Tuesday, November 13, 2018

An all-Brahms concert at the Eden-Tamir Music Center Ein Kerem, including Symphony No.3 played on two pianos

Dror Semmel,Ron Trachtman (photo:Shirley Burdick)
Under the direction of pianist Dror Semmel, the first of the Brahms series titled “Four Symphonies for Two Pianos Four Hands and Four Quartets” took place at the Eden-Tamir Music Center, Ein Kerem, Jerusalem on November 10th 2018.


The event opened with Johannes Brahms’ Piano Quartet No.2 in A-major Op.26, performed by Dima Pocitari-violin, Gili Radian-Sade-viola, Hillel Zori-’cello and Dror Semmel-piano. Completed in 1861, when Brahms was 29, the work, with its natural, easeful linking of phrases and formal perspective, attests to the composer’s profound study of Schubert’s chamber music in the late 1850s. It also marks Brahms’ taking up residence in Vienna, the musical capital of German music and the city of Beethoven and Schubert, a move encouraged by Clara Schumann and Joseph Joachim. In the Op.26’s over fifty minutes of music, Brahms’ longest work; the artists’ wonderfully fresh and sculpted playing, however, drew the listeners at the Eden-Tamir Center into its extensive melodic content with some splendid solo playing, the highlighting of motifs and Brahms’ subtly rewarding mix of textures. In the opening movement (Allegro non troppo), the main theme, initiated by the piano alone, provides the two motives from which the movement is largely constructed. Throughout the work, Semmel wove the piano part in- and out of the limelight, soloing or amalgamating subtly with the strings, as dictated by the text. In the nocturne-like second movement (Poco adagio), with its arching melody, the sweeping, mysteriously ruminating arpeggios on the piano and ‘cello comments came together in luxuriant, songful tranquillity.  As to the third movement, enigmatically labelled Scherzo and furnished with a somewhat dramatic trio, it is followed by a vigorous finale, coloured by references to gypsy- and folk dance music; the players gave expression to its abundance of themes and moods and to its masterful structure.


The second work on the program was Brahms’ version of Symphony No.3 in F-major Op.90 for two pianos. We heard it performed by Dror Semmel and Ron Trachtman. Semmel spoke of the practice of writing the first draft of a symphony for piano four hands as the basis for planning and orchestrating the work. Brahms, however, having a sharp business sense, was also aware of the remunerative sheet-music market, with works for four hands popular for domestic use. Semmel  also mentioned that Alexander Tamir and Bracha Eden had played this work in concerts worldwide. On February 11, 1884, after hours of playing through the work in its two-piano version, Clara Schumann wrote to Brahms: “All the movements seem to be of one piece, one beat of the heart” and, in her picturesque use of language, that “one is surrounded from beginning to end by the secret magic of the life of the forest”.  Indeed, Brahms's Symphony No.3 is one of his most poetic, evocative works, with eloquently defined themes and their subsequent transformations. The work opens with the work’s rising F, A-flat, F motif in the top voice, Brahms’s monogram for “frei aber froh” (free but joyful); the motif makes itself heard again and again in the work.  Semmel and Trachtman’s playing reflected deep enquiry into the symphony's contrasting, transformative and pensive narratives, with the first movement emerging bold, at times tragic, and lyrical, its different melodies presented with a variety of pianistic textures. Both the second and third movements are introspective, with long sections that never rise above piano. In their “semplice” approach to the (underlying sophistication of the) Andante movement, the artists accorded it songful, personal expression. As to the beguiling Poco allegretto (third movement) with its lush, sensuous melodies, if the listener is able to detach himself from Brahms’ silken orchestration of it, here is the quintessential Romantic piano, with the artists’ rendition also reminding the audience of the artistic finesse proffered by strategic timing.


A chamber music concert to appeal to Brahms- and chamber music aficionados.


Friday, November 9, 2018

Trio Noga in a new program at the Teiva hall in Jaffa, Israel

Photo: Avi Bar-Eitan
Trio Noga - Idit Shemer-flute, Orit Messer-Jacobi-'cello and Maggie Cole-piano (USA/UK) -  has recently toured Israel with a new program. This writer attended the trio’s latest concert at the Teiva hall in Jaffa, Israel, on October 29th, 2018.


The program opened with Joseph Haydn’s Trio in D-major Hob. XV:24, one of the three XV:24-26 flute trios written on Haydn’s second visit to London and dedicated to Rebecca Schroeter, the widow of a composer, to whom he had taught piano on his first visit there. The composer and his student  developed an intimate relationship (she was referred to by Haydn as “a beautiful and lovable woman, whom I would very readily have married if I had been free then”); her letters to Haydn survive. This trio, however, is not one of the composer’s typically exuberant or humorous works, rather a somewhat introverted piece, its opening movement juxtaposing small motives with pauses and longer, more flowing phrases. Maggie Cole’s playing gave both spirited and eloquent expression to Haydn’s piano part, writing evident of the more extensive potential of pianos in London of the time. The artists’ performance of the trio was poignant and subtle, articulate in fine detail and well contrasted, with some tasteful embellishment in the flute part. With the flute’s popularity in London at the time, it makes much sense to hear the piece as originally scored and not, as sometimes heard, with the flute’s mellifluous signature sound replaced by a violin. As to the enigmatic finale - Allegro ma dolce - with its energetic course seemingly ignoring bar-lines, the movement’s final notes die away to a hush, as Haydn delicately bows out of the scene.


