka, mirroring the oboe trill for trill (first aria), reinforced the text's message of joy and contentment. In the second aria, Zimmerman and Skorka were joined by 1st violinist Noam Schuss and Roni Bracha ('cello) to celebrate the merits of a "heart ever thankful, exalting with phrase"; the singers performed the beautifully crafted unaccompanied chorale with meticulous coordination. 


Commissioned by Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, Arcangelo Corelli's Concerto grosso in G minor, Op. 6, No. 8 (1690), known as the Christmas Concerto, bears the inscription "Fatto per la notte di Natale" (Made for the night of Christmas). Scored for two concertino violins and ‘cello, ripieno strings and continuo, the work is a concerto da chiesa, but expanded from the typical four-movement structure to six. At the JBO concert, the concertino section consisted of violinists Noam Schuss and Dafna Ravid and 'cellist Marina Katz. Led masterfully by Schuss, the performance was quintessential Corelli - abounding in beauty, nuanced, dramatic and lyrical, spiced with dissonances and with some fine ornamentation on repeats. As to the pastoral (final) movement setting the scene for Christmas, it emerged at a relaxed pace, creating the nativity scene with tender, radiant warmth and sensitive shaping.


Antonio Vivaldi’s contribution to the flute and recorder repertoire is well known and shows that he had far more than a passing interest in these instruments. Of the more than 500 concertos Vivaldi wrote for orchestra and solo instruments, his Recorder Concerto in C minor RV 441 is known as the most technically demanding of the recorder concertos and as one of the most virtuosic recorder compositions in the entire Baroque recorder repertoire. It is considered a jewel among Vivaldi’s mature style concertos. 1st prize winner of the 2020 Tel Aviv International Recorder Festival Maruša Brezavšček was the soloist for this concerto. A skilful and creative player, Brezavšček performed the exotically chromatic first movement with some imaginative ornamenting, here and there, allowing phrase endings a little more time to sign out with a “sigh”. She engaged in dialogue with Schuss and violinist Yasuko Hirata in the poetic Largo movement, moving from its mysterious soundscape into the harmonic antics of the effervescent Allegro movement with impressive ease and engaging in the latter's virtuosic passagework. Maruša Brezavšček's playing was tasteful rather than a show of muscular bravado, as she gave the stage to the music, her tone on the alto recorder mellow, centred and full-bodied. 


And to a work atypical of a Baroque music concert - Avner Hanani's “Concerto alla moda”. This was the world premiere of a piece that was commissioned by the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra and Maestro David Shemer and enlisted as a new Israeli work for 2022 by the Ministry of Culture and Sport. In an interview with Barry Davis of the Jerusalem Post, Jerusalem-born Hanani (b.1974) spoke of "Concerto alla moda" as "not really a baroque work…but there is a sort of baroque sound to it, with the harpsichord and other instruments, and the ‘extras’ – the texture, the laconic element, and there are lots canons in the piece, imitations…but it is more in the rock vein.” (Jerusalem Post, December 22, 2022.) Imitative and of polyphonic texture, monothematic for the most part, of varying rhythms and meter and somewhat modal, the appealing tripartite piece had listeners at the edges of their seats. With the composer at the harpsichord, his buoyant, streamlined piece zipped along with definite logic, its more relaxed middle section a short hiatus prior to inviting all back into the breezy, toe-tapping pace with which the work had begun. With all the Concerto alla moda's buzzing energy, its textures were fine-spun, elegant and precisely balanced, enhanced by a few solos and, indeed, graced by the glistening sounds of the harpsichord. And, together with the audience, the JBO players seemed to be enjoying it to the full!


