Wednesday, June 16, 2021

"Silence Makes Perfect" - a theatrical-musical production conceived and performed by Yael Rasooly and Amit Dolberg, Habait Theatre, Jaffa, Israel

Photo: Ran D. Kopiler


Originally conceived at the Britten Studio and shown at the Snape Maltings Festival of the New (UK), “Silence Makes Perfect” has recently been playing in Israel. This writer attended the performance at Habait Theatre, Jaffa, on June 12th, 2021. The concept of the show is that of the two artists who perform it on stage - a collaboration of Yael Rasooly’s distinctive direction, puppeteering and singing, along with the superb classical playing, arrangements, improvisations and performative presence of pianist Amit Dolberg (Meitar Ensemble). Also involved in the production are Ran D. Kopiler-concept design and 3D masks, Maureen Friedman-costume design, Yoav Barel-lighting, Binya Reches-sound, with puppets designed by Rasooly herself. The language of the performance is English.


Dolberg sets the scene with the furtive sounds and chilling stillness of Claude Debussy’s "Des pas sur la neige" (Footsteps in the Snow). The recorded narrator begins the story in a decidedly naive way, as if telling the story to a child. Here is a happy, musically-talented little girl who takes her music lessons seriously. Opening a ‘cello case, the girl (Rasooly) introduces each side of it as her parents. All props in the show are musical instruments or constructed from parts of them. What quickly transpires is that the girl undergoes sexual assault by a “friend of the family”. Dolberg’s use of music by Debussy, Schubert and Beethoven begins to reveal the girl’s inner struggle, her isolation and growing detachment, these also represented by a ghostly and fragmented rendering of Dido’s Lament (Purcell’:“Dido and Aeneas”) Dolberg’s  improvisations on these works and the build-up of  distortion of their musical elements, some moments joined by Rasooly’s singing, reflect the turmoil created in the girl’s life as her flashbacks, imaginings and psychological state spiral out of control and sounds become more condensed and disturbing by way of looping and layering. The peak of her trauma is represented in a scene on a dark stage hung with large silver boards, the latter manipulated by Dolberg to produce spine-chilling reverberations as the girl fondles a horrific vertebraic, snakelike object. Rasooly and Dolberg now appear in monstrous masks. This performance is not for the faint-hearted and its message is clear:  sexual abuse must not be overlooked or swept under the carpet, that silence is far from perfect. 


Rasooly and Dolberg offer the audience 50 minutes of polished, streamlined and daring performance. With the piano on stage, Amit Dolberg’s musical contribution remains integral and engaging. His acting role, although non-verbal, is no less effective. Yael Rasooly’s fresh, pure soprano voice and her fine British English are as convincing as her depiction of the three stages in the protagonist’s “journey”, each stage endorsed by effective costuming. The performance ends on an optimistic note with the confident, truly splendid and uplifting cabaret-style performance of the now young woman singing Lana Del Rey’s suggestive song “Yayo”:

“Let me put on a show for you, daddy

Let me put on a show

Let me put on a show for you, tiger

Let me put on a show”..


One of Israel’s leading performers of new music, Amit Dolberg has premiered works dedicated to him. Founder/director of the Meitar Ensemble, he has been instrumental in the Centre for New Music (Tel Aviv), the Matan Givol Composers Competition, the Tedarim M.Mus. Program of Contemporary Music (Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance) and the CEME International Festival for New Music.


Trained primarily as a classical singer, Yael Rasooly also studied theatre design in London. She graduated with excellence from the Jerusalem School of Visual Theatre, where she specialized in directing, puppetry and design. As of 2006, she has been creating independent theatre works, performing at international festivals throughout Europe, the United States, South America and the Far East.


Photo: Ran D. Kopiler


Friday, June 4, 2021

Dror Semmel, Matan Dagan and Yoni Gotlibovich perform late Schubert works at the Eden-Tamir Music Center, Jerusalem

Dror Semmel(Alex Kaplan)

Yoni Gotlibovich(Meirav Kadichevski)

Matan Dagan(Michael Pavia)

Following the Covid-19 closure of all public events, the Eden-Tamir Music Center, nestling in the magical village of Ein Kerem (Jerusalem), is back to holding live concerts. Two late Schubert trios featured in a concert of the center’s “Best of Chamber Music” series on May 29th 2021. Artists performing were Matan Dagan-violin, Yoni Gotlibovich-‘cello and Dror Semmel-piano. Eden-Tamir Music Center director Dror Semmel opened the event with a few words on each of the works.

