Thursday, December 8, 2022

Early 19th century Brazilian music - Ensemble PHOENIX (director: Myrna Herzog) hosts the Madrigal Singers Ensemble (director: Etay Berckovich) and soloists in a concert in Jerusalem celebrating 200 years of Brazil's independence

Dr. Myrna Herzog (Ariel Weiss)

 September 7th 2022 marks 200 years since Dom Pedro I, on the banks of the Ipiranga River, declared Brazil's independence from Portugal. Of the events in Israel celebrating 200 years of Brazil's independence, "Brazil: The Monarch Composer" performed by Ensemble PHOENIX (musical director: Dr. Myrna Herzog) added a new dimension to this episode of Brazil's history, that being that Pedro d'Alcântara, Duke of Bragança (1798-1834), (also referred to as "the Liberator"), founder and first ruler of the Empire of Brazil, was also a renowned composer, whose works were much played during his lifetime. This writer attended "Brazil: The Monarch Composer" on December 2nd, 2022 at the Church of the Monastery of St. Vincent de Paul, Jerusalem, an imposing western-style structure built almost 150 years ago, located not far from the walls of the Old City. Joining Ensemble PHOENIX, its members playing on instruments of the Classical period, were the Madrigal Singers Ensemble (director: Etay Berckovich) and soloists Monica Schwartz - soprano, Noa Hope - mezzo-soprano, Itamar Hildesheim - tenor, and Gili Rinot - Classical clarinet.


Opening this concert of Israeli premieres was "Missa Pastoril para a Noite de Natal" (A Pastoral Christmas Mass) by black Brazilian composer/organist José Maurício Nunes Garcia (1767-1830). From the very first sounds of the work, what met our ears was the lush, mellow nature of the orchestra emanating from the sound of Classical period instruments, but also due to the absence of violins. Add to that the fact that the work called for six violas! This naive-style Mass gives much prominence to the clarinets (Gili Rinot, Nurit Blum), their melodies weaving lavishly throughout the Mass. Schwartz, Hope and Hildesheim gave beauty and meaning to solo sections in unforced, mellifluous singing, with the fine blending of the Madrigal Singers' voices, its members clearly well informed in the style, addressing each gesture with precision and artistry. Of the some 70 works he composed for royal solemnities, Nunes Garcia had offered the Pastoral Mass to the then Prince Dom Pedro. Nunes Garcia also happened to be Dom Pedro's first music teacher.


Marcos António da Fonseca Portugal (1762-1830) was Pedro's second and most influential music teacher. Born in Lisbon, Portugal served there as composer/organist at the Patriarchal See, and was maestro at the Theatre of Salitre from c.1784, composing a series of farsas (farces) and entremezes (intermezzi) for the Salitre. However, his reputation rests mainly on his religious music. Portugal lived in Italy from late 1792 to 1800, where he wrote 21 operas for various Italian theatres. He was the best-known- and the most acclaimed Portuguese opera composer of his time to spend time in foreign countries. In 1811, the Prince Regent summoned him to the Portuguese colony of Brazil, where he was appointed music master to his sons and daughters, also becoming the official royal composer. Portugal's Overture to "Il Duca di Foix" (The Duke from Foix), a dramma per musica in two acts, first performed in 1805 in Lisbon, was the second item at the PHOENIX concert. With the ceremonial quality of the opening followed by a sprightly tune that skitters all over the orchestra, including some hearty utterances of the winds in thirds, the listener becomes aware of music whose style already hints at what Rossini would soon be doing. Herzog and the ensemble's vivid reading of the overture swept the Jerusalem audience into the glittering splendour of the early 19th century Italian opera house, the overture's moments of joyful outbursts and suspense hinting at the scenario, with the opera house audience surely watching for the weighty, fringed, tasselled curtain to rise and the action to begin. 


As to D. Pedro I of Brazil and IV of Portugal himself, it is known that he sang well, conducted and played the piano, flute, clarinet, violin, double bass, trombone, harp and guitar. However, his compositional oeuvre is of prime importance. In 1831, on his visit to Paris to seek political and military support to regain the throne of Portugal from the hands of D. Miguel I, he had his own music performed at the Italian Theatre. The performances, which drew direct support from Gioachino Rossini, received mostly favourable reviews. The King-Emperor ventured into theatrical music, he composed music for piano, chamber/salon music, had great success in his writing of patriotic songs and was known for his religious works. Of the latter, the Credo in C major was performed at the PHOENIX concert. One of his most frequently performed works, it moves in contrasts, swinging from ebullient, richly-coloured, even dancelike sections to chiffony devotional, introspective moments and back again. This work also highlights the clarinet in many gorgeous utterances. Orchestra, choir and soloists took on board the work's counterpoles, its drama and rich kaleidoscope of timbres, moods and gestures. Young tenor Itamar Hildesheim gave an impressive reading of the Confiteor, engaging the different colours of his voice to convey the text's message.


