Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra opens the 2013 Israel Festival's Beethoven Marathon




A large audience filled the Henry Crown Hall of the the Jerusalem Theatre on the mornuing of June 7th
for the Beethoven Marathon, an event of the 2013 Israel Festival. Maestro Gil Shohat officiated at the concert, introducing the works and the various artists. He opened by saying that the marathon has become a tradition of the Israel Festival and that this would be the seventh. Shohat spoke of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) as being rebel, and not only in his music, that he was the friend and contemporary of the French Revolution, believing in a better society – in equality, fraternity, freedom and enlightenment.

Performing in the first part of the marathon, we heard the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra (Harvard University, USA) under the baton of its home conductor Federico Cortese. The concert began with Beethoven’s “Leonore” Overture no.3 opus 72. Originally received with skepticism, a writer of “Der Freim├╝tige” newspaper had referred to it as “incoherent music, ostentatious, chaotic and disturbing to the ear” in which “some minor ideas…complete the incredibly unpleasant impression”. The second (and not third!) of four overtures to his opera “Leonore”, later renamed “Fidelio”, it is that of the four which has become popular concert hall fare, due, in part, to the fact that it is a genuine symphonic poem. The piece proved to be a fine vehicle for Cortese and the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra; they created a richly colored canvas with precise, disciplined and highly coordinated orchestral playing, from the fullest of orchestral timbres to wispy pianissimo moments, mellifluous melodiousness and some pleasing wind playing. The young artists played out its drama, beginning with the mysterious sounds of the darkness of the prison cell, to which Florestan has been sent. With one of the young trumpeters playing a haunting melody from behind stage, we understand that Florestan is reprieved. A less reticent trumpet solo then suggests that his freedom is certain. Yet, also without reference to the work’s programmatic background, the H-RO presented the work’s dramatic mastery and expressivity, its pathos and its urgency and in finely detailed orchestral terms.

This was followed by Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D major opus 61. Composed in 1806, it is regal, lyrical and spacious in concept, happily free of the brooding present in later works; thus, well suited to young players. The soloist was 21-year-old Stella Chen. Her playing was decisive and virtuosic; each gesture was careful in its detail and individually shaped. Chen’s performance of cadenzas was confident strategic and articulate in their multi-layering, with phrase-beginnings announced via slight flexing. In the second movement, she wove cantabile melodic strands in and out of the orchestra’s themes. Orchestra and soloist worked hand-in-glove and with a pleasing sense of balance, the players acutely aware of Cortese’s guidance. The audience was inspired by the freshness of sound, the energy and dedication of these young people.

In addition to their appearance at the Israel Festival, the young musicians and Maestro Cortese interacted with the "Polyphony Foundation" in the Galilee – an organization that uses music to encourage tolerance between Israeli and Palestinian youth – and performed with the Amman Symphony Orchestra at a benefit concert for Syrian refugees, sponsored by the Queen Noor Foundation.


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