Despite his dire illness, Franz Schubert’s final year produced a canon of masterworks, among them, the final piano sonatas, the two massive piano trios and the sublime String Quintet in C major D.956.  His chamber music moves between sensations of rapture and despair, expressed with lush lyricism, with grandness of gesture but also with humility. The works for piano trio - the piano trios and the Notturno - were probably written late in 1827. What came to be known as the Notturno for piano trio D.897 was simply titled “Adagio” by the composer. It is thought to have been originally written as the second movement to the Opus 100 trio, then to be rejected by the composer. Although it does create an aura of night-time serenity, with its harp-like arpeggios in the piano supporting a hypnotic melody expressed by the two stringed instruments, it was, nevertheless, a publisher who decided to rename it. But does the single-movement work, one of the most eloquent examples of Romantic lyricism, not also express anguish and a sense of tragedy? Whatever their concept, the artists at the Ein Kerem concert gave the first tranquil slow-moving melody, the (recurring) subject of this rondo, plenty of rhythmic freedom, the subtly delayed onset of a phrase here and there allowing for a sense of discovery and spontaneity, then to be contrasted by the more assertive and glorious B-section.

Of Schubert’s Piano Trio in E flat major Op.100 D.929, Robert Schumann wrote: "A Trio by Schubert passed across the musical world like some angry comet in the sky."  A gigantic masterpiece, the full musical and emotional range as well as the ambiguity of this extraordinary work of genius present an ambitious undertaking to chamber musicians. Semmel, Dagan and Gotlibovich gave uncompromising energy to the work’s assertive opening gesture, their playing passionate but controlled, with the second subject providing lyrical respite. The second movement is a funeral march for Beethoven, with whom Schubert had felt a deep connection. Schubert had been a torchbearer at Beethoven’s funeral 1827. With the Andante movement’s sombre, haunting melody introduced by Gotlibovich, the full range of its elements was addressed – the introspective, the dark, the dramatic, even the angry and indignant, the latter perhaps expressed in the series of tremolos reaching an enormous passionate crescendo – the artists’ playing reflecting the chiaroscuro elements of Schubert’s palette. Then, as if sweeping aside this most desolate of slow movements, the sparkling Scherzando breathed optimism – carefree, congenial, charming, whimsically accented and dancelike - its middle section more massive in texture. As to the final movement - Allegro Moderato – it is fortunate that Schubert’s complete and unexpurgated original manuscript has been preserved; that was the version the artists chose to play at the Ein Kerem concert. The players showed the listener through its myriad of “scenes”, as they transported the initially relaxed theme into a rhythmically propulsive landscape of frequent modulations and metre changes, then to call back the wistful, soul-searching principal theme from the Andante, the trio ending on a bright, declamatory note.  When asked by his publisher to whom the work should be dedicated, Schubert replied: “This work is to be dedicated to nobody, save those who find pleasure in it.”

Playing with intelligence, the artists presented the music with straightforward and informed competence. For their encore, Dagan, Gotlibovich and Semmel gave another rendition of the E flat major trio’s  Andante con moto movement, revisiting it with both ardour and restraint, with poise and warmth of sound

Sunday, May 30, 2021

"Murder, Mystery, Music" - Ensemble PHOENIX reveals rumours and scandal around the lives (and deaths) of several Baroque composers

Noam Gal,Lilia Slavny,Marina Minkin,Myrna Herzog (Yoel Levy)


Scandalous behaviour involving composers began long before Clara Schumann’s torrid affair with Johannes Brahms and doesn’t look like it is going to taper off in the near future. Ensemble PHOENIX’ most recent program “Murder, Mystery, Music” was proof of this most human of failings! Finding a program based on gossip hard to resist, this writer went along to the noon concert in the Faculty of Musicology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on May 24th, 2021. The artists - violinists Lilia Slavny and Noam Gal, harpsichordist Marina Minkin and PHOENIX founder/director Myrna Herzog - were introduced by Dr. Sara Pavlov, producer of the Monday Afternoon Concert Series. It was Herzog who let the audience into a wealth of dark secrets behind the lives of several renowned Baroque composers who should have known better!

