Friday, April 12, 2013

The Early Music Project performs at the Austrian Hospice (Jerusalem)

On April 2nd 2013, the Israeli Early Music Project performed a concert at the Austrian Hospice of the
 Holy Family, Jerusalem. The Austrian Hospice, located on the Via Dolorosa of Jerusalem’s Old City, was officially opened in 1863 and is viewed as Austria’s cultural emissary in the region. Built in the style of a palace on Vienna’s Ringstrasse, the Austrian Hospice hosts dialogue between cultures and religions, its cultural agenda including conferences, art exhibitions and musical events. Prior to entering the salon to hear the concert, I took time to wander along the corridor of the first floor to read much information posted along the walls about personages instrumental to the Hospice and its history. Opening the event, Rector of the Austrian Hospice Markus Stephan Bugnyar offered words of welcome, mentioning the fact that the concert we were about to hear was one of the many and varied festive events of the venue’s 150th anniversary celebrations.

The Israel Early Music Project, established in 2006 by a group of students of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, aims to promote historically informed performance of music composed before 1850; the artists perform on period instruments. Mandolin-player, lutenist and conductor Alon Sariel (currently residing in Germany) is the group’s musical director. Taking part in this concert were Alon Harari-countertenor, Jonathan Keren-violin, Katharine van der Beek-‘cello and harp and Alon Sariel-archlute and direction. The Israeli Early Music Project performs in major venues and festivals in Israel, the UK and Europe.  Alon Harari introduced the evening’s works, drawing the audience’s attention to the program’s two themes: music by or about women and the battle between Rome and Venice.

The concert opened with German composer, poetess, theologian and mystic visionary Hildegard von Bingen’s (1098-1179) sacred chant “O virtus Sapientiae”, with Katharine van der Beek providing a basic ‘cello bourdon of unisons or fifths to Alon Harari’s performance of the antiphon. (It is not known whether Hildegard used instruments to accompany singing at the monastery; in her prolific writings she did, however, agree with the use of instruments, referring to stringed instruments as corresponding to the earthly condition of the soul and its struggle.) Harari’s large, mellifluous voice gave expression to the text’s rich imagery and conviction, his singing flexible and intense:
‘O strength of Wisdom
Who, circling, circled,
Enclosing all
In one life-giving path.
Three wings you have
One soars to the heights,
One distils its essence upon the earth
And the third is everywhere.
Praise to you, as is fitting.
O Wisdom’

Dario Castello (1590-1658) was wind master of St. Mark’s Cathedral Venice. Of his 29 sonatas, we heard Sonata Seconda, a single movement work made up of a number of small contrasting sections. Violinist Jonathan Keren, free of the constraints of reading the text, gave the work a spontaneous reading, allowing himself (and the audience) to fully indulge in its heady virtuosic passagework, expressive moments, its dignity, its dance rhythms, and with intelligent dialogue with Sariel and van der Beek, in some of the most daring and fantastic chamber music of the era.

Two laments on the program represented a woman’s emotions. Monteverdi’s opera “Arianna” was first performed in 1608, with the “Lamento di Arianna” (Ariadne’s Lament) constituting the centrepiece of the work. Of the opera score, only the lament has survived. In this, his most famous work, Monteverdi was recognized as having the ability to identify with Arianna’s humanity. The IEMP chose a very effective scoring for the aria, with Harari accompanied by archlute, harp (van der Beek) and violin. This sensitive, uncluttered and filigree-fine instrumentation allowed for expression of the work’s delicacy and intimate grief, its dissonances and harmonic surprises. Harari’s finely shaped phrasing and rising and falling intensity projected Arianna’s changing thoughts and emotions, culminating with her final desolation.  On January 30th 1649, King Charles I, found guilty of treason, was beheaded by his own government. One of the many artistic responses to this historic event was an Italian poem by the Habsburg Archduke Leopold William (1614-1662), set to music by Antonio Bertali (1605-1669) – maestro di cappella of the imperial court chapel. In the lament of Charles’ Catholic-born queen, Henrietta Maria, one detects many of the sentiments heard in “Arianna’s Lament” (Monteverdi) –the desire to die, self-pity, anger, despair, with all of these combined with sudden changes of mood in a long farewell. With Harari presenting the tragedy and beauty of the text, the instrumentalists reflected its sentiments, Keren’s interludes heightening the work’s emotional climate.

