Monday, May 26, 2008

Sound of Peace concert,Christian Quarter Jerusalem

People from many local communities, as well as overseas guests, were streaming into the stately Immaculata Hall of the Magnificat Institute in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City in late afternoon sunshine. The occasion was “The Sound of Peace” concert on Sunday May 25.

The Hamburg Physicians’ Orchestra, conducted by Thilo Jaques, is an amateur orchestra in which most of its players are doctors. In existence for over 40 years, it travels the world performing concerts, promoting the belief that music overcomes political barriers. They opened the concert with three orchestral works. Czech composer Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) used folk melodies and rhythms from his native Bohemia and Moravia in his works. His Bohemian Suite, Opus 39, composed in 1879, was given a colorful, contrasted reading. Finnish Romantic composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957) composed his “Valse Triste”, Opus 44, as incidental music to “Kuolema” (Death), a drama written by Arvid Jarnefelt. The piece was later used as a concert piece. The woodwind section gave a pleasing performance in this work. The orchestra then presented Joseph Haydn’s (1732-1809) Symphony no. 99. Completed in London in 1793, it is the first Haydn symphony to be scored for clarinets. The audience enjoyed the contrasts and Haydnesque lightness and humor of their performance.

In the second part of the concert, the orchestra was joined by the Alei Gefen Chorus of Tel Aviv and the Choir of the Custody of the Holy Land. They opened with W.A.Mozart’s (1756-1791) Kyrie in d minor KV 341 (1781). The choirs blended in a warm, full choral sound to the delight of the audience. We then heard Franz Schubert’s (1797-1828) Stabat Mater in g minor D.175, composed in 1815, possibly the most prolific year of the composer’s life. A largely homophonic (in parallel rhythms) work, the lushness of this Romantic choral work was evident together with finer details, in particular, well-crafted phrase endings. The orchestra tended to play a little too loudly at times. French composer Gabriel Faure (1845-1924) composed his delicate and elegant but, by no means harmonically unadventurous Pavane Opus 50, premiered in 1888, for orchestra and optional chorus. The choirs performed this fragrant and haunting work with French charm.

The Alei Gefen Chorus of Tel Aviv, conducted by its musical director Eli Gefen, performed two a cappella (unaccompanied) works. The first was Cantor David Grosz’ setting of the Hebrew prayer “Tabernacle of Peace”. This fine work, composed by Eli Gefen’s father, was recently discovered in Austria. Cantor Grosz perished in Auschwitz. The piece is written in the grand style of European Jewish choral music. Varied in texture, it is powerful and emotional. Tenor Ronen Lazarov’s solo was gripping and moving. His singing is effortless, his voice rich and golden. Baritone Vladimir Linetsky performed a smaller but pleasing solo. American composer, Randall Thompson’s (1899-1984), anthem “Alleluia” was commissioned for the opening of the Berkshire Music Center in Tanglewood. The Alei Gefen Chorus with its rich palette of dynamic and vocal color, gave a sensitive and expressive reading of this work.

The Choir of the Custody of the Holy Land, conducted by Hania Soudah-Sabbara, sang two lovely, unaccompanied pieces, both based on traditional melodies – “Rabbi Athimaton” and “Annada Nadda” - both arranged by members of the choir. The choir is impressive in its joy of singing as well as its blend of good voices and accuracy.

The evening’s program ended with Johannes Brahms’ (1833-1897) Hungarian Dance no.6, played by the HPO.

Eli Gefen then conducted audience and choirs in the “Dona nobis pacem” canon, a fitting and uplifting end to the evening. People’s voices became mingled with those of church bells, reminding us of where we had all assembled for this special event. The program was varied and interesting. However, less orchestral music and more choral works might have made for better balance.

“The Sound of Peace”
The Hamburg Physicians’ Orchestra, conductor Thilo Jaques
The Alei Gefen Chorus of Tel Aviv, conductor Eli Gefen
The Choir of the Custody of the Holy Land, conductor Hania Soudah Sabbara
The Immaculata Hall, Magnificat Institute, Jerusalem
May 25, 2008.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Early Music in This Year's Israel Festival

The Israel Festival 2008, with most events but not all taking place in Jerusalem, begins May 24. Artists performing will be from 11 countries. People interested in Early Music will be happy to know that they will have a number of interesting concerts from which to choose.

“The Sepharadi Diaspora” (Spain-Israel) will be an interesting event of Renaissance music. Jordi Savall, musical director of the renowned Hesperion XXI, has researched the music tradition of the Jews expelled from Spain in the 15th century. This concert will include melodies and songs from Morocco, Sarajevo, Sophia, Salonika, Turkey, Rhodes, Alexandria and Jerusalem. Hesperion XXI will be joined by Israeli Yair Dalal on oud. This concert will take place June 5, 20:30 in the Henry Crown Symphony Hall, the Jerusalem Centre of the Performing Arts. A meeting with Jordi Savall, moderated by Yossi Maurey, will take place at the Jerusalem Music Centre, Mishkenot Sha’ananim, on June 5 at 1500.

Jordi Savall and Yair Dalal have been performing together for the last 10 years. “Jerusalem, City of Heavenly and Earthly Peace” is a special project carried out by Savall, Dalal and singer Montserrat Figueras. Taking part will be Hesperion XXI, the Capella Reial de Catalunya Choir and Israeli and Arab musicians, including shofar players, sufi musicians and a Psalm singer! The program celebrates Jerusalem’s Jewish, Christian and Moslem heritage. This concert will be at the Henry Crown Symphony Hall June 4, 20:30.

Les Arts Florissants (France) will be making its Israeli debut in this year’s Israel Festival. Performing on period instruments, the group will be presenting works by G.F.Handel - Zadock the Priest”, “Ode for St. Celia’s Day” - and “In Exitu Israel” by French composer and violinist Jean-Joseph Cassanea de Mondonville (1711-1772.) “In Exitu Israel” (Psalm 113), composed in 1753, is one of the composer’s nine surviving “grands motets”, a genre brought to a peak of interest and drama by Mondonville. Paul Agnew, known to many of us as an outstanding countertenor, will be conducting “Les Arts Florissants”. The ensemble will number some 60 players and singers. This festive event will take place at the Jerusalem International Convention Centre June 22, 20:30.