The concert ended on a pensive note with J.S.Bach's funeral cantata "Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit" (God's time is the very best time) BWV 106, the work also bearing the title of "Actus Tragicus". It is one of the composer's first forays into the cantata genre (Bach wrote it at age 22). From the very first notes of the poignant instrumental opening sonatina, one is aware of how the mellow, introspective substance and underlying drama are skillfully interwoven through the music, also due to the fact that (having no violins) it is scored for two recorders, two viols and continuo. The cantata calls for SATB vocal soloists and choir, with the possibility of the choir being formed by the four soloists, as was the case at this performance. The cantata's text and sentiments meditate on death, the continuity between life and death and finding peace, not a subject really suited to the mindset of the young, but the four young singers engaged in it convincingly and with empathy: Daniela Skorka's heart-rending singing of  the haunting soprano solo, Hagar Sharvit's round, richly-coloured voice giving expression to the plaintive alto aria, Itamar Hildesheim's sensitive, tastefully ornamented singing of the contemplative tenor aria and Guy Pelc's bright baritone voice sounding resolute and joyful in the bass solos, as he rendered some suavely-shaped melismatic passages. Here, Pelc's conducting skills were also enlisted. All singers displayed good German diction.  I personally would have enjoyed the incorporating of another four singers in the choruses to add more weight and prominence to their message. The musical presence of recorder players Maruša Brezavšček and Adi Berkowski and gamba players Myrna Herzog and Tal Arbel throughout the cantata was affecting, supplying Bach’s non-verbal dimension of meaning to the work's introspective nature. 


Kudos to  Noam Schuss on her articulate leading, to Guy Pelc for some  choral direction and to Aviad Stier on his very fine keyboard playing..


Soprano Daniela Skorka (Yoel Levy)


Monday, December 26, 2022

18th century salon music: Jochewed Schwarz (fortepiano) and Yasuko Hirata (violin) perform music of Mozart and Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach on period instruments


Jochewed Schwarz,Yasuko Hirata (Photo:Itche Hochmann)

A house concert in Kfar Saba (Israel) on December 17th 2022 brought together works of two composers who were contemporaries, but who never met - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) and Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach (1732-1795). The pieces were performed on period instruments by Jochewed Schwarz - fortepiano (square piano) and Yasuko Hirata - violin.


With little doubt, the three Mozart's sonatas for violin and piano were the more familiar section of the program. W.A.Mozart composed violin sonatas  in two distinct periods of his life. The first group, Nos. 1 to 16 (K. 6-15, 26-31) were composed from 1763 to 1766. Written from age 10 to 13, they are his "childhood" violin sonatas. Among his first published compositions, they give dominance to the piano, with the violin only accompanying (and even optional). Then, from 1778 to 1788, Mozart composed a new series of sonatas, completing 19 additional violin sonatas. These give the violin a more major role, putting the two instruments on an equal footing. The sonatas performed at the house concert were all from the second series. The artists played two sonatas from Mozart's Opus 1 (catalogued Opus 1, despite the fact that the composer already had three hundred works to his credit). Bearing the influence of Johann Christian Bach, these sonatas comprise only two movements. Opening with Sonata in G major KV 301, Schwarz and Hirata gave expression to Mozart’s thematic invention, engaging masterfully in the composer's deft "division of labour", the second movement (Allegro) touching in its minor section and with gentle comments. Their expressive playing of Sonata in E minor, KV 304 (the only sonata of Opus 1 in a minor key) highlighted its contrasts, distinctive wistfulness, its dignity and gravity. Jochewed Schwarz spoke of Sonata in E flat major KV 481, (1785), one of the late Viennese violin sonatas, as a product of Mozart's happiest and most remunerative period. As each movement began with the notes of the tonic triad, each to then extend with different means to different ends, Schwarz and Hirata gave voice to the work's rich orchestration, vivacity, sharp asides and surprising digressions. Their appealing treatment of the harmonically adventuresome middle movement, with its idiosyncratic rondo-variation mix, gave way to a carefully-examined reading of the narrative of its set of variations. There is no other chamber-music genre for which Mozart produced so many works, his writing probing every timbre, every thematic limit and combination, exploring the diversity arising from the pairing of the two instruments, its dramatic power, elegance and emotional depth. Here we are reminded that, in addition to his skill at the piano and harpsichord, Mozart was also a consummate player of the violin and viola.


Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach (the 16th of J.S Bach’s twenty children, and the ninth child born from the union with Anna Magdalena) was the third oldest of the four Bach musically prominent sons. He was known as the "Bückeburg Bach". In 1750, Wilhelm, Count of Schaumburg-Lippe, appointed him  harpsichordist at Bückeburg, in 1759 promoting him to the post of concertmaster. Indeed, J.C.F. Bach served at the Bückeburg court from age 18 until his death in 1795. Like his three musician brothers, he was known as an outstanding virtuoso of the keyboard. His oeuvre includes symphonies, oratorios, liturgical choral pieces and motets, opera, songs and keyboard sonatas. (Sadly, a significant part of Johann Christoph's output was lost in the WWII destruction of the Staatliches Institut für Musikforschung in Berlin, where the scores had been on deposit since 1917.)  In the 1770s, Johann Christoph visited his brother Johann Christian in London, returning to Bückeburg with an English pianoforte, a fondness for  Mozart's music and  a penchant for English tastes and styles. After his return to Germany, Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach continued to compose at a steady pace, his music now exhibiting a more Classical bent. Prefacing one Breitkopf edition of a collection of keyboard sonatas, the composer wrote that they had been "written in the latest style and composed in London, where they were much to the liking of Her Majesty the Queen.” Having made a successful transition from the late Baroque style of his father to the early Classical style, Johann Christoph's compositions were well received and, although not leading their times, they did keep successfully abreast of them. At the Kfar Saba house concert, two of J.C.F.Bach's keyboard sonatas from c.1785 were performed by Jochewed Schwarz. Ornamenting sparingly and displaying fine, articulate finger-work and sincere, candid reading of the texts, she entertained the audience with the true delight of salon music, her playing of the faster movements displaying panache and verve, the slower movements bearing traces of the Empfindsamkeit movement. Introducing many of us present to the music of the "forgotten Bach" (in Schwarz's words) the performance gave us an in-depth sample of the character and quality of these keyboard pieces, substantiating that Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach should be better known. 


Yasuko Hirata was playing on a Baroque violin restored by Jonathan Hai, the latter referring to the instrument as a "fine old unlabelled violin, probably from the German school." A 19th century violin, it was first restored to being a modern instrument, with Hai then changing it to a Baroque setting. Hirata's Baroque bow was made by Eitan Hoffer. The square piano played by Schwarz was bought in the UK four years ago. Built in 1798 by Broderip & Wilkinson, it was restored by Michael Cole (UK). Like many other square pianos from the late 18th century, it has five and a half octaves (FF to c4). This particular instrument has neither knee levers nor hand-operated stops and boasts a delicate tone. 


Sharing their meticulous, comprehensive approach to the  music riding between the Baroque and Classical periods, Yasuko Hirata and Jochewed Schwarz created much interest in keeping with the congenial timbres and ambience of salon music of those times.


Photo: Jochewed Schwarz


Sunday, December 18, 2022

The 2022 National Day of Romania is celebrated at the Jerusalem Theatre with an evening of all-Romanian music. Conductor: Ionuț Pascu; pan flute soloist: Dalila Cernătescu

 Dalila Cernătescu, Maestro Ionuț Pascu, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra (Courtesy Romanian Cultural Institute, Tel Aviv)


