Friday, October 23, 2020

"Coffee with Mozart" - Gidi Meir discusses Mozart piano music and more in a weekly on-line series

                             Photo: students of Meishar Art School

For harpsichordist, organist and teacher Gideon (Gidi) Meir, the piano, his first instrument, has been beckoning him back over recent years, resulting in several recitals, in which the artist offers interesting information and explanations on the works he performs. When the coronavirus moved in to change our lives, Meir established a weekly on-line workshop focusing mostly on slow movements from Mozart piano sonatas. Under the auspices of the Piano Club (Moadon Hapsanter, a FB site administered by Din Zohar) Meir has dedicated the workshops to the memory of his piano teacher Malka Mevorach. The Tuesday “Coffee with Mozart” series, in live streaming from Gidi Meir’s Tel Aviv home, has taken the form of master classes, hosting other pianists or, alternatively, of Meir himself playing the selected movement, discussing and analysing it. A natural teacher and gifted lecturer, he provides the viewer with background information as to where Mozart was at the time he wrote the work, the social- and musical climate of the town, with whom the composer was in contact, his students there (mostly young aristocratic women) and to whom the specific work was dedicated. Then comes a discussion of how the piece might be understood and played, of how the text inspires the pianist to interpret it and make it his own. I was instructed in the importance of the accurate reading of a musical work, but Meir reminds us that these pieces also invite the pianist to be spontaneous and creative when it comes to tempo, dynamics, even to the use of the sustaining pedal and, no less importantly, to engage in the art of informed ornamentation. The workshop began with the study of slow movements – Meir believes that they are an essential key to understanding the style and elements of Mozart’s piano sonatas; he then progressed to addressing complete sonatas. Pieces discussed so far have been the Adagio from KV280, Andante amoroso from KV281, Andante from KV283, Adagio from 332, Adagio from 457, Sonata 309 (complete) and Sonata 545 (complete).


It was in mid-August of 2020 that Meir posted his playing of a molto adagio movement from a Mozart piano sonata on the Piano Club Facebook page, with the aim of holding a live workshop on it with a group of pianists. Din Zohar came up with a different idea - that the workshop should take place on line. That was how the project began. Meir refers to it as a “work in progress”, an experimental approach for him to “encourage players to communicate through music and focus on the various aspects and problems of performing Mozart piano sonatas.” He is convinced that the more background knowledge we gather on a work - cultural associations, biographical facts and an understanding of the piece's very musical elements - the more we feed into our imagination to make the music speak. Indeed, to understand the textures of Mozart’s piano music, Gidi Meir proposes examining the composer’s (non-piano) instrumentation and settings and to then find associations of a piano movement with orchestral- or chamber music - to think about whether a certain bass line might be played by a bassoon or a ‘cello, whether the work suggests a singer with obligato flute and whether it might have been played in a private salon or a larger concert hall. He draws our attention to Mozart’s opera librettos, to how they flesh out the characters in a multi-layered- and psychological manner. “In playing Mozart piano works, we must look at all these layers”, he adds. Indeed, Meir is shocked at how few pianists choose to play Mozart works, professional performers included! As to ornamentation, he claims so many players simply imitate that of an artist on their favourite recording, rather than experimenting and making their own decisions.


After a brief hiatus, “Coffee with Mozart” will be back on line at 18:00 on Tuesdays and not only for the discussion of Mozart works. Meir will present Mozart’s C-minor Fantasia alongside C.P.E.Bach’s C-major Fantasia, focusing on Carl Philipp’s ornamentation; Johann Sebastian’s most audacious son’s extreme ideas are sure to widen the pianist’s musical palette!  Also on the agenda is music of Couperin with its reference to protest (relevant to today) and the study of one of Mendelssohn’s “Songs Without Words” as modelled on a presto movement from a Mozart sonata. And why not discuss a Haydn piano sonata? I found myself playing through the chosen movement in preparation for each session and revisiting it afterwards. Indeed, Gidi Meir sums up his goal as being “happy if these workshops encourage people to take time to return to the piano and engage in discussion with themselves.”


                                         Photo: Gideon Meir


Saturday, October 17, 2020

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra's 2020 Vocal Fantasy Festival, October 27-31, to be presented online


Undaunted by the restrictions of the current corona virus situation, the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra is opening its 2020-2021 concert season with yet another Vocal Fantasy Festival. Traditionally a summer event, this year’s festival will be taking place in the Autumn and will be presented online. Taking place from October 27th to 31st, the festival, directed by JBO founder, harpsichordist and conductor David Shemer, will offer five days of concerts, master classes and talks that will be transmitted live from various Jerusalem locations. All the programs will have the human voice as their main focus. 


