Sunday, July 21, 2019

"In memoriam: Commemoration Motets of the Renaissance" recorded by The Lacock Scholars (UK), director: Greg Skidmore

“In memoriam: Commemoration Motets of the Renaissance” is the second disc of The Lacock Scholars, a London-based consort of young singers (originally from Andrew van der Beek’s Lacock courses) who are dedicated to small-ensemble a-cappella singing of Renaissance music and plainsong. Greg Skidmore is the ensemble’s music director. Forming the connecting thread throughout this recording is the fact that each of the motets was written by one composer in memory of another.


The text of Johannes Ockeghem’s motet-chanson “Mort tu as navré”, a lamentation probably written in 1460 on the death of Burgundian chanson composer Gilles Binchois, suggests Ockeghem’s personal acquaintance with Binchois. Whether or not Binchois had been his teacher is not known: Ockeghem’s motet, however, supplies some biographical detail on Binchois - that he had been a soldier, later choosing to serve the church. In this heartfelt tribute, its sophisticated writing offering the upper voice in French with the tenor singing a sequence from the Missa pro defunctis in Latin, the piece’s musical language bears reference to Binchois’ own chanson style. The Lacock Scholars create the appropriate mood, with each refrain emerging increasingly more moving in its message as the tenor sings "Pie Jesu, Domine, dona ei requiem." ("Blessed Lord Jesus, grant him peace.") Josquin des Prez, who probably studied with Ockeghem in his youth, mourns the master in “Nymphes des bois / La déploration sur la mort de Johannes Ockeghem” to a text by Jean Molinet; it alludes to Ockeghem in puns, assonance, and alliteration, infusing some of the stylistic hallmarks of his teacher’s style (as did Ockeghem in his memorial piece to Binchois) and even listing some mourners by name. The singers give expression to the work’s Phrygian mode colouring, weaving melodic lines unadulterated by vibrato into the piece’s reverence and tension. Completing this thread is the six-voice motet “Musae Jovis” composed by Nicolas Gombert in memory of Josquin des Prez, with whom he had probably studied. Gombert’s mention of the divine muses as the source of artistic inspiration leads him to write a unique, otherworldly piece, its seamless course enlisting daring dissonances as an expressive effect. The Lacock Scholars master the work’s unusual texture, the soprano voice floating symbolically in silvery weightlessness way above the other voices which are engaged in dark-hued contrapuntal writing, all this making for beguiling listening and a poignant expression of grief. Remaining in the Low Countries, we hear “Continuo lacrimas” a six-voice motet by Jacobus Vaet, written in memory of Jacobus Clemens non Papa, the latter having been one of the most famous representatives of the Franco-Flemish school; he died in 1555 or 1556. The singers handle the complexities of this veritable jewel with crystalline articulacy, their intonation and brightness of timbre indeed creating an effect of fluid, magical simplicity. 


Then, to great English composers of the Renaissance, the recording includes “Ye sacred muses”, William Byrd’s haunting lament on the death of his mentor, colleague (and business partner) Thomas Tallis. Not a motet but a secular consort song, the singers re-create its poignant solemnity and growing anguish, its rich, madrigalian harmonies and passing dissonances, with smooth melodiousness and exquisitely vibrant timbres, culminating in the extended repetition of the final phrase: “Tallis is dead and music dies.” Thomas Weelkes composed “Death hath deprived me” in 1608 in memory of his friend and colleague Thomas Morley, who died in 1602. A striking example of Weelkes’ weightier, more Italianate style, his daring use of harmony and strongly-depicted words and phrases, for me, the performance of this piece is a highlight of the disc, presenting the Lacock Scholars’ superb teamwork, sense of drama and glowing intensity of sound.


The disc’s central work is by Duarte Lôbo (c.1565-1646), one of the leading exponents of the Portuguese polyphonic style. His six-voice “Missa pro defunctis” (1639) takes Victoria's famous six-voice Requiem as a model, setting the traditional chant melodies in long notes in one of the soprano parts, accompanied by richly-hued chords rather than imitative counterpoint. One of the composer’s later works, its writing nevertheless harks back to the sonorous and contrapuntal idiom of his earlier years. The Requiem abounds in soft modal colours, its tender colouring (influenced by the choice of C(S)AATTB voices) producing funeral music that is reflective but certainly not dour. The Lacock Scholars’ performance of it takes the listener into the verbal- and musical texts with superbly shaped melodic lines soaring high and melting away, into the beauty of a single melodic line, the lushness of its harmonies and the meaning of its dissonances, all brought together with superbly clean intonation and strategic pacing. With the timeless effect of the pared-down four-voice Responsory Memento mei, the singers present a carefully-paced conclusion to the work, the church’s acoustic endorsing its devout message. On this recording, the movements of Lobo's piece are punctuated by the other above-mentioned single-movement memorial works. 


When it comes to creativity and musings, nothing has been more inspiring than death, promoting some of the most beautiful and personal human artistic expression. Performed by this outstanding ensemble of young, hand-picked singers, “In memoriam: Commemoration Motets of the Renaissance” is no exception. Recorded in January 2018 at All Hallows’ Gospel Oak, London, UK (producer: William Whitehead, engineer: David Hinitt), the disc’s sound quality is lively and pristine. Canadian-born baritone Greg Skidmore, one of the UK's leading consort singers, is regularly heard with such groups as The Tallis Scholars, I Fagiolini, The Gabrieli Consort and Alamire. Having studied for a DPhil at Oxford before pursuing full-time professional singing and conducting work in London, his interest in the history and complexity of Christian liturgy has been enriched by his own singing with the choir of The London Oratory. Greg Skidmore has held workshops on Renaissance polyphonic repertoire in the UK, France, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Maestro Greg Skidmore (photo: Jamie Wright)

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Maestro Christian Lindberg conducts the Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra's final concert of the 2018-2019 season. Guest artists: members of the Israeli Opera's Meitar Opera Studio

Photo: Avi Koren
In recent years, the Israel Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra has been winding up its annual concert season with the audience having its say, “When the Public Decides”. The 48th season was no exception. Under the direction of Christian Lindberg (Sweden), the NKO’s principal conductor ( house conductor: Shmuel Elbaz) subscribers were invited to vote for one out of four symphonies to be performed at the final concert; the majority of votes went to Schubert’s Symphony No.5. The rest of the program took listeners into the unbounded world of opera, with young singers of the Israeli Opera’s Meitar Opera Studio joining the orchestra to present opera numbers by Mozart and Rossini. This writer attended the concert at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on July 13th, 2019.