In Israel, it is rare to hear a complete program of Romanian music but even rarer to join a large crowd of mostly Romanian speakers filling a symphony hall the size of the Henry Crown Hall of the Jerusalem Theatre. But this was the case on December 10th 2022 for the Extraordinary Gala of Romanian music on the occasion of Romania's National Day, an event under the auspices of the Romanian Cultural Institute, also celebrating 75 years of diplomatic relations between Romania and Israel. The concert was one of the events of the Hallelujah Festival. Directing the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra was conductor/arranger and baritone Ionuț Pascu, with Romanian pan flute artist Dalila Cernătescu as soloist. Opening the event was Mr. Martin Salamon, director of the Romanian Cultural Institute (Tel Aviv), who spoke of the evening's double celebration, of Israeli (Romanian) composer/conductor László Roth, a work of whose would be performed at the concert, and of the fact that the city of Timișoara in western Romania would serve as one of the European cultural capitals in 2023. Next to speak was H.E. Radu Ioanid, Ambassador of Romania to the State of Israel. A Holocaust researcher, Dr. Ioanid spoke of Elie Wiesel and the importance of remembering the Holocaust in all its reality. Last to talk was Mr. Dani Dayan, chairman of Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, who emphasized the consistent record of Romania's relations with Israel, despite the many hard times of its own history.


Romania is a European country with a multicultural environment, its folk- and art music presenting a myriad of vivid music scenes. Indeed, common to many of the orchestral pieces on the program was the profusion of folk dances, full, intense orchestration and the use of regional folk modes. These elements were evident in works played of 20th century composers, such as Paul Constantinescu's "The Little Shepherd" and Constantin Silvestri's more avant-garde, piquant "Transylvanian Dances", with their varied timbres and moods, the nature associations heard in Mihail Jora's "Moldovan Views" - Part II, and some daring writing including - nostalgic moments, otherworldly moods, unique harmonic colours, clusters and wild, complex,  asymmetrical rhythm patterns - in Theodor Rogalski's  "Three Romanian Dances", a major work which became a landmark on the Romanian music scene of the time. Add to these just a sliver of ballet music - Mircea Chiriac's tempestuous, atonal and defiant "Dance of the Spells" from "Iancu Jiannu"; blink and the wicked spells have vanished! 


And to the works of two Romanian composers who emigrated to Israel. Dumitru Bughici a 4th generation musician of a well-known klezmer family in Iași, eastern Romania. When teaching at the National University of Music in Bucharest, he began to compose concert symphonies for strings, chamber music, works for piano, for ballet and film scores, also publishing academic works on composition and music theory. In 1985, Bughici emigrated to Israel, where he worked as a composer and music lecturer. Among his prominent works are those he wrote for the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. His "Romanian Suite" (orchestrated by Ionuț Pascu) was performed at the gala concert. It offers a string of melodies, rich in contrasting moods and peppered with solos. Dumitru Bughici's violinist son Adrian, a member of the JSO, was among the players on stage. Conductor/composer László Roth (b. 1920, Satu Mare, Romania) was deported to Auschwitz in 1944. After his release, he studied at the Ferenc Liszt Music Academy (Budapest), then returning to Romania to become principal conductor at the Timișoara Opera House. Roth immigrated to Israel in 1960, conducting the Israeli Opera, the Jerusalem Radio Symphony Orchestra (today, the JSO) and several choirs, also conducting in other countries. Roth's "Mountain Echoes Pastorale" (1947), a tonal mood piece, its lush canvas alive with nature associations, makes beguiling use of instrumental timbres, offering many solos, both of woodwinds and the brass. László Roth was present at the gala event.