Alessandro Stradella was an immoral sort of a chap. With a reputation as an “aristocratic lady-killer”, he was obliged to flee Rome to Venice; in Venice, he seems to have continued in much the same manner. On his wedding day, he was attacked by two hired assassins but survived, later to be murdered in Genova by a revengeful rival. Opening the concert, Stradella’s marvellous Sinfonia No.8 in A minor makes the listener inclined to want to pardon the composer’s weaknesses. We were treated to a performance rich in interaction, emotion, in fiery meetings on dissonances and some fine individual touches. Noam Gal and Herzog played out the two parts in Stradella’s Sinfonia in A minor, a sparkling work of sudden and extreme mood shifts. Gal led expressively, taking on the role of a theatrical quick-change artist, colouring key notes with a touch of vibrato, as he, Herzog and Minkin capped the work with a dashing gigue.

It seems that no forensic scientist was on site to determine the real reason for Henry Purcell’s early death in 1695, be it from tuberculosis, pneumonia/hypothermia after being locked out of the house after a visit to the tavern or even from chocolate poisoning. At any rate, his widow Francis was left with the task of publishing his trio sonatas posthumously, of which we heard Sonata in 4 parts for two violins, bass viol & continuo No.10 in D major, Z. 811. Enjoying its grand moments and Italianate style, Slavny’s playing of the 1st violin part was warm and zesty, rhythmically vital and imaginative and with some suave ornamenting, as she was joined by her fellow players in creating  the work’s sense of well-being. Another mystery is (what could be) Purcell’s Toccata quasi Sinfonia con Fuga in A major, once attributed to Bach and even thought by some to be by Michelangelo Rossi. A solo keyboard work of diverse sections, Minkin calls upon each scene to inspire the manner in which it is to be played. Under her fingers, those sections evolving from the world of fantasy emerge with refreshing freedom and spontaneity, those of gossamer texture take flight into the intimate and personal corners of the soul, whereas stricter forms, such as the fugue, radiate with the discipline and merits of absolute musical precision.

French Baroque composer Jean-Marie Leclair was found stabbed to death on October 23, 1764. Although the murder remains a mystery, there is a possibility that his ex-wife may have been behind it, although the strongest suspicion rests on his nephew… yet another violinist. Minkin, Herzog and Slavny indulged wholeheartedly in the joie-de-vivre of Leclair’s Sonata Op.9 No.3 in D major, possibly the composer’s most popular violin sonata, with Slavny playing with the shapes and melodies that abound in ornaments and double-stopping. This is a work of virtuosity and contrasts, the contrasts also being of style: following the introspective, moving Sarabande, the sonata winds up with a foot-tapping Tambourin, its ardent, whirling fiddle melodies set above a drone.

Jean-Baptiste Antoine Forqueray was a bass viol player of extraordinary skill who, together with his composer father, left a small but noteworthy body of compositions for the instrument. Today, psychologists might claim that young Jean-Baptiste had “issues” with his disgruntled dad, who also happened to have been his music teacher. It seems that Forqueray junior was so successful that his father Antoine became jealous of him, to the point of having him thrown into the Bicêtre prison, later obtaining a ruling to have him banished from the kingdom for "indulging in all sorts of debauchery”. (Antoine’s wife, Henriette-Angelique Houssu, managed to escape her husband's cruelty only after ten years of legal wrangling.)  But, as every psychologist will tell you, young musicians will remain ever faithful to their abusive parents. In fact, it was Jean-Baptiste who assisted Antoine in the editing of his music, then, after Antoine’s death, bringing out an anthology in his father's name - the “Pièces De Viole” (1747) - a collection containing 32 works, of which 29 are attributed to his father. (Another twist: Some scholars are of the opinion that all the pieces might be the work or a reworking of the son.) Herzog and Minkin performed two character pieces from the collection – Jean-Baptiste’s “La Du Vaucel” (named for wealthy financier), a calm, cantabile viol piece with interest also emerging from the harpsichord and “La Eynaud” (Antoine Forqueray), a lively rondeau lush in gamba textures, delivered with vitality, the occasional subtle agogic accent and a touch of whimsy.

