Sunday, March 19, 2023

Opera North (Israel) presents its first production - Aviram Freiberg's setting of Federico Gracia Lorca's "The House of Bernarda Alba"

Photo: Aviram Freiberg


Opera North (Israel) has set its sights at encouraging opera creativity, composers and performers in Haifa and in the northern region of Israel. "The House of Bernarda Alba" was the company's first production. Completed in 1936, two months before the death of its author Federico García Lorca, this drama was the third and last of what has often been referred to as the "rural trilogy" - "Bodas de sangre" (Blood Wedding), "Yerma" and " La casa de Bernarda Alba" (The House of Bernarda Alba).. Abridged and translated into Hebrew by Rivka Meshulach, the text has been set to music by Aviram Freiberg. Stage direction was by Jonathan Szwarc, stage design - Dorota Biales, lighting - Yoni Tal; Tom Karni conducted with Alyssa Kuznetsova at the piano. This writer attended the performance at the Khan Theatre (Jerusalem) on March 14th, 2023.


Opening with the stark singing of "Requiem Eterna", followed by elements of Jewish mourning liturgy, the action takes place in the home of Bernarda Alba after the funeral of her second husband. Authoritarian, unbending and bound to the stringencies of Spanish tradition, Bernarda announces to her five daughters that there will be a mourning period of eight years, during which time they must stay in the house and do needlework. Her authority is not to be questioned. La Poncia (Iris Brill), Bernarda's maid and confidante, challenges Bernarda's authority, but the daughters are to submit to her will in spite of their unhappiness.  Lilach Tolnai-Turcan was well cast as the controlling Bernarda, her eyes never moving from her daughters. In the production, the daughters' individual personalities were excellently portrayed - Angustias (Carmel Ben-Ephraim), whose name means "anguish" or "torments", the weeping Magdalena (Shira Shaish), the gossipy Amelia (Mor Rosenfeld), the unhappy, sickly and manipulative Martirio (Elinor Greenberg), and Adela (Tom Ben Ishai), the youngest, most beautiful and passionate of the daughters, who openly disobeys her mother. Adela has been having a secret affair with Pepe el Romano. At the climax of the play, she hangs herself after Pepe was (mistakenly) rumoured to have been shot. Throughout the opera's streamlined three-act continuum, we were presented with some fine, articulate singing. The acting was natural, subtle and convincing, never excessive, allowing the dramatic course to spiral to its conclusion with puissance, the singers' body language, in particular their facial expressions, indicative of each turn and gesture of the scenario. On the bare stage, save for the symbolic red needlework thread wound in and out through the chair legs, symbolically incarcerating the daughters, the performance gave expression to all the elements of Lorca's play - the stringency of tradition, authority, the oppression of women, family dynamics, jealousy, anger, despair, love and death, and emotion versus reason. With Tom Karni conducting and Alyssa Kuznetsova's attentive, spirited and dependable playing, Freiberg's music, moving between modal, atonal and even folk-based styles, in keeping with the dramatic developments, flows well. His musical language is accessible and meaningful. A highlight of the performance was the solo scene of Maria Josefa, Bernarda's demented mother, poignantly presented by Dalia Treibich, its content telling of dreams and yearning, her words filled with truth and wisdom. Another touch was Flamenco dancing by Maayan Yagil. 


Opera North is off to a promising start. Kudos to all involved!


Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Birds in Music - the Melzer Consort on recorders with soprano Yeela Avital perform at the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies


Prof. Michael Melzer (Courtesy JAMD)

It was Olivier Messiaen who said: "In artistic hierarchy, birds are the greatest musicians that exist on our planet." In fact, he considered himself as much an ornithologist as a composer, organist and pianist. Birdsong has played a significant role in Western classical music for hundreds of years. Among the birds whose song is most often imitated in music are the nightingale and the cuckoo. "Birds in Music" was the theme for a concert performed by the Melzer Consort at the scenic venue of the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies (Mormon University) on February 26th 2023. Recorder players Michael Melzer, Yael Melzer and Ezer Melzer were joined by soprano Yeela Avital.