Israeli-born composer/singer Ayala Asherov writes in a wide variety of styles — pop, contemporary classical, etc.— and for various kinds of media, from music for cinema to concert music. “Seasons” was composed in 2010 in the USA, where she spent 15 years. Referring back to her own cultural roots, Asherov took inspiration for the work from four poems of Israeli poet laureate Chaim Nahman Bialik, one of the pioneers of modern Hebrew poetry. Winning her the 2011 Chamber Music Composition Award at the biennial Athena Music Festival, “Seasons” is a set of tone poems of a lyrical and rhapsodic character, the pieces’ profuse melodies, stirring and emotional, making for music that reaches out to the listener. Preceding each of the pieces, Asherov gave a fine reading of the relevant Bialik poem; listening to her, one was reminded that, earlier in her professional life, Asherov had briefly pursued an acting career in theatre, film and television. The tone poems, each descriptive of a season, are personal in utterance. The Trio Noga artists gave a splendidly sculptured, varied and intuitive reading of the pieces, as “Summer” opened with flute and piano (with Cole making generous use of the sustaining pedal) creating a pastel, dreamlike balmy setting. In “Autumn”, flute and ‘cello duet converse against floating piano arpeggios, evoking the season’s underlying melancholy. The rich mix of textures of “Winter” create some driving rhythms and dramatic content, gripping and intense, the artists' playing never muscular in approach, to be followed by “Spring”, with its forthright opening, fresh and replete with the joy of the re-awakening of nature. Each piece ended on a contemplative note, a personal statement on the part of the composer. Trio Noga’s programming invariably includes works of contemporary Israeli composers.


Then to Trio for Flute, ‘Cello, & Piano (1995) by French neoclassical composer, pianist, and orchestrator Jean Françaix (1912-1997), known for his varied output and vigorous style. A prolific composer, rejecting atonality and not interested to be a part of Europe’s modernist upheavals that were reshaping musical thinking in a dramatic way, Françaix remained faithful to his own musical language, “not primarily attracted by the ‘motorways of thought’, but more the ‘paths through the woods”, in his own words. Reflecting the influence of Chabrier, Stravinsky, Ravel, and Poulenc, he wrote in an idiom intended to entertain himself and his listeners. From the Jaffa concert, I would add that his style also amuses those performing his music. Light-hearted and humorous, the four-movement Trio for Flute, ‘Cello, & Piano is packed with jazzy moments and jaunty, quirky effects skillfully woven into the composer’s energetic flow of ideas and surprises, the work also revealing Françaix’ skilled contrapuntal- and harmonic writing set within his typically transparent and French  soundscape. The Trio Noga players probed the score in fine detail, meeting its challenges and unconventional techniques (Françaix himself was a virtuoso pianist), with the ‘cello, for example, required to play in high positions, glissandi, flageolets, etc., and with each player often engaged in different agendas. Indeed, humorous music of this kind demands a serious musical approach, as in the droll ⅝ third movement (Scherzando), complete with giggles, or the hopping, no-less-droll fourth movement in which Shemer changes flute for piccolo.


The concert concluded with a touching performance of Avi Bar-Eitan’s arrangement of Oded Lerer’s familiar melody “I Ask for Forgiveness” to a poem of Lea Goldberg. Jerusalem composer, teacher and musicologist Avi Bar-Eitan’s doctoral work was an evaluation of the grey area between art-, folk- and popular elements in Israeli song repertoire. The artists’ mellow and sympathetic playing of the lush, melodious and richly-layered textures of the arrangement made for a tranquil and rewarding end to the evening.
…”If there were torments – then they voyaged toward you
my white sail on course toward your dark night.
Now, allow me to leave, let me go, let me go
to bow on the shores of forgiveness.”
© 1959, Lea Goldberg
From: Sooner or Later [Mukdam Ve-Meuhar], 10th ed.
Publisher: Sifriat Poalim, 1959, 1978






Saturday, November 3, 2018

When literature and music meet in the family: works of writer Dan Tsalka and pianist Michael Tsalka at a festive book launch of Dan Tsalka's book of essays in Jaffa, Israel

Dan Tsalka (photo courtesy the Tsalka family)

The launch of “Kol Hamassot” (All the Essays) of the late Israeli writer Dan Tsalka took  place in the intimate venue of the Teiva basement hall in Jaffa, Israel on October 27th 2018. Hosted by Mrs. Aviva Tsalka, the event was attended by people who had known the writer and his works, by literary figures and artists of different milieus. Dan Tsalka (1936-2005) was born in Warsaw. In World War II his family fled to the Soviet Union, living in Siberia, later in Kazakhstan. At the close of the war, he returned to Poland with his family, living in Wroclaw, where he studied humanities at the university there. In 1957 he immigrated to Israel. He studied philosophy and history at Tel Aviv University, then continuing his studies in France, also residing for a time in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Italy. Living in Tel Aviv, he engaged in editing and translation, publishing his first book in 1967. Published by Xargol Books (Tel Aviv) “Kol Hamassot”, a compendium of philosophical musings on a huge variety of subjects, collates three of the author’s books.