The event concluded with an exuberant performance of the anonymous "Lundu da Cachaça". A style of Afro-Brazilian music and dance originally associated with witchcraft, the lundu, by the 19th century, had become the music of choice for the Luso-Brazilian bourgeoisie. Characterized by the interplay of tonic and dominant harmony, with strummed chords layered atop a syncopated rhythm reminiscent of traditional West African music, it represents the root of the samba. An unbridled outburst of joy, Herzog's setting of the strophic song, embellished with plenty of percussion and offering vocal and instrumental solos, brought smiles to the faces of the audience and also to those on stage, as soloists and choir wound their tongues around the delivery of the Portuguese words. As to the last two stanzas of the song, they are Herzog's own addition, in which she extols Dom Pedro's achievements and celebrates of 200 years of Brazil's independence. 


The concert featured some outstanding solos and duets, to mention just a few: 1st violist Amos Boasson in duo with Monica Schwartz in the “Laudamus Te” of the Mass; Baroque ‘cellist Marina Katz’ wonderful small utterances in response to the clarinet throughout the Mass; and kudos to Baroque clarinettist Gili Rinot, who handled the very many solos and dialogues throughout the three longer works with competence and musical insight. A moment of breathtaking beauty was the “Et Incarnatus” of the Nunes Garcia Mass, with Rinot’s masterful dialoguing with Monica Schwartz, Noa Hope and the two ‘cellos (Marina Katz, Hamoutal Marom.)


Some of us were drawn to the event for the rare opportunity of hearing (and seeing) early 19th-century music played on period instruments – Baroque stringed instruments played with Classical bows (as in Brazil at that time), authentic woodwind instruments and natural horns. Some concert-goers came to fill gaps in their knowledge of history of the Americas, whereas others were curious to hear repertoire previously unheard on these shores. Of course, there were some Brazilian-born people in the audience. But, common to all those attending "Brazil: The Monarch Composer" (and there were people of all ages) was the appeal of this music - the joy, the colour, the vivacity and the wholehearted life-affirming message of Brazilian music. Addressing its every detail and gesture, and re-creating the sound world of early 19th century music, Dr. Myrna Herzog, herself Brazilian-born, presented the beauty of this repertoire with balance, good taste and personal involvement, inviting each of the musicians on stage to shine. The project was supported by the Brazilian Embassy, Tel Aviv.

Emperor PEDRO I. Painting by Simplício Rodrigues de Sá.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Brazil: The Monarch Composer - Ensemble PHOENIX on period instruments. Vivid performance of this seldom-performed early-19th century repertoire awaits Israeli audiences

Emperor PEDRO I (who proclaimed Brazil's Independence) painted by Simplício Rodrigues de Sá. 


Throughout history, members of royal families have shown talent in playing musical instruments, singing or composing music, most often at a gifted amateur level, giving public performances at home or on royal visits abroad.  Alfonso X of Castile, Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia, Frederick II of Prussia and Liliuokalani of Hawaii, to name a few, composed music, but perhaps the most famous musician of royalty was Henry VIII of England, who was esteemed as a composer, and it is known that he played the cornett, regal, flute, virginals, recorder, lute, harp and organ.


People attending "Brazil: The Monarch Composer", Ensemble PHOENIX's upcoming concert, are about to make their acquaintance with another royal composer - D. Pedro I, de Alcântara e Bragança (1798-1834) of Brazil. In fact, all the works performed in this concert will be by Brazilian Classical composers and all will be Israeli premieres. We will hear Pedro's Credo in C major (1829), Padre José Mauricio Nunes Garcia's Pastoral Mass for Christmas Night, Marcos Portugal's Overture "Il Duca di Foix" (1805) and the anonymous early 19th century "Lundu da Cachaça" (the lundu, a popular dance, was an antecedent of the samba). All will be played on Classical period instruments.


