Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Folk Baroque in Jerusalem, concert with a difference

Imagine walking into the auditorium of the Jerusalem Music Centre to hear a concert of the Barrocade ensemble and seeing an electric guitar leaning against Amit Tiefenbrunn’s chair .After collecting my wits, I decided to shed all authentic hang-ups and settled down to enjoy what turned out to be a pleasurable and exuberant end to the group’s 2007-2008 season, its first. Functioning as both soloists and ensemble players, Barrocade members have studied historical performance practice at leading European conservatories and play on replicas of original 17th and 18th century instruments and without a conductor. Barrocade, the Israeli Baroque Collective, definitely has its own signature sound and style. Arrangements of works for this concert were written by Amit Tiefenbrunn, the group’s musical director and viol and violine player; he teaches and also builds historical bowed instruments.

Oboist and composer Andre Philidor (c.1647-1730) compiled a collection of French court music from the reign of Henri III to the end of the 17th century. Introduced by the drum, we heard four of these court dances - each differently orchestrated. In the lilting “La Spanioletta” we heard Michael Ely playing a solo on Baroque guitar against plucked instruments and harpsichord. Baroque flautist and instrument builder Boaz Berney took over the solo, adding elegant embellishments. This was followed by an energetic and colorful Bourree.

Henry Purcell (1659-1695) dedicated his “Come ye Sons of Art, away” to Queen Mary in 1694. The text, probably by Nahum Tate, is full of references to music and musical instruments. “Strike the Viol” was sung by soprano Keren Hadar, firstly against the minimal accompaniment of a single tambourine and double bass, moving into fuller orchestration. Somehow the rhythm adopted a jazzy flavor, and, with the smoothest of transitions, there we were suddenly tapping our feet to Paul Desmond’s (1924-1977) “Take Five”, with Tiefenbrunn improvising on the electric guitar and Hadar joining in the melody.

English composer, singer lutenist and diplomat John Dowland (1563-1626) is known for his melancholy lute songs and consort music. “Flow My Tears”, first published in 1600, begins with The “falling tear motif” (a,g,f,e) which forms the basis for Dowland’s “Lachrimae” (Tears) pieces, many arrangements of which exist. Hadar, whose background includes theatre, captured the tragic character of the song, exercising fine vocal control. In Dowland’s much performed “Frog Galliard”, from his “First Booke of Songes or Ayres”, we heard each verse played with different instrumentation: Yizhar Karshon played the first on harpsichord, the second was heard on plucked instruments spiced with a hint of percussion; and in the third, the melody was played on the violin and highly ornamented. “Fine Knacks for Ladies” is a madrigal in the form of a street-seller’s song. The text, written by Dowland himself, speaks of human characteristics and the worth of worldly things. Here, Barrocade’s alternating of vocal and instrumental stanzas was effective. The verbal text is complex, challenging and full of allusions, no easy task for any singer.

Venetian priest, violinist and composer Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) was one of many composers to write variations on the melody and chord progression of “La Folia” (The Folly). This piece, boasting some sixteen variations, is a fine vehicle for displaying Barrocade’s many instrumental textures, combinations and moods. Each small variation presented new interest as well as virtuosic performance.

Italian composer and priest, Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) composed his declamatory “Si dolce e il tormento” (So Sweet is the Torment) in 1624. The ensemble’s delicate playing was interestingly contrasted by Hadar’s dramatic reading of the madrigal. Italian Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643) was one of the most important composers of keyboard music of the late Renaissance and early Baroque periods. Here we heard his secular song “Se l’aura spira”. The ensemble serenaded and “commented” on the vocal line as well as introducing each verse.
‘When the graceful breeze blows,
The fresh rose laughs
And the shady hedge of emerald green
Has no fear of the summer heat.’

With a genuine blend of Baroque and folk motifs, we heard the Presto movement from G.P.Telemann’s (1681-1676) Concerto for Flute and Recorder in e minor. This movement has many features of folk music and dances, with strident accents, whirling figures, long sustained notes, bagpipe-type drones and gypsy trills…certainly not your typical Baroque movement. The audience enjoyed the joy and energy inspired by Katya Polin (recorder) and Boaz Berney (Baroque flute.)