Emceeing the evening was Jonathan Nadav, managing director of the Hebrew University Magnes Press, who set the scene with his reading of a witty piece from the book about cigars and public figures associated with them. The first speaker was Prof. Aminadav Dykman (Dept. Hebrew Literature, Hebrew University of Jerusalem), who had been a close friend of Dan Tsalka. He defined Tsalka as a World War II writer, a “member of the République des Lettres”, a writer who had spent time in Europe, but who decided “it would all happen” in Tel Aviv.


Prof. Ariel Hirschfeld (Dept. Hebrew Literature, Hebrew University of Jerusalem) discussed some of the book’s contents and style, pointing out its very original and pithy writing, also making reference to Tsalka’s unique personality and limitless knowledge. Hirschfeld talked of the author’s awareness of all that was happening around him, of his familiarity with literary works and of his ability to engage in the minutest of detail of the huge range of subjects on which he touched. An image Hirschfeld used was of Tsalka “hovering above whatever situation he was observing, commenting on what he saw down below.” Hirschfeld’s reading of the writer’s portrait of poet/actor Avraham Halfi, in which Tsalka admits that he did not understand Halfi’s “unreal” inner world, was indicative of the writer’s sincerity and honesty. Hirschfeld concluded by making reference to Dan Tsalka’s noble humility and sincerity and to his belief that art exists in order to improve human life.


Dan Tsalka’s son – internationally renowned keyboard artist Dr. Michael Tsalka - performed a selection of piano pieces, opening with Domenico Scarlatti’s Sonata in D Major (K.119), a piece evocative of the Spanish guitar, its unconventional textures suggestive of Spanish gypsy music and early flamenco. Then to the pianist’s sensitive, contrasted and gently embellished reading of Mozart’s downhearted Adagio in B minor for piano K 540, to be followed by a small taste of French composer Cécile Chaminade’s “Six pièces humoristiques” (1897); Tsalka’s reflective and delicate playing of this lyrical salon music delighted with its ambience of fin-de-siècle Paris. His rendition of movements from Israeli composer Yehezkel Braun’s “Four Keyboard Pieces” (1991), pieces straddling modality and tonality, abounded in colour, pianistic textures and imagination. The musical section of the event concluded with Michael Tsalka’s performance of another small gem of the musical salon - Paderewski’s Nocturne Op.16 No.4 - with the pianist’s gracious and wistful playing endorsing the piece’s sweet sentimentality with just a touch of melancholy.


The event ended with Jonathan Nadav’s reading of another excerpt from “Kol Hamassot”.

Michael Tsalka (photo: David Beecroft)

Monday, October 29, 2018

Ensemble PHOENIX probes the new chamber music concept introduced by Haydn's Op.20 "Sun" Quartets

Haydn’s “Sun” Quartets were the focus of Ensemble PHOENIX’ recent chamber concerts. Performing the works on period instruments were Moshe Aron Epstein-flute, Ya’akov Rubinstein-violin, Rachel Ringelstein-viola and PHOENIX founder and director Myrna Herzog-’cello. This writer attended the concert at the Eden-Tamir Music Center, Ein Kerem, Jerusalem, on October 26th 2018.

Joseph Haydn’s opus 20 quartets, composed in 1772 when the composer was 40, were titled the “Sun” Quartets simply because of the image of a sun displayed on the cover of the first edition. Their importance in the development of the string quartet genre, however, is paramount.

It was initially puzzling why the PHOENIX program should open with Haydn’s Flute Quartet Op.5 No.2 in G-major. The release of Haydn’s six opus 5 quartets,  by the Amsterdam-based publisher J. J. Hummel in 1767 or 1768, was probably carried out behind Haydn’s back and the authorship of a number of the quartets in this set has been questioned, some of the works passed off under Haydn’s name in order to increase sales. Trio No.2, however, is thought to be authentic. The PHOENIX artists’ playing of it addressed each gesture, their dynamic contrasts and expressive approach evocative of Haydn’s large palette of instrumental colour and textures and typical of the composer’s genial, sunny and sometimes droll personality, as in the short, bouncy, separated opening phrases of the Presto movement. Notable were some appealing flute ornamentation in the Adagio and a fine viola solo (Rachel Ringelstein) in the Minuetto movement. This quartet, as it turns out, was performed by PHOENIX as a preamble to the three “Sun” quartets that followed.