Alon Sariel performed Toccata III by composer and lutenist at the court of Archduke Maximilian I of Munich - Michelangelo Galilei (1575-1631) - the younger brother of the astronomer Galileo and son of the music theorist Vincenzo. In his performance of the toccata on the archlute, Sariel creates a relaxed, reflective mood with some pleasing voice-play and expressive figures; but, as the piece progresses, the listener begins to hear some daring harmonies (for the time it was written) and unexpected chord changes. Sariel’s playing is, nevertheless, understated and subtle, allowing for the composer’s somewhat revolutionary ideas to emerge articulately.
Of Italian Baroque women composers, Francesca Caccini (1587-c.1641) remains one of the most outstanding, if not the most prolific. Often referred to as “La Cecchina” (The Songbird), Giulio Caccini’s daughter, a musician of the court of Duke Ferdinand of Florence, was trained in keyboard, lute, guitar and harp and composition; she wrote Italian and Latin poetry, became a professional singer and was the first woman composer to write a full-scale opera.  We heard two songs from her 1618 volume “Il primo libro delle musiche” (First Volume of Music) - secular and sacred melodies with figured bass accompaniment. Harari performed the canzonets “Che c’ho fatt’io” (What Have I Done to You) and the dancelike “O chiome Belle” (O Beautiful Hair). Collaborating hand-in-glove with Sariel and van der Beek, Harari wove Caccini’s characteristically lengthy, florid phrases and sonorous texts with a sense of freedom and spontaneity.  A high point of the program was Alon Harari’s performance of Venetian poet, composer, singer and unconventional personality Barbara Strozzi’s (1619-1677) dramatic monologue “L’Eraclito amoroso” (Amorous Heraclitus), probably originally sung by the composer herself. Lending a feminine touch to the instrumental score and its lamenting descending ground bass, Keren and Sariel were joined once again by van der Beek on the harp, supporting Harari in his evoking of the ancient Greek philosopher’s anger and despair over the unfaithfulness of an unnamed woman. In his thrilling and intense reading of the piece, Harari’s burnished, powerful vocal timbre and ease propelled him to the heights, then plummeting to the depths of this Baroque rhetoric; its vivid word-painting, long bleak notes and daring leaps fared well.

With Giles Durant de la Bergerie’s (1550-1605) strophic, lilting  love song “Ma belle si ton âme” the artists played and sang of love’s more positive but fleeting joys, flexing their tempi and punctuating the written text with imaginative interludes:
‘My beautiful one, if your soul
Now feels itself glowing
With this sweet flame
Which compels us to love,
Let us go happily,
Let us go to the meadows,
Let us go while
Our young springtime lasts.’

The program concluded with two songs in Ladino (a Spanish dialect, the language of the Jews expelled from Spain in 1492), these songs both sung- and traditionally passed on by women.  “El Rey de Francia” (The King of France), interpreting a dream had by one of the king’s daughters, opened with the intimate timbre of harp alone; one sensed the artists were inspired by the text - images of a pillar of gold, the songbirds, the apple tree, the 12 stars and the nightingale; especially beautiful were Keren’s embellished imitations of the vocal line and Sariel’s poignant solo. In “Ya salio de la mar la galena” (The Young Lass Went into the Sea - the sea here being a symbol for the public baths) is a joyful,  wedding song telling of the bride’s taking of the ritual bath prior to her wedding and how she emerged “between the sea and the sand” where “an almond tree was sprouting”. With the joyousness of wedding music, the artists presented the Judeo-Spanish traditional combination of religious feeling, the functional, the emotional and the erotic in this specific genre. For an encore, Alon Harari gave a soulful rendering of “Night”, a Yemenite song, his fellow musicians choosing a clear, minimal soundscape for the setting.