In keeping with the nature of the recorder and the times in which the it flourished, many of the pieces on the program were from the Elizabethan- and Baroque periods -  the anonymous Elizabethan "This Merry Pleasant Spring", graced with the calls of several birds and evocatively presented by Yeela Avital, then a jolly dialogue between alto recorder and Avital in "The Cuckoo" by Richard Nicholson, to be followed by the sober, bitter-sweet "Venus' Birds"  lullaby by John Bennet. As to the dialogue between Joan and John in Nicholson's "Wooing Song", whether or not the repetition of "every hour to woo" refers to the owl's nocturnal cry is arguable. For their performance of "There Were Three Ravens", its grim scene devoid of any joyful bird song, the ensemble chose a deliberate, languid tempo to set the bleak scene. Avital sustained the almost leaden pace impressively, as the strophic song concluded with the somewhat comforting message that every person should hope to be as lucky as the knight in the poem whom God had blessed with hounds, hawks, and a loyal woman who cared for his body after death. Sweeping aside any gloom and doom in the air, there was no mistaking the joy and abandon of  Thomas Morley's ever popular and gently risqué "It was a lover and his Lass", its refrain speaking of bird songs in Morley's setting for Shakespeare’s "As You Like It". The song, to be sung and danced, draws together pastoral love and spring, wooing and the promise of new life 


And to two solo pieces played by Michael Melzer. Jacob van Eyck (c.1590–1657), a Dutch nobleman and blind musician of the Golden Age, was a carillon player and technician, organist and composer. He was also a virtuoso recorder player, well known for his improvisations. Many recorder players are familiar with "Der Fluyten Lust-hof" (The Flute's Pleasure Garden), an extensive collection of soprano recorder pieces, mostly variations on psalms and popular songs. Of these some 150 pieces, Melzer chose to perform "Engels Nachtegaeltje" (1644). Addressing the song's increasingly complex variations, Melzer performs it with spontaneity, imagination and a touch of humour, ornamenting generously and incorporating such techniques as flutter-tonguing to create a twittering effect. Not merely virtuosic, his playing was most evocative of the lively calls of the English nightingale. A more sober, nostalgic mood pervaded François Couperin's "Le Rossignol en Amour" (The Nightingale in Love), played with tenderness and French courtly elegance, enhanced by the richly mellow, caressing timbre of the Baroque transverse flute. 


The nightingale appeared in yet another piece - in "Ma tredol rossignol", a 14th century virelai performed on recorders with the pleasingly clean articulacy pertaining to the style, with Michael Melzer singing the song's opening lines.


Franz Anton Hofmeister (1754-1812), a German composer and publisher residing in Vienna, is known as one of the founding fathers of music publishing. His compositional oeuvre, all very much in the accepted style of his time, covers many genres of music. His widespread reputation stemmed from the original content of his works, several of them composed with Vienna's growing number of amateur musicians in mind, for whom the flute was one of the most favoured instruments. One such work is “La Gallina, il Cucco, e l'Asino” (The Hen, the Cuckoo and the Donkey), the piece "staging" a dispute between the three, with the individual parts representing each creature. Making no changes to the work originally scored for three flutes, save transposing it, the Melzer Consort players gave an entertaining reading of it on recorders. 


The program included two Israeli songs for voice and three recorders in arrangements by Michael Melzer - "I saw a bird of exquisite beauty" (lyrics-Natan Zach, melody-Misha Segal) pensive, plaintive and sprinkled with some unconventional harmonies, to be followed by a somewhat hybrid, no-less-original setting of "Spring", (lyrics-Thomas Nashe, melody-Shlomo Gronich), complete with copious bird calls, reminding the listener of how well suited recorders are to imitating birds!


Spring, the sweet spring, is the year’s pleasant king,
Then blooms each thing, then maids dance in a ring,
Cold doth not sting, the pretty birds do sing:
      Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to-witta-woo!

The palm and may make country houses gay,
Lambs frisk and play, the shepherds pipe all day,
And we hear aye birds tune this merry lay:
      Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to-witta-woo!

The fields breathe sweet, the daisies kiss our feet,
Young lovers meet, old wives a-sunning sit,
In every street these tunes our ears do greet:
      Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to witta-woo!


T  The audience in the auditorium of the Mormon University was presented with an evening of varied, polished, finely-detailed and stylistically-informed ensemble playing at the hands of the Melzer Consort and attentive, sensitive singing by Yeela Avital. Under the direction of Prof. Michael Melzer, the Melzer Consort was formed some twenty years ago. 


Thursday, February 23, 2023

"The Classic and the Romantic" - Eugenia Karni, Gilad Karni and Asaf Zohar perform Mozart and Brahms in the Mormon University's Sunday evening concert series

 Asaf Zohar (Courtesy A.Z.)
Eugenia and Gilad Karni (Courtesy G.K.)

 The title of "The Classic and the Romantic", a concert performed by Eugenia Karni-violin, Gilad Karni-viola and Asaf Zohar-piano at the Brigham Young Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies (Mormon University) on February 19th 2023, could not have been more accurate. 