Accordone (Italy) in a program titled “Via Toledo” will perform Renaissance and Baroque music from southern Italy. The ensemble has researched traditional songs passed down from generation to generation by farming families of the region. Southern Italy was ruled by Spain for 300 years as of the 16th century, hence the name of this program. Tenor Marco Beasley will be well worth hearing; the Accordone group will be performing on period instruments and with a theatrical approach. This event will be on June 7, at 21:00 in the Henry Crown Symphony Hall, Jerusalem centre of the Performing Arts.

Israeli artists Michael Meltzer and Yael Meltzer (recorders), Zvi Plesser (‘cello) and Boris Kleiner (harp) will present “Bach Plus”, a concert of Bach trio-sonatas, suites and duets and…a chorale prelude on a song about Jerusalem. The latter might just arouse your curiosity and will, indeed, be interesting and different. For a relaxing, Friday noon performance by fine local artists in beautiful, leafy surroundings, Ein Kerem is a world of its own. This event will be at the Targ Centre, Ein Kerem, June 6, 12:00.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Organ recital at the Church of the Redeemer

Entering the Old City of Jerusalem from the Jaffa Gate, one walks down past the colorful, brightly-lit gift shops of the market and turns left into Muristan Road, leading into the Christian Quarter. Built in 1898, the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer is imposing and its simplicity and inspires tranquility. The occasion was an organ recital performed by Elisabeth Roloff. Born in Germany, Roloff has performed all over Europe, America and South America, has been director of music at the Redeemer Church for many years and has headed the organ department of the Jerusalem Academy of Music.

The recital opened with J.S. Bach’s (1685-1750) “Dorian” Toccata and Fugue, BWV 538. Written with no accidentals but in the key of “d”, suggesting the Dorian mode, the toccata opens with a motoric sixteenth-note motif that continues almost to the end of the movement. Roloff’s presentation of it was joyful and, at the same tome, well-measured and articulate. Bach has notated manual changes for the organist, an unusual practice for his day. In the long, complex and syncopated fugue, Roloff contrasted bright and darker registers, with massive chords bringing the piece to a close.

The works of French organist and organ composer Nicolas de Grigny (1671-1703) stand at the pinnacle of French Baroque organ music. Only one large volume of organ music has survived, from which we heard his “Hymne Veni Creator” (Come, Creator) in five versets. This is based on an old Latin hymn called the “Hymnus de Spiritu Sancto”, first recorded in Gregorian chant notation in a Benedictine cloister in 820. In 1524, it was translated into German, published in Protestant hymn books and sung at Pentecost. This organ setting begins by presenting the subject in the bass. Roloff gave each movement new interest, from the bell-like textures of the dotted fugue, to the highly ornamented Duo, to the “Recit de Cromorne”, the latter suggesting the strident, blown effect of early reeded instruments. The final movement, titled “Dialogue sur les Grands Jeux” is fugual, highly textured and grand. Roloff gave it a joyful reading, delighting the audience with a good mix of timbres.

J. S. Bach’s fantasia super “Komm heiliger Geist”, BWV 651 (Come, Holy Ghost) is the first of the composer’s 18 chorale preludes known as the Leipzig Chorales. It is a grand fantasia with the chorale melody in the pedal. The upper voices are ornate and complex. Roloff’s energetic performance of this had me constantly having to decide whether to focus on the brilliance of the upper voices or on the wonderful, mellow chorale melody!

Felix Mendelsson Bartholdy’s (1809-1847) Sonata no. 5 in D major is one of six organ sonatas, opus 65, composed between 1839 and 1844. From the first moments of the opening Andante movement, we find ourselves cushioned in the lush, warm textures of Romantic music; in the second movement, Andante con moto, in triple time, Roloff emphasized the element of Romantic song throughout; the Allegro maestoso is a myriad of brilliant colors and has much movement in upper voices. Roloff’s reading of it, however, did not lose sight of the maestoso (majestic) element and her tempo allowed for articulate detail.

In the last part of the program, we moved to the 20th century. Organist and professor of harmony, Maurice Durufle (1902-1986) was a member of the modern French organ school. His output was small but he was endlessly pedantic in reworking his oeuvres, resulting in the high quality of his writing. As the result of his Catholic education, all his music is based on Gregorian chant. His Chorale Variations on the Theme of “Veni Creator”, opus 4, were composed in 1930. This is a set of five miniature movements, from its joyous, bright opening, contrasted by the reedy, darker second movement and followed by the light-textured Allegretto; the fourth movement, marked “Andante expressivo” presents the theme in an upper voice; the final Allegro is a kaleidoscope of color and movement, a brassy, virtuoso “crowd scene”, and what a brilliant ending!

The recital ended with Durufle’s “Prelude et Fugue sur le nom d’Alain”, (Prelude and Fugue named after Alain) opus 7, composed in 1942. The work was written in memory of a younger colleague killed in World War II. The prelude is imaginative: Roloff created a multi-colored, spiraling and beguiling fantasy with layering that tempted the listener to step inside. Harmonies were exotic, timbres changed and there were conversational effects. The fugue began in muted colors but new effects appeared, such as that of church bells, building up in volume and brightness till the church was filled with grandeur of sound offered only by the church organ.

The organ in the Church of the Redeemer was built in 1972 by Karl Schuke (Berlin). It is well suited to the acoustic of this building. Elisabeth Roloff is constantly exploring the huge variety of organ repertoire. No two programs of hers are alike. Roloff’s performance was up lifting and inspiring.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Holocaust Memorial concert

Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Day was commemorated in the Hebrew Union College concert series with a performance of cantorial, Jewish and Israeli music with Cantor Mimi Sheffer with Monica Fallon at the piano. In “Berlin Stories” Schaffer tells of her ten years in Germany in words and song. After studies in flute and voice in Israel and appointments in the United States, Sheffer took on the job of cantor and spiritual leader of the Oranienburg Street Synagogue in Berlin. In “Berlin Stories” she not only sings but also tells of experiences since she has been in Germany – of encounters with Jewish communities, dialogue with Christian communities and German organizations, participation in memorial events in concentration camps and in desecrated and restored synagogues. In addition to performing as a soloist, Sheffer has been teaching at the Abraham Geiger College in Berlin and is now the director of the cantorial training program in the Jewish Institute of Cantorial Art.