Of a totally different style, two traditional Ladino songs were performed: the Turkish version of “Alta alta es la luna” (High is the Moon) and “En la mar ay una torre” (In the Sea There is a Tower), a folk song originating in Spain. In the former, we heard talented young oud player Alon Portal in the solo. A drum transition from the first song to the next was effective. The ensemble was now an oriental orchestra, playing delicately in unison, oud and singer also in unison. Keren Hadar was convincing and showed familiarity with this medium. Also on the program was the anonymous Spanish song “Rodrigo Martines”. The viol introduced the song with a fifth drone, to be joined by the ensemble, with castanets adding Spanish fire. This simple rhythmic melody sung in strident, folksy manner by Hadar, is, itself, within the range of a fifth.

The program included two English folk songs. To a drone reminiscent of bagpipes, Hadar sang the much-loved Somerset folk song “Oh No John”, of which there are two versions, both slightly risqué, both entertaining. “Are You Going to Scarborough Fair?” is a song dating back to medieval times. It would have been sung by bards who went from town to town, with many versions emerging in time. The man singing has been jilted by his lover and assigns her all sorts of impossible tasks in order to explain to her that love sometimes requires doing things that seem unreasonable. Beautifully arranged, it began with a flute solo, played by Kimberly Reine, then a verse of singing, a recorder solo, and so on. Hadar’s performance of these folk songs was poignant. Unusual percussion instruments lent color to the texture.

The evening ended with a wild and joyful instrumental version of “Golden Brown”, a song about heroin and a girl, by the English rock band, “The Stranglers”. Boaz Berney playing a Jew’s harp gave the piece a whimsical twist.

This was certainly a concert with a difference and it worked well. Barrocade has a vivid palette of colors and excellent players. Unfortunately, there is no room here to mention the merits of all instrumentalists, all of whom are hand picked – however, I do wish to mention percussionist Shiko Sinai whose contribution to the evening was both outstanding and tasteful; Katya Polin was impressive on both recorder and viola. Baroque violinist Shlomit Sivan’s playing was excellent, as was that of those playing plucked instruments. Keren Hadar is a versatile and daring musician with a generous, highly colored voice; she performs a very wide range of vocal styles. For Renaissance and Baroque music, perhaps using less vibrato would be in order. Kudos to Amit Tiefenbrunn for his many superb and interesting arrangements.

Barrocade’s 2008-2009 season will be dedicated to “musical journeys’, from a visit to Bach’s home, to the mysteries of Greek mythology, from vibrant Naples to the Jewish communities of Renaissance Venice and Mantua.

“Folk Baroque”
Amit Tiefenbrunn-musical director, viola da gamba
Keren Hadar-soprano
Shlomit Sivan-Baroque violin
Kimberly Reine, Boaz Berney- Baroque flutes
Katya Polin-viola, recorder
Shai Pecker-double bass
Jacob Reuven-mandolin
Michael Ely-Baroque guitar
Eitan Hoffer-lute, theorbo
Yizhar Karshon-harpsichord
Shiko Sinai-percussion
Alon Portal-oud
The Jerusalem Music Centre
June 18, 2008

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Summer Evening Concert at Christ Church,Jaffa Gate Jerusalem

The Bel Canto Choir, one branch of the Jerusalem Oratorio Choir, conducted by Noa Burstein, held its Summer Evening Concert at Christ Church in the Old City of Jerusalem. The Gothic-style church provided an attractive and atmospheric venue and was packed to capacity.

The concert opened with Italian, Jewish composer Salamone Rossi’s (c.1570-c.1630) setting of “On the Banks of the Babylon” (Psalm 137). Published in 1623 in a collection of Psalms and motets with all Hebrew texts, this a cappella work depicts the anguish of exiled Jews and their longing for Jerusalem. In a rich, mellow blend of voices, the choir captured the personal expression of the work. Estonian composer, Urmas Sisask (b.1960) is known mainly for his choral works. The clean melodic lines of his “Dona Nobis Pacem” reflect his interest in Gregorian chant. Imitative and characterized by parallel-moving fourths, it was performed with accuracy. Of the Franco-Flemish school, Orlando di Lasso (c.1532-1594) composed his homophonic madrigal “Matona Mia Cara” to the rather vulgar words of a German soldier singing to a woman in his German-accented Italian. The choir performed it with elegance, enjoying its lush harmonies; the bell-like effects of the refrain were no less than delightful. After G.G.Gastoldi’s (c.1550-1662) lilting madrigal “Il Bell’Umorre” (In Merry Mood) we then heard Alessandro Scarlatti’s (1660-1725) sacred a cappella piece “Exultate Deo” (Rejoice to God), (Psalm 61). I found the choir’s intonation excellent but there was a tendency to over-accent each beat rather than create phrases. The first part of the concert ended with Joseph Rheinberger’s (1839-1901) “Stabat Mater”. Composed in 1890 for mixed choir, organ and optional string orchestra (we heard it with string quartet), it is an intense work of spiritual conviction. The choir performed it expressively, contrasting moments of velvety compassion with jagged, intense fiery sections. I asked myself whether choir members understood the verbal text well enough. This was followed by F.Schubert’s (1797-1828) “Stabat Mater” in g minor, D.175 (1815), scored for choir and orchestra. Here it was accompanied by ‘cello, two flutes and piano.