The program opened with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Trio in E-flat major for violin, viola and piano K.498 "Kegelstatt", the work's curious sobriquet arising from an unconfirmed legend that Mozart composed this trio while attending an outdoor game of skittles. Originally composed for clarinet, viola and piano, the trio was published in 1788 transcribed – probably with Mozart's consent – for violin, viola and piano. (In the publication, the original clarinet part is referred to as an "alternative part".)  Wishing to assure the K.498's commercial success, the publisher advertised it as “a trio for harpsichord or pianoforte with violin and viola accompaniment”, a description that defies all accuracy! The work was composed for a private musical gathering with specific players in mind; Mozart himself played the viola part, the composer's favourite instrument by his own admission; indeed, the viola role attests to this, being a much stronger part than if the composer had scored it for the 'cello. Although not performing on period instruments, the Karnis and Zohar paid homage to the delicate timbres of Classical instruments, to the joys of house music, to the work's charming gestures and to its lyricism and sense of well-being, with just a splash of dramatic contrast, in playing that was fresh and exquisitely shaped. There are pianists who celebrate the power and fullness of the Mormon University auditorium's Steinway & Sons piano. Here, Asaf  Zohar, however, wielded it with crystalline grace. Listening to the trio, it was as if we had been transported into a Viennese salon to hear Classical chamber music at its best at the hands of Mozart and his confreres.


Remaining in E-flat major, the artists, however, took the listener into a very different style, creating the full-blooded sound world of Romantic chamber music for their performance of Johannes Brahms' Trio in E-flat major for violin, viola and piano Op. 40. Composed in 1865 for natural horn with violin and piano, it was revised in 1891 with alternative versions of the horn part for either 'cello or viola. Brahms  loved the sound of the natural horn, composing several of his most inspired melodies for the instrument. His father was a horn player and had taught his son to play the instrument, too. Indeed,  for many concert-goers, the work echoes a strong association with the sombre, melancholic sound qualities of the natural horn. Hearing it performed on the viola (rather than the horn) certainly did not rule out the work's nostalgic element. A highly expressive performance, it was rich in sweeping melodies, excitement and drama, scrupulous timing of gestures (and between gestures) and close communication with discerning balance among all three musicians. The 3rd movement, labelled by Brahms as "Adagio mesto" ("mesto" meaning “truly sad”), emerged as fragile, heartfelt and personal in expression, this to be followed by the Finale-Allegro con brio in playing that was unleashed, dramatic and brimming with earthy vitality. 


The Mormon University's Sunday evening concerts usually include some brief explanations of the pieces being performed. Eugenia Karni, Gilad Karni and Asaf Zohar invited the works themselves to do that. Here, words might have been superfluous. 


This was the first program in which the Karnis have performed with Asaf Zohar. For their encore, the artists played the 3rd piece of one of Robert Schumann's last works - the Märchenerzählungen, Op.132 (Fairy Tales), interestingly, (coincidentally or not?) originally scored for  unconventional combination of clarinet, viola and piano as was Mozart's Kegelstatt Trio! Marked "Ruhiges Tempo, mit zartem Ausdruck" ("reposeful tempo, with tender expression"), the artists' playing of the movement presented a poignant, intimate dialogue between violin and viola to the gently ever-flowing course of the piano. A fitting nightcap to an excellent evening of music.   

Monday, February 13, 2023

The 2023 Israeli Schubertiade hosts Graham Johnson (UK) at the Mormon University, Jerusalem. Other performers: Roman Rabinovich (piano), mezzo-soprano Hagar Sharvit and 'cellist Hillel Zori


Franz Schubert

It was Franz Liszt who spoke of Schubert as "the most poetic musician that ever was". Schumann went as far as to say that "Schubert’s pencil was dipped in moonbeams and in the flame of the sun." and Beethoven, on his deathbed, declared: "Truly, Schubert possesses the divine fire.” Franz Schubert's music draws the listener in on so many levels: within his world of musical colour and melodic splendour, the composer seems to wield a powerful force of mystery, of light and dark and of emotional intuition well beyond the years of a young man who lived only to the age of 31. British classical pianist, teacher and Lieder accompanist Graham Johnson has been heard to claim that "everyone has his/her own Schubert ''. From the first Schubertiades, informal, unadvertised gatherings, held at private homes in Vienna, often including the composer's participation, to those of today taking place in various locations around the world, people congregate year after year to reconnect with "their Schubert''. A concert of the 17th Israeli Schubertiade was introduced by Raz Kohn, who in 2007 initiated and established the Israeli Schubertiade, remaining its artistic director. The festive event took place on February 4th 2023 at the Brigham Young University Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies. Kohn spoke of this program as celebrating two 200-year anniversaries - of Schubert's "Wanderer" Fantasy and also of the arpeggione, the curious hybrid 'cello-guitar instrument that ended up disappearing from the Austrian music scene almost as soon as it had appeared. Guest artist at this year's Schubertiade was eminent Schubert scholar Prof. Graham Johnson himself. Other artists performing in the program were mezzo-soprano Hagar Sharvit, 'cellist Hillel Zori and pianist Roman Rabinovich...