Although it existed in the Arab world prior to the Ottoman occupation of Romania, the pan flute form known as the "nai'' is considered to be a traditional instrument of the Romanian people. Unlike other folk instruments, whose evolution has undergone periods of stagnation or have even disappeared, the pan flute, in all its shapes, has continued to prove its versatility. In the late 20th century, it moved from its role in small folk music ensembles to professional music, pop music and jazz, even finding its place in symphonic- and chamber music. Devoting her career to building a new repertoire based on the musical traditions of Romania, Dalila Cernătescu, the gala concert's guest artist, has brought the music of her homeland to the modern world. With George Enescu regarded as one of the greatest musicians in Romanian history, no concert of Romanian music is complete without a work of this composer/violinist/conductor and teacher. In her own arrangement for pan flute and orchestra, Dalila Cernătescu offered the audience a new perspective on Enescu's Romanian Rhapsody No.1, a work completed in 1901 when Enescu was still only 19 years old. Cernătescu 's playing often doubled the main melody, also blending into the orchestral weave in non-soloistic passages; as the mood moved into more brilliant, strident phases, the arranger/soloist also added bird calls in a kind of cadenza section prior to the piece's more shaded ending. And to Dalila Cernătescu 's pan flute improvisations: backed by a single-pitch bourdon and gentle toe-tapping rhythms on the part of the conductor and JSO strings, she launched into a profusion of moods and ideas, many traditional-type motifs, even quoting the Jewish folk song "Hava nagila" (Let us rejoice) for the benefit of the Jerusalem audience, then to take flight into a volley of virtuosic gestures in a kaleidoscope of feats showing the pan flute's potential, and beyond.


The concert drew to an end with Ionuț Pascu's singing of Yossi's aria from the opera "The Torch" (Robert Flavian), the orchestral score reflecting some derision at the character's supplication, and of "Joy" by prominent Romanian composer/musicologist Pascal Bentoiu. Pascu gave fervent expression to this art song, its piquant seconds, while characteristic of Romanian music, also making reference to Stravinsky’s music. It was an evening of hearty enjoyment and fine performance.


Thursday, December 8, 2022

Early 19th century Brazilian music - Ensemble PHOENIX (director: Myrna Herzog) hosts the Madrigal Singers Ensemble (director: Etay Berckovich) and soloists in a concert in Jerusalem celebrating 200 years of Brazil's independence

Dr. Myrna Herzog (Ariel Weiss)

 September 7th 2022 marks 200 years since Dom Pedro I, on the banks of the Ipiranga River, declared Brazil's independence from Portugal. Of the events in Israel celebrating 200 years of Brazil's independence, "Brazil: The Monarch Composer" performed by Ensemble PHOENIX (musical director: Dr. Myrna Herzog) added a new dimension to this episode of Brazil's history, that being that Pedro d'Alcântara, Duke of Bragança (1798-1834), (also referred to as "the Liberator"), founder and first ruler of the Empire of Brazil, was also a renowned composer, whose works were much played during his lifetime. This writer attended "Brazil: The Monarch Composer" on December 2nd, 2022 at the Church of the Monastery of St. Vincent de Paul, Jerusalem, an imposing western-style structure built almost 150 years ago, located not far from the walls of the Old City. Joining Ensemble PHOENIX, its members playing on instruments of the Classical period, were the Madrigal Singers Ensemble (director: Etay Berckovich) and soloists Monica Schwartz - soprano, Noa Hope - mezzo-soprano, Itamar Hildesheim - tenor, and Gili Rinot - Classical clarinet.


Opening this concert of Israeli premieres was "Missa Pastoril para a Noite de Natal" (A Pastoral Christmas Mass) by black Brazilian composer/organist José Maurício Nunes Garcia (1767-1830). From the very first sounds of the work, what met our ears was the lush, mellow nature of the orchestra emanating from the sound of Classical period instruments, but also due to the absence of violins. Add to that the fact that the work called for six violas! This naive-style Mass gives much prominence to the clarinets (Gili Rinot, Nurit Blum), their melodies weaving lavishly throughout the Mass. Schwartz, Hope and Hildesheim gave beauty and meaning to solo sections in unforced, mellifluous singing, with the fine blending of the Madrigal Singers' voices, its members clearly well informed in the style, addressing each gesture with precision and artistry. Of the some 70 works he composed for royal solemnities, Nunes Garcia had offered the Pastoral Mass to the then Prince Dom Pedro. Nunes Garcia also happened to be Dom Pedro's first music teacher.


