Thursday, April 9, 2015

Concert in memory of conductor and composer Gary Bertini, marking the 10th anniversary of his passing

A concert in memory of Maestro Gary Bertini took place in the Henry Crown Hall of the Jerusalem Theatre on April 7th 2015. An event of the Bertini Choral Fest (March 30th-April 24th 2015) it marked the 10th anniversary of Gary Bertini’s passing. Produced by Haggi Goren, the concert featured the Gary Bertini Israeli Chamber Choir (musical director/conductor: Ronen Borshevsky), the Jerusalem Academy Chamber Choir (musical director/conductor: Stanley Sperber), the Israel Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra (musical director/conductor Shalev Ad-El) and vocal soloists. The concert was made possible by support of the Bertini family, especially by the generosity of Mrs. Rose Bertini, and also with the help of the Israeli Ministry of Culture and Sport and the Tel Aviv Municipality Department of Culture. The evening's proceedings were introduced by Danny Orstav and broadcast live on the Voice of Music IBA, Israeli radio.

Gary Bertini (1927-2005) was born in Bessarabia. The family immigrated to Palestine in 1946. Following studies at the Music Teachers’ College in Tel Aviv, Bertini continued his studies in Milan, Italy and then at the Paris Conservatoire. On returning to Israel, he established the Rinat Choir in 1955, becoming musical advisor to the Batsheva Dance Company and composing incidental music for productions of the Habima and Cameri Theaters. He founded the Israel Chamber Orchestra in 1965, remaining its conductor till 1975, was conductor of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra from 1978 to 1986, assuming artistic direction of the New Israeli Opera from 1994 to his death. Gary Bertini also had a prestigious musical career in Europe, Japan and the USA. He is especially remembered for his dedication to promoting Israeli music.

The Rinat Choir was a unique ensemble and has been a major influence in the shaping of the culture of choral music in Israel. It was a central force in the performance of much new Israeli choral music written at the time. Starting out as the “Chamber Ensemble”, the Israeli Chamber Orchestra also introduced new and exciting orchestral ventures to players and audiences.

The Gary Bertini Israeli Choir was established in 2009 by Haggi Goren and Ronen Borshevsky and performs a wide range of repertoire with celebrated conductors and orchestras. The Gary Bertini Israeli Chamber Choir is the representative body of the choir. Conducted by Ronen Borshevsky, it also has a sizable a-cappella repertoire and has taken two European concert tours. The Bertini Chamber Choir opened the Jerusalem concert with three very different a-cappella pieces. With Gary Bertini’s own setting of the Catalonian folk melody “Song of the Birds”, memories of the Rinat Choir sound came flooding back to those of us who had heard Rinat and learned to know Israeli vocal music through its distinctive choral sound. Following a rewarding, well delineated performance of Salamone Rossi’s “I will praise thee for thou hast heard me” (Psalm 117), Borshevsky took his singers and the audience into the emotional roller-coaster of Claudio Monteverdi’s love-sick madrigals, with a brilliant and dramatic performance of “Di Ch’io vorrei morire” (Yes, I want to die) from the 4th Book of Madrigals; via its barrage of musical sighs, whispers and screams, the madrigal’s message is glued together with a daring amount of seconds. The Israel Netanya-Kibbutz Orchestra joined the choir in a performance of eight songs from Johannes Brahms’ “Liebeslieder” Waltzes opus 52 and one Lied from opus 65, in the composer’s own arrangement for small orchestra, rather than for two pianos. There was much to enjoy in the performance, with its happiness, longing and nature imagery set in light, dancelike vignettes so lush in their harmonies and nicely contrasted. The more intense, despondent and ambivalent texts, however, (possibly prompted by Brahms’ own anguish at Clara Schumann’s daughter’s engagement) made for movements of stronger profile and more heightened interest. Soprano Einat Aronstein contended well with the orchestra in some lively solo singing. One of the evening’s highlights was the performance of Marc Antoine Charpentier’s grand polyphonic motet “Te Deum” (c.1692) for five soloists, choir and instruments. Soloists were sopranos Einat Aronstein and Daniela Skorka, countertenor Alon Harari, tenor Eitan Drori and baritone Guy Pelc. Borshevsky’s direction of the work brought out its brilliance and dramatic impact, inspiring the artists to take on board Charpentier’s vivid soundscape. The orchestra offered energetic and energizing support, with zesty percussion and some fine wind playing, the full orchestral and choral forces finding a good contrast with smaller combinations for solo voices. Many of the solos were stylistically pleasing and the various soloists’ ensembles were well coordinated. The audience was justifiably enthused by the work’s mix of drama and devotion and by the ceremonial brilliance that infused the performance.

