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 (
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


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


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Ensemble PHOENIX delights with vocal- and instrumental music of the Classical period at the Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival

Marina Minkin,Moshe Aron Epstein,Karen Shifrin,Myrna Herzog (M.A.Epstein)

Taking place in the historic Romanesque church in the town of Abu Gosh, an event of the 54th Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival on September 29th 2018 “When Louise Burned her Lover’s Letters…Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and Scottish Love Songs” was performed by members of Ensemble PHOENIX - mezzo-soprano Karin Shifrin,  Marina Minkin-harpsichord, Moshe Aron Epstein-flute and PHOENIX founder and director Myrna Herzog on ‘cello.

As might befit any salon concert of the Classical period in central Europe, the program opened with the first movement of Joseph Haydn’s Piano Trio in G-major, Hoboken XV:15. One of only three Haydn works for this combination (Haydn wrote at least 45 keyboard trios), the trio was registered by Bland, the composer’s London publisher, as  “Second Trio for the Harpsichord or Piano Forte, German Flute & Violoncello”. It might be conjectured that Haydn chose the flute here due to its appeal to English aristocratic taste. Haydn’s chamber music never ceases to be exuberant and innovative, but the artists’ refinement and subtlety of expression here was also enhanced by their fine balance and the timbres of period instruments - the warmth of Epstein’s Classical flute, Herzog’s 1745 Andrea  Castagnery ‘cello played with an original classical bow from Mozart’s time and the small but definitely characterful spinet played  by Minkin. Then to three of Haydn’s  English Canzonettas to words of Mrs. Anne Hunter, whom Haydn met in London in 1791. Karen Shifrin’s committed singing gave expression to the subject of each vignette - the doleful mood underlying “The Wanderer”, “The Mermaid’s Song” with its gentle, underlying enticement and word painting set against the rise and fall of the sea and, finally, the typically English-type hale-and-hearty seafaring character of “The Sailor’s Song”. Displaying how naturally Haydn catered to the tastes of late 18th century English drawing room music, one becomes aware of the composer’s free and groundbreaking approach to the keyboard role. While adding flute- and ‘cello roles to all the songs throughout the concert, a joint effort of the part of the PHOENIX musicians, the artists’ playing remained faithful to the original texts, was lush and offered the addition of some beguiling solos.

In the guise of a simple song, W.A.Mozart’s “Das Veilchen” (The Violet) was played out effectively by Shifrin, with Goethe’s message of the need of human comfort and how the pain of love is then released by the peaceful death of the violet well expressed as the narrator and little violet speak alternatively. “Als Luise die Briefe ihres ungetreuen Liebhabers verbrannte” (When Luisa Burned the Letters of Her Unfaithful Lover), from which the concert takes its title, the personal sentiments of the jilted poet Gabriele von Baumberg take a much more dramatic approach: after Luise discovers her lover's infidelity, she thanks the flames for destroying his letters and songs to her. Then, calling upon the fire to eliminate all traces of the love she had felt for him, she realizes that her memory of the man still continues to burn within her. Here, the composer’s passionately descriptive instrumental agenda provided  powerful endorsement to Shifrin’s emotional  elucidation of the text. Whether or not Mozart composed the music to  Friedrich Wilhelm Gotter’s “Wiegenlied” (Lullaby) has never been proven. What was sure, by the festival audience’s gentle humming along with Shifrin’s singing of it, punctuated by a pensive verse given to the ‘cello, is that the song is a nostalgic childhood memory for many of us.

Back to Haydn: in the Andante second movement of the G-major Trio XV:15, Minkin and Epstein engaged in delightful dialogue, the use of flexing and small pauses attesting to Haydn’s sense of humour; then to the final movement, fresh and zesty, rich in Haydn’s inexhaustible abundance of surprising invention and no less witty than the second!

The program concluded with a selection of Beethoven’s strikingly beautiful settings of Scottish folk songs, published in London and Edinburgh in 1818 as “Twenty-five Scottish songs: for voice, mixed chorus, violin, violoncello and piano” opus 108. Beethoven had never visited Scotland, but wrote the settings in answer to an advertisement of  a certain George Thomson from Edinburgh, who was  interested to commission settings of folk songs for home performance. Hoping to sell them well, Thomson had requested the violin part be written in such a way that it could also be played on the flute.  In a letter to Thomson from May 1819 Beethoven, angry at him for his ongoing request for writing of more simplicity, explained that he could not regard this as a criterion and that he would, in which case, not find the courage to call the pieces his own.   Enlisting her vital and substantial vocal resources, Shifrin’s singing of the bitter-sweet melodies and texts, set to modal harmonizations, some referring to the many battles in which the Scots fought, was real and touching: the strophic “Dim, dim is my eye” with its story of brave William for whom “the sea is his grave”, two songs of a dejected nature - Sir Walter Scott’s melancholy “Sunset” followed by “Sympathy”, the introduction in the latter seemingly asking questions prior to those of the singer and, finally, “Bonnie Laddie, Highland Laddie”, the spirited, typically Scottish reel complete with bagpipe drone.