The evening began with Louis Lewandowsky’s (1821-1894) “Al tashlichenu”(Cast me not off in the time of old age), Psalm 71. Sheffer’s wide range of dynamics and intensity emphasized the melancholy aspect of this text. Cantor and composer, Moshe Nathanson (1899-1981) was born in Jerusalem but spent much of his life in America. Sheffer was moving in her interpretation of his heart-rending unaccompanied cantorial piece “Hinneni HeAni MiMa’as” (Here I stand, impoverished in merit). Pianist, conductor and composer, Lena Stein-Schneider (1874-1950) was born in Leipzig and became known as a composer in the field of musical theatre. In 1942 she was sent to Therezin but survived the camps. Her “Avinu Malkeinu” (Our Father, Our King) is her only liturgical work. It is dramatic and vocally demanding.

Avi Gilboa (b.1971) is a music therapist and research psychologist. “Shir Hama’a lot, Mi-ma’amakim(Out of the depths I cry to You) is spiritual and intimate. Sheffer gave it a convincing reading. David Zehavi (1910-1975) was a founder of Kibbutz Na’an. He composed “A Walk to Caesaria” to a poem by Hannah Szenes. (Hannah Szenes was a Hungarian Jew living in Palestine, was trained by the British army to parachute into Yugoslavia to save Hungarian Jews from being deported to Auschwitz. She was arrested, imprisoned and executed at age 23.) Zehavi’s song is now known as “Eli, Eli”. Menachem Wiesenberg’s arrangement of it is poetic and imaginative and gives the piano an interesting role.

Mimi Sheffer’s performance is dynamic and powerful, sensitive and polished. She is articulate and her small stories and anecdotes are tasteful and interesting. Pianist and musicologist, Monica Fallon, born in Norway and in Israel since 1978, performs and accompanies cantorial students at Hebrew Union College. She accompanied Sheffer sensitively. As producer of the HUC concert series, her program notes are always informative. It was a privilege to be present at this impressive concert, a fitting and profound event for Holocaust Memorial Day.

The Hebrew Union College Concert Series
“Berlin Stories”
Cantor Mimi Shaffer(Israel/Germany)
Monica Fallon-piano
May 1, 2008

New music,interesting performance

The Israel Contemporary Players, also known as the Ensemble of the 21st Century, opened their 17th season on November 5 at the Jerusalem Music Center, Yemin Moshe. The concert was conducted by Hungarian Zsolt Nagy (b. 1957), who has been the group’s conductor and artistic adviser since 1999. All works were Israeli premieres.

The evening began with Rebecca Saunders’ (b. 1967, UK) work for double-bell trumpet and open piano – “Blaauw” (“Blue” in Dutch.) . The work was dedicated to Dutch trumpeter, Marco Blaauw (b. 1965.) It was Blaauw’s quest to widen the trumpet’s range that led him to adding an extra bell. This leads to more flexibility in changing the colors of sound by muting one bell and having the other bell open. Rebecca Saunders’ concept of musical composition is “sound” itself. For this work, there is also the visual aspect of the color blue, its properties and associations. Playing into the reverberation chamber of the piano, Blaauw took us on a journey of various sounds and textures - strident moments, far-off echoes, doubling effects…a mesmerizing work of small sections, well punctuated, very introspective.

Regis Campo (b. 1968, France) composed his “Pop Art” (2001-2) for six players. Campo is concerned with music as a form of entertainment and his music has rhythmic energy and humor. Nagy, conducting without a baton, gave clear expression to its many effects – some minimal, some based on blowing with no pitch, many homophonic (parallel rhythms) and colorful. The piano had plenty to say and with a wink!

Gyorgy Ligeti (1923-2006) was born to Hungarian parents in Romania. In 1943 he was sent into forced labor as a Jew, remaining there till the end of World War II. He moved to Vienna in 1956. His opera “Le Grand Macabre” is a work of black humor; the libretto was written by Michel Meschke together with Ligeti and reflects different sides of 20th century politics. In 1987, British conductor and composer Elgar Howarth wrote arrangements of three arias from the opera. We heard one of these, scored for soprano coloratura or trumpeter and instrumental ensemble. Blaauw played the trumpet solo, this time on a conventional trumpet. Even without the words, we were able to enjoy the parody, humor and theatrical effects – the latter included speech effects, whistles, chaos and instruments “laughing”.

“Nocturne” for 11 players by Israeli composer, Gilad Rabinovitch (b. 1980), was commissioned by the Ensemble of the 21st Century and is dedicated to the ensemble and to Zsolt Nagy. It was premiered at this concert; the composer, the recipient of a number of prestigious awards, was present. Three movements make up the work: the first begins mysteriously, has lovely violin- and ‘cello solos, building up dramatically to a richly-colored canvas. The second movement is more minimal and well orchestrated. The third movement, opening with a trumpet fanfare, is heavy and thought-provoking. The audience was enthusiastic!

Composer, conductor and teacher Peter Eotvos (b. 1944, Romania) has been referred to as a composer of “discourse, of theater and humor.” His “Snatches of a Conversation” (2001) for double-bell trumpet and ensemble was written to sound improvisatory. The fragments of conversation take place in a cafĂ©, with the trumpet (played by Blaauw) representing the waiter. We heard bassoonist Richard Paley in a different role, speaking the text. Against a very varied and sometimes jazzy instrumental texture, we heard things like “He’s a very conscientious guy”, “She’s impossible”, “She just shrugged her shoulders”, “Say something”…Sometimes the instruments “talk”, with Paley’s text indistinctly babbling on in the background. Paley was very expressive and funny but never in bad taste.