Once again, Brazilian-born PHOENIX founder and musical director, researcher and viola da gamba player, will offer concert-goers a new and exciting experience. She will conduct Ensemble PHOENIX and The Madrigal Singers (director: Italy Berkovich). Soloists will be soprano Monica Schwarz, mezzo-soprano Noa Hope, tenor Itamar Hildesheim and Gili Rinot - classical clarinet.


Celebrating 200 years of Brazil's Independence, this powerful program of early 19th century Brazilian music will be a first in Israel, with works of both naive and grandiose character, with the lundu leaning more towards traditional folk idiom. And for those of us interested in historically informed performance, in hearing (and, indeed, seeing) these works played as they would have sounded in the Classical period, the event is sure to be a celebration!


Friday 02.12.22 at 12:00

Jerusalem, St. Vincent de Paul Church, Mamilla Mall 

Reservations: 052-3784586



Saturday 03.12.22 at 12:00 

Haifa, St. John Anglican Church, 30 Khuri St.,

Reservations: 052-3784586 



Friday 09.12.22 at 12:00

Tel Aviv-Jaffa - St. Peter's Church

1 Mifratz Shlomo 



Saturday 10.12.22 at 12:00

Magdala ("The Pompeii of Galilee"), Duc In Altum Church 

Reservations: 052-3784586  







Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Giacomo Puccini's "Il Tabarro" (The Cloak) - the Jerusalem Opera opens its 2022-2023 season with a fine performance of this post-Romantic opera

Omer Arieli,Daniel Luis de Vincente,Yasmine Levi-Ellentuck (Elad Zagman)


At the front of the stage, the bow of a boat, a life buoy, some sacks and crates create a tasteful setting for Giacomo Puccini's passionate late masterpiece "Il Tabarro" (The Cloak). Taking place in the Henry Crown Auditorium of the Jerusalem Theatre on November 19th 2022, this was the Jerusalem Opera's first performance for the 2022-2023 season. Conducting the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra (its players seated on stage) and a line-up of fine Israeli and overseas singers was Maestro Omer Arieli, the Jerusalem Opera's musical director and house conductor. Stage director was Daniel Lasry. Costumes, sets and props - Shira Wise.


Set on the banks of the Seine, this one-act opera tells the story of barge owner Michele, who suspects his young wife Giorgetta of being unfaithful. Packed with side plots and characters bringing to life the sights and sounds of 1910, the opera reaches its dramatic conclusion when Michele unexpectedly catches his wife’s lover. Featuring in this dark tale of love, loss, adultery and murder were US-born baritone Daniele Luis de Vicente as Michele, soprano Yasmine Levi-Ellentuck in the role of Giorgetta and Ukraine-born tenor Vitaliy Kovalchuk as Luigi, Giorgetta's lover. Well cast, each gave articulate and convincing expression to the concentrated dramatics with outstanding vocal performances, each artist so different in character, each endearing him/herself to the audience. In addition to Michele's pivotal aria "Nulla…Silenzio!", the audience was treated to opera performance endorsing some of Puccini’s most stunning vocal writing. The other singers made for a colourful band, their different human agendas, sometimes high-spirited (and drunken) actions, striking a clever balance with the more intense and ill-fated main plot. No new face to opera stages in Israel, mezzo-soprano Noa Hope, playing the sassy Frugula, always delights with her lively stage presence and easeful singing. 


Maestro Arieli reads well into the melodrama of Il Tabarro, highlighting the brilliance of one of Puccini’s most modern and impressionistic scores. He and the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra gave precision and attention to the fine detail, shaping and beauty of the instrumental score, sharing the plot and emotions with Intensive orchestral involvement, drama, surprising contrasts, musical predictions, comments and some surprises. Take, for example, the French waltz played by a desperately out-of-tune street organ; Puccini scores this with clarinets and "out-of-tune" flutes, playing not in octaves but in major sevenths.


The original idea for “Il Tabarro” had come to Puccini in Paris in 1912. He wrote: " I already have the idea for the veristic opera; the story will be based on a play by a not-so-well known French playwright called Didier Gold. It is a romance tragedy that takes place on a barge. I find life on the docks quite intriguing. The docks swarm with workers, boatmen and ordinary people. This gives a lot of opportunity for life-like scenes both on the boat and ashore." The darkest of Puccini’s works is centered around the idea of passing time, metaphorically embodied by the time of sunset, by the Autumn season and, above all, by the slow, inexorable flow of the river, around which the whole story develops.


And a life-like and dynamic stage it was in the Henry Crown Auditorium! A fine opera performance, swift-moving, rich in emotion and marvellous music, here was the great opera composer at the very height of his powers, Puccini at his most verismo. The audience drank in every nuance, emotion and event of this small gem. Kudos to all involved. 


