Thursday, June 13, 2013

"Mysterium Cosmographicum" - the Zik Group and the Kanazawa-Admony Piano Duo at the 2013 Israel Festival

The Zik Group’s “Mysterium Cosmographicum” was one of the lesser mainstream events of the 2013 Israel Festival. It took place on June 8th in the Rebecca Crown Hall of the Jerusalem Theatre. The Zik Group was founded in 1985 by several artists, most of them graduates of the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design (Jerusalem), with the non-profit organization Zik for Visual Arts being established in 1990. The group focuses on joint interdisciplinary work and on the integration of structural sculptures and concepts into live performance. Over the years, Zik has shifted from large outdoor performances to those indoors, its visual work has expanded, new members have come in from various other professions and new directions have been taken – cinema, new media and integral combinations of sculpture with stage performance, music and sound. The Zik Group is based not only on a professional model but also on social commitment: members are committed to being active, to attending twice-weekly meetings in a hangar near Jerusalem. The group presently has ten members and a production manager. In Zik productions, music is considered one form of material; its sounds are sculpted over time; it lends weight to aesthetic attribution, at the same time, serving to blur boundaries between design and production, expressing and framing the sounds of work.

“Mysterium Cosmographicum” takes its inspiration from “Epitome Astronomiae” (1621) a groundbreaking book by the German astronomer, astrologer, mathematician and philosopher Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), in which he presents all of heliocentric astronomy in a systematic way. The Zik production is an enactment of the creation of heavenly bodies. Through video art, objects on stage, materials such as glass, fire, soot, wax and light, and the members themselves, we see cosmic images being created, changed, moved and sped up as two pianos (Kanazawa-Admony Piano Duo) perform music composed by Israeli composer Haim Permont. The artists (all dressed in white, as were the pianists) create and sculpt on stage, evoking physical and outer space phenomena, while defining mathematical, three-dimensional and two-dimensional relationships between time, space, dynamic objects and dynamic music.

Haim Permont (b. 1950, USSR) studied composition with Professor Mark Kopytman at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. From 1981 to 1985 he took graduate and post-graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was a student of Richard Wernick, George Crumb and Jay Reese. Permont’s works span all genres and media, including symphonic music, choral music, solo vocal music, concertos, opera, music for theatre and cinema and multi-media works. With an impressive list of commissions, prizes and awards to his name, Professor Permont teaches Composition at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, where he also continues to hold academic posts. “Mysterium Cosmographicum” is not his first collaboration with the Zik Group.

I talked to Haim Permont. He told me that this Zik project began with their members talking to him about elements of astronomy and mysticism, as discussed in Kepler’s above-mentioned book. The composer decided that his music should be mathematical in concept and constitute a retrospect of 20th century piano articulation. This included the following elements:
1.       12-tone music,
2.       Coloristic effects such as pizzicato and strumming on piano strings,
3.       Atonality,
4.       Parallelism – the influence of Impressionist music,
5.       References to elements in the music of Olivier Messiaen, such as “talea” (rhythmic patterns) and “color” (melodic patterns),
6.       Minimalism – as in repetitive patterns used in an asymmetrical manner so as not to become mere background,
7.       The use of Paul Hindemith’s quartal harmony.
The music took two months to write. As the process progressed, Permont started to understand what his teachers in the USA had been stressing – that structured music, such as that of the 12-tone technique, offers so many possibilities that the composer feels a sense of freedom in using it! It becomes free of narrative. Permont does not usually compose in that style, but felt it was called for by the subject at hand. With the pianos not facing each other (they were at either side of the stage) so as to allow the pianists to retain a sense of independence, Tami Kanazawa and Yuval Admony worked as the Zik people created. The piano parts exist as a written score.  Permont saw this production as a “concerto for piano and visuals”, where the music exists both integrally and as its own entity – as timing, drama and sequence, as a guide to how things were done, in fact, as carrying the role of the Greek chorus. Slow-moving but ever changing, the visuals, lit by fire and moonlight, drew one’s eyes to following events; however, at no time during the performance did the live music take a back seat. Both dimensions existed in careful balance.

Tami Kanazawa and Yuval Admony formed their piano duo at the Banff Centre for the Arts (Canada) in 1996. Since then, they have performed in major concert venues in Europe, the USA and Canada, in Israel and in the Far East. Presenting a wide repertoire, their work consists of playing in concerts, in music festivals, on television and radio and of recording. The Kanazawa-Admony Piano Duo is the recipient of several international prizes. The artists are co-founders of the International Duo Festival in Israel, of which Yuval Admony is artistic director. Kanazawa and Admony’s in-depth reading of the complex musical score of "Mysterium Cosmographicum" was detailed, articulate and sensitive, rich in nuances and pianistic coloring, coordinated (despite their physical distance on the stage) and highly evocative. Their playing drew the audience upwards into experiencing timbres, textures, weightlessness and a sense of time as dictated by nature.    

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