Appearing a mere five years after the Op.5 works, Joseph Haydn’s opus 20 quartets are arguably Haydn’s first quartet masterpieces. These superb works may be seen as both experimental and ground-breaking, representing an unprecedented flowering of Haydn’s string quartet-writing: they are different in that they are the first quartets to make the fullest use of four completely independent voices, establishing a standard of artistic excellence to which every other subsequent composer of quartets has paid homage. Being in the employ of Count Esterhazy on his estate was opportune for this major step. Haydn, completely secluded from the world, wrote: “Nobody was nearby who could distract me or confuse me about myself; in this way I became original.” The PHOENIX artists’ playing of Op.20 Quartets 2, 5 and 4 was indeed a celebration of Haydn’s “new-found freedom”, as they gave conviction to the intensely individual roles woven throughout. In the Adagio movement of No.2 in C-major, Herzog’s hauntingly beautiful ‘cello solo, Epstein’s almost unaccompanied flute solos and some robust ensemble “comments” create a kind of Baroque-style drama. Or are we indeed experiencing a  concerto when presented with a flute cadenza? Probably the most remarkable aspect of the Op.20 quartets is their engagement in counterpoint, immediately discernible in No.2’s opening movement. This quartet and No. 5, which followed, both have final movements cast as elaborate fugues; these were played at the Ein Kerem concert with such committed personal expression on the part of all the players that I found myself choosing to focus on one player at a time.

For the sake of the flute, the PHOENIX members performed Op.20 No.5 in a transposed version from F-minor to the scale of G-minor. It is a work of sophistication and virtuosity, a large, rich (at times, almost orchestral) canvas. In the opening Moderato, the flute, clearly (as for most of the quartet) the "soloist", opens with a strangely subdued, plangent melody, full of angular chromatic intervals, setting a level of textural complexity that rarely ceases throughout the quartet. It's a kind of theme and variations, with a very simple and almost unchanging rhythm for the lower three instruments, but featuring ever more elaborate figuration for the flute. In their playing of the Adagio movement, also somewhat a theme and variations set in a major key, the artists struck a delicate balance between the inner tension of its basic Siciliano character and the slow tempo needed in order to accommodate all the elaborate figuration engaged in by the flute as the movement progressed. In the quartet’s combination of evident seriousness and its general restraint (much of the music is marked to be played "piano") the players gave expression to its sustained intensity.

In their playing of Quartet No.4 in D-major of Op.20, the PHOENIX artists draw together many of the strings of what Opus 20 represents as they plumb Haydn’s variety of moods and developing dramatic language with sharp insight, here presenting his integration of seemingly disparate ideas - serenades with folksong and gypsy music. In the Affettuoso movement, a theme and variations, with its profusion of duets and solos and shadowy wanderings from minor to major, the quartet highlighted the poignancy of Haydn’s writing in articulate delicacy and understatement. It was only in the Minuetto alla Zingarese that I felt the lack of a first violin timbre for its bucolic, extroverted gypsy melody.

The string-players, performing on 18th century instruments with gut strings with historic bows and Epstein playing an original Classical flute built in 1780, produced a natural sense of balance, a soundscape in which Haydn’s wealth of ideas pervaded the quartet texture at every opportunity. For the acoustic of the Eden-Tamir Center, there were moments where the strings sounded a fraction too powerful for the flute. Joining Moshe Aron Epstein's outstanding playing, Ya'akov Rubinstein, no longer a new face on the early music scene, gave a performance of fine musicality. Violist Rachel Ringelstein's splendid interpretation of each melodic line never fails to impress   As to the ‘cello’s newborn role in the chamber music genre, Myrna Herzog enticed a warm-toned stream of finely shaped sound from the ‘cello, expressive but always within the line and contour of good taste. With Haydn’s music characterised by directness and accessibility to the listener, it nevertheless presents a myriad of challenges to the performer. The PHOENIX players offered the audience the pleasure of listening to playing that is committed to musicianship of the highest order.

Myrna Herzog,Ya'akov Rubinstein,Rachel Ringelstein,Moshe Aron Epstein (photo:Arthur Herzog)

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Maestro Christian Lindberg and the Israel Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra host the Swedish Vocal Ensemble

Opening the Israel Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra’s 48th season “The Great Opening” was conducted by Christian Lindberg (Sweden). Mandolin artist Shmuel Elbaz is the NKO’s conductor in residence. Renowned trombonist and composer, Lindberg, beginning his third season as conductor and music director of the NKO, spoke of the new season’s theme of “Eternal Images”. Joining him and the orchestra were eight singers of the Swedish Vocal Ensemble. This writer attended the concert in the Recanati Auditorium of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on October 20th, 2018.