Marcos António da Fonseca Portugal (1762-1830) was Pedro's second and most influential music teacher. Born in Lisbon, Portugal served there as composer/organist at the Patriarchal See, and was maestro at the Theatre of Salitre from c.1784, composing a series of farsas (farces) and entremezes (intermezzi) for the Salitre. However, his reputation rests mainly on his religious music. Portugal lived in Italy from late 1792 to 1800, where he wrote 21 operas for various Italian theatres. He was the best-known- and the most acclaimed Portuguese opera composer of his time to spend time in foreign countries. In 1811, the Prince Regent summoned him to the Portuguese colony of Brazil, where he was appointed music master to his sons and daughters, also becoming the official royal composer. Portugal's Overture to "Il Duca di Foix" (The Duke from Foix), a dramma per musica in two acts, first performed in 1805 in Lisbon, was the second item at the PHOENIX concert. With the ceremonial quality of the opening followed by a sprightly tune that skitters all over the orchestra, including some hearty utterances of the winds in thirds, the listener becomes aware of music whose style already hints at what Rossini would soon be doing. Herzog and the ensemble's vivid reading of the overture swept the Jerusalem audience into the glittering splendour of the early 19th century Italian opera house, the overture's moments of joyful outbursts and suspense hinting at the scenario, with the opera house audience surely watching for the weighty, fringed, tasselled curtain to rise and the action to begin. 


As to D. Pedro I of Brazil and IV of Portugal himself, it is known that he sang well, conducted and played the piano, flute, clarinet, violin, double bass, trombone, harp and guitar. However, his compositional oeuvre is of prime importance. In 1831, on his visit to Paris to seek political and military support to regain the throne of Portugal from the hands of D. Miguel I, he had his own music performed at the Italian Theatre. The performances, which drew direct support from Gioachino Rossini, received mostly favourable reviews. The King-Emperor ventured into theatrical music, he composed music for piano, chamber/salon music, had great success in his writing of patriotic songs and was known for his religious works. Of the latter, the Credo in C major was performed at the PHOENIX concert. One of his most frequently performed works, it moves in contrasts, swinging from ebullient, richly-coloured, even dancelike sections to chiffony devotional, introspective moments and back again. This work also highlights the clarinet in many gorgeous utterances. Orchestra, choir and soloists took on board the work's counterpoles, its drama and rich kaleidoscope of timbres, moods and gestures. Young tenor Itamar Hildesheim gave an impressive reading of the Confiteor, engaging the different colours of his voice to convey the text's message.


The event concluded with an exuberant performance of the anonymous "Lundu da Cachaça". A style of Afro-Brazilian music and dance originally associated with witchcraft, the lundu, by the 19th century, had become the music of choice for the Luso-Brazilian bourgeoisie. Characterized by the interplay of tonic and dominant harmony, with strummed chords layered atop a syncopated rhythm reminiscent of traditional West African music, it represents the root of the samba. An unbridled outburst of joy, Herzog's setting of the strophic song, embellished with plenty of percussion and offering vocal and instrumental solos, brought smiles to the faces of the audience and also to those on stage, as soloists and choir wound their tongues around the delivery of the Portuguese words. As to the last two stanzas of the song, they are Herzog's own addition, in which she extols Dom Pedro's achievements and celebrates of 200 years of Brazil's independence. 


The concert featured some outstanding solos and duets, to mention just a few: 1st violist Amos Boasson in duo with Monica Schwartz in the “Laudamus Te” of the Mass; Baroque ‘cellist Marina Katz’ wonderful small utterances in response to the clarinet throughout the Mass; and kudos to Baroque clarinettist Gili Rinot, who handled the very many solos and dialogues throughout the three longer works with competence and musical insight. A moment of breathtaking beauty was the “Et Incarnatus” of the Nunes Garcia Mass, with Rinot’s masterful dialoguing with Monica Schwartz, Noa Hope and the two ‘cellos (Marina Katz, Hamoutal Marom.)