The concert opened with Schubert's Sonata for Arpeggione and Piano in A minor D.821, seemingly the only substantial composition for the arpeggione remaining from its short period of existence. (The 21st century has seen a revival of interest in the arpeggione, leading to the composition of a number of new works either for the instrument alone or with ensemble.) Hillel Zori chose to play the first movement of the sonata on an arpeggione (built by Amit Tiefenbrunn) - a six-stringed musical instrument fretted and tuned like a guitar, but with a curved bridge, enabling it to be bowed like a 'cello. No easy task, considering Zori was using a modern bow and the fact that Rabinovich was accompanying on the large Steinway & Sons piano of the Mormon University auditorium. But for those of us early instrument buffs, it was more than interesting to hear the voice of this "outsider" as Zori presented a finely-detailed and expressive reading of the Allegro moderato, giving the stage to its drama and poignancy, albeit in the slender musical voice of the arpeggione. How fitting it would have been to hear it partnered with a fortepiano; Rabinovich's playing, however, was sensitive and attentive to it. So, for a few minutes, we were taken back to a musical salon of Vienna of 1824. Then, to the 'cello for the two next movements. Following the artists' fine-spun introspective reading of the Adagio movement, their playing of the Allegretto put to advantage the opportunities Schubert proffered for contrast, from the Hungarian style to Viennese dance music. Virtuosic though it might be for the string player, the Arpeggione Sonata (written at a dark time in the composer’s life) presents mood shifts encompassing the full spectrum of human experience, from unbounded joy to nostalgia and deep sorrow. Indeed, the rich musical and emotional fabric of the Arpeggione never loses its personal appeal. 


Then to a selection of Schubert's songs. Mentioning the huge range of emotions and poets found in the more-than-600 Lieder, Graham Johnson said he and Hagar Sharvit would be performing just six of their favourite songs. From the busy joy of Franz Schlechta's poem   "Fischerweise" (Fisherman's Ditty) ending with an unexpected reference to a cunning shepherdess fishing there to provide a small twist, to the complexity of "Der Zwerg" (The Dwarf). This setting of a text of Matthäus von Collin must be one of the composer's most disturbing and darkest songs, with the playing out of its three characters - the dwarf, his mistress the queen (whom the dwarf strangles) and the narrator. There was no soft pedalling as the artists set the drama before us - Sharvit enlisting different timbres of her voice to evoke the characters, with Johnson creating the night scene on the water with the drama's fateful message and references to its neo-Gothic grotesque element - a song referred to by Johnson himself as a "distillation of genius". Then to the mellow "Der Jüngling und der Tod" (The Youth and Death), Joseph von Spaun's soft-spoken dialogue between a young man and death, quite a strong association in atmosphere and construction with the "Death and the Maiden" Lied, only that here the young man invites death to take him. Sharvit and Johnson's performance of Schubert's unique setting of Friedrich Rückert's "Dass sie hier gewesen" (That she has been here) brings out the erratic workings of mind and memory as prompted by the senses, in this case, a woman's fragrance. It is as if the listener has intruded on the recounter in his musings, is taking a clandestine glimpse into just a few moments of his most intimate feelings, as Schubert colours these sensations with either daring- or more conventional harmonies, as befitting the degree of fantasy or reality. As to the artists' rendition of Schubert's setting of Goethe's "Gretchen am Spinnrade" (Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel), which they thankfully took at a more moderate tempo than is often heard in performances, their strategic timing of the song’s gestures provided a gripping and impactful listening experience. In its range of emotions - from Gretchen's melancholy to heartache, to the moment of frenzy - Johnson and Sharvit gave a memorable performance of one of the 17-year-old Schubert's most dramatic and disturbing studies of love and obsession. The artists concluded this part of the concert with "Der Wanderer" (The Wanderer) set to a poem by Georg Philipp Schmidt (von Lübeck), its curious line-up of unlike musical sections indicative of the wanderer's loss of direction and base. Although she has had previous contact with Johnson via master classes and competitions, this was the first time Sharvit has actually performed with him; decisions regarding the concert repertoire were made together. I had the pleasure of talking to the singer in Berlin, where she makes her home today. Sharvit, who is attracted to the darker, more psychological Lieder, gave an informed, profound and involved reading of the songs. Graham Johnson's remarkable insight into the genre shines through the layers of meaning in his awe-inspiring playing. A sense of close communication between the two artists pervaded the performance.