Following the intermission, we heard the Jerusalem Academy Chamber Choir, conducted by Stanley Sperber (Maestro Sperber conducted the Rinat Choir for 17 years.) Founded in 1969, the choir, made up of Academy students, performs widely. It was the first Israeli choir to appear at the Dachau concentration camp and its recent concert tour to Hungary was highly successful. In the Jerusalem concert, the Academy Chamber Choir presented a group of mostly a-cappella pieces in the spirit of the repertoire Rinat had performed throughout the years. In keeping with the choir’s reputation, each item emerged as a detail-perfect, carefully polished musical jewel. The choir opened with three Jewish texts, from the meditative, filigree-fine singing of “Yihiyu leratzon” (Let it be Your will) from Earnest Bloch’s “Avodat Hakodesh” (Holy Worship), to the strategic mix of timbres Sperber uses for Yehezkel Braun’s setting of the ancient grace after meals “Tzur mishelo” (The Lord, whose food we have eaten) to the playful vocal “orchestration” of Oedoen Partos’s “Hamavdil” (sung at the conclusion of the Sabbath, with a reference to Elijah). Then to Anton Bruckner’s astounding, symphonic motet “Chistus factus ist”, its canvas one of wide dynamic contrasts, dramatic tension and personal, sacred expression, to then be soothed and comforted by Claude Debussy’s flowing, “Dieu, qui la fait bon” (God, but she is fair), glittering with the ideal of beauty and sung with a real sense of the French transparency of language and timbre. Articulacy and sophistication set the scene for the luxuriant, ecstatic intensity of Samuel Barber’s “Come with Me”. And, on a lighter note, George and Ira Gershwin’s 1930 jazz standard “I Got Rhythm”, garnished with the singers’ vocal percussion effects, was tossed off with carefree precision, to be followed by Fats Waller and Harry Brooks’ “Ain’t Misbehavin’” (with piano). This part of the concert ended with fine blending and engaging solo moments in Tami Kleinhaus’ arrangement of Avraham Halfi and Yoni Rechter’s “Atur Mitzchekh” (Your forehead is gold black).

Concluding the concert, both choirs joined to perform three works with orchestra of which Gary Bertini was very fond. Sperber conducted the choir and Daniela Skorka in a velvety, lush reading of W.A.Mozart’s haunting “Laudate Dominum” (Praise the Lord) from “Vesperae Solennes de Confessore”, Skorka’s singing addressing the work’s spirituality. Following the well-chiseled, unbridled joy of G.F.Händel’s festive “Hallelujah” Chorus, Sperber went to join the choral singers and Borshevsky returned to the conductor’s podium to conduct two movements from the Mozart “Requiem”. The uncompromising drama juxtaposed with sotto voce otherworldly moments (women’s voices) of the “Confutatis” (While the wicked are confounded), followed by a heartrending, gripping and intimate reading of the “Lacrimosa” (Oh that day of tears and weeping), the latter begun on the day Mozart died, made for a moving end to the concert which was, in Haggi Goren’s words, “a homage to Bertini’s enormous contribution to our culture and life and a testimony that Gary’s heritage is still so meaningful and alive”. Add to these sentiments the high standard of choral performance we heard throughout, dedicated direction on the part of both conductors and the five fine “homegrown” vocal soloists.

The evening was an impressive and fitting tribute to Gary Bertini.

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