The Austrian Hospice salon provides an especially fine venue for this kind of chamber music. Well programmed and performed by four outstanding and informed musicians, one of the most exciting aspects of this concert was heard in the accompaniments, which, in true Baroque spirit, were improvised on the basis of the score, providing authentic spontaneity all too rare in the concert hall. Countertenor Alon Harari’s gripping performance is not to be missed!


Saturday, April 6, 2013

In Mixto Genere performs "Con amore" at the Eden-Tamir Music Center

“Con amore” – music of the 17th and 18th centuries on the subject of love - was one of the events of the Eden-Tamir Center’s 2013 Passover Festival in the idyllic village of Ein Kerem, Jerusalem on March 30th.  The concert was performed by members of the In Mixto Genere Ensemble – Anna Ioffe-Baroque violin and viola d’amore, Alina Keitlin-Baroque violin and Natalie Rotenberg-harpsichord. The artists performed on period instruments, the least mainstream of them being the viola d’amore, an alto Baroque instrument similar to the viol but unfretted and held under the chin.  Mixto Genere was established in 2004. All three members are graduates of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance; all have specialized in the playing of early- and modern instruments, all are soloists and truly versatile artists.  Anna Ioffe is a soprano singer,  arranges works and plays Baroque and modern violin and viola d’amore; Natalie Rotenberg is a soprano, a composer, plays piano, positive (organ) and harpsichord; Alina Keitlin is a mezzo-soprano and composer, plays Baroque violin, modern violin and viola.  In a repertoire ranging from early- to contemporary music, the ensemble performs in concerts, opera productions and in major festivals in Israel and abroad and has had works written for it.

Anna Ioffe explained that the viola d’amore she plays has seven playing strings and seven sympathetic strings. The beautifully carved figure on the head of her viola d’amore is Amor (god of love) blindfolded, representing love, which is blind. With flexible tuning, this instrument was tuned to a D major chord for the purpose of the music played. This  instrument was built by the Czech violin-maker Vaclav Svoboda in 2001. Ioffe received her first lessons from the renowned Czech viola d’amore player Jaroslav Horak, later receiving a master’s degree in Baroque violin and viola d’amore under the guidance of Daniel Fradkin.

Of the several works scored for the viola d’amore, the program included two pieces by Attilio Ariosti (1666-1740) (Ariosti himself was a virtuoso player of the viola d’amore) opening with the aria “Pur alfin gentil viola” (So at last, gentle Viola), from a cantata of around 1690 of the same title for solo voice, viola d’amore and basso continuo, possibly one of the first works written for the viola d’amore. In the text, the constant violet prevails over the proud and haughty rose, the violet being an association (and play-on-words) with the viola d’amore. In the present setting, with the violin (Keitlin) taking on the role of the singer, the aria was presented in richly crafted, mellifluous and unmannered playing. In Ariosti’s Sonata in G from volume 3 of his Stockholm Sonatas, the artists brought out the music’s characteristic contrasts, energy and humor.  Louis de Caix d’Hervelois’ (c.1670-1759) typically French character pieces “La gracieuse” and “L’inconstant” (arranged for viola d’amore and b.c.) from his “Pièces de voile”(Pieces for Viol) were given a sympathetic reading, vibrato used sparingly and only in the name of embellishment, the viola d’amore’s true, beguiling  and sweet-sounding appeal saying all. 

Remaining in France, we heard François Couperin’s (1668-1733) “Ritratto dell’Amore” (Portrait of Love) from the “Concerts royaux” (Paris, 1722) performed by Alina Keitlin and Natalie Rotenberg. As would have been the practice at Louis XIV’s Sunday chamber music concerts, Keitlin announced each movement in turn; several of the work’s movements bear names that are whimsical, for court music is to be both entertaining and witty. In playing that was carefully nuanced, at times majestic, at times coquettish, the artists presented the music with the wink of an eye, their tempi never overstepping the boundaries of good taste. From Couperin’s “L’art de toucher le Clavecin” (The Art of Playing the Harpsichord) Rotenberg performed “La Favorite” (The Favored One), a rondeau-chaconne (however, not in triple time), the title referring to Madame de Maintenon, who had secretly married the king. Rotenberg’s playing of the piece is energetic, directional and engaging, yet addressing its noble, grand and solemn aspects. On hearing Michel Corrette’s (1707-1795) Sonata no.2 “Dans le goût italien” (In Italian taste) one is reminded of the fact that the composer had compiled two important books on violin playing – “The Art of Playing the Violin Perfectly” and “The School of Orpheus” (a violin treatise focusing on French and Italian styles.) Keitlin and Ioffe gave a well coordinated performance of this fine piece of writing, concluding the section of French works on the program.