Referring to the technical demands of his Fantasie in C major, Op. 15 (D.760), (Wanderer Fantasy), Schubert himself wrote that "the devil may play it". Composed in 1822, the Fantasy finds its inspiration and primary musical materials in "Der Wanderer", the final song heard at the concert. The work emerges as a somewhat giant theme and variations across all four movements, further enhanced as the movements flow together without pause, each leading directly into the next. Roman Rabinovich's performance of it abounded in positive energy, clarity of touch and virtuosic pizzazz, no less appealing in its lyricism. As was the audience, he was clearly enjoying the response to the work’s every gesture on the auditorium's superior piano. An exhilarating end to an excellent concert.  

Prof. Graham Johnson (Miri Shamir)

Monday, February 6, 2023

A family affair! With the Raanana Symphonette, the Karnis - violist Gilad Karni, violinist Eugenia Karni and conductor Gerald Karni - will perform on the same stage.


Gerald Karni, Eugenia Karni, Gilad Karni (Courtesy Gilad Karni)

History of the arts testifies to the fact that music has flowed in the veins of many renowned musician families for more generations than we can count – familiar to us are the Couperin family, the Mozart family, the Haydns, Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn, the Strauss family and, of course, the some-50 musicians of the Bach family…to name a few. Some families with musical genes have enjoyed less prestige. Take the Brahms family, for example. Johannes Brahms' father Johann Jakob, who played violin, viola, 'cello, flute, and the flugelhorn, made a career playing the double bass in a sextet as well as in the orchestras of the Stadttheater and the Philharmonic Society in Hamburg. Of Johannes' brother Fritz Brahms, known around town as “the wrong Brahms", Clara Schumann claimed that he possessed quite a good piano technique, "only I find his playing so very dull". Fritz eventually established himself as a respected music teacher in Hamburg. 


Today's concert platforms attest to the fact that many musician families prevail on the contemporary music scene; one such kinship is the Karni family. Born in Israel in 1968, violist Gilad Karni comes from a musical family. His aunt was the renowned soprano Gila Yaron. Karni was a student at the Manhattan School of Music under the guidance of Paul Neubauer, Chaim Taub and Gad Lewertoff and was a scholarship recipient of the America-Israel Cultural Foundation. As comfortable performing solo- as chamber music, he appears worldwide performing both and as a teacher. For eight years, he was professor of viola and chamber music at the Conservatoire de Lausanne and at the Kalaidos University for Applied Sciences in Lausanne. A founding member of the Huberman quartet (1996-2001), he performed as guest artist with the Jerusalem Quartet on tour with Menachem Pressler at the Concertgebouw and Paul Meyer clarinet in Paris. Gilad Karni is currently principal violist of the Tonhalle Orchestra (Zurich), a post to which he was appointed in 2004 by David Zinman. Prior to his tenure there, he served as principal viola at the Deutsche Oper Berlin. Karni's vast orchestral experience ranges from being the youngest member of the New York Philharmonic, which he joined in 1992, to principal viola roles in the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra (1996-2002). Gilad Karni plays a viola made by Hiroshi Iizuka in 1982, an instrument previously owned by American violist and pedagogue Emmanuel Vardi.


Violinist Eugenia Karni moved to Belgium at the age of 7 together with her musician parents. Her first teacher was her father, Dmitry Ryabinin, a pupil of Yuri Bashmet, today principal violist of the Brussels National Orchestra. Her career took off at age 10 with her debut with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, in which she performed Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor. Her teachers include Valery Oistrakh (Brussels Conservatory), Zakhar Bron (Cologne University of Music), Augustin Dumay (Queen Elisabeth Music Chapel) and Prof. Barnabás Kelemen and she has been the recipient of multiple awards and prizes. With her strong predilection for symphonic repertoire, Ms. Karni was first concertmaster of the Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie from 2014 to 2019, after which she proceeded to preside as guest concertmaster with many other major orchestras. She has performed as a soloist and chamber musician all over Europe, Canada, Mexico and Asia. Renowned as an interpreter of Belgian and French post-Romantic composers and a dedicated chamber musician, she frequently collaborates with her mother, pianist Nina Ardachirova. Eugenia Karni plays a Vincenzo Panormo violin (Paris, 1775). Together with pianist Dmitri Demiaschkin, Eugenia and Gilad Karni founded the Edge Ensemble in Zurich during the corona pandemic, maintaining that "all musicians live now on the Edge", the ensemble's name also incorporating the three artists' names - Eugenia, Dmitri and Gilad. 