Franz Schubert’s Symphony No.5, written at age 19, the finest of his early symphonies, radiates youthful optimism. Scored for chamber orchestra, it shows the influence of Mozart, for whose music Schubert seemed to have felt a special affinity  A few months before completing Symphony No.5, on October 3, 1816, Schubert wrote in his diary that “the magic notes of Mozart’s music still gently haunt me...which no time, no circumstances can efface, and they lighten our existence…”  After its premiere - one private performance soon after its completion – the symphony was subsequently forgotten for 50 years. Lindberg’s own love of the work was reflected in his exuberant reading of it - in his performance of the brisk, sunny opening movement, the lyrical, songful yet gently reflective Andante con moto movement with just the occasional touch of unease, a somewhat forthright presentation of the Minuet, contrasted by the sweet freshness of its trio, then to move on to the carefree caper of the finale. This is delightful concert fare, its beauty enhanced by the NKO’s consistent and fine woodwind playing.


Gioachino Rossini reused the overture from his opera “Aurelia in Palmyra” for “The Barber of Seville” (or “The Useless Precaution”), which actually did not matter, since Rossini did not use themes from the relevant opera in any of his overtures. The NKO’s rendition of the overture, to what Rossini (in all modesty!) referred to as ”the most beautiful opera buffa there is”, bristled with gorgeous melodies, some exciting tutti and several lovely solos. Performing a scene from Rossini’s opera “La Cenerentola”, sopranos Veronika Brook and Efrat Hacohen-Bram, mezzo-soprano Maya Bakstansky and bass Pnini Leon Grubner displayed fine bel canto technique and playful Italian theatricality, setting the scene for what is, in fact, the story of Cinderella. The singers, all graduates of music academies presently receiving intensive opera training at the Meitar Opera Studio (director: David Sebba) before joining opera companies as soloists in Israel and overseas, had audience (and conductor) well entertained with their communicative, dedicated singing of pieces selected from Mozart operas, some humorous, some dramatic and even the Magic Flute’s “Queen of the Night” aria  (Veronika Brook).


Maestro Christian Lindberg is a renowned trombonist and composer. When he conducts NKO concerts, he talks to the audience in an informal, friendly way, providing information on the works performed and making for a sense of community.



Sunday, July 14, 2019

Stephen Storace's comic opera "The Pirates", a joint project of the Meitar Opera Studio of the Israeli Opera and Ensemble PHOENIX

Photo: Eliahu Feldman

British composer Stephen Storace (1762-1796) lived and wrote at a time when Londoners loved their entertainment. His comic operas were highly popular in 18th-century England. The son of an Italian double-bass player/composer and an English mother, the composer's youth was spent entirely in the company of musicians, since his father was musical director of Vauxhall Gardens, one of the leading venues for public entertainment in London from the mid-17th century to the mid-19th century. The Gardens drew enormous crowds, with its romantic paths, tightrope walkers, hot-air balloon ascents, concerts and fireworks; the Rococo "Turkish tent" became one of the Gardens' structures, the interior of the Rotunda became one of Vauxhall's most viewed attractions, and the “chinoiserie” style was a feature of several buildings. This was the climate from which Storace’s comic opera “The Pirates” emerged.  Premiered on November 21, 1792 at Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London, the opera created quite a stir, being performed 23 times in the 1792-93 season and mounted for King George III in 1794.


As to the young Storace’s musical education, in around 1776, he went to Naples in order to study the violin and, after some years back in London, he then went to Vienna in 1784, where, it is believed, he studied with Mozart, whom he had met through his sister. Returning to London, he spent the rest of his life writing comic operas for Drury Lane. Storace also published chamber music, songs, and an anthology - “Storace’s Collection of Original Harpsichord Music” (1787–89) - which included music he brought back from Vienna. His operas show the influence of the Italianate style as well as that of Mozart. His sister, Anna Selina (Nancy) Storace (1765–1817), was a noted soprano who sang her first leading role in Florence at age 15. She also created the role of Susanna in Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” (1786) after singing the role of Rosina in the Viennese production of Giovanni Paisiello's “Barber of Seville” in 1783.


The Israeli premiere of “The Pirates” (libretto: James Cobb) was a collaboration between Ensemble PHOENIX (music director: Myrna Herzog) and the Israeli Opera’s Meitar Opera Studio (music director: David Sebba), with support from the Felicja Blumental Music Centre and the Israeli Ministry of Culture. Stage director was Shirit Lee Weiss. The singers, guided in the appropriate Classical style of sound production and tuning by Herzog herself, were all young music academy graduates, their Meitar Studio training preparing them for future opera careers in Israel and abroad. Dr. Myrna Herzog conducted the PHOENIX musicians playing on Classical period instruments. This writer attended the performance at the Jerusalem International YMCA on July 11th 2019. In her program notes, Herzog explains that “The Pirates” and Storace’s other London operas were no longer performed after 1809, when a fire at Drury Lane Theatre destroyed the orchestral scores. What remained of “The Pirates” score was a vocal score, with a rough piano reduction of the orchestral score. David Sebba stepped in to reconstruct the orchestral score. 