Some of us were drawn to the event for the rare opportunity of hearing (and seeing) early 19th-century music played on period instruments – Baroque stringed instruments played with Classical bows (as in Brazil at that time), authentic woodwind instruments and natural horns. Some concert-goers came to fill gaps in their knowledge of history of the Americas, whereas others were curious to hear repertoire previously unheard on these shores. Of course, there were some Brazilian-born people in the audience. But, common to all those attending "Brazil: The Monarch Composer" (and there were people of all ages) was the appeal of this music - the joy, the colour, the vivacity and the wholehearted life-affirming message of Brazilian music. Addressing its every detail and gesture, and re-creating the sound world of early 19th century music, Dr. Myrna Herzog, herself Brazilian-born, presented the beauty of this repertoire with balance, good taste and personal involvement, inviting each of the musicians on stage to shine. The project was supported by the Brazilian Embassy, Tel Aviv.

Emperor PEDRO I. Painting by Simplício Rodrigues de Sá.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Brazil: The Monarch Composer - Ensemble PHOENIX on period instruments. Vivid performance of this seldom-performed early-19th century repertoire awaits Israeli audiences

Emperor PEDRO I (who proclaimed Brazil's Independence) painted by Simplício Rodrigues de Sá. 


Throughout history, members of royal families have shown talent in playing musical instruments, singing or composing music, most often at a gifted amateur level, giving public performances at home or on royal visits abroad.  Alfonso X of Castile, Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia, Frederick II of Prussia and Liliuokalani of Hawaii, to name a few, composed music, but perhaps the most famous musician of royalty was Henry VIII of England, who was esteemed as a composer, and it is known that he played the cornett, regal, flute, virginals, recorder, lute, harp and organ.


People attending "Brazil: The Monarch Composer", Ensemble PHOENIX's upcoming concert, are about to make their acquaintance with another royal composer - D. Pedro I, de Alcântara e Bragança (1798-1834) of Brazil. In fact, all the works performed in this concert will be by Brazilian Classical composers and all will be Israeli premieres. We will hear Pedro's Credo in C major (1829), Padre José Mauricio Nunes Garcia's Pastoral Mass for Christmas Night, Marcos Portugal's Overture "Il Duca di Foix" (1805) and the anonymous early 19th century "Lundu da Cachaça" (the lundu, a popular dance, was an antecedent of the samba). All will be played on Classical period instruments.


Once again, Brazilian-born PHOENIX founder and musical director, researcher and viola da gamba player, will offer concert-goers a new and exciting experience. She will conduct Ensemble PHOENIX and The Madrigal Singers (director: Italy Berkovich). Soloists will be soprano Monica Schwarz, mezzo-soprano Noa Hope, tenor Itamar Hildesheim and Gili Rinot - classical clarinet.


Celebrating 200 years of Brazil's Independence, this powerful program of early 19th century Brazilian music will be a first in Israel, with works of both naive and grandiose character, with the lundu leaning more towards traditional folk idiom. And for those of us interested in historically informed performance, in hearing (and, indeed, seeing) these works played as they would have sounded in the Classical period, the event is sure to be a celebration!


Friday 02.12.22 at 12:00

Jerusalem, St. Vincent de Paul Church, Mamilla Mall 

Reservations: 052-3784586

Tickets: https://ticks.co.il/event.php?i=vymU0m85xO1 


Saturday 03.12.22 at 12:00 

Haifa, St. John Anglican Church, 30 Khuri St.,

Reservations: 052-3784586 

Tickets: https://ticks.co.il/event.php?i=vymU0m85xO1   


Friday 09.12.22 at 12:00

Tel Aviv-Jaffa - St. Peter's Church

1 Mifratz Shlomo 



Saturday 10.12.22 at 12:00

Magdala ("The Pompeii of Galilee"), Duc In Altum Church 

Reservations: 052-3784586  

Tickets; https://ticks.co.il/event.php?i=vymU0m85xO1 






Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Giacomo Puccini's "Il Tabarro" (The Cloak) - the Jerusalem Opera opens its 2022-2023 season with a fine performance of this post-Romantic opera

