Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Lynn Harrell holds master classes and performs at the Jerusalem Music Centre

History was made in Jerusalem when the Jerusalem Music Centre (Mishkenot Sha’ananim) and the Polyphony Foundation (Nazareth) collaborated to present an evening of chamber music with ‘cellist Lynn Harrell (USA), pianist Saleem Abboud-Ashkar (Israel/Germany) and violinist Giora Schmidt (USA). This cooperation between the two institutions has brought together students from the JMC and the Polyphony Foundation. In words of greeting, the Jerusalem Music Centre’s executive director Hed Sella thanked Polyphony co-founder, artistic director and violinist Nabil Abboud-Ashkar for inviting Maestro Harrel to perform here. Lynn Harrel spent the day prior to the recital holding master classes at the JMC.

The Polyphony Foundation is a non-profit organization whose purpose is to bridge the divide between Arab- and Jewish communities in Israel through creating the possibility for young people to play classical music together and for each to be exposed to the music of the other. By educating both performers and artists in the art of communicating, the organization’s mission is to create understanding between students, families, institutions and communities via the language of music. Polyphony’s programs reach more than 3000 Arab- and Jewish youth, providing training and employment for over 40 musicians and teachers.

Born in New York in 1944 to musician parents, Lynn Harrell studied at the Juilliard School of Music and the Curtis Institute. A soloist, chamber musician, recitalist, conductor and teacher, Harrel works throughout the Americas, Europe and Asia. In 1994, he performed at the Vatican with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in a concert dedicated to the memory of the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. After holding the international chair for ‘cello studies at the London Royal College of Music, Harrell has served as artistic director of the orchestra and the chamber music- and conducting program at the Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute. One of today’s greatest 'cellists, Lynn Harrell plays on a 1720 Montagnana ‘cello.

Opening his first recital at the Jerusalem Music Centre, Lynn Harrell chose to play a movement from each of J.S.Bach’s six‘Cello Suites, in what was referred to as a “J.S.Bach Solo Suite Cocktail”. Some of Bach’s most enigmatic works, possibly owing to the fact that there is no original manuscript, any ‘cellist performing them signs his name on the performance. To ease the transition from key to key, Harrell preceded each piece with a gently plucked arpeggio in the key of the suite. For the Prelude from Suite no.1 in G major BWV 1007, he chose to open in a searching, meditational manner, building the piece up to its dramatic soundscape via its dissonances and resolutions and Bach's unexpected harmonic progressions, celebrating the registers of the ‘cello from the depths of the C string to the ringing tones of the A string. The Allemande from Suite no.2 in d minor BWV 1008 opened in forthright, assertive gestures, these by no means ruling out a very personal and soul-searching reading of the work. For the Courante of Suite no.3 in C major BWV 1009, the artist gave priority to the dance’s joyful “moto perpetuo”-type energy, textures and voice play. The 2nd Bourrée of Suite no.4 in E flat major BWV 1010 is Harrel’s favorite of the six pieces he had chosen; a small and tasty morsel, he presented its quarter note structure with wit and humility. A strong contrast was provided by the stark Sarabande from Suite no.5 in c minor BWV 101. Here, Harrel took his time in spelling out the non-dancelike severity and intense message of the movement, leaning into its dissonances and bearing the innermost regions of Bach’s soul in a text both painful and exquisite, given to inferred harmonic moments in a setting unapologetically devoid of a warmly comforting harmonic basis. The Bach cocktail ended with the freshness of D major, with the Prelude of Suite no.6 BWV 1012. Harrell’s playing of it exposed the piece’s drive and flow, its abundance of ideas and its grandness, his dealing with virtuosic passages no contradiction to the positive, direct and unmannered performance.

Harrell was then joined by pianist Saleem Abboud Ashkar to play Ludwig van Beethoven’s ‘Cello Sonata no.3 in A major opus 69. Born 1976 in Nazareth, Saleem Abboud Ashkar studied at the Royal Academy of Music (London) and at the University of Music, Drama and Media (Hanover). A dedicated recitalist and chamber musician, Ashkar appears in the most important venues of the UK and Europe and as a soloist with the world’s leading orchestras; he takes part in festivals and has recorded for the Decca label. Beethoven’s third ‘cello and piano sonata was worked on from 1806 to 1808, a particularly low time in the composer’s life. That considered, the work is surprisingly positive. Harrell and Ashkar showed the composer’s new approach of writing for equal forces (rather than ‘cello and continuo, as in the first two sonatas) in carefully measured themes answering each other in clever exchanges, based on careful listening. Taking on board the many sides of Beethoven’s writing – its rhapsodic, stormy, soaring and mysterious aspects, its languishing thoughtfulness and pathos – the artists presented the work in an emotional yet objective and elegant fashion, leaving nervous and manic interpretations of it to others.

The recital ended with Johannes Brahms’ Piano Trio in C major opus 87. Here, Harrell and Ashkar were joined by violinist Giora Schmidt. Born in Philadelphia in 1983 to Israeli musician parents, Giora Schmidt studied at the Manhattan School of Music and the Juilliard School of Music. A recitalist and chamber musician, he collaborates with many eminent musicians. Committed to education and to sharing his passion of music, Schmidt reaches young musicians through technology and social media. The C major Piano Trio was composed between 1880 and 1882, with the composer at the apex of his career. From beginning to end, the trio’s unique scoring has the piano set against the two stringed instruments, with the abundance of octave playing of the strings reinforcing the idea of two forces, rather than three. Rich in Romantic richness, intensity and nostalgia, in poignant and sweeping melodic gestures, the artists gave a rewarding performance of the work of which Brahms wrote to his publisher thus: “You have not so far had such a beautiful trio from me and very probably have not published one to match it in the last ten years.” This was playing from the soul. In the haunting Scherzo, Schmidt’s violin soared to the top of its range with radiant and poignantly singing beauty.

A surprise awaiting the audience was an intense and richly colored and spirited performance of the first movement of Antonin Dvořák’s Piano Quintet opus 81 in A major, with two students of the Polyphony Foundation playing second violin and viola. Opening with the moving and thoughtful ‘cello utterance, the artists displayed infectious excitement at the work’s melodies, textures and powerful emotions, concluding a memorable evening of music.

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