Together with his servant, Blazio, Don Altador  sets out to rescue his love Donna Aurora from her guardian, the wicked Don Gaspero, who wants her to marry his nephew, Guillermo. The daring duo try all they can to rescue Donna Aurora, but with Don Gaspero always one step ahead of the game, things do not go to plan. Shirit Lee Weiss’s production consisted of a play within a play. Costumes and props were all on stage, with singers donning clothing items and effects over black clothes. Translation of the text into Hebrew appeared on screens. That, however, was where any correlation between the libretto and what was happening on stage ended, even for Hebrew speakers, it seems. With none of the original saucy text to follow, we English-speakers missed out big time. The constant action on stage amounted to slapstick hi-jinx unrelated to Cobb’s libretto or to any form of authentic British drollery, sophistication or stage magic as would have been experienced at the sumptuously decorated Theatre Royal, a venue featuring the latest stage- and scenic technology and boasting pitch-perfect acoustics, a place to see and be seen, no matter what your social class! But all was not lost: the Jerusalem audience delighted in dedicated, polished performance on the part of the Meitar Studio members - Efrat HaCohen Bram, Liat Lidor, Veronika Brook, Pnini Leon Grubner, Shaked Stroll, Tom Ben Ishai, Yuli Rorman - their splendid voices and natural musicality reflecting understanding of 18th century voice production and offering much to enjoy from the arias, duets and choruses. Neither did the PHOENIX Ensemble players (concertmaster: Yaakov Rubinstein), conducted on stage by Herzog, disappoint the audience, as they presented us with suave, informed and carefully balanced ensemble playing of genuine beauty and lushness. So, the hero of the evening was indeed Storace’s music - graceful and melodious - inviting the listener to indulge in its refinement and allure.





Friday, July 5, 2019

Tim Brown conducts the Israel Camerata Jerusalem in a program of cantatas and a work of John Ireland. Guest tenor soloist Marcel Beekman (Holland)

Maestro Timothy Brown (photo: Benjamin Harte)

Conducting the Israel Camerata Jerusalem’s recent concert “Cantata for Saturday and Sunday” was not the orchestra's music director Avner Biron but Tim Brown (UK), no new face to the Israeli music scene. Also taking part were the Moran Singers Ensemble (director: Naomi Faran), tenor Marcel Beekman (Netherlands) and Israeli soloists Hadas Faran-Asia-soprano, Alon Harari-countertenor and Guy Pelc-baritone. This writer attended the concert in the Recanati Auditorium of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on June 30th 2019. 


The program opened with J.S.Bach’s Cantata BWV 55, “Ich armer Mensch, ich Sündenknecht” (I pitiful man, I slave of sin), one of a series of solo cantatas (the only one for tenor); it was first performed in 1726. A short work, its chamber qualities and personal expression are reflected in Bach’s use of a small ensemble - one flute, one oboe, strings and continuo - its intense text built around a confession of sin amounting almost to spiritual self-torture. Marcel Beekman’s performance of the work was poised, exquisitely shaped, his every word articulate, as he narrated and emoted with freshness and spontaneity. Here was a fine opportunity to bask in the burnished stable richness of his voice.  Flute (Esti Rofé) and oboe (Muki Zohar), often in close combination contrasting with the string orchestra, added much timbral beauty.  Esti Rofé’s treatment of the obbligato part in the second aria abounded in lavish ornamentation. The cantata concluded with eight members of the Moran Singers Ensemble in an attentive and carefully shaped reading of the chorale. 


Then to the Sabbath Cantata by Russian-born Israeli composer Mordecai Seter (1916-1994).. Written for soloists, mixed choir and string orchestra, the Sabbath Cantata (1940) is set to texts from  the Old Testament, Song of Songs, Psalms and the liturgy; the work’s style is inspired by Middle Eastern Jewish musical traditions  making for a basis of  Seter’s own new modes and endorsed by the composer’s fine understanding of the Hebrew language. In its gentle pastel dissonances, scintillating climaxes and forthright dance rhythms, Brown brought out the score’s contrasts of mood and texture in a moving and tasteful performance articulating the 24-year-old composer’s already sophisticated style of writing, with the vocal soloists fusing melodic lines into the weave of the work or singing as a quartet. One outstanding moment was the delicate fourth movement (Peace be unto you, ye ministering angels) with its viola solo (Michael Plaskov) juxtaposed with countertenor Alon Harari’s focused and convincing singing of the text. In the work’s concluding section, taken from the Kaddish (mourner’s prayer), each syllable was enounced in an eerie detached manner. The Moran Ensemble’s singing excelled in transparency and refinement. 


Prior to the Camerata’s performance of John Ireland’s “A Downland Suite”, visiting British conductor David Wordsworth, director of the John Ireland Charitable Trust, gave some background information on the composer, emphasizing that Ireland, coming from the German musical tradition, was not interested in English folksong. “A Downland Suite” (1932) was originally written for the 1932 National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain and would have been played by competent amateur wind players. Nine years after writing the suite, Ireland arranged the Elegy and third-movement Minuet for string orchestra; and, in 1978, the composer’s pupil Geoffrey Bush completed an arrangement of all four movements.  Pastoral in nature, the suite was inspired by the Sussex countryside. Tim Brown’s reading of the work, flavoured with freshness, lift and understatement, brought out the natural flow of Ireland’s music, its pensive moments (especially in the magical Elegy), its joy, lyricism, introspection and its decidedly British flavour. The Camerata members’ eloquent playing of the work was surely more expressive than that of a brass band.