Not the chandeliered room of a wealthy Viennese family, the crypt of the Benedictine Monastery is nevertheless a suitable venue for such salon music; it offers a fine acoustic environment for chamber concerts. In their typically scrupulous and  profound enquiry into the works on all levels, the PHOENIX artists gave an inspired performance of some of the Classical period’s most splendid and immortal music.


Friday, October 5, 2018

The Orpheus Opera Ensemble makes its debut in Tel Aviv with the Israeli premiere of Telemann's "Orpheus"

Eitan Drori,Oded Reich,Pnini Leon Grubner,Tal Ganor (photo:Yoel Levy)
An especially festive event marking the outset of the 2018-2019 concert season in Tel Aviv was the debut performance of the Orpheus Opera Ensemble, established, directed and conducted by Yair Polishook, an artist familiar to many of us as a baritone in the world of opera and oratorio. Stage direction was in the hands of Shirit Lee Weiss; lighting - Nadav Barnea. Taking place in the Zucker Hall of Heichal HaTarbut, Tel Aviv, on October 3rd, Tel Aviv, the new ensemble presented the Israeli premiere of G.P.Telemann’s three-act opera “Orpheus or The Marvellous Constancy of Love”.


The first performance of this three-act opera took place in Hamburg in 1726 at the Gänsemarkt Opera House, of which Telemann himself was music director. Ten years later, the opera was given the new (and more accurate) title of “Vengeful Love, or Orasia, the Widowed Queen of Thrace”. When the text was finally published in 1736, Telemann’s name did not appear on it, his (and Handel’s) friend German theorist Johann Mattheson described a concert performance of the opera as a “wretched concoction” and the opera sank into obscurity. It was unearthed in 1978; its release on Harmonia Mundi was recognition of the fact that the work was indeed the product of Telemann’s pen. Apart from one small section, the score has survived virtually complete. Based on a libretto by Frenchman Michel du Boullay, Telemann has added to the actions of Orasia. As well as murdering Eurydice, of whose love for Orpheus she is jealous, she eventually kills Orpheus himself. In keeping with Hamburg opera taste of the time, Telemann inserted arias in French and Italian - in language and, and no less convincingly, in style. The majority of the score is in German, but arias of languid sorrow and choruses are mostly in French, and those expressing rage and love are, most fittingly, Italian arias. Telemann’s orchestral writing also reflects Hamburg’s more adventurous approach: brilliant and subtle, it not only serves as accompaniment as Telemann uses the instrumental ensemble to heighten and reflect the drama.


Six very fine and competent Israeli singers of the younger generation were cast in the solo roles, their singing of Telemann’s exquisite ensemble sections also providing much delight. Daniela Skorka’s gorgeous, creamy voice, musicality and involvement gave pleasing expression to the role of Eurydice, a relatively small part – Eurydice is dead well before the end of Act 1. Singing with joyful, innocent simplicity showed her as very much the opposite of Orasia in personality. Soprano Tal Ganor’s natural, lively stage presence and expressive face made for a warmly lyrical-, then aggressive Ismene (Orasia’s handmaiden); she also played the role of the nymph Cephisa, with its music of beauty and brilliance. With much confident singing and presence, tenor Eitan Drori gave vivid portrayals of the complex, scheming and tragi-comic Eurimedes as well as of the wicked Ascalax, as he indulged in the pictorialism in arias of both. His duet with Orpheus (Oded Reich) “Angenehmer Aufenthalt” was indeed one of the evening’s highlights. The role of Pluto was assumed with imposing resonance and authority by bass Pnini Leon Grubner; no large role, it nevertheless offers some splendid music, as in the da capo aria “Ruhet, ihr Folten gemarterter Seelen”.


With his changes in emphasis on the plot, Telemann’s “Orpheus” becomes a Baroque psychodrama, as it revolves around Orasia, Queen of Thrace, with her narcissism and obsessive love-hate personality. Totally immersed in the role, Hadas Faran, equipped with a suitably substantial voice, displayed secure handling of the bravura and soaring high notes which Telemann calls for at the most dramatic moments of her tirades, as she gave potent meaning to the two Italian vengeance arias and to her final, pared-down lament in French. Telemann’s Orpheus, with his anti-hero tendency, is a character more richly complicated than Gluck’s hero as he navigates the roller coaster of love lost, won again through hardship and devotion, and finally, irrevocably lost. Baritone Oded Reich’s realization of the tragic character of Orpheus is profound and insightful, a man loved but spurned, helpless and alone in his own suffering. Reich’s acquired dramatic insight and convincingly emotional performance integrate deftly with his musical reading of each aria, served well by his stable voice and luxuriant palette of baritone colours.


