Thursday, June 23, 2016

Trio Noga performs works of women composers at the Felicja Blumental Music Center, Tel Aviv

Trio Noga’s recent intensive concert tour of Israel presented works of women composers. Interestingly, all three artists of Trio Noga – flautist Idit Shemer, ‘cellist Orit Messer-Jacobi and pianist Maggie Cole (UK, USA) – are well-known performers on today’s Baroque music scene; Trio Noga, however, sees them performing music from the Classical period and up to the most contemporary of works. This writer attended “Celebrating Women in Music”, the second concert in the chamber music series of the Israeli Women Composers and Performers Forum at the Felicja Blumental Music Center, Tel Aviv, on June 12th 2016.  Representing the Forum, recorder player Inbar Soloman offered words of welcome.

 The program opened with Trio Sonata No.1 by Marion Bauer. Born in Washington to a French Jewish family, composer, teacher, writer and critic Marion Eugénie Bauer (1882-1955) was something of a Renaissance woman. Professor Bauer was especially supportive of American music and modern composers, she was the first woman on the Music Faculty of New York University, with affiliations with the Juilliard School and other educational institutions; she spent 12 summers in the creative environment of MacDowell Colony for composers, artists and writers. Her prolific writing on music addressed both specialists and general readers and she was the author of five books. Despite brief forays into 12-tone music in the 1940s and 1950s, Bauer’s music did not plumb the depths of atonality, rather focusing on the mix of coloristic harmony and gentle dissonance. The opening movement of Trio Sonata No.1 was coloured with Impressionistic musical language, its second movement was eloquent and touching, to then be followed by a playful third movement (Vivace e giocoso).

 Most of the works of French Romantic composer and pianist Cecile Chaminade (1857-1944) were published during her lifetime. Primarily a concert pianist, she wrote over 100 piano works and toured the world performing them with great success. In 1901, she was one of the first pianists to record for the gramophone, with seven sides of her works, and she was the first woman composer to become a member of the French Légion d’Honneur. Like Marion Bauer, however, she also suffered from criticism based on gender prejudice. On hearing an orchestral work written by Chaminade at age 18, composer Ambrose Thomas remarked: “This is no woman composer, this is a composer who happens to be a woman.” Chaminade composed Trio No.1 opus 11 in g-minor opus 11 (the flute part played by Idit Shemer originally written for violin) at age 23. The Trio Noga artists gave expression to the composer’s compositional prowess, the piece’s charming Gallic flavour and the influence of Romantic composers on its style – Brahms, possibly Schumann, and others.  Following their intense and emotional reading of the Allegro movement and the lyrical, almost vocal Andante, the rondo constituting the third movement (Presto), bristling with thirty-second notes and cross rhythms, was performed with buoyant optimism as each instrument presented its own agenda. The final movement, classically oriented, nevertheless takes the listener through some late-Romantic harmonic twists. With the piano part illustrative of Chaminade’s own piano mastery, the ‘cello here initiated many of the melodies. With “salon music” viewed as third class entertainment, Chaminade’s music has been sadly ignored. Capturing the work’s moods, melodic richness and elegance, Trio Noga has proved what a misjudgement this was.

 Making the concert an especially auspicious event was the premiere of a work by Israeli composer Hagar Kadima. “By a Doorway” (2016) was commissioned by Trio Noga. A winner of the 2003 Prime Minister’s Award for Composers, Hagar Kadima (b.1957) was the first Israeli woman to earn a PhD in Composition. A professor at the Levinsky College of Education (Tel Aviv), she has spent many years teaching young composers and has been dedicated to collaboration between Arab and Jewish women musicians. In 2000, Dr. Kadima founded the Israeli Women Composers’ Forum, serving as its first chairperson, continuing to devote time and effort in supporting women composers and integrating them into the Israeli musical scene. At the Blumental Center Concert, she talked about the new piece, its genesis being the interval of a minor third – viewing it from all angles – as the piece moves between states of chaos and order. Another element making up the work is Israeli composer Yohanan Zarai’s setting of Avraham Halfi’s “The Ballad of Three Cats” (a nonsense poem whose subtler meaning touches on the subject of loneliness), the song itself announced by the flute, its melody also beginning with a minor third.  Listening to Kadima’s work, Trio Noga’s reading of the work created a sense of curiosity, guiding the listener into closely following the course of the various sections, each different in mood and intensity, each inspired by the simple, unadulterated minor third, always to return to it only to find a new path of departure.  The three instruments, though engaging in much imitation, seemed to have their own agendas as the artists gave a dedicated reading of the piece. Hagar Kadima spoke of her search for simplicity in music. Clarity would certainly run a close second!

 In 1839, Clara Schumann wrote: “I once believed that I possessed creative talent, but I have given up this idea; a woman must not desire to compose…” One of the 19th century’s most outstanding and influential musicians, she would go on to compose over 30 works – character pieces for piano, a concerto, Lieder and three romances for violin and piano. (In the 40 years she outlived her husband, she hardly composed, focusing more on family and her performing career.) Her only chamber work, the Piano Trio in g-minor opus 17, however, composed in 1846 when she was 27, showing the influences of Robert Schumann and Mendelssohn as well as her in-depth study of Bach counterpoint, is considered her finest work. With the flute (Idit Shemer) taking the place of the original violin part, the Noga Trio artists gave full expression to the work’s mid-century Romantic style texture with its interweaving of lines and sweeping ardent melodies, its coquettish Scherzo, its emotional agenda and the fugal writing in the final movement, their playing a careful balancing of forces, their textures never turgid or in excess, as they highlighted Clara Schumann’s skilful writing and ingenuity and the intimate nature of chamber music.

 A concert of fine performance introducing the Israeli concert-goer to works not generally heard and a new work of an Israeli woman composer.



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