Established in 2011, the Jerusalem Opera’s goals are presenting opera productions of the highest quality in Jerusalem and the promotion of Israeli artists.

Daniel Luis de Vicente,Yasmine Levi-Ellentuck (Elad Zagman)

Lev Elgardt,Noa Hope (Elad Zagman

Yasmine Levi-Ellentuck,Vitaliy Kovalchuk (Elad Zagman)

Daniel Luis de Vicente (Elad Zagman)

Monday, November 7, 2022

"Lied in Fall" - The Israel Contemporary Players open the 2022-2023 season on an autumnal note


The Israel Contemporary Players opened their 2022-2023 Discoveries Series with "Lied in Fall" (Song in Autumn) in the Zucker Hall of the Tel Aviv Culture Center on October 22nd 2022. ICP artistic director Ilan Volkov conducted the players, with 'cellist Hillel Zori as soloist.


The program opened with "Schlammflocke II (Sludge Flakes) by German composer Carola Bauckholt (b.1959). Composed in 2010 for the Cologne-based Ensemble Musikfabrik, the curious trigger for this ensemble piece was the operation of water purification installations, in which sludge flakes (micro-organisms of dead and living material) play an important role. To produce the unique piece, the composer uses a wide range of resources, with the musicians playing their own instruments conventionally, but also generating a variety of animal sounds with such instruments as nose whistles and conventional instruments played in unconventional ways. The score shows accurately-notated pitch-, rhythm-, timbre- and dynamic signs, yet invites each player to give them his own meaning. What emerges is a tranquil background against which a dynamic scene emerges, a rich and exhilarating sound world of independent animal sounds and varied bird calls, from the most minute and delicate of gestures to nature's grand tutti. The listener is swept into the vivid scene, into a work that is experiential both aurally and visibly, beautiful and captivating,


Sarit Shley Zondiner (b.1984), a prominent Jerusalem composer, refers to her music as "ambiguous dramatic situations" that "find their expression in different combinations of sound, that fluctuate between normalcy and insanity." "Shoudu '' for ensemble and electric guitar is not the first work of hers to explore the darker, ambiguous nature of the inner world of the child. The composer refers to two Israeli writers of children's literature who address the subject - Miriam Yalan-Stekelis and Ronit Haham.  Shoudu, a devil wielding magical powers, a figure both fearful and humorous (even nice), appears in Haham's writings. In Shley Zondiner's work, unrelenting texture are strewn throughout, with finely-chiselled, chilling-, spectral- and otherworldly effects, melodic fragments and glissandi that surface and subside; but the core texture of the piece consists of wispy percussive effects, breathy sounds and even some disturbing effects of an uninvited guest gently knocking on a door. There is no mistaking that the piece evokes a child's most nightmarish imaginings. Volkov and the instrumentalists gave a detailed and fine-spun reading of the piece, one demanding much skill and delicacy. Kudos to Oded Geizhals on his very fine handling of the percussion role.  


Then to Anton Webern's 1920 chamber ensemble setting of his Six Pieces for large orchestra Op.6. The original version of the Six Pieces was premiered in Vienna in 1913, conducted by Arnold Schoenberg. The average length of each piece is 25 bars; the longest (No.4) having 41, the shortest (No.3), presented in just a few brushstrokes, a mere 11 bars in length. Volkov and the players addressed the fine detail, shades of meaning and emotion of each of the pieces. The Funeral March (No.4), opening with what must be one of the most chilling percussion sequences ever written, the instruments mostly shrouded in shadows of sotto voce, the haunting, penetrating clarinet solo, with the snare drum leading fatefully to the movement’s shockingly abrupt conclusion, was compelling. Altogether, the ensemble's warmth of sound and attention to such elements as pauses gave poignant expression to Webern's remarkable sensibility and ground-breaking musical syntax. Indeed, autumnal in mood, the work, according to the composer himself, describes episodes connected with his mother’s death.