Born in Israel in 1996, Gerald Karni started with the violin and was initially mentored by his father Gilad Karni. A violist and conductor, Gerald completed his bachelor’s degree at the Zurich University of the Arts, studying with Lawrence Power, and is currently taking a master’s degree in orchestral conducting at the Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiana in Lugano under Prof. Marc Kissozcy. He is the recipient of several awards and prizes, was chosen as a conducting fellow at the Verbier Festival, assisting Gianandrea Noseda, Gábor Takács-Nagy and Sir Simon Rattle and he has also played in- and toured with Daniel Barenboim's West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. As a conductor, Gerald Karni has appeared with orchestras in the United States, Switzerland, Hungary, Finland, and Bulgaria. Today, he makes his home in Berlin, where he is garnering experience and reputation as a conductor, interested in directing both orchestral music and opera, but also working as a violist. 

Gerald was initially mentored by his father Gilad 


On February 5th 2023, I spoke to Gilad Karni at his home in Zurich, Switzerland. Maestro Karni emphasized how meaningful the upcoming Israeli tour is for him and his family.


PH: Gilad Karni, what does this concert tour mean for you?


GK: This will be the first time Eugenia, Gerald and I will be performing on the same concert platform and it is most exciting that it will be taking place in Israel. In two concerts with the Raanana Symphonette (February 16th, 17th) we will be premiering "Vows", a work written by Maya Brenner in celebration of the recent marriage of Eugenia and myself. This concert will also include Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante for Violin & Viola in E Flat major K 364 and Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 in A Major Op. 92.  So, we will get to solo together and play under Gerald, one of today's up-and-coming conductors. The tour will also include two chamber concerts Eugenia and I will be performing with pianist Assaf Zohar - one at Studio Annette (Tel Aviv) on February 18th, the other at the Brigham Young University Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies (Mormon University) on February 19th. Here, we will be playing works of Mozart and Brahms. 


PH: Professor Karni, many thanks for your time. I am sure many of us here are looking forward to hearing the upcoming festive family concerts in Israel in the near future.

Born into a musical family in Israel, Gerald was initially mentored by his father Gilad

Gerald was initially mentored by his father Gilad K

musical family in Israel, Gerald was initially mentored by his father Gila

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

A STAR TREK - The Israel Camerata Jerusalem (conductor: Avner Biron) hosts British 'cellist Steven Isserlis and presents the world premiere of "Blue, Yellow Smoke" by Lior Navok (Israel)


Steven Isserlis (photo: Tom Miller)

Of the Israel Camerata Jerusalem's Instruvocal Series, the title of "A Star Trek'' was appropriate. This writer attended the event on January 10th 2023 in the Henry Crown Hall of the Jerusalem Theatre. Conducting was Camerata founder, musical director and house conductor Avner Biron. 'Cellist Steven Isserlis (UK) was soloist. 


The concert opened with a world premiere - Lior Navok's "Blue, Yellow, Smoke" - a work commissioned by Maestro Biron and the Israel Camerata Jerusalem. The piece, written on Russia's invasion of the Ukraine, is atonal, offering orchestra members plenty of solo utterances. Definitely a mood piece, it comes across as intensely personal in expression, as it shifts between sombre, dejected moments and agitated passages, the harp role - disturbing in its gestures, possibly suggesting the fatal  ticking of a clock - added to the eerie aspect of the work. Known to be an outstanding pianist, Lior Navok (b.1971), a founding member of the Butterfly Effect Ensemble (a group specializing in forging live scores for silent films), has created a textural/emotional soundscape that is both powerful and aesthetically appealing.


Referring to himself as a "cellist, author, musical explorer and general enthusiast", Steven Isserlis navigates a diverse career as a soloist, chamber musician, educator, author and broadcaster. As he gave vivid expression to the different elements of Dmitri Shostakovich's Concerto for 'cello and orchestra No.1 in E Flat major Op.107, I kept thinking how naturally the work emerged from under Isserlis' fingers, how much he was one with the music, his performance impressive, and not just due it its virtuosic demands as one of the most difficult concerted works for the cello. Shostakovich wrote it for his close friend 'cello virtuoso Mstislav Rostropovich, who memorized the piece in four days, performing the premiere on October 4th 1959. With a healthy dose of verve, Isserlis launched into the playful, cheeky and whimsical scenario of the opening Allegretto, its four-note theme accompanied by an almost droll march in the woodwinds, the movement's course then to reshape and distort musical ideas. The soloist invited the audience to gambol along with the proceedings, as a crashing timpani stroke then issued in the second thematic area.  All rhythmic energy was swept away as the Moderato was introduced in tranquil, sombre sounds, the solo horn nostalgically preparing for the entrance of the soloist, the movement emerging with sublime lyricism, dancing a mournful dance, the music's course then taking on otherworldly sounds and Shostakovich's hallmark sense of isolation. Isserlis' playing of it was fragile, eloquent and introspective. The third movement, an extended cadenza, brimmed with interest, variety and contrast, but what also stood out was Isserlis' strategic pacing and attention to the composer's every detail, gesture and mood. As to the Finale - Allegro con moto - with its Russian dances, Maestro Biron and soloist pulled it off with breathless, fiery verve and a touch of the wicked. Throughout the work, the unique solo horn part (seemingly the 'cello soloist’s "alter ego") was performed with mellifluousness and sensitive shaping by Alon Reuven, the horn at times engaging in extended dialogues when the orchestra was silent.  


