Sunday, May 11, 2008

New music,interesting performance

The Israel Contemporary Players, also known as the Ensemble of the 21st Century, opened their 17th season on November 5 at the Jerusalem Music Center, Yemin Moshe. The concert was conducted by Hungarian Zsolt Nagy (b. 1957), who has been the group’s conductor and artistic adviser since 1999. All works were Israeli premieres.

The evening began with Rebecca Saunders’ (b. 1967, UK) work for double-bell trumpet and open piano – “Blaauw” (“Blue” in Dutch.) . The work was dedicated to Dutch trumpeter, Marco Blaauw (b. 1965.) It was Blaauw’s quest to widen the trumpet’s range that led him to adding an extra bell. This leads to more flexibility in changing the colors of sound by muting one bell and having the other bell open. Rebecca Saunders’ concept of musical composition is “sound” itself. For this work, there is also the visual aspect of the color blue, its properties and associations. Playing into the reverberation chamber of the piano, Blaauw took us on a journey of various sounds and textures - strident moments, far-off echoes, doubling effects…a mesmerizing work of small sections, well punctuated, very introspective.

Regis Campo (b. 1968, France) composed his “Pop Art” (2001-2) for six players. Campo is concerned with music as a form of entertainment and his music has rhythmic energy and humor. Nagy, conducting without a baton, gave clear expression to its many effects – some minimal, some based on blowing with no pitch, many homophonic (parallel rhythms) and colorful. The piano had plenty to say and with a wink!

Gyorgy Ligeti (1923-2006) was born to Hungarian parents in Romania. In 1943 he was sent into forced labor as a Jew, remaining there till the end of World War II. He moved to Vienna in 1956. His opera “Le Grand Macabre” is a work of black humor; the libretto was written by Michel Meschke together with Ligeti and reflects different sides of 20th century politics. In 1987, British conductor and composer Elgar Howarth wrote arrangements of three arias from the opera. We heard one of these, scored for soprano coloratura or trumpeter and instrumental ensemble. Blaauw played the trumpet solo, this time on a conventional trumpet. Even without the words, we were able to enjoy the parody, humor and theatrical effects – the latter included speech effects, whistles, chaos and instruments “laughing”.

“Nocturne” for 11 players by Israeli composer, Gilad Rabinovitch (b. 1980), was commissioned by the Ensemble of the 21st Century and is dedicated to the ensemble and to Zsolt Nagy. It was premiered at this concert; the composer, the recipient of a number of prestigious awards, was present. Three movements make up the work: the first begins mysteriously, has lovely violin- and ‘cello solos, building up dramatically to a richly-colored canvas. The second movement is more minimal and well orchestrated. The third movement, opening with a trumpet fanfare, is heavy and thought-provoking. The audience was enthusiastic!

Composer, conductor and teacher Peter Eotvos (b. 1944, Romania) has been referred to as a composer of “discourse, of theater and humor.” His “Snatches of a Conversation” (2001) for double-bell trumpet and ensemble was written to sound improvisatory. The fragments of conversation take place in a cafĂ©, with the trumpet (played by Blaauw) representing the waiter. We heard bassoonist Richard Paley in a different role, speaking the text. Against a very varied and sometimes jazzy instrumental texture, we heard things like “He’s a very conscientious guy”, “She’s impossible”, “She just shrugged her shoulders”, “Say something”…Sometimes the instruments “talk”, with Paley’s text indistinctly babbling on in the background. Paley was very expressive and funny but never in bad taste.

There were a lot of young people in the audience. The auditorium of the Jerusalem Music Center is intimate and lively in sound. People were inspired by the evening’s program and fine performance. Walking out into the balmy November night, there was the Old City in front of us. Yemin Moshe is a magical place.

Ensemble of the 21st Century – Israel Contemporary Players
Zsolt Nagy-conductor
Marco Blaauw-trumpet
Richard Paley-narrator
The Jerusalem Music Center, Yemin Moshe.
November 5, 2007

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