Friday, June 28, 2013

"See the Voices" - Tzvi Avni and Ya'akov Boussidan at the Jerusalem Music Centre

 Guests entering the foyer of the Jerusalem Music Centre in Jerusalem’s Mishkenot Sha’ananim neighborhood took time to wander around,
viewing a new exhibit – works by Ya’akov Boussidan relating to the texts of the Song of Songs and the Jewish Legend. The event, “See the Voices: a Musical Vision”,  June 23rd 2013, was held in honor of Israeli composer Tzvi Avni’s 85th birthday and of artist Ya’akov Boussidan, whose exhibition of modern, abstract, poetic and communicative works (curator - Arturo Schwarz) was opened that same evening. Devorah Finkelstein moderated at the event. Hed Sella, executive director of the Jerusalem Music Centre, opened the festive evening, speaking of it as unique in its connection between music and the plastic arts and between Tzvi Avni and Ya’akov Boussidan. Performing Avni’s works, we heard players of the Meitar Ensemble. The program was supported by ACUM’s social and promotional fund.

Tzvi Avni (b.1927, Germany) immigrated to Israel as a child. Initially self-taught, he then studied with Paul Ben-Haim, Abel Erlich and Mordecai Seter. He furthered his studies at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center with Vladimir Ussachevsky and, in Tanglewood, with Aaron Copland and Lukas Foss. Since 1971, he has taught at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, heading the electronic music studio and is Professor of Theory and Composition. Avni’s works include choral- and vocal music, orchestral music, chamber music, electronic music, music for ballet, theatre, art films, radio plays and more, and are performed widely.  He has a profound interest in the plastic arts and in Jewish mysticism. Tzvi Avni is the recipient of several prestigious awards, among them, the Israel Prize (2001).

Born in Port Said, Egypt, in 1939, Ya’akov Boussidan immigrated to Israel at age 10. His artistic training began with Joseph Schwartzmann. He studied sculpture and ceramics with Rudi Lehmann and Hedwig Grossman, with guidance as to modern and abstract styles from Shlomo Vitkin. He continued his studies at the Goldsmith College in London, where he graduated with distinction for his abstract version of the “Song of Songs”. His work also includes etching, printing and calligraphy. In 1990, he was awarded the Jesselson Prize of Judaica from the Israel Museum. Boussidan’s celebrated art book “Jerusalem – Names in Praise” was launched at the Israel Museum in 2006 and at the British Parliament in 2007. After working and teaching in London for forty years, Boussidan has returned to Israel.

The evening’s program opened with the Israeli premiere of Tzvi Avni’s Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet.  The world premiere took place in Germany. The composer’s intentions (and humor) are reflected in the programmatic- and visually-oriented titles of each movement, opening with “The Unexpected Guest”, this guest apparently being the sonata form! With pizzicato chords ushering in the clarinet, we hear different instruments in solo moments, both lyrical and more rhythmical, all intensely human in their expression, with Gilad Harel’s playing often creating a strong association with human speech and emotion. “The Committee Discussion” is a musical description of such an event – from the orderly utterances of violin, viola and ‘cello, to a mix of pizzicato- and arco textures, with the clarinet then seemingly calling all to order. However, as in most committee meetings, all voices insist on talking together, with the movement ending on just one surprising pizzicato sound. “Presence of the Past” strikes a very different note; this calm and poignant movement is thoughtful and nostalgic, with some stronger, unveiled emotions welling up. Once again, the clarinet (Gilad Harel) comes across as intensely human in expression. “The Spider’s Breakfast” (with the clarinet representing the menu – a fly) mixes the whimsical with the not-so-savory reality of the insect world:  these are described with glissandi, jagged string sounds, the weightless softly buzzing sounds of insects heard in nature and, then, anguished sounds emanating from the clarinet. In “Evening Soliloquy”, we hear Harel alone in an evocative and moving solo. Here, he paces the piece’s course leisurely, shaping, flexing, coloring and breathing meaning into each gesture, the piece’s hushed ending leaving the listener to trail off into his own thoughts. “Ça, c’est ne pas une tarantelle” (This is Not a Tarantella) plays with associations (also with that of René Magritte’s picture of a pipe titled “Ceci n’est pas une pipe), sounding energetic and feisty tarantella rhythms and departures from them into other moods.

A much earlier work, Avni’s “Leda and the Swan” for soprano and clarinet, premiered in 1975 by Adi Etzion-Zak and Richard Lesser at the Israel Festival, is based on a story from Greek mythology, in which the god Zeus takes on the form of a swan, seducing Leda, Queen of Sparta.  The story has been the inspiration of paintings, poetry and, here, of music. We were informed that Ya’akov Boussidan spent a whole night drawing different versions of “Leda and the Swan”, one of the pencil drawings appearing in the printed program. The vocal part contains no real words and has no literal or associative meaning, rather, syllables strung together to give the impression of words and phrases in a merely sonorous sense. The fact that the singer did not sing actual words put her (Ayelet Amotz-Abramson) and the clarinet (Gilad Harel) on an equal footing musically and theatrically. As the artists perform fragments and phrases, some independent, some intertwined or connected in unison phrases or sometimes with Amotz-Abramson a beat after Harel, the listener creates the story in his mind. With careful detail and variously colored textures, the artists set the work’s score before us in all its detail, skillfully evoking the spirit of this Greek myth in its drama, tenderness and eroticism.  

We then watched “Jerusalem – Names in Praise”, a film presenting Ya’akov Boussidan’s spiritual- and emotional connection to Jerusalem in views of his work and many of Jerusalem. The film’s emphasis lay on the many names attributed to the city, reflecting the many meanings the city has for different people. And how nice it was watching the calligrapher’s sure hand at his art!  

Ayelet Amotz-Abramson and Gilad Harel presented the world premiere of Tzvi Avni’s short work “To Seers and Dreamers” for soprano and clarinet, to a poem written by Ya’akov Boussidan. The work exists in two versions - for baritone and ‘cello, with the present setting being the second. In his program notes, Avni explains that the accompanying instrument sometimes serves a contrapuntal role to the singer’s line, at others, constituting a second voice to hers. Once again, we heard Amotz-Abramson and Harel in a performance that was probing and meaningful.

Concluding the evening, we heard four of the seven movements of Avni’s duo “Controversies” for violin and ‘cello. The piece was composed spontaneously in 2002 as a dialogue between a violin and ‘cello. (After completing the work, the composer felt it could also be played by a group of violinists and ‘cellists.) “Controversies” addresses the psychological essence of these dialogues, each representing a specific atmosphere of verbal give-and-take - at times confrontational, at others, in mutual agreement. “Despite the fact that the titles are taken, as it were, from proceedings of the law court”, in the composer’s words, “the pieces do not describe actual arguments between rivals in any theatrical sense, rather representing a private dialogue of one person in the light of the phenomena around him, of which he is a part.” The pieces we heard were Argument, Cross-Examination, The Precedent and Epilogue. Performed by violinist Moshe Aharonov and ‘cellist Jonathan Gotlibovich, the work’s concept of the interaction of dialogue persisted throughout, with both parties at times talking at cross-purposes.  In “The Precedent”, Avni quotes and utilizes the subject of the Fugue in g sharp minor from Book One of J.S.Bach’s “Well-tempered Clavier”, its melody long representing an intimate and prayerful utterance  for the composer.

The evening offered a glimpse into the creative work and minds of both artists. Concerning Tzvi Avni’s music, we heard a varied selection of the composer’s works in high-quality performances by players of the Meitar Ensemble. In his closing remarks, Professor Avni spoke of the moving experience of writing notes on the page.    


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