Stage- and costume design was undertaken by Maya Meidar Moran. Backed by long, transparent, coloured drapes, with which the singers interacted at times, the stage was otherwise bare. But it was a space bristling with movement and physical- and emotional energy. There being no static moments, there was much to follow in the artists’ movements, body language and expressions as they made maximal use of the stage space. The production offered a mix of costumes - from modern day-wear, to lingerie, to night-wear, to risqué cabaret wear, imaginative outfits and modish rainwear. Certain of the costumes seemingly imparted clear messages as to the universal questions of physical attraction, promiscuity, impulsivity and jealousy.


With stylish, nuanced playing of Telemann’s outstanding instrumental score - accompaniments, dances, occasional folk elements and some splendid obligato playing - the small Baroque instrumental ensemble added delicacy, flair and elegance to the musical canvas. The enthusiasm of Polishook’s conducting was tangible, bringing out the best in- and creating balance between his uniformly strong singers and ensemble and keeping the action moving at a natural pace. Add to that Telemann's subtle use of modulations, of different keys to fit the personae and of occasional dissonances to underscore the harshest of emotions and one is sorely tempted to invalidate Johann Mattheson’s judgement. With this sparkling, festive performance of G.P.Telemann’s “Orpheus”, Yair Polishook’s vision of an Israeli Baroque opera company featuring homegrown talents has made a compelling case!   


Tuesday, October 2, 2018

David Feldman and Uri Bracha perform music of Dowland, Purcell, the Beatles, Miki Gavrielov...and Sting... at the Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival

Photo: Yosefa Zehavi

The 54th Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival (Israel) took place from September 29th to October 1st 2018. On September 29th, this writer attended “Elizabethan Love Songs and Songs by Sting, the Beatles and Miki Gavrielov” in the Crypt nestling below the 12th century Benedictine Crusader Church, which is set in a magical, exotic garden in the lower quarter of the town of Abu Gosh. Countertenor David Feldman was joined by guitarist, composer and arranger Uri Bracha.


A singer of international renown, Feldman has performed with orchestras and vocal ensembles.  In January 2012 he made his operatic debut at the Basel Opera House in a production of Henry Purcell’s “The Fairy Queen”, conducted by Andrea Marcon. With Profeti della Quinta he has recorded two CDs, presenting Salamone Rossi’s Hebrew synagogue vocal music and Italian madrigals. Opening with a selection of John Dowland lute songs, his warmth of sound and natural flair for dynamic change gave the songs, each with its message of the suffering- and uncertainty of love, true Dowland grace, contemplation and nostalgia, his engaging in vibrato only there for emphasis and embellishment. Expressive yet understated, Feldman allows the music and texts to speak for themselves:

“Where night's black bird her sad infamy sins,

There let me live forlorn.” (Flow, my tears)

Accompanying these small jewels, Uri Bracha’s elegant, attentive playing reflected the texts and their moods. His polished performance of “Sir John Smith, his Almain”, a piece dating from the 1590s, highlighted both the subtlety and sophistication of Dowland’s treatment of the musical matter of this dance.


Feldman’s singing of Henry Purcell’s “Music for a While”, a true stroke of genius, from the incidental music to John Dryden's “Oedipus”, was both mellifluous (in the outer sections) and brimful of word painting, as the Fury Alecto is being beguiled so that the snakes “drop from her head’ and the whip falls from her hands”.


Greece and its nature were the inspiration for Uri Bracha’s evocative guitar solo, “Vikos Canyon”, a work of imagination, abstract ideas, harmonic freedom and introspection. A challenging work to perform, Bracha is comfortable with its technical complexities. His compositions generally present a unique blend of music of the various cultures in Israel and in the Middle East with Brazilian music and jazz.


The rest of the program struck many “familiar notes” in the audience at the Crypt and people felt free to hum along with the songs, beginning with the early English ballad, “Greensleeves”. With the repertoire that followed, the jazzy/multi-cultural aspects of Bracha’s art became more prominent. He and Feldman gave their own appealingly fresh, upbeat and imaginative renditions of three Beatles songs. And then, a free and touching presentation of “Roxanne”, Sting’s tender, sentimental song of 1977, the text addressing Roxanne, a hooker. Where does Sting fit into this festival program? In 2006, in collaboration with Bosnian lutenist Edin Karamazov, Sting released “Songs from the Labyrinth”, an album featuring music of John Dowland!


From Sting, the artists moved to the songfulness and sweet nostalgia of Israeli folk/rock composer and singer Miki Gavrielov, many of whose songs were performed by the legendary Arik Einstein.