With its self-assured style and warm and joyous mood, J.S.Bach’s chorale Cantata No.140 “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme” (Sleepers Awake) bears a much more positive message than the solo cantata performed at the beginning of the program. First performed in 1731 and based on the late 16th-century hymn, "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme," by German pastor Philipp Nicolai (who wrote it in 1599 after surviving a deadly plague in his town) it is one of Bach’s most famous and best-loved works. Never lagging, the Tel Aviv performance expounded the work’s joy and richness, its great variety and moments of  orchestral virtuosity. Celebrating Bach at his most melodic, solo singers - Marcel Beekman, Hadas Faran-Asia and Guy Pelc - offered performance that was lively, engaging and stylish, with the addition of beautifully polished instrumental obbligatos on the part of violinist Natasha Sher and Muki Zohar (oboe). Once again, the Camerata's programming and performance were a highlight of the 2018-2019 concert season.



Monday, July 1, 2019

Closing the 2018-2019 concert season, the Meitar Ensemble, joined by students of the Tedarim Project, performs new works at the Tel Aviv Conservatory

Moshe Aharonov,Amit Dolberg,Yoni Gotlibovich (Culiner Creative Circle)
“Fresh off the drawing board” might be the best way to describe most of the instrumental chamber works performed at the Meitar Ensemble’s closing concert for the 2018-2019 season, which took place on June 26th 2019 in the Ran Baron Hall of the Israel Conservatory of Music, Tel Aviv. Performing alongside members of the Meitar Ensemble were students of the Tedarim Project, a two-year master’s degree program in contemporary music initiated by the Meitar Ensemble at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance and attended by ten students from Israel and abroad. Founded in 2004 by artistic director Amit Dolberg and based in Tel Aviv, the Meitar Ensemble, featuring a prominent selection of virtuoso musicians, has commissioned over 200 works and performs at prestigious international venues. It has been acclaimed for its significant contribution to the development of Israeli culture and music


The Tel Aviv event opened with the three works of the final stage of the 2019 Matan Givol Competition for Composers. In memory of violinist Matan Givol, the competition, now in its fourth year and under the auspices of the Meitar Ensemble, is open to composers of all ages and from all countries. This year, over 50 scores were submitted to the competition, coming from Spain, Taiwan, Italy, Australia, China, South Korea, Romania, USA, Turkey, Austria, Hungary, Poland, England, Russia, Cyprus, Switzerland, Bosnia, Slovenia, Albania, Israel, Finland, Thailand, Japan, Chile, Mexico, Canada, Greece and Ireland. The jury, present at the Tel Aviv concert, consisted of Ayal Adler, Guy Feder, Pascal Gallois and members of the Meitar Ensemble. Taking 2nd prize, “Cinq pièges brefs” (Five Brief Snares) for piano trio by Spanish composer Mikel Urquiza (b.1988) was performed by Amit Dolberg (prepared) piano, Moshe Aharonov-violin and Yoni Gotlibovich-’cello. The players presented a finely-detailed performance of the piece’s many small individual gestures, presenting its humorous- and dancelike moments and the underlying process of the five miniatures. In South Korean composer Siho Kim’s “Sussurro” (Whispers), winning 3rd prize, the vivid, confrontational opening takes the listener into a vibrant soundscape rich in repeated gestures, weeping glissandi and homophonic moments, to conclude on a curious, whispered major chord. Silhouette” by Piyawat Louilarpprasert (Thailand), won 1st prize, its dramatic agenda bristling with textural- and emotional contrasts, with Moshe Aharonov expounding its sizable solo with deep connectedness. The performance kept audience members at the edge of their seats.


Fabien Lévy is an international composer both in lifestyle and in his compositional œuvre. Born in Paris in 1968, he has lived in several countries, being involved in their various local music scenes. His delicate music brings together spectralism, musique concrète instrumentale and minimalism, even the music of Central Africa and of Japan. In “À propos” (2008) for flute, clarinet, violin, ‘cello and piano, each of the four movements is dedicated to one visual artist - Jeff Wall, Giuseppe Penone, Alberto Burri, and Tim Hawkinson - and has been referred to by the composer as his “little imaginary museum”. Comprising both individual- and joint utterances, moments at times pensive, haunting and static, at others, defiant, feisty, often strident, the work represents Lévy’s musical world, one ruled by rhythmical delicacy, sonic colour, sensitivity and his liking for surprise, the latter emerging as some whistled utterances. Pascal Gallois, who conducted the three larger ensemble works, held the work’s tension throughout, showing the importance of the text’s many rests.


The concert included two premieres, the first being what was titled as “New Piece for Ensemble (piano, violin, flute, ‘cello, clarinet) and Electronics” by Israeli composer Erel Paz (b.1974). Paz himself was on stage to activate the live electronics. Germinating from a pulsating octave, the piece’s sound world became gripping, its dark, bleak gestures unrelenting, with anxious utterances from the violin (Cecilia Bercovich), followed by a perplexing, somewhat otherworldly fragmented tritone-based duet between violin and looped electronics. An intense piano section gave rise to a moving flute solo, with the violin answered by the ‘cello. The piece’s second movement opened with intense, dark timbres, weighted down by bassy piano chords, relieved by a brighter, more positive piano solo, only to swing back to undulating waves of intensity, with dull, thunderous effects and punctuated by what sounded like gunshots. A sombre, powerful piece beautifully crafted, sensitive and accessible.