This was followed by Max Bruch's "Kol Nidrei" (arr. 'cello and strings). An Adagio on Hebrew Melodies, consisting of a series of variations on two main themes of Jewish origin, it was first published in Berlin in 1881. In a performance that ranged from intense moments to delivery of the most innermost pianississimo sounds, Isserlis' rendition came across as spiritual as he took time to address the content of each motif and nuance. Soloist and orchestra met throughout in transparency and with subtle teamwork. The artist was playing a Montagnana 'cello (1740), an instrument boasting superb breadth of sound and range of colour.


 For his encore, Steven Isserlis played the "Song of the Birds" (El cant dels ocells), the traditional Catalan Christmas carol associated with the great Pablo Casals. This was not Casals' setting with orchestral accompaniment, but for the 'cello alone. Isserlis' personal, filigree playing of the poignant . melody was graced with spreads. 

The event signed out with W.A.Mozart's Symphony No.41 (Jupiter) in C major K.551, Maestro Biron's reading of the work highlighting Mozart's sheer brilliance as a composer, the work's emotional range and the composer's invincible spirit that always drove him to succeed against all odds. Both bracing and touching, the Camerata's playing gave expression to Mozart's joy, his innocence and whimsy, with melodies reminding one that Mozart was an opera composer. The orchestra's playing was abundant in light, radiant textures, hearty, buoyant tutti moments and the C-major tonality sense of well-being. 

Lior Navok (

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra hosts recorder player Maruša Brezavšček (Slovenia) at a Christmas concert in Jerusalem. Works of Bach, Corelli, Vivaldi and the world premiere of "Concerto alla moda" by Avner Hanani


Maruša Brezavšček (Yoel Levy)

As to be expected, "A Christmas Concert'', event No.2 of the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra's 34th season, took place in the festive season. It was also affiliated with the Hallelujah Festival of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. This writer attended the concert at the Jerusalem International YMCA on December 27th 2022. Soloists were soprano Daniela Skorka, mezzo-soprano Hagar Sharvit, tenor Itamar Hildesheim and baritone Guy Pelc; also, Bar Zimmerman-oboe and recorder player Maruša Brezavšček (Slovenia). JBO founder and music director David Shemer was to have conducted from the keyboard, but the corona virus had caught up with him and, at less than 24 hours' notice, Aviad Stier stepped in to play the organ and harpsichord parts in most of the works performed.   


Opening the evening was J.S.Bach's church cantata "Ich bin vergnügt mit meinem Glücke" (I am content with my good fortune) BWV 84, composed in Leipzig in 1727. The work is scored for soprano soloist, SATB voices (for the chorale) and a small instrumental ensemble of oboe, two violins, viola and basso continuo. Consisting of a sequence of alternating arias and recitatives, with a concluding chorale, the effect was delightful as competent young oboist Bar Zimmerman gave expression to the lavish oboe obbligato role. Following each shape and nuance of the vocal line, soprano Daniela Skorka, mirroring the oboe trill for trill (first aria), reinforced the text's message of joy and contentment. In the second aria, Zimmerman and Skorka were joined by 1st violinist Noam Schuss and Roni Bracha ('cello) to celebrate the merits of a "heart ever thankful, exalting with phrase"; the singers performed the beautifully crafted unaccompanied chorale with meticulous coordination. 


