Saturday, February 9, 2013

Zither player Martin Mallaun and Barbara Zeidler - photo collages - at the Austrian Hospice (Jerusalem)

The Austrian Hospice of the Holy Family, located on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem’s Old City, opened its doors on March 19th, 1863.  Its founding was the vision of Joseph Othmar von Rauscher, Archbishop of Vienna at the time. The Austrian Hospice remains a home away from home for pilgrims visiting Jerusalem and a centre for inter-cultural dialogue. In celebration of the Hospice’s 150th anniversary, 2013 is to be a year of many cultural events there, most with an Austrian flavor.  Bishops and the head of the Habsburg family will be among the esteemed guests hosted there in this celebratory year; a 19th century-style pilgrimage to Jerusalem will take place in October.

 Rector Markus St. Bugnyar opened an event on February 6th with words of welcome and information about the anniversary events. Ms. Gabriele Feigl, director of the Austrian Cultural Forum (Tel Aviv) and press and cultural counselor to the Austrian Embassy (Tel Aviv), expressed her joy at the Forum’s cultural cooperation with the Austrian Hospice.

A short solo recital was performed by Austrian zither player Martin Mallaun. Born 1975 in Kitzbühel/Tyrol, Mallaun studied zither with Harald Oberlechner at the Tyrolean State Conservatory and Botany at the University of Innsbruck, at the same time, attending workshops on historical performance practice, contemporary music and improvisation. Mallaun’s studies with lutenist Hubert Hoffmann have been of lasting influence on his musical development. Active in experimental music, Mallaun is involved in improvisation, electronic music, Baroque lute music, Alpine folk music and new music. In addition to projects with other musicians, actors and writers, Mallaun records and has established projects of his own. Performing in Europe and further afield, Martin Mallaun also teaches for the Tyrolean Music School Organization. He is a member of GLORIA, a research project investigating the effects of climate change on the vegetation of the Alpine ecological system. This was the artist’s first recital in Israel.

The Alpine concert zither, a flat instrument placed on a table (or the player’s knee) features from 32 to 42 strings. The fingers of the left hand play the melody on the five fret-board strings; while the pick on the right hand thumb plucks the melody strings, the index and middle finger play the accompaniment strings and the ring- and little finger play the bass strings to form harmony and rhythm. The zither is technically challenging. Up to the early part of the 20th century, the zither was the most widely played and, indeed, popular folk music instrument in Austria and Bavaria. However, following the zither backing to Carol Reed’s film – especially memorable for the “Harry Lime theme” - the instrument gained worldwide recognition, this promoting new interest and a vastly wider range of music for the instrument. Mallaun told me that the alto zither he was playing at the Jerusalem concert was built by German harpsichord builder Klemens Kleitsch; of a kind developed over the last 15 years, it is taller than the traditional zither and better suited to the performance of Baroque lute music and contemporary music. (When playing traditional folk music or pieces like Johann Strauss’s “Stories from the Vienna Forest” or Kurt Weill’s “Mahagonny”, Mallaun uses more traditional types of zither).
Mallaun opened his recital with three movements from J.S.Bach’s (1685-1750) Suite in c minor BWV 997.  Considered by some to be Bach’s finest lute work, it was probably composed in Leipzig in the late 1730s or early 1740s, displaying the extraordinary detail and restrained manner of works of Bach’s later years.  From the two-voiced Prelude, through the meditative Sarabande to the graceful, lilting Gigue, the audience was introduced to the dynamic- and timbral possibilities of the zither; vibrato was used for ornamental purposes. Mallaun’s playing was rhythmically flexible, his use of rubato sometimes a little on the generous side!

We then heard two “entries” in German composer Leopold Hurt’s (b.1979) “Logbuch” (Logbook) (Hommage à K.V.) composed in 2007. (K.V. refers to the German comedian and avant-garde artist Karl Valentin, also remembered for his grotesque zither playing). Hurt, who, apart from being a viol player and conductor, is a very fine zither player himself and has done much to integrate the zither into the current musical scene. “Logbuch”, which calls for the zither to be tuned in quarter tones, was created from an improvisation performed in Hurt’s silent move project “Mysteries at a Hairdresser’s”, a work inspired by Karl Valentin’s movies. The work is a kaleidoscope of effects: the first piece made up of a descending 4th motif, striking effects, rubbing, single plucked notes and a gong effect. In the second piece, single clusters create bell-like sounds, the forlornly repeated single high note (a small bell?) played insistently against darker chords producing an inebriating texture, this suddenly swept away by a percussive, strident gesture that brings the piece to an end. The play of overtones resulting from quarter tone tuning added much interest to the soundscape of work.

Werner Pirchner (1940-2001) was a Tyrolean jazz vibraphonist who began to compose in his last 15 years. Martin Mallaun has transcribed some of his pieces for the zither.  The two he played in the concert were in bright, positive tonings, their small sections offering fast modulations, a whiff of jazz and definite references to the Austrian soul.

Mallaun chose to end the recital with German Baroque music - movements from Silvius Leopold Weiss (1686-1750) Suite in f minor. A court composer and one of the greatest lutenists of all time, Weiss’ oeuvre of more than 600 lute works,  including lute sonatas and seventy complete suites, is not for the amateur player! Weiss’ reputation as an improviser was legendary, as was J.S.Bach’s, and it seems the two must have met; with Weiss befriended with J.S.Bach’s son Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, he is known to have visited the Bach home.  With the zither capable of conveying what was written for the 13-course lute, Mallaun brought the musical part of the evening to a satisfying close with a poignant and inspiring performance of this suite, its communicative, dazzling style excelling in melodic beauty, brightness and magical vitality. For many of us present, this recital was an engaging introduction to the zither and its now varied repertoire. I should add that the size and intimacy of the salon of the Austrian Hospice make it the ideal venue in which to hear a recital of this kind.

Guests were then invited to enjoy light refreshments and to attend the opening of “A Different View of Vienna”, a photographic exhibition created by Barbara Zeidler. The artist, present at the event, spoke of how the project had allured her into small Viennese museums previously unfamiliar to her. Initiator and photo-artist of the exhibition, Ms. Zeidler (b.1974) lives and works in Vienna where she is a freelance photographer, coach and project manager. Together with Abbé Libansky, she operates the “Institute of Culturally Resistant Goods”, active in Vienna and the Czech Republic. The organization focuses on so-called “popular culture” and on art in its everyday forms of expression as well as its conscious involvement in social processes. In “A Different View of Vienna”, each collage focuses on one of Vienna’s tiny and unique museums, “some hidden and unknown treasures of Vienna…a selection of museums off the beaten track and queues”, in Zeidler’s words. The collages offer an unconventional glimpse into these museums of curiosities, collections that show many aspects of Vienna’s lifestyle and history. Take a peek into the Coffee Museum, Vienna’s Tramway Museum, the Third Man Museum, the Museum of Forgers, the Museum of Magic Boxes, Vienna’s Shoe Museum, the Old Distillery Museum, the Museum of the Mekhitarist Congregation in Vienna, the Pharmacy and Drugstore Museum, Vienna’s Brick Museum, the Circus and Clown Museum and others. Each of Zeidler’s beautifully designed collages tells a story. This exquisite exhibition is bound to draw tourists and Austrians alike to Vienna to see and experience the museums for themselves.


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