There were a lot of young people in the audience. The auditorium of the Jerusalem Music Center is intimate and lively in sound. People were inspired by the evening’s program and fine performance. Walking out into the balmy November night, there was the Old City in front of us. Yemin Moshe is a magical place.

Ensemble of the 21st Century – Israel Contemporary Players
Zsolt Nagy-conductor
Marco Blaauw-trumpet
Richard Paley-narrator
The Jerusalem Music Center, Yemin Moshe.
November 5, 2007

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Mikado in Jerusalem

The Encore! Educational Theatre Company, in association with The Jerusalem Gilbert and Sullivan Society, recently produced Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado” (or “The Town of Titipu”.) The Mikado was first performed at the Savoy Theatre, London, on March 14, 1885, under the personal direction of the author and composer.

On an evening during President Bush’s visit, with many Jerusalem streets blocked off, it was uplifting to see the Hirsch Theatre crowded with those of us not willing to give up on the annual G&S performance in Jerusalem; and we were not disappointed. The humor and absurdities of this operetta were brought to life by a huge cast of school girls, chaperones, townswomen, nobles, guards, coolies, attendants…even jugglers, as well as a fine group of soloists in the lead roles. Bezalel Manekin was a highly entertaining Pooh-Bah (Lord High Everything Else); Jordan Zell was a comical Ko-Ko (Lord High Executioner of Titipu), burdened with the ever-changing problem of his job as executioner as well as that of whom to marry; Aaron Allsbrook, playing Nanki-Poo – the Mikado’s son disguised as a wandering minstrel – has beautiful vocal color; Daniel Forst showed humor and musicality as Pish-Tush (a Noble Lord). Claire Greenfield was a convincing and funny Katisha. Aviella Trapido and Shira Maddy-Weitzman played Yum-Yum’s devoted sisters; and Lisa Woo, with her gorgeous voice, charmed the audience in her role of Yum-Yum. Marc Zell played the Mikado himself with humor, musicality and commanding stage presence. There was much excellent singing and fine diction throughout. The cast used British-accented English that G&S performance demands; they added hilarity with their occasional references to Israeli life and current events.

Kudos to stage director Robert Binder, as well as to Arlene Chertoff for her delightful choreography. Musical director, Paul Salter, with a small but excellent group of players, brought out the detail and nuances of Sullivan’s wonderful music. All those on and behind stage in this Encore! production are to be congratulated for their devotion to amateur theatre and for the time and work they invested to make the performance such a success.

Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado”
Encore! Educational Theatre Company
Robert Binder-stage director
Arlene Chertoff-choreography
Paul Salter-musical director
The Hirsch Theatre
January 10, 2008

Concert for Life and Peace

The Henry Crown Symphony Hall of the Jerusalem Theater was abuzz with excitement in anticipation of the annual concert “For Life and Peace, from Bethlehem and Jerusalem” December 23. The same concert had been given the previous evening in Bethlehem. It is rare and uplifting to see such a wide mix of people at a concert in Jerusalem. Produced and organized by Rino Maenza and promoted by the Association for Life and Peace in collaboration with other organizations, including the Italian Senate, these concerts are a gesture of friendship, solidarity and peace of the Italian Institutions towards the people of the Holy Land.

After greetings by members of the Italian delegation as well as by Israelis, we were more than eager to hear the illustrious “Solisti Veneti” conducted by Claudio Scimone in a program of short works. Scimone founded this “boutique” orchestra in 1959 and most of the evening’s soloists were from the orchestra. Other soloists featured were three magnificent singers: Argentinian soprano Paula Almerares, Israeli-born Enas Messalha and Israeli Orit Gabriel.

G.F.Haendel’s (1685-1759) spirited French-style Overture to the “Messiah” opened the program. This was followed by two pieces by J.J.Mouret (1682-1738) for trumpet and orchestra. Roberto Rigo’s trumpet solos were brilliant, dynamic and ornamented in the best style of Baroque playing. His playing was a breath of fresh air! We then heard A. Vivaldi’s (1678-1741) Concerto in D major for mandolin and strings, with Ugo Orlandi as soloist. This may sound like “mission impossible” in the Henry Crown Symphony Hall, but we heard every nuance of this delicate instrument; Scimone had his orchestra listening to Orlandi and still producing dynamic contrasts.

Soprano Paula Almerares performed “Rejoice Greatly” from Haendel’s Messiah. Almerares sings with ease, has a vocal rich color and plenty of stage presence. With her tense and virtuoso rendition of P.Mascagni’s (1863-1945) “Ave Maria” for Soprano and Strings, she held the audience in the palm of her hand and her singing of W.A.Mozart’s (1756-1791) “Exultate Jubilate was detailed and exciting.

Violinist Lucio Degani, a member of the orchestra, was soloist in N.Paganini’s (1782-1840) Variations on the Prayer Theme from Rossini’s “Moses in Egypt”. This is a technically challenging and entertaining concert piece and Degani played it impressively, which is not surprising after one has heard Il Solisti Veneti’s fine string section. Also based on “Moses in Egypt” we heard G.A.Rossini’s (1792-1868) own Variations in E flat Major for Clarinet and Strings with Lorenzo Guzzoni playing the solo. Guzzoni‘s sound and versatility are magical and his lively personality put a smile on faces in the audience.

Orit Gabriel performed the “Qui sedes ad dexteram” for mezzo soprano and strings from Haendel’s “Gloria”. Involved in both lyric opera and Jewish music, Gabriel has a very earthy, real color to her voice. This was also evident in her emotional rendering of Israeli M.Gavrielov’s “Hachnissini”.

“Quia respexit humilitatem” forSoprano, Oboe and Strings from J.S.Bach’s Magnificat was sensitively performed by Enas Massalha and oboist Paolo Grazia. The richness of expression and interaction of both artists took one’s breath away. Massalha also performed “Lailat Al-Milad” a popular Christmas piece written by the Lebanese priest, Father Labaki. It was sung unaccompanied; the audience was moved..