As to J.S,Bach, here is the latest rumour: Welsh-born musician Martin Jarvis (son of a detective) has come up with a startling theory – that Anna Magdalena Bach (Johann Sebastian’s second wife) was the composer of the six solo ‘cello suites. Jarvis elaborates on this idea in his book “Written by Mrs. Bach” (2011) and in a documentary film of the same name. In fact, this is not the first time that doubts have surfaced regarding prominent works in the Bach catalogue. Can we bear the idea that Johann Sebastian Bach, the most revered of western composers, has been pulling the wool over our eyes for almost 400 years?  We should, however, take comfort in the fact that there is no concrete evidence that Anna Magdalena composed music, nor that she had ever played a stringed instrument. The PHOENIX concert concluded with three of Bach’s Organ Trios…and even that is not as straightforward as you might think. Of the four Organ Trios (BWV 583–586) at least three are not original organ works. BWV 585 is not even a composition by Bach and it is possible BWV 583 is also an adaptation of a work written by another composer. The artists performed Organ Trios BWV 583, 584 and 586. Where one might have missed the grandeur of the pipe organ, the PHOENIX players compensated with elegant, stylistic playing, interesting interchange and warmth of timbre. Herzog was playing a Castagneri viol made in 1744 and Gal, a Giuseppe Gaffino violin built around the same time. For their encore, the artists played. the C minor Fugue in from Book 1 of J.S.Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, each voice as written by the composer, the only addition being Marina Minkin’s Baroque-style continuo part on the harpsichord.

A fine program of beautiful playing, interest and a humorous dimension. A treat awaits those intending to attend the concert in the Old Masters Gallery of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

By the way, have you heard that Bach was once imprisoned?? Well…that is for another time.

Friday, May 28, 2021

"A Flute Alone" - Idit Shemer records 18th, 19th and 20th century works for solo flute

Idit Shemer (photo:Anat Oren)


Nowadays, performance of western music written for one melodic instrument (not necessarily monophonic) seems low on the priorities of both professional- and amateur musicians, much of it, in fact, being unfamiliar to many concert-goers. Could it be that it has been relegated by some to the domain of pedagogical etudes? Granted, this repertoire is highly personal, frequently played in the confines of the home, with the musician in communication with himself. Yet, this genre offers a rich variety of styles ranging from the earliest of notated works to the most contemporary. In the liner notes to her recently-issued disc “A Flute Alone”, Idit Shemer writes: “So much has been written for the solo flute and so little is performed.” Giving the stage to works for solo flute, she performs each on the appropriate instrument of the period.


The disc presents a number of European- and two American 19th- and 20th century works. Two short evocative works by Parisian composers – Arthur Honegger’s cyclical “Danse de la chèvre” (The Goat Dance) written in 1921 as incidental music for dancer Jane Lysana in Sacha Derek's play “La mauvaise”, a piece of mixed modality, moving between the sombre and the whimsical, and Jacques Ibert’s “Piéce” (1936) – lyrical, extemporal and cantabile – are performed here with freshness, fine shaping and a sense of discovery. In an interview with Bruce Duffie in 1989, American composer John La Montaine (1920-2013) referred to the composing process thus: “I think there’s something interior that’s very, very deep inside of you, that you don’t really have access to, and that’s where that comes from”. Shemer’s playing of his Sonata for flute solo, Op. 24 (1957) endorses the enlisting of this natural spring of creativity, as she recreates the four personalities described in this engaging work with empathy, candidness and wit, approaching its technical challenges with consummate elasticity. A no-less challenging undertaking is Sonata Op. 39 by Hungarian-American Miklós Rózsa, a composer mostly known for his film music. Like Bach, he also chose to write unaccompanied solo pieces for various instruments, indeed, specifying that they were concert pieces and not technical exercises. Growing up in Hungary, he had heard a lot of folk music, which was always unaccompanied. Elements of folk song/dance are interspersed throughout the work, whose course comprises both lyrical sections and unleashed, zesty virtuosic moments. The above-mentioned pieces are played on a modern flute by Lillian Burkart, Boston.


A highlight of the disc is Johann Sebastian Bach's Partita in A minor for solo flute, also known as “Solo pour la flûte traversière”. Shemer guides the listener through the work’s beauty and uniqueness, as she presents the complexity and enigmatic path of the Allemande with suspense, the bariolage writing of the Corrente with playfulness and strategic timing and the Sarabande in solemn introspection, to conclude with the bracing rustic Bourrée Angloise offered with a touch of whimsy. The artist’s imaginative ornamenting adds much interest as does the robust, pithy timbre of the J.H.Rottenburgh traverso (c.1740), a copy by R.Tutz (Innsbruck).