Concluding a program of much variety, David Feldman and Uri Bracha performed Dowland’s “Come Away”, reminding the audience that, only an hour earlier, they had started out with some of the composer’s typically Elizabethan songs, so delicate and poetic, yet still clear in meaning to today’s listener:

“Lilies on the river's side
And fair
Flow'rs new-blown
Desire no beauties but their own
Ornament is nurse of pride
Love's delight:
Haste then sweet love our wished flight.”



Thursday, September 13, 2018

The upcoming Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival offers a host of concerts for many tastes

Revital Raviv, Tal Feder, Ari Erev (photo: Dana Friedlander)

The Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival takes place twice a year in and around Abu Gosh, a town located 16 kilometers west of Jerusalem on the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway. The 54th Abu Gosh Festival will run from September 29th to October 1st 2018, with a program of 18 concerts suited to a variety of musical tastes. Events take place in two churches - the spacious Kiryat Ye’arim Church, sitting high up on the hill, and the Crypt below the 12th century Benedictine Crusader church, set in a magical, exotic garden in the lower quarter of Abu Gosh. The Abu Gosh Festival has existed in its present format since 1992. People come from far and wide to attend concerts, sit in on the more informal outdoor musical events, picnic in the open, buy trinkets at the stalls set up near the Kiryat Ye’arim Church and relax in the surroundings of the Judean Hills. The festival features many Israeli artists and groups, also hosting overseas choirs. As of 1995, Hannah Tzur has served as musical director. A contralto who has soloed with major Israeli orchestras and conductors, Ms. Tzur has been directing the Ramat Gan Chamber Choir for 19 years.


Several major works of classical choral repertoire - mostly sacred - will be presented at the Kiryat Ye’arim Church.. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion (Concert No.2) will feature the Kibbutz Artzi Choir, conducted by Yuval Benozer, with Austrian tenor Gernot Heinrich in the role of the Evangelist. Ron Zarhi will conduct Gluck’s opera “Orpheus and Eurydice” (Concert No.1), in which Israeli soloists will be joined by the Upper Galilee Choir. On completing his “Petite Messe Solennelle”, Rossini asked himself: “Have I just written sacred music or rather sacrilegious music?” This exuberant work (Concert No.5) will be performed by the Tel Aviv Collegium Singers (conductor: Yishai Steckler) and soloists. Directed by Avner Itai, Concert No.4 will feature sacred works of Mendelssohn, Bach and Mozart, with a work by Israeli composer Yehezkel Braun. In its original setting for choir, soloists and two pianos, Brahms’ “German Requiem” (Concert No.6) will be performed by Stanley Sperber and the Jerusalem Academy of Music Choir. Concert No.8 will present the Tel Aviv Chamber Choir (conductor: Michael Shani) in Mozart’s “Requiem” and sacred pieces by Rachmaninoff. The Barrocade Ensemble, directed by Yizhar Karshon, will perform sacred works of Bach as well as Telemann’s Concerto for two flutes and calchedon (an instrument of the lute family) in Concert No.9. Festival director Hannah Tzur will conduct the Ramat Gan Chamber Choir in the original version of Dvorak’s “Stabat Mater” - choir, soloists and piano (Concert No.7).The Sukkot Abu Gosh Festival’s guest choir will be the Lira Women’s Choir (Bulgaria); joined by the Israeli Naama Ensemble (Concert No.3) they will present Gabriel Fauré’s “Messe des pêcheurs de Villerville”, Bizet’s “Agnus Dei” and, of course, a selection of Bulgarian folk songs.


For festival-goers who prefer a more intimate setting, the ancient Crypt will be the venue for them. With its director Myrna Herzog, Ensemble PHOENIX, on period instruments, will offer a delightful program of Haydn-, Mozart- and Beethoven songs, sung by mezzo-soprano Karin Shifrin (Concert No.14). In Concert No.13, countertenor David Feldman and guitarist Uri Bracha will present songs of Dowland and Purcell but also some lighter modern repertoire. Those with a taste for Cuban music might be drawn to Concert No.12, whereas those preferring Russian music can hear soprano Shirelle Dashevsky accompanied by accordionist Uzi Rosenblatt.(Concert No.11). Or would you like to take a flying visit to Cyprus with Ensemble Mezzo (Concert No.15)? And for a little nostalgia for some of us above a certain age, soprano Revital Raviv will take you to Hollywood with some Doris Day numbers (Concert No.16).


Tickets: , 02-6237000

Bravo: *3221, 072-2753221


Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Pavol Breslik and Amir Katz in an engrossing performance of Schubert's "Winterreise" at the Schubertiade, Hohenems (Austria)

Amir Katz and Pavol Breslik (Courtesy Munich Festspiele)
Slovakian tenor Pavol Breslik and Israeli pianist Amir Katz are no new faces to the Schubertiade that takes place in Schwarzenburg and Hohenems (Vorarlberg, Austria). I had the privilege of attending an event of the Schubertiade to hear these two outstanding artists performing Franz Schubert’s “Winterreise” at the Markus-Sittikus Hall, Hohenems, on September 6th 2018.