The program opened with Franz Schubert’s Mass No.2 in G-major D.167. Composed in less than a week when Schubert was 18 (1815), and the second of his six Masses, it was originally scored for choir, string orchestra, organ and soloists, but eventually included brass, winds and percussion. The strong, luxuriant voices of the eight singers of the Swedish Vocal Ensemble (led by bass Joakim Bergdal) contended well with the orchestra in a performance that was both lush and wonderfully contrasted - from the tender, velvety singing of the Kyrie to the Sanctus in all its grandeur and unleashed joy and ending with outstanding beauty and reflective mood of the Agnus Dei. It was a celebration of Schubert’s cantabile melodic writing, his wonderful use of counterpoint and concertante writing. The NKO’s brass section emerged articulate and buoyant and we were treated to some fine solos by tenor George Källström, bass Helgi Reynisson and the creamy, finely chiselled singing of soprano Isabella Lundqvist.


The objective of Antonin Dvořák’s Czech Suite in D-major op.39 was to create a work of a distinctively Czech character. Actually a five-movement serenade, premiered in 1897 in Prague, it bristles with gorgeous melodies and lavish orchestration. From the sweeping, singing violin melody of the opening Preludium, the work conjures up images of the Bohemian landscape. The NKO’s rich palette of orchestral colour brought out the exuberance and sense of well-being of Czech folk music and dance. The work also provided the audience with opportunities to hear solos performed by some of the orchestra’s excellent woodwind players - the clarinet (Igal Levin) in the Minuet, the English horn (Miki Lam) and flute (Michal Tikotsky) in the Romance and 1st oboe Hila Tzabary-Peleg leading into the Finale. Dvořák himself, referring to the village bands of his youth in Nelahazeves, wrote that the “clarinets and bassoons make their entrance just as they do in Bohemia.” Not devoid of a few wistful moments, the performance was definitely stamped with Lindberg’s uncompromising joie-de-vivre.


For most of the audience, hearing Leopold Mozart’s Concerto in D-major for alto trombone, referred to by Lindberg as the first trombone concerto, was a first! Composed in 1755 (a year before the birth of his son Wolfgang Amadeus) and (according to Lindberg’s research) probably written to be played by the virtuosic Austrian court musician Thomas Gschladt. (Leopold Mozart himself wrote, "In the absence of a good trombone player, a good violinist can play it on viola."), the work was lost for many years. It was discovered as three movements for trombone (viola or horn) and orchestra (among other pieces) in the Benedictine Seminary at Seitenstetten, Austria.  Christian Lindberg edited it in 1984 and has recorded it with the Australian Chamber Orchestra.  At the Tel Aviv concert, Lindberg both soloed and conducted, his playing, making it clear to the audience - as in the first movement cadenza and the jaunty Presto - that this concerto calls for a highly experienced player. Of special beauty was Lindberg’s honeyed, expressive and dynamically varied playing of the Adagio middle movement.


The NKO’s opening concert for the season included the world premiere of Israeli composer Yossi Ben Nun ’s “Three Theatre Cues for Orchestra”, a work commissioned by the orchestra. A pianist who has soloed with all major Israeli orchestras, Ben Nun (b.1958) has spent the last 30 years composing music for theatre, work that “involves sidestepping through minefields, meeting challenges head on and even compromising with his fellow professionals over the final outcome of his musical endeavour” in his own words. Ben Nun, who today serves as the Habima Theater’s composer-in-residence, explains that people attending a theatrical production will only have the chance of hearing the play’s incidental music once, this meaning that it must be communicative and of immediate appeal.  “Three Theatre Cues for Orchestra” was written with the NKO instrumentalists’ richly-coloured signature sound in mind.  The audience delighted at the two movements (why not the third as well?) of the work performed at this concert: “Urban Dream”, its tight, many-layered, full-on, jazzy textures alternating between frenetic energy and moments of  sweeping melodiousness, and “Those who Walk in the Darkness”, a tango whose  rhythms and streamlined writing are as sultry and provocative as any tango from Río de Plata you might hear, with its almost atonal violin solo (Gilad Hildesheim) there for good measure.


The program concluded with J.S.Bach’s "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme" BWV 140 (Sleepers Awake). Written in 1731 and one of Bach’s most famous and best-loved works, it is based on a chorale by Philipp Nicolai. Not performed here on historic instruments (there was, however, a harpsichord: Aviad Stier), it was indeed authentic in the fact that there were only eight singers to carry out solos and choral sections, and they did it admirably. Listening to the uplifting opening movement, one is reminded by Lindberg and his players that Bach’s instrumental scores are no less exciting than his choral writing. Oboist Hila Tzabari Peleg and 1st violinist Gilad Hildesheim’s captivating solos added fine detail and Baroque splendour to the performance. George Källström’s expansive, fresh young voice and careful shaping of words gave meaning to texts and silvery-voiced soprano Isabella Lundqvist and bass Helgi Reynisson wove their separate agendas expressively into “Mein Freund ist mein” most delightfully in the penultimate movement. A beautiful performance, ending majestically and on a serene note to bring man and angels together in sound:

“Let Gloria be sung to You
With mortal and angelic tongues,
With harps and even with cymbals…”


Joined by Lindberg on trombone, the Swedish Vocal Ensemble then returned to the stage to send the audience off with a Swedish song about the pleasures of spring. In his friendly informality, Maestro Lindberg’s energy and enthusiasm makes classical music accessible to a large range of concert-goers.