And to the piece offering the concert its title - "Lied in Fall" (Song in Autumn) - by Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen (b.1952), a work for large chamber ensemble and 'cello solo commissioned by the London Sinfonietta, which also premiered the piece in January 1988. "Lied in Fall" is dedicated to prominent Danish composer Per Nørgård (b.1932). Abrahamsen describes the work thus: "In an autumnal landscape of falling lines, the 'cello moves about with delicate lyricism, almost singing its Lied. It is surrounded by shadows of what has been and what has yet to come, coexisting with melodies between these lines…" In this work, typical of the evocative narrative and nature imagery of the early period of Abrahamsen's career, the ensemble creates a vivid, dynamic screen of sound, against which Zori expounded the work's sweeping, songful melodies with bold delivery. Throughout the lush soundscape, wrought of two totally different and seemingly independent agendas, Volkov held both components in delicate and precisely-hewn balance, leaving the listener questioning himself as to where to direct his own personal spotlight at any given moment.


Established in 1991, the prestigious Israel Contemporary Players have added much to the country's musical life, enriching its audience's appreciation of contemporary music. The ensemble regularly commissions, performs and records works by Israeli composers, besides performing an international repertoire from the 20th- and 21st centuries. It collaborates with European and Israeli conductors and soloists and performs in Europe and Asia. The ensemble consists of 14 players.


Sunday, October 23, 2022

CHOOSE LIFE - a veritable journey. Myrna Herzog has recorded solo viol music from the 16th to 21st centuries

Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568-1625)  Flowers in a Wooden Vessel


CHOOSE LIFE, played by Brazilian-born Myrna Herzog, is a new and comprehensive recording of solo music for the viola da gamba - comprehensive as it includes works from the 16th-, 17th-, 18th- and 21st centuries, covering from the earliest works for the instrument through to contemporary pieces written for Herzog, comprehensive as it includes works of composers from Central Europe, Brazil, Japan, Israel and Russia, comprehensive because the pieces are performed on six different viols - five historic and one modern. Dr. Myrna Herzog has referred to the recording as a "sort of multi-layered story or film" displaying "the instrument's singing and chordal capacity...and an array of techniques".


Of the splendid early solo repertoire for the viol - works from Italy, England, dance suites by French composers and German works - Herzog plays a representative selection. She opens with two pieces of Venetian musician Silvestro Ganassi, whose second treatise of two volumes (1542,1543) is highly informative on playing the viol - addressing the technicalities of playing the instrument and subtleties of expression, including guidance on the playing of passaggi (ornamentation). Herzog's playing of these pieces is of the kind that invites the musical text to dictate shapes, its phrasing and the pieces' underlying air of mystery, preparing the listener to experience the compositional perfection of several more finely-crafted miniatures to be heard here. Venetian composer Giovanni Bassano's Ricercata Quarta, another small jewel, boasts a challenging and unpredictable melodic course. Here, Herzog makes a point that the beautiful modern instrument built by Spanish luthier Luis Fernández (b.1956) does justice to such a work. As to Herzog's arrangement of "Terra donde me criei", a strophic, anonymous 16th century Portuguese piece, its plangent, vocal character is expounded by way of her individual colouring of vocal lines: “Land where I was raised Who took me away from you? Sad I will always live, Crying because I have lost you.”  The stylistically beautiful and moving "Fantasie" of Nicolas Hotman is followed by a "Sarabande et double'' by him. Known to be an expert player of the lute, theorbo and the viola da gamba, Hotman spent most of his career in France, referred to as the teacher of violist Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe. Of the latter, a celebrated master of the viola da gamba, credited with adding the seventh string on the bass viol, Herzog's playing of "Les Pleurs" (The Tears) is flexed, expressive and rich in "narrative".  As to the music of Sainte-Colombe le Fils, written in England, the bold, lively folk-like bourdon-based "Vielle" (this referring to  the vielle-à-roue or hurdy-gurdy) and played on the traditional English six-string viol, it nevertheless belongs to the French tradition in viola da gamba music, harking back to the style of his father and teacher. One of the recording's highlights is Herzog's personal reading of the younger Sainte-Colombe's mournful "Fantasie en Rondeau". Another student of Sainte-Colombe (the elder) was Marin Marais, represented here by two dances, Muzette I et II.


And to works by German-born composers. The recording includes two transcriptions Myrna Herzog has made of movements of solo works by J.S.Bach - the Sarabande from Violoncello Suite No.4 BWV 1010, played with majesty and elegance, highlighting the brighter and darker timbres of the viol, followed by her hearty reading of the "Gavotte en Rondeau" from Violin Partita No.3 BWV1006, this taken at a moderate speed in order to set off each gesture. Carl Friedrich Abel was a student at St. Thomas School, Leipzig, where he was taught by Bach, then to become one of the most renowned viola da gamba players of his day and composing important music for the instrument. A fashionable performer when the viola da gamba had become a rarity, Abel’s performances inspired a revival of interest among performers and audiences. Herzog's fondness for these Classical vignettes is reflected in her wide sweeping gestures as opposed to more introspective, winsome moments, her attention to melodic lines, selective use of ornamentation and strategic timing. She embraces these miniatures with the beauty of simplicity. At the age of 39, Abel moved to London in 1759, where he was appointed chamber musician to Queen Charlotte in 1764, hence Herzog's choice to play these pieces on viols by Edward Lewis (London, c.1685). 