It was close to the end of 1826, that Schubert discovered a cycle of twelve poems by the Prussian poet Wilhelm Müller (1794-1827), entitled “Die Winterreise” (The Winter Journey) in the 1823 “Urania” literary periodical; he set the cycle to music perhaps in early 1827. However, the composer soon discovered twelve more poems, adding them to the song cycle, reshuffling the order and removing the “Die” from its title - now simply “Winterreise” - to create a starker effect. With Schubert (as was his contemporary, Müller) now facing heightened suffering and impending death, the Romantic theme of the alienated, isolated wanderer on a journey into the wintry depths of the soul in search of self-knowledge, as represented by the rejected lover setting out alone in the friendless icy European landscape, was indeed a courageous parallel to the composer’s own situation. After his close friend Joseph von Spaun had remarked on Schubert’s melancholic state, the composer invited him to hear the work, referring to it as a “cycle of horrifying (schauerlicher) songs” that “have cost me more effort than any of my other songs.”  Those present at the first hearing, which took place at a private venue, were left speechless by the dark mood of the songs as Schubert sang them with great emotion; he then broke down and wept, concluding that “I like these songs more than all the rest, and you will come to like them as well”.  On his deathbed in November 1828, Schubert's last focus was the correction of the proofs of Part II of “Winterreise”, then to be published posthumously.


Over recent years, Pavol Breslik and Amir Katz have been engaging in performance of Schubert and Schumann Lieder. Their recent “Winterreise” presentation in Hohenems was carried out with no break between the two parts, thus maintaining the audience’s candid involvement throughout. Enlisting his beautifully anchored tenor voice and rich, flexible palette of timbral colours, and eying his audience with each gesture, Breslik’s language is that of emotion, of theatre - his outpourings of warm tenderness and occasional naiveté shift seamlessly to grief and to sudden, gut-felt dramatic outbursts of unabashed, unleashed anger, gregarious and up-front, as he leaves no emotion unaddressed. Katz invites the listener into the poetic world of subtlety - of both lyrical melodiousness but also of Schubert’s enigmatic, separate emotional reserve and objectiveness in certain of the songs, in others, weaving through them and endorsing dramatic ideas. If in Müller’s monodrama the wanderer searches for answers; we hear the pianist offering some to the listener, answers unavailable to the wanderer himself.  Katz is a master of articulate filigree detail as he addresses the text’s myriad of gestures - warnings (Frühlingstraum), the elegant cantering of horses (Die Post), teardrops (Gefrorne Tränen), the marvellously evocative image of the crow soaring weightlessly high above in the sky (Die Krähe), the growling of dogs (Im Dorfe), viscious, spiralling, stormy winds (Der stürmische Morgen), the protagonist’s frantic running and sudden stops to look back (Rückblick) etc. And within a canvas that depicts winter, snow, death, tears, despair, anguish, journeying, loneliness and fate, Katz and Breslik give expression to the drama and urgency written into this unique work. But their artistry is also poignantly displayed in Schubert’s eerie, icy static effects, moments where time seems to have stood still (as in Gefrorne Tränen, Auf dem Flusse, Irrlicht, Einsamkeit and the atmospheric illusion and hopelessness of Die Nebensonnen.)  The artists also provide lush relief from the work’s soul-searching gloom to delight the listener with moments of heartening Viennese songfulness (Der Lindenbaum, Frühlingstraum). With despondency setting in deeper towards the end of the song cycle, Katz and Breslik punctuate the final song’s sparse phrases with silence to outline the haunting image of the figure of the hurdy-gurdy-playing beggar standing barefoot on the ice; here is the work’s final terrifying question for which there is no answer, only the echoing silence of a forlorn and hesitating repetitive hurdy-gurdy melody over a bare fifth drone, dying away into nothingness.


Today, Schubert’s “Winterreise” remains as gripping, remarkable and shocking as it was at its first performance. Pavol Breslik and Amir Katz’ memorable performance of it strikes a fine balance between their profound reading into the musical- and verbal texts and conviction of their own emotions as they ride the song cycle's wave of life’s uncertainties.  


Thursday, August 30, 2018

Sounding Jerusalem 2018 - "Idealism": the Grazissimo Brass Quintet, the Galatea String Quartet and friends in a concert of outstanding performance

Rainer Auerbach with members of the Grazissimo Brass Quintet (Christian Jungwirth)
Taking place on August 27th in the inspiring surroundings of the Dormition Abbey, Mount Zion, Jerusalem, “Idealism”, a concert of the 2018 Sounding Jerusalem Festival, featured two very different ensembles.