Photo: Yael-Atia MosesAdd caption

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Heinrich Schütz and the Thirty Years' War - the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra's opening concert of the 2018-2019 season. Guest conductor: Joshua Rifkin

Photo: Maxim Reider
The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra opened its 30th season with a concert commemorating 400 years of the Thirty Years’ War. Guest conductor and prominent musicologist Joshua Rifkin (USA), no new face to JBO audiences, directed a program of pieces from Heinrich Schütz’ “Symphoniae Sacrae” and other of the composer's choral works. This writer attended the event at the Jerusalem International YMCA on October 15th, 2018. Prior to the concert, Oded Feuerstein (Faculty of History, Tel Aviv University) filled the audience in on the hairbrained roller coaster course ride of the Thirty Years’ War, a war of shifting alliances fought primarily in Central Europe from 1618 to 1648. One of the most destructive conflicts in human history, it resulted in eight million fatalities, those not only from military engagements but also from violence, famine, and plague.

Often referred to as the greatest German composer of the generation before Johann Sebastian Bach, Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672) left almost no secular music and, though a celebrated organist, he published no instrumental music. Nearly all his surviving works are settings of sacred texts, many of them in the grand style of the Flemish polychoral writing he had learned from Gabrieli, in which individual voices clash in emotionally-laden dissonances, then resolving into gentle consonance; then there are works in the newer, dramatic style of his other great teacher Monteverdi, these fired by the emotional power of detailed, visual description and vivid poetic imagery.

Rifkin’s article in the printed program offers a vivid account of the connection between the great Protestant composer and his times, claiming that “Schütz had repeated occasion to reflect the course of the war in his music.”  Providing the motet texts (some in German, others in Latin, together with translations into English and Hebrew) was a great advantage to the audience, offering the listener more than a glimpse into Schütz’ involvement with the war, either emotionally or, as in “Da pacem, Domine” (Give Peace, O Lord), in point of fact. Composed for the Mühlhausen Conclave  of 1627, to which Schütz accompanied his employer Elector Johann Georg and the court ensemble, “Da pacem, Domine”  is scored for two choirs. Having opened with a prayer for peace, it then proceeds to welcome the VIPs attending the meeting:
Vivat Moguntinus, - Mainz
Vivat Coloniensis, - Cologne
Vivat Trevirensis,  - Trier
Vivant tria fundamina pacis. (= the three Founders of Peace)
Vivat Ferdinandus, Caesar invictissimus. - Emperor
Vivat Saxo, - Saxony
Vivat Bavarus, - Bavaria
Vivat Brandenburgicus - Brandenburg
Vivant tria tutamina pacis. (= the three Peace Keepers)

Vivat Ferdinandus, Caesar invictissimus.”
Accompanied by organ (David Shemer, JBO founder and musical director), this made for interesting listening, with the singers’ individual timbres and utterances emerging with clarity.

Reflecting religious attitudes of the time, the Thirty Years’ War was seen as an expression of God’s anger to man, with some motets, such as the more intimate “Aufer immensam” (Take away, O God, your great anger) showing man as a sinner and giving expression to the people’s helplessness in the plight:
“Why does your great wrath
Descend on us poor worms
O great creator of the world?”
Others, such as “Teutoniam dudum belli” (Germany is so long beset by war’s dark perils) anticipate more peaceful times:
“Let the whole of the Elbe resound, and all of Meissen:
O may good peace bring a thousand joys to all!”
Peace is also idealized in  “Siehe, wie fein und lieblich” (Behold, how good and pleasant), (Psalm 333), the JBO’s splendid instrumental playing matched by buoyant singing of the almost visually descriptive text, also taking the Israeli listener to locations close to home:
...“It is like the precious ointment
That flows from Aaron’s head
Into his whole beard,
Flowing down into his robe
Like the dew that falls from Mt. Harmon onto Mt. Zion…”
Apparently written for the thanksgiving service in 1650, with the withdrawal of the last foreign troops from Saxony, the lush, tranquil “Nun danket alle Gott” (Now let everyone thank God), highlights the word “Friede” (peace). At the Jerusalem concert, dialogue between the violins and between the various singers created a sense of community and well-being.

Performed by six singers (two choirs), violins, violone and organ, “Saul, Saul, was verfolgst du mich?” (Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?) was for me the high point of the concert. Here, Schütz’ daring writing takes on an enterprising- and emotional approach, as the repetition of Saul’s name, separated by rests, starts out as mysterious musings, then to burgeon into a vehement volley of accusations. Violinists Noam Schuss and Dafna Ravid’s playing added more intensity to the already gripping effect of the monosyllable cried out and tossed between the two halves of the double choir. As the piece nears  its conclusion, the music leaves no listener unmoved as it soars to dizzying contracted rhythmic patterns and terraced echoes.

Joshua Rifkin has put together a program of great interest, presenting audiences with detail of the direct encounter between Schütz and the religious/political  events of the Thirty Years’ War. A collaboration between young professional singers and those longer established on the early music scene, Rifkin varied constellations of singers and players for the different pieces, some to be conducted by him, others collaborating by way of their acquired insight into the music and, of course, by eye contact. The small instrumental ensemble offered some exquisite playing.