Love in the professional life of German composer and trombonist Johann Rosenmüller (1619-1684) led to his scandalous arrest and imprisonment in 1655; managing to escape, however, he made his way to Venice, where he realized the synthesis of German and Italian instrumental styles. Hearing his Sonata prima in g minor for two violins and basso continuo brought home the importance of this towering figure of the German Baroque, a composer not heard frequently enough in our concert halls.   

If love is folly, that would more than justify the artists’ playing of  Antonio Vivaldi’s (1678-1741) Trio Sonata in d minor “La Follia” opus 1 no.12 (1705), the sonata consisting of a theme and 19 variations. Following the composer’s strategic building up of speed and virtuosity, retreating into calmer moods, a Siciliano rhythm and Vivaldi-concerto-type moments, the performance abounded in interest, contrasts, vivacity and delicate passagework, its florid, brilliant moments never a substitute for expressiveness. Two other works performed, also composed to ostinato (ground) basses, were a Passacaglia by the famed Italian lutenist and chitarrone player Antonio Falconieri (1585/6-1656) and “Aria sopra la Bergamesca” by Marco Uccellini 1603-1680) maestro di capella to the royal courts of Modena and Parma. In the Bergamesca (suggesting a connection with Bergamo) with its simple I-IV-V-I harmonic scheme but technically sparkling melodies - probably based on folk music - the players colored their playing with dancelike exuberance…spiced with a fleeting jazzy phrase!

Offering a morning of delightful music with interesting snippets of information and a glimpse into secular love through the eyes of Baroque composers, In Mixto Genere’s historically informed performance was highly polished.

Monday, April 1, 2013

2013 Easter concert at the Notre Dame Center, Jerusalem

Maestro Paolo Olmi (photo:Lidia Bagnara)
On March 23rd  2013, under the High Patronage of the Pontificium Consilium De Cultura and  the auspices of the Most Reverend Giuseppe Lazzarotto, Francesco Maria Talo and the Italian Cultural Center (Tel Aviv), the Notre Dame Pontifical Institute of Jerusalem hosted a “Concerto di Pasqua 2013” (Easter concert) in the Chapel of Our Lady of Peace of Notre Dame. A new joint artistic project between the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance and Italian artists, the concert was broadcast on the Italian RAI channel in a special Easter program.  Conducted by Maestro Paolo Olmi (Italy), members of the Jerusalem Academy String Ensemble of the Younis and Soraya Nazarian Outstanding Ensemble Program of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance (director: Jonathan Spandorf) were joined by local harpsichordist Netta Ladar and Italian soloists - soprano Mariangela Sicilia and mezzo-soprano Adriana Di Paola. The concert was the joint production of the Instituto Italiano di Cultura, Carmela Callea, Emilia Romagna Concerti, Ravenna and Shamir & Shiffmann (Tel Aviv).

Having studied piano from a young age, Paolo Olmi (b.1954) was a student of Massimo Pradella and Franco Ferrara in Rome, beginning his conducting career in 1979. Maestro Olmi has conducted in concert halls and opera houses in Europe, North- and South America, Australia and Asia. He was musical director of the Opera National de Nancy et de Lorraine (France) from 2006 to 2011.