A major part of the disc, offering short pieces interspersed between the other works, is devoted to examples of works from “L’Art de préluder sur la flûte traversière” (The Art of Preluding on the Transverse Flute) by the influential French Baroque flautist/composer/teacher Jacques-Martin Hotteterre, one of the most illustrious figures in the history of the transverse flute and the French school of wind instrument playing. In the liner notes, Shemer refers to the function of these short pieces as being “tonal preparation before the performance of a longer work or as constituting a solo cadenza…or even as a basis for improvisation.”. It was Hotteterre who brought the flute full respectability through his writings and pieces. Shemer’s playing of these miniatures - none even reaching two minutes in length – presents each as a perfect and complete work; she probes their melodic interest, their changes of mood and character and their Italian-style instrumental brilliance, with its prevalence for longer melodic lines, as against the subtleties of French courtly musical language. Engaging in some lavish ornamentation, her playing is dazzling and uplifting, but always charming and delightful, indeed, displaying the art of performance required when addressing the musical miniature. The Hotteterre pieces are performed on a copy of a J.Denner traverso flute (c.1720) by R. Tutz (Innsbruck).


No disc of solo flute music would be complete without a performance of Syrinx” (La Flûte de Pan) by Claude Debussy, written in 1913 as incidental music to a dramatic poem by Gabriel Mourey, its text based on the myth of Psyché. Shaping and sculpting the composer’s ever-enigmatic melodic course, Shemer’s bold yet beguiling sound captures the rapture and sensuousness of the work, as its phrases, like tears or sighs, fall to their end, with the piece culminating in a final diminuendo on a descending whole tone scale.


Recorded in 2017 by CedarHouse Sound & Mastering, New Hampshire, USA for the Omnibus CLASSICS label, the disc’s true, lively sound quality does justice to Idit Shemer’s fine reading and interpretation of the works heard here, making for a rewarding listening experience. Born in Jerusalem, Idit Shemer is principal flautist of the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra, chamber musician and a prominent flute teacher. With an interest in contemporary music, she has performed and recorded works composed for her. Other recordings include music of W.F.Bach and Philippe Gaubert.






Saturday, April 17, 2021

Salon music from late 18th century London - Revital Raviv and Jochewed Schwarz perform Haydn's settings of Anne Hunter's poetry


Jochewed Schwarz (Lauren Pressler)

Revital Raviv (Amir Itskovich)

A concert of Haydn’s settings of Anne Hunter's poems performed in the intimate setting of a private home in Kfar Saba, Israel on April 10th 2021 might be as close as one could get today to the kind of venue where these works would have originally been performed - in the salons of London. The works were performed by soprano Revital Raviv and early keyboard artist Jochewed Schwarz. In keeping with the repertoire, style, location and period, Jochewed Schwartz, who also performed a Haydn piano sonata, was playing on a 1798 Broderick & Wilkinson square piano.


Joseph Haydn arrived in London in January 1791 at the invitation of impresario Johann Peter Salomon. The composer gave a series of subscription concerts at the Queen's Ancient Concert Rooms, Hanover Square. Highly successful, they were attended by prominent London personages, these almost certainly including poetess Anne Hunter. The Lady’s Magazine reported that Haydn “the celebrated composer, though he has not yet been introduced at our court, was recognized by all the royal family” and that “the eyes of all the company were upon Mr. Haydn, everyone paying him respect.” Haydn’s lodgings were only a short walk to the house of the famous surgeon and anatomist Dr. John Hunter and his wife Anne, who lived in Leicester Square. Following a summer spent in the countryside Haydn returned to London. Another concert season followed in early 1792, a time Haydn was also starting his arrangements of Scottish and Welsh folk songs. It was at around this time that he met Anne Hunter, (1742–1821), whose fashionable Georgian salon was a meeting place for some of  London’s most influential people, those including members of the Bluestockings - a group of the city’s most educated and intellectual women. An evening at Anne Hunter's salon would have encompassed the full spectrum of art and learning available to the trendy Londoner of  the time. Haydn and Hunter collaborated on “Dr Haydn's VI Original Canzonettas”, the first of his two sets of “English Canzonettas”; the first bore a dedication to Hunter herself. The texts were published anonymously, but were, in fact, authored by Anne.Hunter and published 1794 during Haydn's second London visit. The result of this fortunate professional collaboration with Mrs. Hunter and the new possibilities presented by the more powerful English pianoforte was a true turning point in the development of the art song. The second set of Canzonettas, dedicated to Lady Charlotte Bertie, Countess of Abingdon, whose husband was one of Haydn’s many admirers, includes texts by various authors, including Hunter, Shakespeare, and Metastasio.  Heading each set of six is a sea song. 