Israeli Omer Barash (b.1995) is the first composer to graduate from the Tedarim program, with M.Mus studies in composition under Prof. Ari Ben-Shabetai, and his B.Mus in piano under Prof. Eitan Globerson. Much of his oeuvre to date consists of chamber compositions. Completed in April 2019, “Jeux Jerusalemiens” (Jerusalem Games), its title a reference to Polish composer Lutosławski’s “Venetian Games” and written in a similar spirit, is both the final work for Barash’s studies at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance and his personal farewell to Jerusalem. For his tribute to the city, Barash did not wish the piece to be sentimental or romantic. Yet, what he refers to as a “non-serious” piece expresses chaos, the “dissolving” of each utterance being his expression for how physically neglected parts of Jerusalem are, with the capital “crumbling culturally and in religious matters”, in the composer’s words. But, opening with a vibrant screen of sounds, the music itself is certainly upbeat, coloured with a florid ‘cello solo, with just a few tranquil sections but mostly consisting of staticity and strident sonorities. The work ends with the sound of the siren that signals the beginning of the sabbath in Jerusalem. As of September 2019, Omer Barash will study with Prof. Philippe Leroux at the Schulich School of Music of McGill University, Montreal.


Born in 1960, French conductor Pascal Gallois, an internationally-renowned bassoonist,  has been a member of Ensemble Intercontemporain, serves as director of the Mozart Conservatory (Paris) and he also hosts the Musicales of Quiberon Festival, a festival combining classical repertoire with contemporary music. He is the author of “The Techniques of Bassoon Playing”. On his first professional visit to Israel, this concert was his debut with the Meitar Ensemble. His precise, eloquent conducting made for high-quality performance and much enjoyment for all in collaboration with the outstanding and dedicated instrumentalists of the Meitar Ensemble and the Tedarim project.  

Maestro Pascal Gallois (Thierry Vagne)

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Carmel Quartet closes its 2018-2019 "Strings and More" lecture-concert series with "Content and Contexts"

Rachel Ringelstein,Tali Goldberg,Tami Waterman,Yoel Greenberg (Photo:Michael Pavia)
The Carmel Quartet’s last concert for the 2018-2019 Strings and More lecture-concert series will focus on  “Content and Contexts”. Presented by its director and violist Dr. Yoel Greenberg, the quartet members will discuss and perform two works - Haydn’s String Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 50 No. 3 and Schubert String Quartet in A Minor, D. 804 “Rosamunde”. Established in 1999, the internationally-renowned Carmel Quartet is one of the longest-standing and most versatile chamber ensembles in Israel. Dedicated to offering more to concert-goers than just fine performance, the quartet established “Strings and More” in 2007, a concert series with explanations and commentaries, enriching the listening experience by placing  compositions performed within a wider cultural context. The series is directed by Yoel Greenberg, with the other quartet members — Rachel Ringelstein, Tali Goldberg and Tami Waterman — enhancing the explanations with theatrical excerpts and literary examples. Occasionally including  guest artists, the series has enjoyed both critical- and popular acclaim. The lecture-concerts take place in five centres around Israel. The Carmel Quartet offers its Jerusalem English-speaking audience and non-Hebrew speakers an extra treat - events of the series held  in English, and in excellent English, at that! It is true that English is the current dominant lingua franca of international diplomacy, business, science, technology and aviation, but let’s face it: we English speakers, however long we have been living in Israel, just find a musical event held in English so very agreeable!

Content and Contexts
Presented in English by Dr. Yoel Greenberg
Haydn String Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 50 No. 3
Schubert String Quartet in A Minor, D. 804 “Rosamunde”
Jerusalem Music Centre, Mishkenot Sha’ananim
Wednesday 26.6.19 at 20:00
In Hebrew:
Zichron Ya’akov: Sunday 23.6.19 at 20:00
Jerusalem: Tuesday 25.6.19 at 20:00
Haifa: Thursday 27.6.19 at 20:00
Tel Aviv: Friday 28.6.19 at 11a.m.
Tickets: 058-5853353 | | 135/120 NIS


Monday, May 27, 2019

From Darkness to Light - the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir's annual gala concert in works of Harlap and Haydn

Photo: Luba Tenavskaya
“From Darkness to Light”, the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir’s annual gala performance, took place at the Jerusalem International YMCA on May 21st 2019. Conducting singers of the five Oratorio choirs, the Jerusalem Street Orchestra and vocal soloists Adaya Peled (soprano), Hillel Sherman (tenor) and Yair Polishook (baritone) was Dor Magen.


The first half of the program consisted of Aharon Harlap’s “Requiem” for soprano and baritone soloists, four-part mixed choir and orchestra. Premiered in Jerusalem in 2017, the work is the composer’s homage to family, friends and mentors who have passed on; Harlap has dedicated it to his friend and colleague Prof. Stanley Sperber. The texts chosen for the  seven movements of the work were taken from the traditional Latin Requiem but include only those sections bearing content common to both the Jewish- and Christian religions. As to its style, the music is mostly minor/modal, its broadly sweeping melodic lines, some strengthened by parallel octave doubling, enriched with lush autumnal harmonies. Choir and soloists weave the melodic thread in and out of the work’s seamless fabric; Harlap’s orchestral writing, robust, highly coloured, rich in his use of winds, was undertaken with flying colours by the Jerusalem Street Orchestra (director: Ido Shpitalnik). It is as sumptuous as his vocal writing, endorsing the work’s almost consistently dark, intense and soul-searching agenda. Under Magen’s direction, the Oratorio singers achieved a splendidly blended and coordinated choral sound, with luxuriance of timbre present at the work’s introspective and haunting junctures as well as in its most impassioned tutti. Soprano Adaya Peled gave an impressive and competent performance, her voice rich, stable and clean as she convincingly engaged in the work’s emotional content.  Appropriating his rich and varied palette of vocal colours to the profound meaning of the Requiem text, Yair Polishook’s performance was powerful and credible - at times dramatic and momentous, at others, brighter, compassionate and reassuring. Originally from Canada, composer, conductor and teacher Aharon Harlap (b.1941), in Israel since 1964, does not mix his messages. His writing is eloquent, direct and real, drawing musicians and listeners alike into its compelling and uncompromising subject matter.