Representing viol music of the British-born composers, Herzog devotes a significant part of the recording to music of  Tobias Hume, the enigmatic Scottish soldier and mercenary of foreign armies. Hume was a musician of great merit, known as a gamba player, indeed, a recognized composer promoting the virtues of the viol against those of the lute. From his two published lyra viol tablatures (1605, 1607) containing all his known works, she delivers Captain Hume's fine and distinctive (albeit non-virtuosic) writing with subtle shaping and sensitivity, as "Life" follows ebulliently from the plangent piece titled "Death". 


Fast forward to the 21st century and to a rich selection of pieces, six of which have been composed or transcribed for Myrna Herzog, an artist committed to playing contemporary viol music. She enjoys contact with the composers themselves, frequently collaborating with them to fashion music that is idiomatic for the instrument. In the series of small segments that make up "Sephardic Reminiscences", Israeli composer Dina Smorgonskaya (b.1947, USSR) combines both the exotic and the contemplative. Boris Yoffe (b.1968) is a Russian-born Israeli composer, today residing in Germany. Contemporary and largely monodic in style, also evocative, Yoffe's "Sonnet" (2006) is highly personal in character. In "Der kleine Bach" (2018), German composer, arranger, guitarist/keyboardist Günter Krause (b.1947) takes both performer and listener on an original and somewhat whimsical ride on a Bach-and Krause-tinted perpetuum mobile, its arpeggiated figures separated by "sighs". Melancholic, eastern European Jewish musical associations run through "Known Direction" and "Trains" by Israeli trumpet player, music educationalist and composer Aharon Shefi (b.1928, Jerusalem). "Trains" includes actual quotes of songs associated with the Holocaust, the train effects serving as a clear association of the deportation of Jews to Nazi camps. This was played on a late 19th century viol gifted to Herzog by her teacher, Judith Davidoff. Both of these two excellent pieces by Shefi are performed with profoundly personal and emotional focus. In "Nordestina" (2010), by Brazilian classical guitarist Luís Otávio Braga (b.1953), the listener becomes aware of Braga's involvement in the choro genre, a form of Brazilian popular music that emerged from the mix of European instrumentation and harmonies with Afro-Brazilian rhythms. A richly varied and colourful canvas, Braga's piece gives free rein to musical ideas and styles, as he takes into account the possibilities of the viol, also making reference to the guitar, the composer's own instrument. The final track on CHOOSE LIFE "A Bridge to the Past" was written by Japanese composer/conductor Shunichi Tokura (b.1948). A piece replete with nostalgic melodies, it was written for Myrna Herzog as a Brazilian modinha (a traditional-style Brazilian song), this alternating with phrases of Japanese melody. 


CHOOSE LIFE is an album whose detail and exquisite playing will appeal to connoisseurs and devotees of the viola da gamba. The pieces were recorded in various venues (2005-2021) by Eliahu Feldman and David Feldman and splendidly mastered by David Feldman. Most were recorded during the Corona pandemic. Herzog's playing addresses all aspects of performance on the instrument, extending beyond technical considerations. In addition to showcasing the viola da gamba's "boundless possibilities of expression" in Herzog's words, the program takes on another dimension, symbolizing the wanderings of Herzog's family. Its title was inspired by the artist's father, Leon Herzog, a Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust and emigrated to Brazil. He maintained that "every day we must choose life anew". The album can be heard on several digital platforms.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

A house concert of Jewish organ music performed and explained by Dr. Yuval Rabin at his Jerusalem home

Dr, Yuval Rabin (courtesy YR)


Not every day does one attend a pipe organ concert in a private home, but this was indeed the case on September 6th 2022, with people gathering at the Jerusalem home of Yuval Rabin to hear a concert of Jewish organ music performed on the 21-stop, German-built organ in his home. 