Commissioned by Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, Arcangelo Corelli's Concerto grosso in G minor, Op. 6, No. 8 (1690), known as the Christmas Concerto, bears the inscription "Fatto per la notte di Natale" (Made for the night of Christmas). Scored for two concertino violins and ‘cello, ripieno strings and continuo, the work is a concerto da chiesa, but expanded from the typical four-movement structure to six. At the JBO concert, the concertino section consisted of violinists Noam Schuss and Dafna Ravid and 'cellist Marina Katz. Led masterfully by Schuss, the performance was quintessential Corelli - abounding in beauty, nuanced, dramatic and lyrical, spiced with dissonances and with some fine ornamentation on repeats. As to the pastoral (final) movement setting the scene for Christmas, it emerged at a relaxed pace, creating the nativity scene with tender, radiant warmth and sensitive shaping.


Antonio Vivaldi’s contribution to the flute and recorder repertoire is well known and shows that he had far more than a passing interest in these instruments. Of the more than 500 concertos Vivaldi wrote for orchestra and solo instruments, his Recorder Concerto in C minor RV 441 is known as the most technically demanding of the recorder concertos and as one of the most virtuosic recorder compositions in the entire Baroque recorder repertoire. It is considered a jewel among Vivaldi’s mature style concertos. 1st prize winner of the 2020 Tel Aviv International Recorder Festival Maruša Brezavšček was the soloist for this concerto. A skilful and creative player, Brezavšček performed the exotically chromatic first movement with some imaginative ornamenting, here and there, allowing phrase endings a little more time to sign out with a “sigh”. She engaged in dialogue with Schuss and violinist Yasuko Hirata in the poetic Largo movement, moving from its mysterious soundscape into the harmonic antics of the effervescent Allegro movement with impressive ease and engaging in the latter's virtuosic passagework. Maruša Brezavšček's playing was tasteful rather than a show of muscular bravado, as she gave the stage to the music, her tone on the alto recorder mellow, centred and full-bodied. 


And to a work atypical of a Baroque music concert - Avner Hanani's “Concerto alla moda”. This was the world premiere of a piece that was commissioned by the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra and Maestro David Shemer and enlisted as a new Israeli work for 2022 by the Ministry of Culture and Sport. In an interview with Barry Davis of the Jerusalem Post, Jerusalem-born Hanani (b.1974) spoke of "Concerto alla moda" as "not really a baroque work…but there is a sort of baroque sound to it, with the harpsichord and other instruments, and the ‘extras’ – the texture, the laconic element, and there are lots canons in the piece, imitations…but it is more in the rock vein.” (Jerusalem Post, December 22, 2022.) Imitative and of polyphonic texture, monothematic for the most part, of varying rhythms and meter and somewhat modal, the appealing tripartite piece had listeners at the edges of their seats. With the composer at the harpsichord, his buoyant, streamlined piece zipped along with definite logic, its more relaxed middle section a short hiatus prior to inviting all back into the breezy, toe-tapping pace with which the work had begun. With all the Concerto alla moda's buzzing energy, its textures were fine-spun, elegant and precisely balanced, enhanced by a few solos and, indeed, graced by the glistening sounds of the harpsichord. And, together with the audience, the JBO players seemed to be enjoying it to the full!


The concert ended on a pensive note with J.S.Bach's funeral cantata "Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit" (God's time is the very best time) BWV 106, the work also bearing the title of "Actus Tragicus". It is one of the composer's first forays into the cantata genre (Bach wrote it at age 22). From the very first notes of the poignant instrumental opening sonatina, one is aware of how the mellow, introspective substance and underlying drama are skillfully interwoven through the music, also due to the fact that (having no violins) it is scored for two recorders, two viols and continuo. The cantata calls for SATB vocal soloists and choir, with the possibility of the choir being formed by the four soloists, as was the case at this performance. The cantata's text and sentiments meditate on death, the continuity between life and death and finding peace, not a subject really suited to the mindset of the young, but the four young singers engaged in it convincingly and with empathy: Daniela Skorka's heart-rending singing of  the haunting soprano solo, Hagar Sharvit's round, richly-coloured voice giving expression to the plaintive alto aria, Itamar Hildesheim's sensitive, tastefully ornamented singing of the contemplative tenor aria and Guy Pelc's bright baritone voice sounding resolute and joyful in the bass solos, as he rendered some suavely-shaped melismatic passages. Here, Pelc's conducting skills were also enlisted. All singers displayed good German diction.  I personally would have enjoyed the incorporating of another four singers in the choruses to add more weight and prominence to their message. The musical presence of recorder players Maruša Brezavšček and Adi Berkowski and gamba players Myrna Herzog and Tal Arbel throughout the cantata was affecting, supplying Bach’s non-verbal dimension of meaning to the work's introspective nature. 


Kudos to  Noam Schuss on her articulate leading, to Guy Pelc for some  choral direction and to Aviad Stier on his very fine keyboard playing..


Soprano Daniela Skorka (Yoel Levy)