With Christmas a day away, we heard F.X.Gruber’s “Silent Night” sung by all three singers, each verse in a different language. This was a concert with a message as well as a chance to hear the magnificent “I Solisti Veneti”. This is truly an orchestra of soloists and Scimone, in all humility, gives his players and soloists the stage.

From Bethlehem to Jerusalem,
Concert for Life and Peace.
“I Solisti Veneti”
Claudio Scimone-conductor
The Henry Crown Symphony Hall, Jerusalem Theater
December 23, 2007

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Tchaikovsky,Eugene Onegin

The Aeterna Opera Company was formed in Jerusalem in 2003, adding a new dimension to Jerusalem’s musical life. Its members are all professional singers, mostly from the FSU and their performances are always a festive event in Jerusalem. Their newest production - P.I.Tchaikovsky’s (1840-1893) “Eugene Onegin” - was performed at the Hirsh Theater of the Shimshon Center December 16, 2007. It was conducted by Ilya Ploykin, founder of the Musica Aeterna Choir and of Aeterna Opera.

Based on Pushkin’s novel written in verse of the same name, the libretto was written by Konstantin Shilovsky and the composer. It was first performed in Moscow in 1879 and is a fine example of lyric opera, with delightful and lyrical music throughout. The libretto very closely follows Pushkin’s text, retaining much of his poetry, to which Tchaikovsky adds music of a dramatic nature. The story concerns a selfish hero (Onegin) who lives to regret his rejection of a young woman’s love and his careless incitement of a fatal duel with his best friend. The opera was performed in the original Russian but with excerpts of Avraham Shlonsky’s translation of the text read in Hebrew by Uri Yudkin.

The overture, played by an ensemble of mostly strings, conducted by Ilya Plotkin, and seated to one side of the stage, introduces us to the sad fate and drama of the story. Tatiana and her sister Olga (Julia Plakhin) are in the garden, singing to their mother. Onegin (played by Andrei Trifonov) arrives and Tatiana (played by Ekaterina Tchepelev) falls in love with him. Act I sets the scene for the more dramatic Act 2. The women’s chorus is excellent, a small ensemble of fine voices and charmingly dressed. Act II begins with the ball for Tatiana’s birthday. In this scene, we hear the brilliant and well-known waltz. Onegin pays attention to Olga (Julia Plakhin), arousing Lensky’s (Dmitry Semenov) jealousy. In Scene 2, at a mill beside a stream, Semenov gives a touching rendering of Lensky’s aria “Faint echo of youth”, one of the evening’s highlights. Onegin appears, the duel takes place and Lensky is killed. Act III opens in Prince Gremin’s palace. Gremin is played by Boris Karbet, a singer of fine musical- and stage presence. In scene 2, we become involved in the emotional complexity of the situation as Tchepelev and Trifonov draw us into their dilemma: Tatiana loves Onegin but is now married and can not be untrue to her husband. Tchepelev’s vocal and stage presence are outstanding and the audience is won over by her performance. Trifonov is impressive, especially in the final scene.

Kudos to the Aeterna Opera Company for an evening of fine operatic singing, some nice stage settings and costumes and for total devotion to their art. Russian speakers, and there were plenty of them in the audience, were at an advantage, but there was magic in the air and it was an evening of opera in Jerusalem not to be missed.

Eugene Onegin, by P.I.Tchaikovsky
The Aeterna Opera Company
Ilya Plotkin-conductor
Michael Shapira-stage director
Irina Tkatchenko-costume designer
Andrei Klein-lighting
Ya’akov Livshitz-choreography

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Composers in Discussion at Beit Avi Chai

This was a very different musical event from most in Jerusalem. It was one event in a series called “Duet” - a meeting between two Israeli composers and it took place in a tiny auditorium seven floors below street level in the new Beit Avi Chai complex. Tal Gordon emceed the evening. On the stage, seated behind a small table on which were a bottle of red wine and three tall glasses, were Dr. Benjamin Yusupov (b.Tajikistan 1962, in Israel from 1991), Professor Oded Zehavi (b.Jerusalem 1961) and Gordon.

The event began with each composer presenting his professional I.D. card, after which we heard a performance of two of Zehavi’s songs to words of Israeli poet Natan Altermann. Soprano Michal Okon performed them, with Zehavi at the piano. Okon, a musician of fine technique, emotional depth and understanding of the complex material at hand, captured the dark, pensive mood of these songs. Zehavi’s accompaniments were delicate and poignant. Yusupov then performed a short piano work of his – “Melancholia”.

The ensuing discussion focused on many issues facing Israeli composers, such as the difficulty in defining the term “classical music”, styles, individuality versus a common approach to composition and how “Israeli” a local composer should be. Zehavi began his career as a pianist, hoping to become an arranger. After his experiences in the 1st Lebanese War, he felt a need to compose his own music in order to express what the ordeal had meant to him. It is a fact that he wrote a Requiem at the age of 28. Today, Zehavi is Associate Professor of Music at Haifa University, where he enjoys the wide ethnic mix of students. Yusupov’s background is vastly different to Zehavi’s. He is heavily influenced by the ethnic musical styles of his native Tajikistan. However, coming to Israel, battling with and learning a different mentality and a new language have opened his mind to new styles in music. Yusupov’s early studies were in piano; today he teaches, conducts and is a prolific composer whose works are widely performed.

Yusupov’s Sonata for Cello and Piano was performed by cellist Hillel Tzori with Yusupov at the piano. Composed in Tajikistan before Yusupov left for Israel, the work uses authentic folk motifs and textures based on music and instruments of the region. The first movement, with its mesmerizing drone anchor, gives both players much individual expression. With the very first strains of sound, you are transported far away from the world of European music…far away from everywhere familiar to most of us…into the Pamir mountain region. The second movement is fiery, rhythmic and earthy, intense and syncopated, ending magically with a bubbling piano effect. In the third movement, Tzori fits the cello with a mute, thus totally changing the cello sound quality to produce a very different and folk-type of effect. The movement transports you into a landscape of endless distances and mystery, moving into a dramatic section and, then, back to the meditative mode of the beginning.. Kudos to Tzori for his very convincing and profound reading of a work in a musical language so different to that of European music. His own conviction inspires the listener to follow his every nuance.