The program opened with a selection of pieces performed by the Grazissimo Brass Quintet. Formed in 2014, its members - Karner Stefan , Lukas Hirzberger (Trumpets) Matthias Singer (horn), Wolfgang Haberl (trombone), Tobias Weiss (tuba) and Bernhard Richter (percussion) - met as students of Reinhard Summerer at the Graz University of the Arts. The ensemble opened with a dance of Antony Holborne, one of the most acclaimed and prolific dance composers of the English Renaissance. Remaining in the Renaissance, we heard five dances from Tilman Susato’s “Danserye”, music probably written for wealthy Netherlands amateur musicians rather than professional dance musicians and still delighting early music ensembles today. Here, in festive or melodious legato dances, the young artists’ polished presentation highlighted contrasts of character, using a variety of dynamics, register and colour as they juxtaposed the concept of “tutti” sections with more pared-down textures. The artists’ reading of the Largo from Handel’s opera seria “Xerxes”, beautifully shaped and tender, was indeed a highlight. German trumpeter Rainer Auerbach then joined four of the quintet members to perform the second movement of Trumpet Concerto in E-flat major (for strings and continuo) by Johann Baptist Georg Neruda (1707-1780), a little-known Czech Classical composer who had moved to Dresden in 1750 to join the court orchestra there. In this movement, the ensemble offers the first statement of the main theme, to be followed by the solo trumpet with an elaboration and extension of the same material. A cadenza precedes the second orchestral section of the movement and the soloist leads the way back to the original key and to a second cadenza. Auerbach’s steady, genial and warmly singing tone, subtle inflections and nimble facility gave noble expression to this charming pre-Classical work. The Grazissimo Brass Quintet concluded the first half of the concert with one Contrapunctus from J.S.Bach’s “Art of Fugue”, the members’ playing rich in fine articulation, well delineated lines and inspired by the excitement generated by Bach’s profuse counterpoint.

Following a short intermission, the prestigious Swiss Galatea Quartet - violinists Yuka Tsuboi and Sarah Kilchenmann, violist Hugo Bollschweiler and ‘cellist Julien Kilchenmann - were joined by Israeli violist Tali Kravitz and ‘cellist Erich Oskar Huetter (Austria), founder and director of the Sounding Jerusalem Festival, for a performance of Antonin Dvořák’s String Sextet in A-major. Written within two weeks in May 1878, the String Sextet was written between the composer’s work on the first and second Slavonic Rhapsodies, in the middle of his so-called Slavic period, a time when the composer was intent on to introducing Slavic folk elements into his music. Here, he extends the traditional quartet ensemble to including a second viola and cello in order to create the rich tone colour and vibrant sound of the highly-coloured thematic material. A work characterized by its sunny atmosphere and spontaneous appeal on the concert platform, the Jerusalem performance, (unlike so many “muscular” performances of the work), led by Yuka Tsuboi’s exquisitely expressive playing, shone in freshness and warmth of sound, delicacy and elegance. Without detracting from the buoyancy and high spirits of the stream of Slavic folk dances, the subtlety displayed by all six artists guaranteed transparency of textures, highlighting the numerous filigree melodic lines, their strategic timing and collaboration resulting in beguiling expression of Dvořák’s inventive contrapuntal treatment and imaginative harmonies and reminding the listener that this colourful, vigorous folk idiom does also give a voice to occasional dreaminess and languor.

Photo: Christian Jungwirth

Friday, August 24, 2018

The 2018 Sounding Jerusalem Festival gets off to a lively start with "Poet Acts"

Photo: Gerald Rockenschaub

The Sounding Jerusalem Festival was established in 2006 and continues to be directed by Austrian ‘cellist Erich Oskar Huetter. A chamber music project of the highest level, its aims are to reach people living in Jerusalem and the surroundings, irregardless of ethnic-, social- or religious backgrounds, “to promote magnificent and dynamic chamber music within superb surroundings...fostering...respectful dialogue between people from Europe and the Middle East” in Huetter’s words. The 8th Sounding Jerusalem Festival, “Humanistic Instinct”, will include nine concerts that are free to the public as well as workshops and seminars for young musicians.

“Poet Acts”, the opening event of the 2018 festival, took place in the historic courtyard of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem’s Old City on August 21st.  Wolfgang Schmidt, provost of the Jerusalem Redeemer Church, extended a warm welcome to the audience, suggesting that holding the festival in the Old City was a symbol of sharing life, with music as a mediator. Also present at the concert were diplomatic representatives of Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Czechoslovakia. In Erich Oskar Huetter’s introduction, the director said he hoped these would be encounters whose memory we would take away with us. Referring to the festival as a “strong mid-European initiative”, he spoke of the concept of “humanistic instinct” as two ideas that might conflict with each other, but as coming together in the universal language of music.He alluded to the opening concert as “beginning a new journey”.