Omer Arieli,Daniel Luis de Vincente,Yasmine Levi-Ellentuck (Elad Zagman)


At the front of the stage, the bow of a boat, a life buoy, some sacks and crates create a tasteful setting for Giacomo Puccini's passionate late masterpiece "Il Tabarro" (The Cloak). Taking place in the Henry Crown Auditorium of the Jerusalem Theatre on November 19th 2022, this was the Jerusalem Opera's first performance for the 2022-2023 season. Conducting the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra (its players seated on stage) and a line-up of fine Israeli and overseas singers was Maestro Omer Arieli, the Jerusalem Opera's musical director and house conductor. Stage director was Daniel Lasry. Costumes, sets and props - Shira Wise.


Set on the banks of the Seine, this one-act opera tells the story of barge owner Michele, who suspects his young wife Giorgetta of being unfaithful. Packed with side plots and characters bringing to life the sights and sounds of 1910, the opera reaches its dramatic conclusion when Michele unexpectedly catches his wife’s lover. Featuring in this dark tale of love, loss, adultery and murder were US-born baritone Daniele Luis de Vicente as Michele, soprano Yasmine Levi-Ellentuck in the role of Giorgetta and Ukraine-born tenor Vitaliy Kovalchuk as Luigi, Giorgetta's lover. Well cast, each gave articulate and convincing expression to the concentrated dramatics with outstanding vocal performances, each artist so different in character, each endearing him/herself to the audience. In addition to Michele's pivotal aria "Nulla…Silenzio!", the audience was treated to opera performance endorsing some of Puccini’s most stunning vocal writing. The other singers made for a colourful band, their different human agendas, sometimes high-spirited (and drunken) actions, striking a clever balance with the more intense and ill-fated main plot. No new face to opera stages in Israel, mezzo-soprano Noa Hope, playing the sassy Frugula, always delights with her lively stage presence and easeful singing. 


Maestro Arieli reads well into the melodrama of Il Tabarro, highlighting the brilliance of one of Puccini’s most modern and impressionistic scores. He and the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra gave precision and attention to the fine detail, shaping and beauty of the instrumental score, sharing the plot and emotions with Intensive orchestral involvement, drama, surprising contrasts, musical predictions, comments and some surprises. Take, for example, the French waltz played by a desperately out-of-tune street organ; Puccini scores this with clarinets and "out-of-tune" flutes, playing not in octaves but in major sevenths.


The original idea for “Il Tabarro” had come to Puccini in Paris in 1912. He wrote: " I already have the idea for the veristic opera; the story will be based on a play by a not-so-well known French playwright called Didier Gold. It is a romance tragedy that takes place on a barge. I find life on the docks quite intriguing. The docks swarm with workers, boatmen and ordinary people. This gives a lot of opportunity for life-like scenes both on the boat and ashore." The darkest of Puccini’s works is centered around the idea of passing time, metaphorically embodied by the time of sunset, by the Autumn season and, above all, by the slow, inexorable flow of the river, around which the whole story develops.


And a life-like and dynamic stage it was in the Henry Crown Auditorium! A fine opera performance, swift-moving, rich in emotion and marvellous music, here was the great opera composer at the very height of his powers, Puccini at his most verismo. The audience drank in every nuance, emotion and event of this small gem. Kudos to all involved. 


Established in 2011, the Jerusalem Opera’s goals are presenting opera productions of the highest quality in Jerusalem and the promotion of Israeli artists.

Daniel Luis de Vicente,Yasmine Levi-Ellentuck (Elad Zagman)

Lev Elgardt,Noa Hope (Elad Zagman

Yasmine Levi-Ellentuck,Vitaliy Kovalchuk (Elad Zagman)

Daniel Luis de Vicente (Elad Zagman)