As one mostly associates organ music with church buildings and repertoire, this seemed an atypical program for an instrument mostly found in churches. Dr. Rabin opened the event with an outline of the history of the organ both in the synagogue and in Jewish music in general. Many of us are familiar with the choral music of Polish-German composer Louis Lewandowski (1821–1894), much of it for mixed chorus, solo, and organ, written during his tenure as musical director at the Neue Synagoge in Berlin - appealing, highly melodic music composed in the strict four-part harmony of church music, but with many of the pieces based on ancient cantorial modal melodies.  Rabin included a number of Lewandowski's appealing organ pieces from "Fünf Fest-Präludien" Op. 37 and "Synagogen-Melodien" Op. 47, all brimming with colour, noble, festive (and choral) gestures and threaded with quotes from familiar synagogue melodies.

Born in Lvov, virtuoso concert pianist and conductor Julius Chajes (1910-1965) fled to Palestine, then settling in the USA in 1937 and making an enduring contribution to the music of American Jewry - to American Synagogue repertoire, largely in the Reform milieu, but also in many Conservative synagogues, as well as to the secular Jewish concert repertoire of his adopted country. The musical language of his "Prayer" for organ, based on a traditional melody by J. Neumann, is a testament to Chajes' extensive work with cantors when he served as musical director for the Jewish community in Detroit.

The program included organ works of three German-born Israeli composers. Conductor and singer Karel Salmon (1897-1974), settled in Palestine in 1933, becoming musical director of the Palestine Broadcasting Service (later, Kol Israel), also teaching at the Academy of Music in Jerusalem. His "Six Miniatures for Organ" constitute a fine example of the "Mediterranean style" period of Israeli music, merging the composer's European heritage with Middle Eastern-, Mediterranean- and Jewish folklore material. Rabin gave an articulate, vivid and intelligent reading of the small vignettes, each inspired by a specific source of traditional Jewish melody, bringing out Salmon's detailed treatment of each.

Yuval Rabin spoke of Paul Ben Haim's "Prelude" (1966) as based on the gesture of a Seufzer (sigh). The artist's performance of the small, multi-sectional piece gave rich and engaging expression to its moods and richly coloured soundscape. Composer, conductor, pianist and teacher Paul Ben-Haim (1897-1984), his musical palette also a mix of European styles and local orientalism, remains one of the greatest and most prolific of the founding fathers of Israeli music. 

A fine sample of the compositional style of Haim Alexander (1915-2012) was heard in Rabin's playing of "Meditations on a Yemenite Song", a movement from "The West-East Bridge", a work (and, indeed, its title) indicative of the composer's aim to create a national style with Middle Eastern- and folk-like styles, yet still remaining close to his European background, at the same time, staying in line with contemporary developments of music. Rabin coloured the free variations and their differing ideas and patterns by way of a variety of registers and daring forays, making for excellent listening. 

The program also included a work by Rabin himself - "Fantasia on Sabbath Zemirot" (songs sung around the table during the sabbath and on Jewish holidays.) A demanding and somewhat programmatic work, the songs emerge via a variety of textures, as Rabin engages in some canonic writing, his harmonies at times bordering on clusters; there are humorous and mysterious touches and moments of imposing organ timbres. Rabin's style is personal, appealing and certainly challenging to the player. His explanations throughout the evening made for lively discussion with the audience.

Born in Haifa, Israel in 1973, Rabin studied at the Dunie Weizmann Conservatory (Haifa), the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, the Musik Akademie der Stadt Basel and the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis (Switzerland.) He participates in festivals and performs internationally with ensembles, orchestras and choirs. His CD recordings include “Organ Music from Israel'' and works of C.P.E Bach and Mendelssohn.


Saturday, September 10, 2022

Works of Bach, Schoenberg and Brahms in Concert No.3 of the 2022 Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival

Dmitry Sitkovetsky (courtesy Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival)


Once again, the Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival was here to provide music-lovers with late-summer enjoyment, its excitement and energy drawing large crowds and filling the auditorium of the Jerusalem International YMCA to capacity. The 25th Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival (artistic director: Elena Bashkirova) took place September 5th-10th, 2022. Arriving at the venue, one was greeted by Jerusalem's balmy evening breezes and the magical carillon sounds emanating from the YMCA bell tower, as Gaby Shefler entertained festival-goers with a selection of familiar melodies.


The Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival boasts its very own distinctive features. One is that it brings together musicians from all over the world - young artists performing on stage with more veteran musicians. Another is its concert programming, with each concert offering new- or seldom-performed works and, in some cases, offering a different slant on familiar pieces, all these alongside the canon of chamber music repertoire. Concert No.3 (September 7th) was no exception. It opened with six of J.S.Bach's Three-Part Inventions, BWV 787-801, as set for violin, viola and 'cello by Dmitry Sitkovetsky. Performing them were Sitkovetsky (violin), Hartmut Rohde (viola) and Xenia Jankovic on 'cello. So many of us have studied these 3-part keyboard Inventions (or Sinfonias) in our youth, then to revisit them later with a wider perspective. For the minor-key inventions, Sitkovetsky chose slow tempi, tempi that might not be effective on the harpsichord, but here, on strings, resulting in poetic, lyrical playing that gave prominence to each and every motif. As to the inventions in major keys, the trio members let down their hair to perform them with contrapuntal pizzazz, inviting the listener to follow how Bach plays out the subject matter in each. These perfectly-chiselled jewels, the very same notes that Bach had penned, but seen through the prism of the string player, made for a splendid opener to the concert. 


Arnold Schoenberg's Ode to Napoleon Op.41 for narrator, string quartet and piano would not be a work often performed on these shores, if at all. Composed during World War II as a protest against tyranny, Lord Byron's poem castigating Napoleon served the composer in expressing his own feelings. An impelling and turbulent piece, rich in motifs and written in the manner of inflected speech (resembling Sprechstimme) Schoenberg makes several references to Beethoven. Conducted by Sitkovetsky, the artists displayed fine-tuned teamwork. Presenting the 12-tone score with feisty precision, the instrumentalists (Nathalia Milstein-piano, violinists Yamen Saadi and Mohamed Hiber, Hartmut Rohde-viola, Astrig Siranossian-'cello), together with narrator (baritone) Dietrich Henschel, brought out the work's compelling message, its sarcasm and scorn. Schoenberg had insisted that the narrator must have "the number of shades, essential to express one hundred and seventy kinds of derision, sarcasm, hatred, ridicule, contempt, condemnation, etc., which I have tried to portray in my music." Henschel did not disappoint, presenting the work's compelling message in a performance that was indeed gripping, resonant and genuinely theatrical.


These items were followed by three works of Johannes Brahms.  "Zwei Gesänge" Op.91, published 1884, had a strange genesis - to mend the marriage of violinist Joseph Joachim and wife mezzo-soprano Amalie Weiss (both musical partners of Brahms and personal friends), due to Joachim’s paranoid delusions about an affair he imagined Amalie was having with Fritz August Simrock, Brahms’ publisher. Performing the two songs at the Jerusalem concert were soprano Dorothea Röschmann, Razvan Popovici-viola and Sunwook Kim (piano), their beautifully balanced reading of “Gestillte Sehnsucht” (Longing at Rest, Rückert) and “Geistliches Wiegenlied” (Sacred Lullaby, Geibel) - both songs sharing the image of wind in trees, calming in the first and alarming in the second - sensitive, dynamic and evocative. With fine-sculpted musical gestures, Popovici constantly reached out to interact with Röschmann's poignant singing and beauty of timbre. 


In the late summer months of 1865, having left Vienna for a working vacation in Baden, near the Black Forest, Brahms rented an apartment with mountain views and began to imagine the Horn Trio while walking in the woods. His mother, Christiane, had died the previous February in Hamburg. The Trio in E-flat major for horn, violin and piano Op.40 brings together three instruments the composer had played as a young man. (Despite his great love for the instrument, Brahms only engaged the horn in one chamber music work.)  What quickly became clear at the Jerusalem concert was how wholly and naturally the three young outstanding artists - Ben Goldscheider-horn, Clara Jumi-Kang-violin and Nathalia Milstein - had delved into the musical and emotional meaning of this nostalgic and strangely modern piece, identifying with its controlled sentimentality, its agitated and impetuous moments, its urgent gestures, elegiac expressiveness and Romantic warmth. Ben Goldscheider wields the unforgiving horn with easeful mastery and richness of timbre. 


The event signed out with Brahms' Piano Quintet in F-minor Op.34, a dark, mighty work of huge scope, often considered to be Brahms' great chamber music epic, though completed when he was only thirty-one. Performing it here were violinists Dmitry Sitkovetsky and Mohamad Hiber, Gérard Caussé-viola, Tim Park-'cello and Sunwook Kim-piano. With both piano and strings playing an equally important role throughout this work, the artists created the whole-of-Brahms emotional journey in playing that was personal, lyrical, mysterious, fresh and with some subtly-flexed touches.