The program opened with flautist Vanessa Latzko (Austria), guitarist Armin Egger (Austria) and  Huetter performing Hans Neemann’s arrangement of Joseph Haydn’s Cassation in C-major. A term common in southern Germany, Austria and Bohemia in the mid-to-later part of the 18th  century, (the word 'cassation' is of disputed origin) there is no discerning specific formal characteristics that could distinguish the cassation from other serenade-like genres. Considering the fact that cassations were, however, intended primarily for entertainment and often for outdoor performance, here was the ideal occasion for such a work. Haydn termed several of his early chamber works cassations (or divertimentos.) A work of galant appeal, Viennese good humour and caressing melodies, Latzko soloed elegantly, at other times, engaging in dialogue with the guitar; Egger at times joined Huetter to form a more solid accompaniment for the flute, with Huetter taking care throughout not to mask the delicate timbres of the flute and guitar.

The Grand Trio by W.A.Mozart (K. 304) is the fourth of the “Palatine” Sonatas originally written for violin and piano in 1778 when the composer was living in Paris. The arrangement by French guitarist and music publisher Pierre Jean Porro (1750-1831) calls for violin, guitar and ‘cello. The form of this work is atypical, having only two movements, the opening Allegro non tanto followed by a Tempo di Minuet. It is one of the composer’s very few sonatas composed in minor keys, the reason for this endorsed by Dutch musicologist Marius Flothius, who wrote:  ”Mozart’s loneliness, indeed his feelings of despair in the great city, where he was largely neglected and where his mother fell ill and died, leave their mark on this work.” With the flute taking on the violin role, the piece assumes a more lyrical character in this scoring, presenting less of the work’s intense and painful message as heard when performed with violin. But the artists highlighted the work’s mysterious elements, as they presented pleasing solos and duets in attentive awareness and a strategic balance of sound.
Then to what Erich Oskar Huetter referred to as “opening up the concept”. Leaving the world of Classical chamber music, the artists went on to perform pieces by American composer Philip Glass (b.1937), beginning with Armin Egger’s very fine guitar solo from “Einstein on the Beach”, his playing intricate, articulate and beguiling as he guided the listener through the “additive process” that constitutes the rhythmic core of Glass’s style, but also through  its harmonic elements and melodic cells and giving the stage to the piece’s contrasting sections. “Facades”, referring to the facades of buildings on Wall Street, was originally written in 1981 to accompany a scene in the cult film “Koyaanishqatsi”. The scene, of New York’s Wall Street on a Sunday morning, was eventually cut from the film, but the piece later became movement no. 5 of “Glassworks”, Glass’s groundbreaking studio album that remains highly representative of his style. A meditative piece, Latzko and Egger’s performance of it was appealing and tranquil, with Glass’s dissonances appearing, disappearing and reappearing in the guitar role, as the Old City’s church bells outside added their voice to the composition. In “The Poet Acts” (whence  the concert’s title) Huetter’s haunting, warmly nostalgic playing of the work’s sweeping, Romantic melodies was complemented by Egger’s gently swayed rhythms.

Taking the concept in a different direction, we heard Aniada A Noar (Austria) in a selection of Austrian folk songs and dances as well as in performances of  their own original folk-style material. Formed 33 years ago, the trio displays remarkable versatility:  the members - Wolfgang Moitz, Bertl Pfundner and Andreas Safer - play the violin, button accordion, recorder, the pipes, guitar, bird whistles, Jew’s harp, etc; they all sing and harmonize well. Singing of winter, a musician’s life, trains and other subjects, their music-making bristled with joy, humour and colour as they conjured up scenes of Austrian nature, village life and merrymaking, together  with foot-stamping, whistles and the wink of an eye. To end the evening’s concert, all six artists joined to perform a folk-style piece that gradually spiralled into a hopping, carefree dance before signing out in winsome gestures.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

"Lady Huang's Album", a new CD of modern works for one or two harpsichords performed by Diana Weston and Michael Tsalka

Isabel Doraisamy © 2017

“Lady Huang’s Album” - music for one or two harpsichords - is a new and unique recording presenting new music of living composers from Australia, Italy and the Americas and performed by two renowned keyboard artists - Australian-born Diana Weston and Israeli-born Michael Tsalka. Several of the works were written for them.