The central work of the festival will be the Israeli premiere of one of Handel’s early works (composed before the composer was 20) - the St. John Passion, in a performance directed by David Shemer, with singers Yeela Avital, Liron Givoni, Alon Harari, Hillel Sherman, Doron Florentin and Noam Levenstein. In another program - “Handel’s Divas” - Meitar Opera Studio singers Inbal Brill and Karina Radzion will be joined by actor Itzik Cohen-Patilon to deliver the amusing story of the rivalry between Handel and Giovanni Bononcini, as well as that of two Italian prima donnas performing in London in opera productions of both composers.


In “From Johann to Hans”, we will hear soprano Yeela Avital, recorder-player Inbar Solomon and other musicians performing chorales and other works of Bach in the unique arrangements by the Jewish-Peruvian composer Hans Lewitus, in addition to works of the Spanish Renaissance and music from South America. The Guy Ben Hinom Choir will join JBO players in “Collection”, a program of original music led by JBO 1st ‘cellist Orit Messer-Jacobi. This concert will also include instrumental works of the Italian Renaissance. The 2020 Choral Fantasy Festival will sign out with a concert of music of late French Baroque works, in which JBO 1st violinist Noam Schuss will lead her fellow musicians and soprano Daniela Skorka in instrumental- and vocal works of the sophisticated musical repertoire performed at the court of Louis XIV, here represented by François Couperin and Louis-Nicolas Clérambault..


Ticket reservations: 


Sunday, October 11, 2020

The Terra Sancta Organ Festival on line - Sr.Cecilia Pia Manelli and Lucia D'Anna perform works of Italian Baroque composers


“Concerto Italiano”, an event of the Terra Sancta Organ Festival, held in collaboration with the Italian Cultural Institute, the Fondazione Terra Santa of Milan, the Christian Media Center and filmed at the Church of St. Peter, Jaffa, Israel, was presented on-line on October 8th, 2020. Both performing artists - organist Sr. Cecilia Pia Manelli and ‘cellist Lucia D’Anna - are Italians residing in Jerusalem. The unique feature of the Terra Sancta Organ Festival is that it takes place in churches and shrines of the Holy Land and in other locations where the Franciscan Friars of the Custody of the Holy Land have been active for centuries. With organ music perceived as specifically Christian, the pipe organ being present almost exclusively in churches, the festival is also an opportunity to promote the maintenance of organs and the study of the instrument, necessary for the liturgy.

Dating from 1847, the small organ of St. Peter’s Church was constructed by the Agati Nicomede e Fratelli de Pistoïa workshop (Italy) and has since been completely rebuilt by D. Taboada, head of the organ workshop at the Holy Saviour Franciscan Monastery in Jerusalem. Built of grey-painted wood with gold stripes, the facade of the organ case is open and exposes the Principal stop.

For the all-Italian program, the artists performed a representative selection of Baroque da chiesa sonatas written by major composers - Domenico Gabrielli (one of the earliest known virtuoso ‘cellists), Francesco Geminiani, Benedetto Marcello and Antonio Vivaldi, as well as a virtuosic work by the somewhat lesser-known Giuseppe Jacchini, himself a ‘cellist and a pupil of Gabrielli. Listeners enjoyed ensemble playing that was attentive, finely balanced, unmannered and well contrasted, with both players taking into account the expressive potential and differences of the two instruments. As to the solo pieces, Sr. Cecilia Pia Manelli performed a Capriccio by Tarquinio Merula, Domenico Scarlatti’s Sonata K380 (frequently heard played on the harpsichord but sounding lively and playful on the organ), the Bergamasca from Girolamo Frescobaldi’s “Fiori musicali”, with the artist displaying the composer’s emphasis on expression, ornamentation, flexibility of pulse and metre, and a Toccata by Francesco Feroci, in which Manelli engaged a variety of registers to highlight the contrasting character of the work’s different sections. As a composer, Domenico Gabrielli was influential in liberating the violoncello from its role as an undifferentiated bass instrument, allowing its individual characteristics to shape the music written for it as it came to replace the viola da gamba in Italy by the end of the 17th century and in the course of the 18th century. Probably composed for Gabrielli's own use, the 7 Ricercare, composed in Bologna in the 1660s, bear the character of etudes and are technically very demanding. D’Anna’s scrupulous and personal playing of Ricercar No.7 took the listener with her on the work’s musical journey, giving spontaneous expression to its varied agenda, melodic content, florid passages and its double- and triple stopping.

With degrees in Performance (piano, organ) and Composition, Sr. Cecilia Pia Manelli, of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate, holds a doctorate in Gregorian Chant. A renowned teacher and choir director, she serves as organist of the Holy Sepulchre Church in Jerusalem.  Lucia D’Anna  graduated  from the Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiana with a Bachelor's degree in Performance and Masters in Music Pedagogy. A former member of the Verdi Symphony Orchestra of Milan, she presently teaches ‘cello at the Magnificat Institute, Jerusalem and plays the viola da gamba.