The first half of the house concert was devoted to the first set of Canzonettas, immensely charming and tuneful songs, somewhat in the popular style - the pastoral-cum-sentimental English tradition - indeed, suited to intimate parlour entertainment, but written so well as to now represent some of Haydn’s most significant art songs. Haydn's command of English now greater, his music and the English lyrics move together hand-in-glove. The program opened with a sparkling, joyful rendition of “The Mermaid’s Song”, its skipping rhythmic course alive with word painting, the piano part exuberantly weaving in and out of the piece. The love songs that follow, however, all bear elements of regret and sorrow, of happiness that  once existed and that would never be retrieved, although Haydn’s settings, many in major keys, do not emerge overwhelmingly sad: “Recollection”, in which the piano part, almost, homophonic, stays at the speaker’s side throughout,  “A Pastoral Song” (the signature song of Jenny Lind), wistfully musing, its gorgeous melodic line partnered with the bold, independent piano part, the understated anguish of “Despair”, the sweet melancholy of “Pleasing Pain”, with its subtle piano comments, and “Fidelity”, evoking the storm (of the soul), nevertheless, concluding in an optimistic vein.


Separating their performance of songs from both sets of Canzonettas, Jochewed Schwarz chose to play Haydn’s Sonata in E-flat major Hob. 59, one of the composer’s last four sonatas, this latter group constituting the climax of Haydn's writing for solo piano. Written for an instrument with a much stronger sound and larger range than he had had available for his earlier piano music, it uses the resources of the new instrument to the utmost. Schwarz’ colourful playing brought out the work’s emotional depth, virtuosity, and vivacity, presented with a sense of spontaneity, freedom, attention to detail and personal touches. The sonata concludes with a Minuet that relieves the intensity of the opening two movements.


Revital Raviv spoke of Haydn’s second set of English Canzonettas as being more eclectic than the first. Opening with the hearty “Sailor’s Song” (text: anonymous) with its colourful (very jolly English!) depiction of bugle calls, cannons and rattling ropes, emerging zesty and uplifting, it was followed by a moving performance of “The Wanderer,” set in a gloomy but beautifully depicted nature setting, its disquieting pauses and unanticipated turns of chromatic harmonies powerful and disturbing. Then, “Sympathy” (text: Metastasio, Eng. translation), superb Haydn writing, touching in its tenderness warmth and sincerity, makes way for “She never told her love”, Haydn’s brilliant setting of verses from Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night”, written in the form of a free arioso, enigmatic in its full-blown piano solo, its striking rhetorical gestures and extreme dynamic changes - a miniature of giant demands, and certainly well handled by the artists! Following a playful reading of “Piercing Eyes”, the program concluded with the original version of “Transport of Pleasure”. (The text was considered too suggestive for proper English society, necessitating an alternate version, titled “Content”.)


Revital Raviv’s voice - bright, honeyed, unforced and unmarred by excessive vibrato - is well suited to this repertoire, as is her expressiveness, good taste and fine British English, her performance communicative and revealing thorough inquiry into the content of each song. Conceived as keyboard works with vocal accompaniment, Haydn’s piano writing takes full advantage of the larger key span and the expressive qualities offered by the improved piano mechanisms Haydn encountered in the Broadwood instruments on which he played in London, pianos stronger and more robust than their Viennese counterparts. Jochewed Schwarz’ playing attested to the above, distinctively endorsing the many-faceted role demanded by the keyboard in these pieces, as she set the scene for each vignette, added “comments” and subtle meaningful pauses, also giving expression to Haydn’s elaborate ornamentation, all wrought in the manner of  Classical performance and championed by the action and true sound of her fortepiano.  Concert guests enjoyed the opportunity to hear this repertoire, not often performed on these shores. Holding such a concert in an intimate home setting elicited some lively discussion between audience and artists regarding the works and the timbres of various keyboard instruments. 

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

"A Tribute to Alexander Tamir" - from Vilna to Jerusalem - a new film chronicling the influential Israeli pianist's life, times and career

Prof. Alexander Tamir (© Ein Kerem Music Center)

Alik Volkoviski was born in Vilna on April 2nd 1931. He began studying music at the age of five. In early 1943, the Jewish Council of the Vilna Ghetto held a music competition. The winning entry was a melody composed by 11-year-old Alik, the boy already well known for his remarkable talent as a pianist. His song  “Stiler, stiler” (Hush, hush), to words written by his father, with lyrics later added by the ghetto poet Shmerke Kaczerginski became one of the best-loved songs of the ghetto. The lullaby, first performed at one of the last Jewish Council concerts before liquidation of the ghetto in 1943, is still frequently performed in memory of the Jews murdered in the Holocaust. With the liquidation of the ghetto, Volkoviski and his mother were sent to a concentration camp, where they were two of the few Vilna Jews to survive the war. After the liberation, Volkoviski moved to Israel in 1945, where, now known as Alexander Tamir, he studied piano in Tel Aviv with Eliyahu Rudyakov and composition with Yitzhak Edel. After graduating Geula High School. In 1948, he fought in the War of Independence.