In 1802, Joseph Haydn wrote:  ‘Often, when I was struggling with all kinds of obstacles... a secret voice whispered to me: “There are so few happy and contented people in this world; sorrow and grief follow them everywhere; perhaps your labour will become a source from which the careworn... will for a while derive peace and refreshment.”’ For Oratorio’s joint choir concert, only sections relating to the subject of light were performed from “The Creation”. Haydn’s sublime work, depicting a benign, rationally-ordered universe, with its essentially optimistic view of humanity and non-moralistic tone, was a musical masterpiece perfectly attuned to the spirit of Georgian England and Vienna of the 1790s, but, in all its radiant guilelessness, it is no less appealing to audiences of our times. From the first strains of the orchestral prelude - “Representation of Chaos” - as striking an evocation of the mysterious void of the universe as one might find in classical repertoire (followed by the unforgettable effect of chaos festively ceding to light shining through a C major chord)  the Jerusalem Street Orchestra  displayed Haydn’s bold use of orchestral colour and adventurous harmony, descriptively supporting the verbal text throughout.  In setting Baron Gottfried van Swieten’s libretto (here and there stamped with the Dutch-born diplomat’s shaky grasp of English)  sung by Oratorio in the English version (its text, to all intents and purposes, is bilingual), Haydn’s music abounds in word-painting; more potent use of consonants, especially at word endings, would have highlighted the oratorio’s  many onomatopoeic effects, as, for example, in the chorus:

“Despairing cursing rage attends their rapid fall  

A new-created world springs up at God's command.”

The three soloists, representing the archangels Gabriel (soprano-Adaya Peled), Uriel (tenor-Hillel Sherman) and Raphael (baritone-Yair Polishook), their duets and trios producing compelling moments, gave expression to Haydn’s intentionally florid, lofty style, with Sherman engaging his rich, burnished voice in the lion's share of the arias. The choir endorsed the work’s life-affirming message with timbral warmth and vivacity. Kudos to conductor Dor Magen, whose innate musicianship, attention to detail and dedication brought choir, orchestra and soloists together in an evening of satisfying performance.


The Jerusalem Oratorio Choir is the largest choral enterprise in Israel, consisting of 150 amateur and professional singers. It has appeared with Israel’s leading orchestras and at major Israeli festivals. In July 2017, Oratorio’s Chamber Choir took part in the 5th European Festival of Jewish Choral Music in St. Petersburg. Starting out as a violinist and trombonist, Dor Magen studied conducting with Evgeny Tzirlin, Avner Biron and Stanley Sperber. He has sung in major vocal ensembles. His musical arrangements have been performed by orchestras and singers.


Established in 2013 by Ido Shpitalnik, the Jerusalem Street Orchestra is a classic chamber orchestra comprised of graduates of Jerusalem’s Music Academy. What makes it different from other orchestras is that it performs in open-air public spaces, presenting concerts that combine classical music with orchestral arrangements of popular music, with the objective of .making classical- and orchestral  music accessible to new audiences. 


Friday, May 24, 2019

"Captain Corelli's Mandolin": the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra hosts mandolin players Mari Carmen Simon (Spain) and Jacob Reuven in works of Italian composers and J.S.Bach

Photo: Yoel Levy
In “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin”, British writer Louis de Bernières’ 1994 novel, the person plucking the strings of the mandolin is an Italian World War II army officer by the name of Antonio Corelli. In the story he is, however a descendent of the Baroque composer Arcangelo Corelli. Titled “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin”, Concert No.5 of the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra’s 2018-2019 subscription season hosted duo-mandolin artists Mari Carmen Simon (Spain) and Jacob Reuven. The JBO’s strings (with theorbo: Bari Moscovitz) were led from the harpsichord by the orchestra’s founder and music director David Shemer. This writer attended the event on May 19th at the International Jerusalem YMCA.


On the subject of Arcangelo Corelli, his reputation and musical influence spread as far as the imperial court of China, but his known works are very few: four publications of trio sonatas and one each of solo sonatas and concerti grossi. The JBO program incorporated two of his Op. 6 concerti grossi, each made up of six movements of different tempo and pacing. These were the fashion of the day; played at social gatherings, the movements allowed for the different court dances that were popular at the time. In both No.2 and No.6, the concertino consisted of violinists Noam Schuss and Dafna Ravid with Orit Messer-Jacobi on ‘cello; their concertino playing was pleasing both technically (with moments of brilliance) and stylistically. Altogether, the orchestra gave expression to the works’ rich array of concertino and ripieno ensemble textures and Corelli’s audacious harmonic surprises, the works’ melancholic movements never descending to sentimentalism.


Francesco Geminiani was held to be the equal of Corelli in his own day; however, with the exception of a few solo sonatas and his treatises on “good taste” in violin playing, Geminiani has largely ended up being ignored. But his great originality shines both in the writing and re-writing of his own music, and in his arrangements of works of Corelli. Moving to London, where he discovered that the English were more than eager to hear music of Corelli, Geminiani was quick to capitalize on this by arranging his teacher’s solo sonatas as concerti grossi. Of the orchestral arrangements of Corelli’s Op.5 Sonatas for solo violin and continuo that Geminiani published as new concerti grossi, the most popular is Concerto Grosso in D minor H.143, that on the “La Follia” (The Folly)  theme over a repeated bass line, this theme being one of those most used for variations in Baroque repertoire. In Geminiani’s setting, Corelli’s virtuosic violin part (Noam Schuss) is mostly unchanged, but a second solo violin part (Dafna Ravid) is ingeniously added and the whole work is shaped by the contrast between tutti and solo playing. Geminiani made one change to Corelli’s orchestral disposition, adding a viola (Yael Patish) to the solo group. Here, Orit Messer-Jacobi played the ‘cello solo part. In outstanding playing splendidly and virtuosically led by Schuss, the players swept the listener from variations ranging from intense and exciting character to those of tranquil, almost spiritual disposition; these abrupt changes of mood were markers of “insanity” for the Baroque imagination. Indeed, Geminiani was described by his contemporary and compatriot Giuseppe Tartini as “Il Furibondo” (the wild man)!