Singers: the Cecilia Soloists Ensemble - Hadas Faran, Tom Ben Ishai, Hillel Sherman, Yoav Meir Weiss - and Adaya Peled, Simon Lillystone (UK), Haggai Grady, Jonathan Suissa, Elam Rotem. Instrumental ensemble: violinists Noam Schuss (leader) and Dafna Ravid, Orit Messer-Jacobi-’cello, Hen Goldsobel-violone, Alexander Fine-dulcian, David Shemer-organ.


Sunday, October 14, 2018

Young Austrian 'cellist Lukas Lauermann performs his own works for 'cello and electronics in Jerusalem

Photo: Sara Yassin
The somewhat mystical environment of the mixed Jewish-Arab quarter of Abu Tor, Jerusalem, seems to fit in with the ideals of the Willy Brandt Center (WBC), a center where young people from Israel, Palestine, Europe, and the entire world meet and engage in cross-cultural exchange. Attended by people of various ages - speakers of German, English, Arabic and Hebrew -  the closing event of the Jerusalem Open Forum  “Past and Future Reflection and Creation” (October 11th-13th 2018) was “Cello Sound Experience”, a unique solo concert performed by Austrian ‘cellist and sound designer Lukas Lauermann. Born in Vienna in 1985, Lauermann is a classically-trained musician, having studied at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna and the Anton Bruckner University (Linz, Austria). His 2018 concert tours took him to the USA, China and India.

The event opened with words of welcome from the Willy Brandt Center’s  Social Art project coordinator Petra Klose and from Maria Gierlinger-Landa, deputy director of the Austrian Cultural Forum, Tel Aviv. Then, to the sounds of the muezzin not far away, Lauermann began his solo recital - three original works for ‘cello and electronics - his right foot controlling the various electronic tools of a synthesizer on the floor. Each of the three works was a veritable emotional journey, a developmental process beginning with small-, sometimes static motifs, then building up, as the artist’s engaging of electronics added looping and layers, with textures often becoming massive and dramatically overwhelming, at other times percussive, or wrought of lengthy-, sweeping bowed melodies, arpeggiated textures, the sound world of otherworldly overtones or pizzicato lightness. Broad, original and varied as Lauermann’s canvas is, his fine technique and classical training shine through his playing and works. The artist spoke of his first solo disc, released last year, as influenced by the large wave of immigration to Austria, in all its complexities. Alongside many beautiful ‘cello sounds, the harsh moments of these works symbolically request the listener not to fear what seems strange and different. Lauermann concluded the program with a work based on quite a sentimental, cantabile melody, building up in intensity, becoming vehement, then to suddenly cease altogether. Taking up again in a single major-sounding melodic line, then to duet with a second line, the piece ends in a reflective aura, the final sounds evocative of the rise and fall of breezes, slowly ebbing away to nothing. Lukas Lauermann is an artist with his own voice and language, as he reaches out to his audience in music that is decidedly experiential.

The concert took place in a room in which exhibits from “Promise Me a Land”, the current photo exhibition of local scenes  by 35-year-old French photographer Clément  Chapillon, were on display, an exhibition whose objective is to present a clear connection between the environment in this very region and its people. In an interview with Irene Ramón for Metal Magazine, Chapillon explains: “In Israel and Palestine, everyone claims this land, and I wanted to know the landscapes that make up the collective identity of these people...We have the impression of touching the real, the essential”.


Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Israel Camerata Jerusalem opens its 2018-2019 concert season with a program of late Romantic Russian concertos

Maestro Uri Segal (jcamerata.com)
Taking place on October 6th 2018 in the Recanati Auditorium of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, the first concert of the Israel Camerata Jerusalem’s 2018-2019 “La Tempesta dei Solisti” series presented a program of concertos by late Romantic Russian composers. Under the baton of Uriel Segal, the orchestra hosted three young visiting artists: Kristina Miller-piano (Russia/Germany), Sophia Bacelar-‘cello (Cuba) and Kristine Balanas-violin (Latvia). Prior to each concerto, the audience watched a short film in which the soloist introduced herself and her musical involvement.


The program opened with Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No.3. Premiered in 1909 in New York City with the composer as soloist, it was the first of many American triumphs for Rachmaninoff, who would ultimately make his home in the United States. The last of the great Romantic pianist-composers in the lineage of Chopin, Liszt, and Rubinstein, Rachmaninoff joined Brahms in the concept of the fusing of concerto- and symphony forms. From a musical family, Kristina Miller (b. Moscow, 1986) began her piano studies at an early age, soloing in Mozart’s Concerto No. 23 at the age of eight. Miller’s Tel Aviv performance attested to her great love- and respect of Rachmaninoff’s music. From the nostalgic Russian-type opening theme, her playing was lyrical, tender and poignant, her handling of the work’s more intense moments well controlled but never emerging muscular or showy. Also characterizing the Tel Aviv performance was the masterful interweaving of the work’s orchestral “solos” and those of Miller, as well as some haunting wind solos. Miller then gave a virtuosic and well contrasted performance of Rachmaninoff’s stormy Musical Moment No.4 in E-minor.