Okon and Zehavi performed three more of Zehavi’s songs, this time to texts of poet Yair Horowitz. Horowitz’s restrained poetry expresses the gentle sadness of one aware of his own mortality. Zehavi’s sometimes atonal melodies are suggestive and delicate. Okon meets the challenge with fine diction and competence, revealing the text’s inner and somewhat disturbing messages with humility. Zehavi, a generally gregarious, outgoing person shows another side of his inner self in his fragile, introspective piano accompaniments.

Beit Avi Chai offers much in the way of cultural events: and, for the music-lover, a very different fare. This was an enrichening and worthwhile evening, with a nice balance of music and discussion.

Duet: Benjamin Yusupov and Oded Zehavi on One Stage.
Beit Avi Chai, 44 King George St.
February 13, 2008

Schubert's "Winterreise"

November 11 turned rainy and blustery; winter was certainly on its way. At the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies Franz Schubert’s (1797-1828) song cycle “Winterreise” (A Winter’s Journey), opus 89, to poems by Wilhelm Mueller (1794-1827), was being performed by German baritone Andreas Reibenspies and Israeli-born pianist Adi Bar.

Andreas Reibenspies studied voice and piano at the University of Music in Karlsruhe, Germany. He sings opera, has a strong interest in contemporary music and song, accompanies and conducts. He is professor of voice at the University of Trossingen, Germany.

Israeli Adi Bar began his music studies at the Rubin Academy of Music and Dance here in Israel and is currently a faculty member at the University of Music in Karlsuhe, Germany. Bar conducts, teaches and performs as a soloist and in chamber music in Israel, Europe and the USA.

In March 1827, Beethoven died, and Schubert bore a torch at his funeral. He was now in a state of melancholy, also due to the fact that he had just begun work on the “Winterreise”. The poet Mueller may have had premonitions of death as he died less than a year after writing the poems. Mueller parallels Nature and its changes to the solitary man’s emotional state. The songs belong to the forefront of those expressions of the shaken and sorrowing mind and Schubert saw in them his own fate. On performing the song cycle to his friends, who remained stunned, gloomy and puzzled, Schubert said “I like them more than any other songs, and the day will come when you will like them, too.” Schubert had become a man possessed by his own 24-part dissertation of enormous variety and range on a single theme of human woe.

Reibenspies and Bar offered us a brilliant and profound performance. The acoustic of this auditorium enables one to hear layering and individuality of roles as well as the blend. The first song begins with the man leaving his beloved’s house and walking out, alone, into the cold winter night. The piano describes the man’s footsteps. Reibenspies opened with a warm, descriptive sound, enticing us to join the journey. Bar’s playing was delicate; all symbols received his attention and were treated masterfully: the piano cried out warnings, sounded the cock crowing, dogs barking, the galloping of the horse-drawn carriage bringing mail, a storm blowing up, the icy river bed, tears falling drop by drop, the expansive sky with the weightlessness of a crow soaring. His dramatic moments were powerful; he and his singer were locked into a totally coordinated performance. Reibenspies used his huge palette of vocal colors with skill - every word was weighed up for content and found articulation with his fine diction. His sense of drama and timing together with his flexible vocal range guided us through the various mood changes: to name a few - the joy and hope of Spring interrupted by winter’s cruel reminder in “Fruelingstraum” (Dream of Spring), courage to be positive despite personal tragedy and icy weather in “Mut”(Courage), a man running in a state of panic through the snow, his soles “burning” in “Rueckblick” (Looking Behind), resignation as heard in “Der Wegweiser” (The Signpost) and, possibly, the most enigmatic of all Romantic songs – “Der Leiermann”(The Hurdy-Gurdy Man.) This is one of the sparest songs ever written. A single empty fifth in the bass drones through the piece, the hurdy-gurdy (an early stringed instrument plucked by rotating plectra) is imitated by the piano. The lone man meets an old, barefoot beggar playing the hurdy-gurdy outside on the icy ground. A short song with just a handful of notes, this crowns the song cycle with a perfection that baffles and haunts the listener. Reibenspies sang this last piece with spine-chilling resignation and tranquility.

It was an evening not to be forgotten.

Sunday Evening Classics
The Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies (Mormon University)
November 11, 2007
Andreas Reibenspies-baritone
Adi Bar-piano

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Abidin Ensemble,Nazim Hikmet's poetry

The Abidin Ensemble presented an evening of Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet’s poems January 12 at Confederation House in Yemin Moshe. The Abidin Ensemble was formed in 2001. Together with singer Victoria Serruya, ‘cellist Yagi Malka, double-bass player Ehud Gelreich and percussionist Oren Fried form the group which uses a diverse range of musical sources, including western classical styles to Middle Eastern modes and ethnic jazz to produce a unique fusion of sound and form. Poems not set to music, translated into Hebrew by T.Carmi and projected onto a screen, were read by Zvi Jagendorf and some black and white photographsof Hikmet shown added authenticity to the evening.

Nazim Hikmet was born in 1902 in Salonika and grew up in Istanbul. Popularly known and critically acclaimed in Turkey as the first and foremost modern Turkish poet, he was a fighter for his Communist conviction and paid the price of persecution, imprisonment and exile. He died in Moscow in 1963. Hikmet’s wish had been to bring his humanistic message to the world.

The Abidin Ensemble’s performance focuses on poems written between 1938 and 1955, documenting Hikmet’s experiences in prison and his longing for freedom. Hebrew translations by Aza Tsvi of songs sung in Turkish by Serruya were also shown on the screen for the benefit of the audience. Serruya, an actress who has also made a study of Arabic music, was first introduced to the songs by musician and accordionist, Tuval Fater. Turkish exiles in Paris produced a recording of Hikmet’s songs. Erdam Buri’s melodies were the inspiration for Serruya to learn and perform the songs. The singer began working on the material with ‘cellist Yagi Malka, the group’s musical director. Malka is a member of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. Gelreich and Fried joined them later and the program was first aired in 2002. Gelreich’s background is orchestral; however, he plays ethnic- and jazz music in ensembles. Fried, a teacher and jazz musician, is involved in ethnic-, African- and Jewish music.