The mandolin has played an important role in Western music since the Renaissance and the number of Baroque composers who wrote attractive works for the instrument documents the fact that it was then a much-played instrument that musical audiences liked to hear. The Jerusalem audience was nevertheless totally enchanted by the mandolin works on the program and by the skill and consummate artistry of the concert’s guest artists. Performing  Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto in G major for two mandolins and orchestra RV 532,  Mari Carmen Simon and Jacob Reuven - Duo 16 Strings - and the JBO instrumentalists invited the listener into the magical world of the mandolin’s gossamer-fine timbres, its expressive possibilities and the demands made on other instruments playing with them; not that the opening movement emerged wispy or insubstantial. On the contrary, the Allegro breathed freshness and exuberance, as one mandolin continually imitated the other’s phrases and with very firmly etched phrasing. In the Andante, the artists’ delicate- and finely-coordinated playing then led into a whirlwind of action and virtuosity in the final Allegro. In Trio Sonata in E minor by Florentine court composer, singer and lutenist Carlo Arrigoni, the duo was joined by harpsichord (Shemer), ‘cello (Messer-Jacobi) and theorbo (Moscovitz) in performance brimming with Mediterranean sunshine, cantabile beauty, invention and daring (especially in the Courante). With the mandolin sharing the exact same tuning as the violin, Mari Carmen Simon and Jacob Reuven chose to perform J.S.Bach’s Concerto in D minor for two violins and orchestra BWV 1043. The result was indeed a stirring, buoyant performance of the outer movements, with authoritative playing on the part of the guest artists; in the Largo movement, attentive listening by conductor and all the players in the sound-world of pianissimo delicacy gave rise to sublimely elegant and sensuous waves of silken melodiousness. 


Wednesday, May 22, 2019

"Anna Magdalena Bach", the Barrocade Ensemble performs works from the two notebooks of works J.S.Bach devoted to his wife

Inbar Solomon, Anja Hufnagel, Geneviève Blanchard (Yoel Levy)
“At this concert, we will visit the Bach family home and enthuse together over Bach’s love for his young wife - Anna Magdalena, a gifted singer and composer - love that flowed via musical sounds.”  These words are Barrocade, the Israeli Baroque Collective’s introduction to “Anna Magdalena Bach”, a morning concert of the “Golden Bells” festivities at the Jerusalem International YMCA on May 18th, 2019,


J.S.Bach was an avid recycler. In fact, the opening work of the Jerusalem concert was an old friend in a new guise:  Bach’s Harpsichord Concerto in F major BWV 1057 is the composer’s transcription of the 4th Brandenburg Concerto, but with the violin part given over to the harpsichord and the whole concerto transposed down a major second. The reason for the transposition was, in all probability, to allow the top note of the violin part, E5, to be reached as D5, the common top limit on harpsichords of the time. The alto obbligato recorders are still present (referred to by Bach as “fiauti a bec”), here played by Anja Hufnagel (Germany) and Inbar Solomon. The structure of the music remains unchanged, but the harpsichord part was completely rewritten. Yizhar Karshon took on board the hearty vivacity and virtuosic demands of the work’s outer movements in playing that was crisp, brilliantly alive and entertaining; he gave personal expression, gentle flexing and some ornamentation to the subtly lyrical Andante (second) movement. The recorder players struck a fine balance of blend, displaying both close collaboration and individual say throughout, their playing a kaleidoscope of Baroque recorder techniques and textures. With Amit Tiefenbrunn playing a bass violin he himself had built, the Barrocade players provided ample support to the soloists.


Cantata No. 82, “Ich habe genug” (I have sufficient), first performed in 1727, portrays the biblical story of the aged Simeon who, having held the infant Jesus, feels justifiably ready for death. Though usually sung by a bass soloist and oboe obbligato, Bach’s 1731 version in E minor is scored for soprano soloist with flute obbligato, the latter being the version we heard performed by soprano Yeela Avital with Geneviève Blanchard (flute), with Yizזhar Karshon on organ. Avital gave a competent, emotional reading of the work, at times, a little too heavy in her use of vibrato. Addressing the audience in her narration of the story, her singing of “Schlummert ein” (Slumber, my weary eyes) was sensitively phrased, empathic and pleasing, with the final aria “Ich freue mich auf meinen Tod” (With gladness, I look forward to my death) challenging in its tricky,  instrumental-type vocal line, its sense of urgency ignoring bar-lines, bristling with energy. In the obbligato role, Geneviève Blanchard’s playing of the soft-toned Baroque flute wove meaning into every nuance of the text with subtlety and eloquence.


Although Bach is remembered by most of us as a virtuoso keyboard player, he was also a skilled violinist. In fact, the first professional job he had was as an orchestral violinist. Soloing in J.S.Bach’s Violin Concerto in E major BWV 1042 (on a violin built by Amit Tiefenbrunn), the work very much according to the Venetian concerto  model both in form and in zest, Shlomit Sivan gave a radiant performance, highlighting solo moments as well as joining orchestral tutti, showing  how  Bach achieved the most remarkable effects with just one instrument in a single musical line. Precise and articulate, not clinical, mechanical or showy, Sivan’s playing was involved and vibrant. In the rhapsodic central Adagio movement, Amit Tiefenbrunn coaxed much deep-felt expression from the curious, sturdy bass violin (a member of the "viola da braccio" family.)


