Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra IBA's Special 2016 Independence Day Concert

Maestro Frederic Chaslin (
The Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra’s annual Independence Eve concert took place in the Henry Crown Symphony Hall of the Jerusalem Theatre on May 11th 2016. In cooperation with the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, the concert, most of which was conducted by the JSO’s musical director Frédéric Chaslin, was one of the orchestra’s festive events of its 78th concert season. Soloist was pianist Tom Zalmanov.

Following words of welcome from JSO director general Yair Stern, the event got off to a jaunty and fitting start with an Israeli work -“Amusement Park” by Michael Damian. Born in Romania (1954), Damian immigrated to Israel in 1983, received a PhD in Musicology from Bar-Ilan University in 2002 and has been active in the field of  composing. An experienced conductor, especially of contemporary music, he was the JSO’s assistant chief conductor from 2007 to 2010. Michael Damian is assistant principal of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra’s viola section. A festive concert overture, “Amusement Park” was composed in 2013 and awarded the Mark Kopytman Prize for Orchestral Music the same year. Michael Damian conducted it at this concert. “Amusement Park”, a celebration of orchestral textures, variety and timbral articulacy, offers some nice small solos to the players, a fugal section and a number of appealing, jazzy moments.  Well written and entertaining, this provided a fine, energizing start to the festive event.

We then heard Frédéric Chopin’s Piano Concerto in E-minor opus 11, with young Tom Zalmanov performing the solo role. Written in 1830, when Chopin  was 20 years old, and referred to as No.1, the concerto is actually Chopin’s second piano concerto but the first to be published.  From the opening sounds of the work, Chaslin, Zalmanov and instrumentalists achieved a very fine balance of sound and agenda. Zalmanov’s playing of the opening Allegro maestoso was clean, articulate, at times suitably assertive, at others, tender but never venturing into the quagmire of the over-sentimental. His superb technique and control emerged in runs delicate in agility. Chopin referred to the concerto's second movement as a Romance in the “spirit of reverie”. In a letter to his childhood friend Titus Sylwester Woyciechowski he wrote that “the Adagio…is not intended to be powerful, it is more romance-like, calm, melancholic, it should give the impression of a pleasant glance at a place where a thousand fond memories come to mind.” Here, with natural shaping, grace and lightness of touch, Zalmanov presented Chopin’s “narrative”, taking time to place notes with strategic calm, to embellish and reflect in crystalline sounds, the small agitato of the third subject whisking away the second movement's daydream in a moment of passion. In the Rondo:vivace third movement, its refrain suggesting a krakowiak (a fast, syncopated Polish dance from the region of Kraków) Zalmanov engaged in some bold, well-contrasted playing, as he dipped into his palette of timbres and raced across the keyboard to join Chaslin in expressing the movement’s liveliness and wit. Although only 17, Tom Zalmanov, a student of Lea Agmon and a participant in the prestigious Goldman Program for Young Musicians of the Jerusalem Music Centre, performs with competence and musical maturity. A winner of several competitions, he has performed in Europe and South East Asia. In February of this year, he gave a solo recital in Geneva, Switzerland.

The concert ended with Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No.5 in C-sharp minor. Joining the JSO to form a Mahler-proportioned orchestra were 15 players from the Mendi Rodan Symphony Orchestra of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. A mammoth undertaking, Chaslin and his players created the work’s broad soundscape, one sweeping from mourning to triumph and reflecting the composer’s personal life (the symphony, however, has no non-musical program). Opening with a lone trumpet call issuing in a funeral march, we were guided through the rich variety of timbres and emotions with which Mahler paints his somewhat sinister canvas – demonic scenes, struggle, frenzy, somber moments, lyrical moments, Romantic sentimentality (never to slip into parody), Austrian country dances and the fifth movement’s striking four-part double fugue. Then there is the bitter-sweet Adagietto, one of Mahler’s greatest “hits”, in which only strings and harp play, with the harp playing enigmatically in a hesitating, almost improvisatory mode. A much-loved movement sometimes performed as a piece on its own, it was used as movie music in Visconti’s 1971 “Death in Venice”; Chaslin’s reading of it was lyrical, calm and kindly. It was a joy to see and hear students of the Jerusalem Academy of Music performing confidently with their JSO counterparts in Mahler’s Symphony No.5, a daunting challenge and large-scale journey for any orchestral player.



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