As the evening opens with a plaintive ‘cello solo, you take leave of the world outside and enter the haunting, introspective atmosphere of Hikmet’s mind and soul. Musical arrangements are exotic, oriental and delicate: the instrumentalists are communicative and expressive and a sense of spontaneity pervades the program. Serruya’s singing is powerful and compelling. Although not a native Turkish speaker, she uses the language as a means of evoking color and emotion. There are songs and poems about village life and people, about war and imprisonment, about the poet’s loves, about nature’s colors and changes. A Turkish folk song, “Urganda Gerdan Iniler” finds its way into the program. It is vehement and intense, with ‘cello and double bass being plucked, with a delicate drum backing them. Jazz rhythms color the texture. Two of Hikmet’s poems, composed and arranged by Yagi Malka, are sung in Hebrew.

Zionist Confederation House was the ideal venue for this concert. Behind the stage, two arched windows looked out onto the walls of the Old City. The combination of fine musicianship and poignant readings was a good one. It was an evening of magic, a sobering but inebriating experience.

“From the Day I was Tossed into Here”
A tribute to the poetry of Nazim Hikmet
Abidin Ensemble
Victoria Serruya-vocals
Yagi Malka-‘cello
Ehud Gelreich-double bass
Oren Fried-percussions
Zvi Jagendorf-readings
The Confederation House
January 12, 2008

Friday, May 2, 2008

Daniel Pearl,Homage to a Life

Daniel Pearl was bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal in Karachi, Pakistan. An excellent journalist, curious and willing to engage in dialogue, he was there investigating fundamentalism. He was kidnapped in January 2002 and beheaded nine days later. In the horrific video film of his last minutes, Daniel affirms his Jewishness with calm conviction. Three months later, Adam Daniel Pearl was born, a child who would never have the privilege of knowing his father.

Daniel was also a musician and his parents, Judea and Ruth Pearl have established the “World Music Days”, a series of concerts celebrating Pearl in more than 60 cities. To quote Ruth and Judea Pearl:
“Certain kinds of music cannot be silenced.
The music of truth and honesty cannot be silenced.
The music of freedom and human dignity cannot be silenced.
The music of the Jewish journey cannot be silenced.”

The first Jerusalem Daniel Pearl memorial concert – “Daniel Pearl – Homage to a Life” was held October 20 at Kol Haneshama Synagogue. After greetings from Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman, we heard veteran broadcaster, reporter and tireless outreach-worker Freda Keet talk about Daniel Pearl, his work, his story and his exceptional personality.

The Tel Aviv-based Alei Gefen Chorus performed an evening of mostly Jewish choral works. This very fine choir of wonderful voices and musicality , formed in 1990 by its conductor - violinist, baritone and bassoonist- Eli Gefen, aims to use devotional music as an instrument of tolerance and understanding to deliver a message of reconciliation between faiths and peoples.

Cantor David Grosz, Eli Gefen’s father, perished in the Holocaust, probably in Auschwitz. The manuscript of his “Tabernacle of Peace” for choir and solo tenor was discovered in Vienna four years ago. This piece is reminiscent of the luxuriant and emotional 19th century style of choral synagogue music. Tenor Ronen Lazaroff, a choir member, sang the solo magnificently. Of similar style, Louis Lewandowski’s “Alleluia”, celebrating musical instruments and praise, was well layered, rich in harmonies and joyful.

Two important classical Israeli composers were represented: Paul Ben-Chaim – Psalm 121- and Yehezkiel Braun – Hallelujah, Psalm 111. Both pieces are challenging and use harmonies that are an integral and Israeli part of their works. In the realm of “Israeli song”, we heard beautiful arrangements of Naomi Shemer’s “Jerusalem of Gold” and David Zehavi’s “Eli, Eli”, both performed with artistry and fine choral musicianship. Soprano Svetlana Babajanoff’s solo in the latter was very moving.

In Franz Schubert’s setting of Psalm 23 “The Lord is my Shepherd” – a very suitable text for the event – I enjoyed the group’s choral blending and excellent diction. It was unusual to hear this work sung by mixed choir and also sung in Hebrew!

American composer, educator and conductor Randall Thompson (1899-1984) was best known for his choral music. Among his students was Leonard Bernstein. The Alei Gefen chorus gave us a very sensitive and well-crafted reading of Thompson’s anthem - “Aleluia”. The program ended on a calm note with John Rutter’s (b.1945, UK) “The Lord bless you and keep you” (Psalm 67); Eli Gefen then invited the audience to join the choir in the singing of “Eli, Eli” and “Jerusalem of Gold”. These moments of togetherness were a fitting ending to this significant event in Jerusalem.

Daniel Pearl – Homage to a Life
Alei Gefen Chorus, Tel Aviv
Eli Gefen – conductor and artistic director
Kehilat Kol Haneshama
October 20, 2007–10–22

Youth at the Jerusalem Music Centre

The sixth concert of this season’s Youth at the Centre series featured four very fine young musicians: pianist Batia Murvitz, violinist Yoo-Jin Cho, violist Lotem Beider and cellist Yoni Gotlibovitch. Batia Murvitz began her piano studies in Tel Aviv, has studied with Pnina Salzmann and Menachem Pressler, and has performed in Israel, England, Australia, Thailand and Vietnam. Yoo-Jin Cho, born in South Korea in 1985, has been living, studying and performing in the USA from age 16. She is also a violist. Lotem Beider began studying the violin at age three and took up the viola when she was ten. She has been involved in performing Israeli works. Yonatan Gotlibovitch is first cellist of the Tel Aviv Soloists and plays in other ensembles. He is involved in performing contemporary music and teaches cello at the Barenboim-Said School in Nazareth.