The last item on the program was a pot-pourri of short works from the Notebooks Johann Sebastian collated for Anna Magdalena Bach - that of 1722 and of 1725 - their contents providing a glimpse into the domestic music of the 18th century and the musical tastes of the Bach family. Arranged by Tiefenbrunn, each piece offered different and imaginative scoring. The items  included  Geneviève Blanchard’s ornamented,  gently-swayed playing of the Aria of the Goldberg Variations, with two Baroque flutes and bass recorder joining in hearty liaison in Variation No.1; two chorales; Contrapunctus I from “The Art of Fugue” on  recorders, flute, organ and bass violin; and two love songs  - the poignant "Bist du bei mir, geh ich mit Freuden" (If you are with me, I go with joy) and the ebullient “Willst du dein Herz mir schenken” (Wouldst thou thine heart now give me):

Wouldst thou thine heart now give me,

Proceed in secrecy,

That twixt us our intentions

No one may ever guess.

Since love must be, if mutual,

Forever silent kept,

So hide thy greatest pleasures

Within thy heart’s recess…” English Translation ©  Z.Philip Ambrose


Yeela Avital’s delicate and emotionally-charged performance of Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras No.5 concluded the event.

Yeela Avital (photo: Yoel Levy)


Monday, May 20, 2019

An afternoon concert of choral works of J.S.Bach and Fauré at the International YMCA, Jerusalem

The Jerusalem Street Orchestra (courtesy Jerusalem Street Orchestra)
“Golden Bells” - music and tours in Jerusalem, May 16th to 18th 2019 - offered local Jerusalemites and guests from outside the capital city three days packed with guided walking tours through many quarters of Jerusalem as well as a host of varied musical events.


The festive closing event, an afternoon concert taking place at the Jerusalem International YMCA on May 8th featured two choral works, the first of which was J.S.Bach’s Cantata No.131. “Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu Dir”, BWV 131 (Out of the depths have I cried unto Thee). The Jerusalem Street Orchestra, the Gary Bertini Israeli Choir and soloists - tenor Eitan Drori and baritone Yair Polishook - were conducted by Ronen Borshevsky, the Bertini Choir’s musical director.  An apotheosis of 17th-century German sacred music, Cantata 131, a very early Bach cantata (composed 1707 or 1708) is scored for strings with oboe and bassoon and consists of an unbroken succession of choruses and arias on texts drawn from biblical passages and hymns. Its text and the large number of slow tempi indicate that it was probably performed for an event of mourning. The Bertini Choir produced’ polished, informed singing as they addressed the text, its mood changes and its potential for dynamic variety. The Jerusalem Street Orchestra, a chamber orchestra of mostly quite young players (musical director: Ido Shpitalnik) shone in its dedicated performance, well-shaped phrasing and timbral warmth, with outstanding solo playing by oboist Lior Michel Virot and Azure Kline’s splendid ‘cello obligato. The second movement, sung by Yair Polishook, with its pleading, anxious agenda, rhythmic variety, wide range and ornaments, emerged richly expressive, as he gave attention to each gesture, with the soprano section’s calm, slow-moving haunting chorale line providing a stark contrast to the solo. In the tenor aria, this also appended with a chorale, Eitan Drori kept the focus on “meine Seele” (my soul) and the theme of yearning, reserving the use of vibrato for ornamentation of its arioso style.


For the performance of Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem in D minor Op. 48, the Bertini Choir and the Jerusalem Street Orchestra were joined by the Chamber Choir of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, soprano Daniela Skorka and baritone Yair Polishook. Conducting the work, Shpitalnik created a fine balance between voices and instruments, allowing for the powerful surges that accurately depict the drama of the text, yet still addressing the work’s remarkable modesty, unusual tenderness (there is no Dies Irae) and  “a very human feeling of faith in eternal rest”, in the composer’s own words. The combined choirs excelled in vocal control, creating the transparent timbre required for its performance. The instrumentalists gave eloquent expression and a sense of illumination to the score; kudos to the three horn players, to harpist Hila Ofek and to organist Tal Igal. With the quality of a performance of the Fauré Requiem hinging on an excellent organist (and organ), Igal managed to create some magical tone colourings on an electronic instrument, a far cry from the Aristide Cavaillé-Coll pipe organ on which Fauré played for funerals at the Église de la Madeleine in Paris. In the “Pie Jesu”, Daniela Skorka’s shimmering, gossamer lightness of voice, free of artifice and affectation, was beautifully stable, indeed, a satisfying substitute for the role often performed by a boy soprano. Yair Polishook’s reading of the “Hostias et preces tibi Domine” (We offer unto Thee this sacrifice of prayer) was focused and spiritual, his upper register ample and bright. Pleading deliverance in the “Libera me” (with the chorus quaking in fear) and supported by strong brass utterance, Polishook endorsed the boldest movement of Fauré’s Requiem with gripping assertion and emotion.


The Gary Bertini Israeli Chamber Choir was founded in order to provide a professional ensemble for oratorio- and opera performances with Israel’s leading orchestras. The choir operates a chamber ensemble of 25 professional singers for a-cappella concerts in Israel and abroad. The Jerusalem Academy Chamber Choir (director: Prof. Stanley Sperber) composed of 30 singers, was founded in 1969 by Avner Itai. The choir has achieved a reputation as one of the finest in Israel and has performed with the country’s leading orchestras. Established in 2013 by Ido Shpitalnik, the Jerusalem Street Orchestra is a classic chamber orchestra comprised of graduates of Jerusalem’s Music Academy. What makes it different to other orchestras is that it performs in  open-air public spaces, presenting concerts that combine classical music with orchestral arrangements of popular music, with the objective of .making classical music accessible to new audiences.