Bracha Eden and Alexander Tamir met in 1951 as students of Prof. Alfred Schroeder at the New Jerusalem Conservatory (now the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance). Schroeder suggested they play as a duo.  In 1955, the Eden-Tamir Duo received a scholarship to participate in the Aspen Festival and study with the Vronsky & Babin Piano Duo. Two years later, they won 1st prize in the Vercelli Duo Competition, Italy. Eden and Tamir were the first artists to play Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski's "Variations on a Theme by Paganini" outside of Poland and the first to play and record Igor Stravinsky’s "Rite of Spring" arranged for two pianos - an adaptation by Alexander Tamir under the guidance- and with the consent of the composer. Eden and Tamir were instrumental in promoting Israeli works, many of which were written for them, including those by Josef Tal, Haim Alexander, A.A.Boskovich, Marc Lavry, Mark Kopytman, Karel Salmon and Ari Ben Shabtai. Senior faculty members of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, Prof. Eden and Prof. Tamir taught generations of students, many of them active today in music in Israel and abroad. Bracha Eden died in 2006.


In 1968, Tamir and Eden founded the Targ Music Center, Ein Kerem, Jerusalem, with the aim of enriching Jerusalem’s musical life and providing a platform for young talent and immigrant artists. Now known as the Eden-Tamir Music Center, the venue, nestling in a tranquil, exotic garden, functions as a recording studio and busy concert hall. The Music Center was also Alexander Tamir’s home till his death.


Alexander Tamir died on August 15th 2019. On April 2nd 2021, the date of what would have been his 90th birthday, a short film on Tamir and his life’s work was shown for the first time. Sponsored by the Association of Vilna and Vilna Vicinity Jews in Israel, the film was directed and edited by pianist Ofer Shelley (founder/pianist  Atar Trio), and produced by Hadassah Virshup (Association for the Lithuanian Jews in Israel); camera - Ariel Weiss, sound - Avi Elbaz. A view of the gates of the Eden-Tamir Music Centre, Ein Kerem, Jerusalem, with Bracha Eden and Tamir playing a Poulenc Waltz on two pianos sets the scene for “A Tribute to Alexander Tamir”, in which colleagues and friends talk of Tamir. Speaking to Ofer Shelley were Ms. Mickey Kantor (head of the Association of Vilna and Vilna Vicinity Jews in Israel, Beit Vilna, Tel Aviv),  Prof. Mordechai (Motti) Zalkin (Ben Gurion University of the Negev, researcher of the cultural, social, religious and economic history of the Jews of Lithuania), Avi Hanani (Voice of Music - Israeli radio, Israel Music Institute, Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra), Vilna-born concert pianist, pedagogue, cultural- and social researcher Dr. Zecharia Plavin (Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance),  Vilna-born violinist, conductor, composer and teacher Prof. Motti Schmitt (Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, concertmaster Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra), Dr. Dror Semmel (artistic director Eden-Tamir Music Center, member of faculty of the Edward Aldwell Institute) who was a student of Prof. Bracha Eden, Prof. Yoram Eden (director Eden-Tamir Music Center), recording engineer Avi Elbaz and Rachel Schwarz (producer of “Ponar”, a film documenting Alexander Tamir’s life.) Consecutively, the above speakers assembled a rich and comprehensive picture of Alexander Tamir - the person, the artist - pianist, accompanist, teacher - his radio programs, the prestigious Eden-Tamir Duo and the Eden-Tamir Music Center.