Four of the works on the recording are written for four hands (with Tsalka playing the primo part in pieces written for two harpsichords), the first being “Tilting at Windmills” (2017) by Australian composer and actress May Howlett (b.1931), a work inspired by Cervantes’ tale of Don Quixote and his squire Sancho Panza. Of the musical elements suggesting Howlett’s tongue-in-cheek but endearing description of the characters, the Spanish aspect - harmonic and rhythmic - is quite dominant (we even hear what a castanet effect). The composer refers to “the Don’s majestic chords and the squire’s erratic scale passages” in a colourful scene that alternates between gently appealing whimsy and intensity. Another work, this time strongly Australian in subject is “Crimson Rosella”, by musicologist/composer, broadcaster and writer Ann Carr-Boyd (b.1938); this was commissioned by Diana Weston for herself and Michael Tsalka, to be played on two harpsichords. Titled “in honour of one of Australia’s most spectacular and beautiful birds”, the piece consists for four sections, some of its material adapted from earlier works of Carr-Boyd. A mix of tonal and atonal modes, I think I heard the bird’s wing flutterings and bird call motifs. As the work progresses, the potpourri of dances and intensely loaded chords seems to move away from the bird, or does Boyd-Carr perhaps aim to describe the observer’s emotions on viewing the most splendid of parrots with its dramatic, eye-catching markings? Composed in 2016 and dedicated to Tsalka and Weston, “Toccata” by Mexican composer Leonardo Coral (b.1962), opens with small, separate jagged motifs, creating a “harsh dialogue”, in the composer’s own words. This is followed by a more pensive, introspective flowing section before returning to the feisty, teasing energy-infused ideas of the first section, thus to sign out of the masterful, quick-witted miniature.  In the last work for four hands is “3 Stukken a 4 main” (Three Pieces for Four Hands) by Argentinian-born composer, arranger, harpsichordist and organist Pablo Escande (b.1971), the first of the miniatures is a fiery, intense and joyfully brash Capricho. In contrast, the middle piece titled “Naive” mixes harpsichord registers in amiable, cantabile and wistful expression. The final Toccata is invigorating and entertaining in its driving, unrelenting Latin rhythms. I can only agree with Diana Weston, who claims that the skilfully written work “demonstrates the power, colour and vibrancy of the harpsichord supremely well.” In these works, the experience Weston and Tsalka have accrued in performing together is a major factor in what can only be referred to as uncompromising musical collaboration.


The pieces performed by Diana Weston here are all by Australian composers. “Green Leaf for Elke” by prolific composer Elena Kats-Chernin (b. Uzbekistan, 1957) is based on the first movement of her award-winning ballet “Wild Swans” (2002). Written in memory of opera director Elke Neidhardt, “Green Leaf for Elke”, a gently arpeggiated “poem”, touching and reflective in its tonal/modal mix, invites the listener to follow its relaxed harmonic process and join its elegiac course. It is surely no coincidence that recorder player Benjamin Thorn (b.1961), artistic director of the New England Bach Festival and arranger of works by such composers as Strozzi, Castello and Caccini, chose dance movements freely based on the same ground for “Underground Currents” (2010). Referring to the pieces somewhat based on tonality as “creating resonances of chaconnes and passacaglias”, Thorn’s writing comes across as improvisatory in character as it frequently veers off course to the unexpected with the wink of an eye. Originally from New Zealand, Diana Blom (b.1947) moved to Australia in 1969. The four pieces of “Lady Huang’s Album” (1984), from which the disc takes its name, are influenced by music of the ch’in, a seven-string long Chinese zither. In the work, the composer, whose time in Hong Kong and Malaysia has clearly provided the inspiration and background for writing in this style, introduces playing techniques idiomatic to the ch’in and Chinese scales. Blom’s writing is eloquent and sophisticated; Weston’s rendition of the four miniatures, so convincingly indicative of the plucked instrument, is descriptive, subtle and beguiling, enticing the listener into the evocative world of Chinese music and art. A real treat! The piece was dedicated to Mrs. Grace Wei Huang.


Eclectic in taste, an artist performing from the classical music tradition, through jazzy and tango styles to his own compositions and improvisations, Italian early keyboard player and award-winning composer Gabriele Toia (b.1967) has dedicated “Variations on a Ground” (2016) to Michael Tsalka “as well as to some of the composers who most influenced my music”, of whom he mentions Béla Bartók, Ligeti, Chick Corea, Ennio Morricone and Alban Berg. The 13 variations are based on a ciaccona bass from Vivaldi’s Concerto in G-minor RV 107. The sections, some more harmonic in emphasis, others exploring the countless textural possibilities offered by the harpsichord, form a rich kaleidoscope of musical ideas. In playing that is not simply virtuosic but strategic, sensitive, rich in detail, shapes and imagination, Tsalka inspires and moves as he gives expression to the particular character and mood of each variation of this outstanding piece of music. Harpsichordist and organist Max Yount (b.1938, USA) is well also known as a teacher and composer. Michael Tsalka, whose connection with Yount goes back several years, has premiered works of his. “Sonatine” (2014) is an intense and complex piece, its tripartite construction concluding with a rondo which is, in the composer’s words, “interspersed with jazzy episodes”. Tsalka’s reading of it is sincere, objective and erudite but it is also entertaining (we remain unaware of its original programmatic content) as its personal appeal grows on one with listening.


Recorded in 2017 for the Wirripang Label, Australia, listeners will appreciate the disc’s lively sound quality. Bristling with interest and variety, Diana Weston and Michael Tsalka present its selection of contemporary works in performance that is profound, discerning and insightful.