Friday, October 14, 2011

The PHOENIX Ensemble performs "Wind and Sea" at the Mormon University(Jerusalem)

David Feldman,Dorival Caymmi,Myrna Herzog (Photo: Eliahu Feldman)

The PHOENIX Ensemble performed “Wind and Sea”, a program of Brazilian music, on October 2nd 2011 in the Sunday Evening Series of the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies (Mormon University). The concert focused on music of two of Brazil’s greatest composers – Dorival Caymmi and Heitor Villa-Lobos.

Dorival Caymmi (1914-2008), born in Salvador, the capital city of the Bahia region in the northeast of Brazil, was a singer, actor, painter and song-writer. He composed popular songs representative of Brazil’s indigenous song-forms – sambas, toadas (melancholy romantic tunes), modinhas (sentimental songs) songs and chants of fisherman, and music inspired by the singing of the Afro-Brazilian Candomblé religion. His songs tell of people and places, of life and love in Bahia; he was a storyteller of the folkloric tradition, sensitively portraying simple, working people,

Born in Rio de Janeiro, Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) having learned music from his father, an educated amateur musician, was a ‘cellist who started life as a café musician. His music brought to light the wealth and variety of Brazilian music, enriched by the folk music he collected on his travels around Brazil. On one of his European tours, he was quoted as saying:” I don’t use folklore, I am the folklore”. Unconventional in his compositional style, his music is personal and idiosyncratic. “My music is natural, like a waterfall” points to his non-conformism. He became well known in the USA and France, where he conducted many of his orchestral works. An ardent patriot, Villa-Lobos was also a pedagogue, promoting the teaching of the rich culture of Brazilian music in his own country.

“Wind and Sea” is a program with a story behind it. The project began in 2000 with a conversation between PHOENIX Early Music Ensemble’s founder and musical director Dr. Myrna Herzog and Hanna Tsur, director of the Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival. On learning that Herzog was Brazilian, Hanna Tsur suggested adding some of Caymmi’s songs to the PHOENIX repertoire. What looked originally like a seemingly insane idea was to become reality when Herzog’s composer/jazz musician son, David Feldman, agreed to do the arrangements of Caymmi’s songs for the program. The first performances were received enthusiastically, with many people finding in Caymmi’s music an association with that of Villa-Lobos. “I felt the two composers complemented each other” writes Herzog, adding that she herself “took care of the Villa-Lobos arrangements”. In 2001, David Feldman came to Israel for the recording of “Wind and Sea” (NMC label); inspired by with the blessing of the great Dorival Caymmi himself, the recording includes the world premiere of a lullaby dedicated to Caymmi’s granddaughter and “godmother” of the project, Stella Caymmi. The disc has now been reissued.

The concert at the Center for Near Eastern Studies opened with a short recording of the message delivered in Portuguese by the late Dorival Caymmi, his voice ringing with aged wisdom, musicality and emotion. “For Myrna. Myrna, are you listening to me? This is Dorival Caymmi. I plead to God the Divine to bestow blessings to protect this work, such beautiful work you are doing, Myrna. Wholeheartedly, Dorival Caymmi.” With these words still echoing in one’s mind, the audience was then transported to the rich world of Brazilian folklore, ritual, nature, the gentle, lilting dance rhythms and “vistas” painted by Caymmi in fine, pastel tints mixed with a sensuous blend of timbres. “A lenda do Abaeté” (The Legend of Abaete), for example, tells of a dark lagoon illuminated by a white moon, the place imbued with magic and fear. Many of Caymmi’s songs tell of the sea and fishermen, of fishing as a livelihood as well as the ever present attraction of the sea. Chilean-born soprano Macarena Lopez-Lavin presented the nostalgic, well-loved “Ė doce morrer no mar” (It is Sweet to Die in the Sea) with much delicacy. In “Canto de Obá” (Song for Oba), considered one of Caymmi’s greatest songs, we experience the fusion of African- with Catholic church music. Brazilian-born singer and percussionist Joca Perpignan and young Israeli guitarist Omer Schonberger communicate within a bewitching collage of individual melodies and asymmetrical rhythms. Caymmi’s carefree samba “Maracangalha” (1956), which earned him the award of Best Composer of the Year, tells of this tiny community, of which there are many stories. Feldman’s arrangement of this song calls for both singers, its interludes spiced with gentle dissonances. Caymmi’s caressing musical style is evocative and stirring, yet never aggressive.
‘I’ll go to Malancangalha, I’ll go
I’ll go dressed in white, I’ll go
I’ll go in a straw hat, I’ll go
I’ll invite Anália, I will
If Anália doesn’t want to go, I’ll go alone….’

Herzog has referred to Heitor Villa-Lobos as the most important classical Brazilian composer. His nine Bachianas Brazileiras suites, composed 1930-1945 for different instrumental- and vocal combinations, blending harmonic and contrapuntal traits of Bach with the flavors of Brazilian music, abound with lush melodies and infectious rhythms. Indeed, they represent the soul itself, also using references to nature. The suites are infused with “saudade”, a feeling associated with a sense of longing, of being far away from one’s lover, from one’s country. “O trenzinho do caipira” (The Little Train of Caipira), the toccata that concludes Bachianas Brazileiras no 2 (1933), depicts a train chugging through the forests of Brazil; we hear Herzog and Schonberger alternating in the playing the melody, complete with train whistles and Joca Pepignan evoking the rhythm of the train’s motion with the use of the shaker/caxixi (an indirectly struck idiophone, considered in Brazilian folkloric beliefs to ward off evil spirits), set against the dissonant noise of the train. Lopez-Lavin, less guarded now, gave an emotional and well contrasted reading of the Aria from Bachianas Brasileiras V.

One of the strengths of this program is surely the finely blended sound and interest created by the instrumental scoring, the instrumentalists using meantone temperament – Riki Peled, Shmuel Magen and Herzog on viols, Omer Schonberger playing vilhuela and Baroque guitar, complemented by Pepignan’s imaginative and delicate percussion playing; add to this the fresh, reedy, precise and carefully understated playing of Alexander Fine on the Baroque bassoon and you get a timbre to titillate the senses. Macarena Lopez-Lavin is well attuned to her players, her singing finely nuanced. Joca Perpignan’s chocolaty, slightly gritty, natural voice and musicality are inebriating. For Myrna Herzog, “Wind and Sea” was “possibly the most beautiful project of my life”, bringing together her love for Brazilian music and the sound of viols with other early instruments. A truly delightful concert.

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