Monday, May 26, 2008

Sound of Peace concert,Christian Quarter Jerusalem

People from many local communities, as well as overseas guests, were streaming into the stately Immaculata Hall of the Magnificat Institute in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City in late afternoon sunshine. The occasion was “The Sound of Peace” concert on Sunday May 25.

The Hamburg Physicians’ Orchestra, conducted by Thilo Jaques, is an amateur orchestra in which most of its players are doctors. In existence for over 40 years, it travels the world performing concerts, promoting the belief that music overcomes political barriers. They opened the concert with three orchestral works. Czech composer Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) used folk melodies and rhythms from his native Bohemia and Moravia in his works. His Bohemian Suite, Opus 39, composed in 1879, was given a colorful, contrasted reading. Finnish Romantic composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) composed his “Valse Triste”, Opus 44, as incidental music to “Kuolema” (Death), a drama written by Arvid Jarnefelt. The piece was later used as a concert piece. The woodwind section gave a pleasing performance in this work. The orchestra then presented Joseph Haydn’s (1732-1809) Symphony no. 99. Completed in London in 1793, it is the first Haydn symphony to be scored for clarinets. The audience enjoyed the contrasts and Haydnesque lightness and humor of their performance.

In the second part of the concert, the orchestra was joined by the Alei Gefen Chorus of Tel Aviv and the Choir of the Custody of the Holy Land. They opened with W.A.Mozart’s (1756-1791) Kyrie in d minor KV 341 (1781). The choirs blended in a warm, full choral sound to the delight of the audience. We then heard Franz Schubert’s (1797-1828) Stabat Mater in g minor D.175, composed in 1815, possibly the most prolific year of the composer’s life. A largely homophonic (in parallel rhythms) work, the lushness of this Romantic choral work was evident together with finer details, in particular, well-crafted phrase endings. The orchestra tended to play a little too loudly at times. French composer Gabriel Faure (1845-1924) composed his delicate and elegant but, by no means harmonically unadventurous Pavane Opus 50, premiered in 1888, for orchestra and optional chorus. The choirs performed this fragrant and haunting work with French charm.

The Alei Gefen Chorus of Tel Aviv, conducted by its musical director Eli Gefen, performed two a cappella (unaccompanied) works. The first was Cantor David Grosz’ setting of the Hebrew prayer “Tabernacle of Peace”. This fine work, composed by Eli Gefen’s father, was recently discovered in Austria. Cantor Grosz perished in Auschwitz. The piece is written in the grand style of European Jewish choral music. Varied in texture, it is powerful and emotional. Tenor Ronen Lazarov’s solo was gripping and moving. His singing is effortless, his voice rich and golden. Baritone Vladimir Linetsky performed a smaller but pleasing solo. American composer, Randall Thompson’s (1899-1984), anthem “Alleluia” was commissioned for the opening of the Berkshire Music Center in Tanglewood. The Alei Gefen Chorus with its rich palette of dynamic and vocal color, gave a sensitive and expressive reading of this work.

The Choir of the Custody of the Holy Land, conducted by Hania Soudah-Sabbara, sang two lovely, unaccompanied pieces, both based on traditional melodies – “Rabbi Athimaton” and “Annada Nadda” - both arranged by members of the choir. The choir is impressive in its joy of singing as well as its blend of good voices and accuracy.

The evening’s program ended with Johannes Brahms’ (1833-1897) Hungarian Dance no.6, played by the HPO.

Eli Gefen then conducted audience and choirs in the “Dona nobis pacem” canon, a fitting and uplifting end to the evening. People’s voices became mingled with those of church bells, reminding us of where we had all assembled for this special event. The program was varied and interesting. However, less orchestral music and more choral works might have made for better balance.

“The Sound of Peace”
The Hamburg Physicians’ Orchestra, conductor Thilo Jaques
The Alei Gefen Chorus of Tel Aviv, conductor Eli Gefen
The Choir of the Custody of the Holy Land, conductor Hania Soudah Sabbara
The Immaculata Hall, Magnificat Institute, Jerusalem
May 25, 2008.

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