Resulting from Tchaikovsky’s love of 18th-century music, his Variations on a Rococo Theme, op. 33 reflect an ideal- if distant world for which Romantic composers felt great nostalgia.  Written for- and with the help of  Wilhelm Fitzenhagen, a German ‘cellist and fellow professor at the Moscow Conservatory, it was Fitzenhagen who gave the premiere in Moscow on November 30, 1877. At 22 years of age, Cuban-Chinese-American ‘cellist Sophia Bacelar is quickly gaining recognition in the world of classical music but she is also broadening the reach of her music by introducing it in alternative venues and through contemporary media. Playing on a historic ‘cello restored by her father, Bacelar is an artist of much temperament, presenting the variations’ different moods, displaying the ‘cello's ability to sing long lyrical melodies, then enlisting her consummate technique for variations of an extremely virtuosic nature, as she launched into grandiose cadenzas, spectacular trills and double stops, yet never losing sight of the work’s main theme. Her solo Spanish-style encore was a veritable tour-de-force.


A violinist in great demand on the international scene and considered one of the most versatile and inspiring violinists of her generation, soloist and chamber musician Kristine Balanas (b.1990) explores new repertoire as well as bringing young energy to the classics. The Israel Camerata Jerusalem’s Tel Aviv concert concluded with Balanas soloing in A.Glazunov’s Violin Concerto in A-minor op.82. Written in 1904, the concerto was dedicated to violinist Leopold Auer, who gave its first performance in 1905 at a concert of the Russian Musical Society, St. Petersburg. The Concerto's three movements are played without pause, the connections almost seamless from one to the next. Performing on a 1787 Antonio Gragnani violin, Balanas is an artist of sophistication and subtlety. Her sense of spontaneity lent natural, unimpeded flow to the Glazunov Concerto’s rich colourings, its large cadenza (Glazunov’s own) and to the work’s rhapsodic moods and expressive intensity, ending the finale with genial and extroverted rapture. For her encore, she performed Paganini’s Caprice No.17 with charm and whimsy.


All the concertos in the Israel Camerata Jerusalem’s current “La Tempesta dei Solisti” series have been arranged for chamber orchestra by Mordechai Rechtman (b. Germany 1926), a bassoonist renowned for his many arrangements for wind ensembles and of Classical and Romantic concertos. Rechtman was present at the concert.


Maestro Uriel Segal (b. Israel, 1944), conducting with a light touch, made for transparency of sound, well-delineated melodic playing, a lush symphonic sound and sensitive collaboration between orchestra and soloists. Segal conducts and records widely in Europe, Japan, the USA, Canada and Brazil. Laureate conductor of the renowned Chautauqua Festival in New York State, he is also laureate Conductor of Century Orchestra in Osaka, Japan, an orchestra he founded and led for eight years. He has served as music director of the Louisville, KY Orchestra, was principal conductor of the Philharmonia Hungarica and the Bournemouth Symphony, music director of the Israel Chamber Orchestra and principal guest conductor of the Stuttgart Radio Symphony. He has also been principal guest conductor at the Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University, Bloomington.



Friday, October 12, 2018

Ensemble PHOENIX to perform Haydn's "Sun" Quartets on authentic instruments

Myrna Herzog,Ya'akov Rubinstein,Moshe Aron Epstein,Rachel Ringelstein (Photo:Yossi Cohen)
Haydn aficionados are in for a treat this month (October 2018) when Ensemble PHOENIX instrumentalists perform the Opus 20 “Sun” Quartets, arguably Haydn’s first quartet masterpieces. These superb works may be seen as experimental and ground-breaking, representing an unprecedented flowering of Haydn’s string quartet-writing, this making the fullest use of four completely independent voices (still remaining vehicles for the composer’s characteristic wit and surprise) and establishing a high watermark to which every other subsequent composer of quartets has paid homage. We will hear the PHOENIX members in a version for flute and strings, the artists playing on period instruments - the string players (Ya’akov Rubinstein-violin, Rachel Ringelstein-viola and Myrna Herzog-’cello) will all play 18th century instruments with gut strings, Herzog’s bow actually dates from the time, as does Ringelstein's viola, and Moshe Aron Epstein will be performing on an original Classical flute built in 1780.


Tuesday October 23rd, 20:30, Israel Conservatory of Music, 25 Louis Marshall St., Tel Aviv
Reservations: 03-546-6228 https://icm.pres.ws/eWeb/event/42/1/lvl/0


Friday October 26th, 12:00, Eden-Tamir Music Center, Ein Kerem, Jerusalem
Reservations: 02-641-4250


Saturday October 27th, 20:30, The Studio, Beit Hecht, 143 HaNassi St., Haifa
Reservations: 04 836-3804