The concert opened with Robert Schumann’s (1810-1856) Piano Quartet in E flat Major, opus 47. Begun in October 1842, Schumann completed it within a month. There are thematic links between movements. The first movement begins with a static, non-thematic introduction, breaking into a full and contrapuntal sonata form of highly contrasted themes. Schumann defies convention and has a Scherzo with two trios for his second movement, rather than the third. In the second trio, the piano “destroys” the barline with heavy chords on the third beat of the bar, imitated and reinforced by the stringed instruments. In the third movement, marked Andante cantabile, the cellist tunes his C string down to a B flat in order to play a B flat pedal bass. The piano accompanies at first, later playing a more linear role. With the return of the first section, the melody is played in the viola. The Finale opens with bold chords followed by fugual type entries. There are small contrasting sections. The quartet’s performance reached far beyond technical the demands on all players: there was much individual expression, lyricism, drama and a powerful, embracing sound. Above all, there was attention to the most delicate nuances and to ever-changing layering.

We were privileged to be present at the premiering of Ori Ben Yossef Talmon’s “Forest of Secondary Trees”. Coincidentally or not, this first performance was on Tu B’Shvat, the New Year of trees and plants! Born in Israel in 1974, and a graduate in Composition of the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music in Tel Aviv, Talmon chooses to refrain from explaining the idea of “secondary trees”, giving each listener freedom to interpret the work personally. It opens with chords played by the piano and a sense of mystery. The piece consists of many small sections, divided by rests. Using tiny motifs, the composer contrasts tranquil moments with jagged and menacing moments, with pizzicato outbursts, eventually building up tension. An interesting mix of string and piano timbres was produced at phrase ends by holding down the piano’s sustaining pedal. The work ends tranquilly. The players were coordinated and gave this small and capricious work a convincing and devoted reading.

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) began writing his Piano Quartet no. 3 in c minor opus 60 in about 1855; it was, however, published only in 1875. It represents a difficult time in the composer’s life: his good friend and mentor, Robert Schumann, had become ill and died in a mental asylum in 1856. Brahms was in love with Schumann’s widow, pianist and composer Clara Schumann. Brahms’ frustration at the impossibility of their love almost certainly tempered the mood of this quartet. In a letter to his publisher years later, Brahms himself drew a parallel between the music and the young Werther (according to Goethe’s novel of 1774) who takes his life because of his love for an older women. The quartet’s first movement is very dramatic, both vehement and soul-searching. The four young players showed understanding and maturity in dealing with the heaviness and introspection that pervades the movement. There were wonderful piano (soft) moments, sensitively timed. The second movement, a Scherzo (with no trio) was given a sense of urgency and performed brilliantly. A very strange and disquieting, recurring rhythmic motif in it was outlined well. The third movement, Andante, opens with a beautifully singing and sorrowful cello and piano duo. The other two instruments join, adding a second theme. The smallest nuances were well shaped. It is a movement of lightness. The fourth movement is one of fury and pain. There are melodic references to the Andante movement. Running piano figurations continue for most of the movement, supporting both melodies. This last movement is a complex collage of motifs and emotion.

The quartet presented an ambitious program. Their performance was not only polished: it was the result of a profound reading into the complexities of the chamber music of the Romantic period.

Youth at the Centre, Concert no. 6
Batia Murvitz-piano
Yoo-Jin Cho-violin
Lotem Beider-viola
Yoni Gotlibocith-cello
The Jerusalem Music Centre, Yemin Moshe
January 22, 2008

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Play of Daniel

It was a labor of love that began as a dream, when Dr. Myrna Herzog, musical director of the PHOENIX Ensemble, first heard sections of the Play of Daniel many years ago.
Herzog then proceeded to undertake producing a full musical transcription of the work, and, on March 16, at the Jerusalem YMCA hall, packed to capacity, we saw and heard the fruits of her labors in a performance that was accessible and delightful to those present. Niv Hoffman was stage director.

Appearing in France at the end of the 12th century, Ludus Danielis focuses on two episodes of the story of Daniel – the writing on the wall and the lions’ den. In this performance, the stage setting and costuming were simple, instrumentalists were seated on one side of the stage and effects were used sparingly. One amusing effect was having the writing on the wall printed on King Belshazzar’s t-shirt. Benny Hendel narrated with eloquence and relish, (also singing), enabling the audience to follow the plot, the original text being in Latin. The music was melodious and charming; rhythms were catchy and dancelike. There was wisdom, seriousness, humor and wit and the performance moved from beginning to end at a lively pace.

Herzog’s strength lies in her flexibility and her energy to research tirelessly; she is most selective in her choice of singers and players. Her interpretation is direct and universal. All the singers were outstanding. Young Israeli tenor Eitan Drori’s golden voice soared out into the hall: he was a moving and spiritual Daniel. Instruments were chosen and built especially for the performance in order to reproduce authentic Pythagorean tuning, this producing the contrast between tension and relaxation which is so basic to medieval music. I enjoyed the superb musicianship of the ensemble. Such delicate, articulate instrumental playing is a rare joy.

This is only the second time the Play of Daniel has been performed in Israel. The audience was excited to be part of this festive and historic occasion. It was certainly a highlight in Jerusalem’s musical life! Kudos to Myrna Herzog and to the PHOENIX Ensemble for an inspiring musical experience.

“The Play of Daniel”
The PHOENIX Ensemble
Myrna Herzog-musical director
Niv Hoffman-stage director
Dania Zemer-lighting
Sara Piro-production manager

Assaf Benraf-courtier, King Darius
Eitan Drori-the Prophet Daniel
David Feldman-King Belshazzar, courtier, envious counselor, lion
Macarena Lopez Lavin-Queen, courtier, envious counselor, lion
Michal Okon-courtier, diviner, angel, lion
Elam Rotem- courtier, astrologer, the prophet Habakkuk, lion
Benny Hendel, courtier, narrator
Myrna Herzog-vielle, carillon
Riki Peled-Or -vielle, psaltery, saz
Nadav Rogel-percussion
Adi Silberberg-recorders
Sunita Staneslow-harp

The Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Friendship, Jerusalem YMCA
March 16, 2008