Mariangela Sicilia (b.1986) studied piano and voice in her native Consenza, later attending the Scuola dell’Opera Italiana (Bologna) and the Mozart Academy in Aix en Provence (France). Ms. Sicilia’s busy performing schedule takes her to opera houses throughout Europe. Born in Palermo, Adriano Di Paola studied singing at the Trapani Conservatory, the Accademia Musicale Chigiana (Siena) and the Perfeccionament Plácido Domingo. Ms. Di Paolo is both a concert artist and opera singer.

Jerusalem-born Netta Ladar has an Artist’s Diploma cum laude in harpsichord from the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance and a BA in Musicology from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; she has also studied with Laurette Goldberg (San Francisco) and Emilia Fadini (Milan). Ms. Ladar performs  with ensembles, does much accompanying and coaches students in Baroque performance at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance.

The event opened with words of welcome and discussion of the message of music from Ms. Carmela Callea – director of the Italian Institute of Culture (Tel Aviv), Mr. Francesco Maria Talò – ambassador for Italy in Israel and from Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto - Apostolic Delegate to Israel and Palestine.

The concert opened with Georg Frideric Händel’s (1685-1759) Concerto Grosso in d minor opus 6, no.10. Händel’s twelve opus 6 Concerti Grossi (also referred to as Twelve Grand Concertos), composed during a few hectic weeks in the Autumn of 1739, were created to reinforce his reputation as an instrumental composer and served as orchestral interludes in operatic- and oratorio performances; they exhibit a great variety of musical thought. Olmi and the JAMD players’ playing of the d minor Concerto Grosso was alert, fresh and invigorating, buoyant and majestic, with lively interaction between instrumentalists. The third movement – Air - was slow in tempo, its first violin solo and seriousness graced with poetic chord spreads on the harpsichord (Ladar). Allegro movements were punctuated and crisp. Vivacious and Italienate, the performance made for a congenial start to the evening.

We then heard soprano Mariangela Sicilia in Desdemona’s aria “Ave Maria” from Act IV of Giuseppe Verdi’s (1813-1901) opera “Otello” (libretto: Arrigo Boïto). In the aria, the pivotal moment of this last act, Desdemona prays for all the people who suffer as she does. Her prayers, however, do not stop the jealous Otello from later murdering her in her bed. Taking her cue from the mysterious opening notes, Sicilia’s singing of the aria was magical in its fresh, velvety textures, dynamic changes and dramatic flair. Hers is a reedy voice of all colors. Cicilia’s superbly controlled pianissimo moments were as stirring as those in the aria’s engaging high points.

Associated with the Easter theme, the artists performed Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s (1710-1736) “Stabat Mater” for two high voices and string accompaniment. Probably composed in the Franciscan monastery near Pozzuoli on the bay of Naples, where Pergolesi sought respite from the debilitating effects of tuberculosis from which he was suffering, the work depicts the image of Mary grieving at the foot of the cross. The sequence of Latin verses, from which the twelve solos and duets are constructed, were written by the 13th century Franciscan friar Jacobus de Benedictus. Following Pergolesi’s death, his “Stabat Mater” became one of the most widely circulated and frequently printed manuscripts of the 18th century. Olmi’s reading of the work gave clarity to its contrapuntal ingenuity as the artists’ singing leaned into its emotionally packed suspensions, the music referring unmistakably to Pergolesi’s operatic roots. In the duets, Sicilia and Di Paola presented the work’s emotional content, twisting its melodic strands around each other with fine precision, indulging in the music’s tension and unusual chromatic progressions. Both singers excel in voice production of a kind that is natural, flexible and spontaneous.  Sicilia’s outstanding singing was, once again, gripping and rich in vocal colors and dynamic, at once dramatic and devout. Di Paola’s large, lush voice, mellow and creamy, rang out into the chapel, her lower range revealing interesting timbral colors. Maestro Olmi, no newcomer to the Israeli concert scene, is attentive to his players and singers, addressing the music’s emotion with involvement and Italian spirit, at the same time sensitive to creating a balance between intensity with intimacy.

With its imposing presence, its twin turrets and positioned overlooking the New Gate of Jerusalem’s Old City, the Notre Dame Center is an attractive venue for such an event, its audience reflecting Jerusalem’s cosmopolitanism. This was an exhilarating evening of music.