“A Tribute to Alexander Tamir” is the initiative of the Israeli Vilna Association. Growing up in the Ein Kerem neighbourhood, Ofer Shelley's piano teacher was Bracha Eden. Then, at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, he studied under Eden and Tamir. Many short film clips woven through “A Tribute to Alexander Tamir” - of Vilna in 1930, of Warsaw, of industry, migrant ships and scenes from Israel in the 1940s - call attention to the background and historic events of Tamir’s life. Of the musical items, Nechama Lifschitz’ moving performance of “Stiler, Stiler” and works (filmed at the Eden-Tamir Music Center) for two pianos of Dvořák, Poulenc and Z.Plavin, superbly performed by Zecharia Plavin and Ofer Shelley, make for a fitting tribute to Prof. Tamir and his profound influence on musical life in Israel and beyond. Beautifully made, this film is enriching and inspiring. 

Monday, March 29, 2021

"Reflection" - the Israel Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra welcomes its audience back to the concert hall at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art

Maestro Doron Salomon, Hagai Shaham (Y. Hirata)


The Israel Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra and its audience had every reason to celebrate the event in the Tel Aviv Museum of Art’s Recanati Auditorium on March 25th 2021. “Reflection” was the first live concert event to take place in over a year, after public venues had been        closed down due to Israeli Covid-19 restrictions. Established in 1970, the NKO was performing the concert in honour of 50 years of its existence. Today, the orchestra functions under two conductors - resident artistic director Shmuel Elbaz and Christian Lindberg (Sweden), the orchestra’s musical director. Conducting this concert, however, was former NKO musical director Doron Salomon. In his words of welcome, Salomon spoke of the orchestra's warmth and energy. Violinist Hagai Shaham was the evening’s soloist.


The event opened with Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No.49 in F minor “La Passione” (not Haydn’s title).  Dating from 1768, its minor mode (pervading all movements!) stems from Haydn’s Sturm und Drang period, the trend influencing music, literature, painting and theatre, in which artists were exploring emotional extremes and distress. Setting the scene, the Adagio movement, cantabile and thought-provoking, gave way to the sudden dynamic contrasts, nervous syncopations and wild leaps of the Allegro di molto movement, wrought in contrasting colours and textures, offering hearty tutti as against delicate, pared-down utterances. Following the Minuet, with its charming small comments and transitions (the Trio providing temporary major tonality respite from the key of F minor) the Presto burst forth with exhilarating freshness and featuring some fine wind playing. For Haydn who, at this time, was expected to perform his works solely to the Prince and a limited audience at the Esterháza residence, Eisenstadt Castle, there would normally be 12 to 16 players available for any one performance. The NKO set-up suited this concept splendidly, the instrumentalists addressing the fine details of Haydn’s Classical layering with articulacy. 


Extra players joined those already on stage for the performance of Max Bruch’s Concerto No.1 in G minor for violin and orchestra, Op.26. Unfortunately, this work has suffered much at the hands of musicians “playing in a way that sounds cheap or schmaltzy” in the words of American violinist Joshua Bell. However, the NKO’s inspired rendition of it, consolidated by much eye contact between soloist Hagai Shaham and Maestro Salomon, emerged as a rewarding and exciting listening experience. Salomon gave expression to the work’s lush, passionate orchestral writing as Shaham played the solo role splendidly, handling its gamut of violin techniques and devilishly difficult passages with authority and profound feeling. He and Salomon took the listener through the work’s roller-coaster ride of mood changes, the soaring, lyrical beauty of soulful melodies and its uncompromising emotional outbursts, wrapping up with the rousing energy and drama of the gypsy-driven Finale. For his encore, Shaham gave a reflective reading of the Andante from J.S.Bach’s Sonata No. 2 in A Minor, BWV 1003. 


The program concluded with Zoltán Kodály’s “Dances of Galánta”. Kodály composed the work in 1933 for the 80th anniversary of the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra. Galánta is a small, Hungarian market town between Vienna and Budapest, where the composer spent seven years of his childhood. It was there that a famous gypsy band gave the young Kodály his first taste of  “orchestral” sounds. Kodály’s work takes folk material from a collection of Hungarian dances published in Vienna a century earlier, these dances actually including one by gypsies from Galánta. The work is an expanded “verbunkos”, (an 18th-19th century Hungary dance show performed by a recruiting sergeant and his hussars for potential army enlistees.) Salomon and the players presented the audience with Kodály’s colourful flow of dances - some rousing, some feisty, some earthy, others lilting, whimsical, even reticent or plangent - a head-spinning succession of small, vibrant scenes. Fine, soul-stirring orchestral fare, the many pleasing solos and small group ensembles displayed the high quality of individual- and orchestral playing constantly upheld by this orchestra.

Hagai Shaham (Miri Shamir)
 Doron Salomon (Miri Shamir)