Sunday, February 12, 2017

Maestro Christian Lindberg and the Israel Kibbutz Netanya Orchestra invite "The Unexpected Guest" to Concert No.3 of the 2016-2017 season

Maestro Christian Lindberg (photo: Mats Baecker)
Concert No.3 of the Israel Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra’s 2016-2017 concert season offered plenty of surprises in the concert titled “The Unexpected Guest”. Christian Lindberg (Sweden), the orchestra’s musical director as of this season, conducted and soloed on trombone. Tuba player Øystein Baadsvik (Norway) was guest soloist. Soloists from the NKO were Guy Sarig (trumpet) and Miki Lam (English horn). This writer attended the concert at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on January 28th 2017.

The program opened with an evocative and generously shaped reading of Felix Mendelssohn’s “Fingal’s Cave” Overture, giving expression to the composer’s musical description of the stunning natural surroundings of the west coast of Scotland which had inspired him on the walking tour he took there at age 20. Hearing the robust, fresh and exhilarating sound offered by the NKO, one tends to forget that this is a chamber orchestra. Firing the listener’s imagination were the sounds suggesting the ebb and flow of the sea, the dramatic crashing of waves on rocks as well as nature’s tranquil mystery, with bassoon, clarinet, viola and ‘cello solos adding beauty to the descriptive piece.

Then to Christian Lindberg’s “Panda in Love” for tuba and orchestra, in which Øystein Baadsvik played the solo role. Composed eight years ago, Lindberg told the audience the story behind the work – a whimsical story, abundant with personal ideas and feelings, but one with a message. Not avant-garde in any way, the work itself is basically tonal and lush in orchestration, giving much prominence to the tuba and dedicated to Baadsvik, one of today’s most prominent tuba players. Baadsvik, playing by heart, gave expression to the work’s lyrical, Romantic melodies, to its intense moments and its humor. Such a work must, of course, include a bear waltz, but there were also some jazzy moments and moments where Baadsvik also sang into the tuba in tandem with blowing it, sometimes playing in dialogue with the percussionist. Baadsvik’s vivid, virtuosic tuba playing was easeful and spontaneous, dashed off with joy and panache.

We then heard the world premiere of Øystein Baadsvik’s “Fnugg Red” tuba, trombone and orchestra. Here is what the composer said in an interview in January of 2017: “’Fnugg Red’ was composed as a variation on a theme called ‘Fnugg’, which I wrote many years ago, (‘Fnugg’ is Norwegian for “snowflake”). And…I don’t know…maybe because it is very light and very different in weight from the tuba…. The music was also inspired by the Australian didgeridoo, and I use the tuba in the way they play the didgeridoo. Another technique in the piece is something called “lip beat”, a technique I myself invented, creating rhythms that do not sound like specific pitch on the instrument; they sound more like a drum or other percussion instruments…a little fun thing I have added to the piece. There is also some inspiration from American fiddle music. Aaron Copland wrote a piece called ‘Rodeo’, in which there are some elements from this American fiddle, bluegrass tradition. Plus, of course, I have incorporated Christian Lindberg’s virtuosic trombone playing into the whole work.” The short work is full of catchy rhythms, different instrumental timbres and plenty of dynamic change. It makes use of a huge variety of tuba-playing techniques, including that of singing into the tuba to produce differential tones (i.e. 3 notes). Featuring the high-quality musicianship and the energetic, positive personalities of both soloists, the message that shines through is that music is fun and is there for pleasure and entertainment. For an encore, Øystein Baadsvik gave a poignant, jazzy tuba solo rendition of the Norwegian song “Trouble”.

One of the Israel Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra’s new projects is a competition for composition students of the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music. This concert featured “Crows” by silver medalist Ari Rabeno (b.1990, Jerusalem). Lindberg talked of how impressed the jury was of how Rabeno had combined humor and seriousness in his short orchestral piece. Referring to the subject of the fanfare in his program notes, the young composer writes that crows are an inseparable part of city life, mentioning his ambivalent approach to them. “Its spine-chilling screeching and aggressive vindictive character make the crow a most frightening creature. Together with this, something of these traits is bound to also arouse feelings of closeness and identity. I guess their wisdom, cunning and jealous tendencies make crows and humans quite similar…” Rabeno’s succinct and effective orchestral score, giving the double bass plenty of prominence, was descriptive and imaginative, with its many single, pointalistic instrumental utterances and well—depicted, agitated crow squawks. Rabeno’s fine miniature made for good listening!

Another “unexpected guest” to the Israeli concert platform was Aaron Copland’s “Quiet City” for trumpet, English horn and orchestra, the choice of which was explained by Lindberg, who claimed that “this orchestra has something different – personalities and great artists.” Soloists were orchestra members Guy Sarig-trumpet and Miki Lam-English horn. Premiered in 1941, here was another work with a programmatic background: it started as incidental music to a play by Irwin Shaw about an assimilated Jew – Gabriel Mellon – and his younger brother, the tense and troubled young trumpeter – David Melinkoff. The play closed after two preview performances; a year later, Copland rewrote the original music into its present setting. Needless to say, the trumpet solo represents Melinkoff. Copland’s strategy for pairing trumpet with English horn was not only to have contrasting timbres – it was also to give the trumpeter pauses between his solo sections. English horn solos are rare, as are gentle trumpet solos. Sarig, Lam and string orchestra gave poignant and clean expression to this mood piece, with a few gently-infused American and Jewish elements, its spaciousness and introspective atmosphere reflecting the loneliness and alienation of city life in what Copland claimed was a “rather unusual showpiece for the two soloists.”

Returning to Felix Mendelssohn to wind up this decidedly unique program, we heard a work with an interesting story behind it. Only days after composing his Symphony No.8 in 1822, one of 13 written for string orchestra, Mendelssohn rescored it for full orchestra within three days. The work includes a number of clear references to some Mozart works. Christian Lindberg’s direction combined the work’s youthful vivacity with the subtelty Mendelssohn’s writing was already displaying at this young age. Especially beautiful was the NKO’s cantabile performance of the Adagio movement, its dark timbre enhanced by the warm tonings of solo viola and flute utterances. The work signed out with the exuberance of Mendelssohn’s sophisticated fugal writing.

In this concert, Christian Lindberg, with his sense of humor and ebullience, showed the audience that informality and, at times, hi-jinx do not rule out high quality and profound performance. They do, in fact, bring the audience in closer contact with conductor and players. For their final encore, Lindberg and the Israel Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra were once again joined by Øystein Baadsvik for a jaunty performance of a Brahms Hungarian Dance.

Øystein Baadsvik (photo:Geir Mogen)

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