There were two Israeli works on the program. Yehezkel Braun (b.1922) arranged the Sephardic romance “Molinero” (The Miller) in 1980. Sung in Ladino, it is an uncluttered setting and the choir captured the style well. The lyrics to “Tirza Yaffa” (Pretty Linden) were written by Ch.N.Bialik, the music by N.Cohen-Havron. This lovely arrangement for choir and piano was performed with the freshness and fragrance of Nature depicted in the text.

Argentinian composer and virtuoso bandoneon (a large button accordion) player, Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) blends traditional, earthy and folk elements into richly colored works. His “Chiquilin de Bachin”, to words by Horacio Ferrer, for choir, piano and solo alto, is melodic and sentimental. Choir member, Susana Huler, familiar with the language and genre, sang the solo.
‘Evenings with his face all dirty,
Like an angel in blue jeans,
He sells roses at the tables
In the diner of Bachin’s:
If the moon is shining
On the oven lining,
He eats moonlight and burnt beans (Translation: Coby Lubliner.)

British composer and arranger, Bob Chilcott (b. 1955) uses highly effective and uncomplicated choral devices to produce music that is attractive and appealing. In a relaxed and flowing arrangement of Lennon and McCartney’s “Yesterday”, Burstein and the choir delighted the audience. Soprano Aviva Barazani wove her solo into the choral texture with charm, technical ease and color, her high range ringing out silvery and rich.

Bel Canto’s repertoire includes Afro-American spirituals. The choir was joined by guest soloist, Yael Tai, whose large, full-colored voice filled the church and she dazzled the audience with her competent, emotional and authentic performance. The evening ended with the joyful spiritual “Every Time I Feel the Spirit” sung a cappella, with choir member Dov Faust singing a lovely bass solo.

Noa Burstein has chosen some fine singers for the Bel Canto choir. As a result of the thorough vocal and musical training for which she is known, she produces a beautiful choral blend in performance that is accurate, expressive, in-depth and well-tuned. Burstein’s choice of repertoire is challenging and varied, offering both singers and audience a taste of the wide range of choral music. Pianist Tanya Schupak accompanies sensitively and with taste. Bel Canto’s performance would benefit from more work on diction.

Bel Canto Choir of the Jerusalem Oratorio
Conductor-Noa Burstein
Tanya Schupik-piano, organ
Yael Tai-guest soprano
Aviva Barazani-soprano
Susana Huler-alto
Dov Faust-bass
Nava Schwarzwald, Tamar Kornhendler-flutes
Ariella Zeitlin, Sofia Korsanova-violins
Anna Shapiro-viola
Gilad Arnon—‘cello
Christ Church, Jaffa Gate, Jerusalem
Wednesday June 11, 2008.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Abu Gosh Festival,2008

The 33rd Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival took place June 6 to June 9 2008, offering 18 concerts in the local churches plus many outdoor performances. I had the pleasure of spending a few hours at the festival Monday June 9.

The courtyard of the Crusader Church provides tranquil relief from the scorching midday heat. Shaded by old trees, it is peaceful and quiet. In one corner, a local man was selling coffee, tea, olive oil and herbs. A recording of Gregorian chant was heard in the background. The Crypt itself was intimate, dark and cool. “La Fresca Rosa Ridente”, performed by Ayala Sicron (voice), Drora Bruck (recorders) and Barry Moscovitz (theorbo), presented 16th and 17th century Italian songs of spring and love. This title, “La Fresca Rosa Ridente”, is taken from an aria by G. Frescobaldi (1583-1643) – “Se l’aura spira”:
‘When the graceful breeze blows,
The fresh rose laughs
And the shady hedge of emerald green
Has no fear of the summer heat’.

We were presented with many aspects of spring and love. The program opened with all three artists performing an anonymous 16th century piece “Era di maggio” (It Was the Month of May). In C. Monteverdi’s (1567-1643) complex “Ecco di dolce raggi” (Here the Sweet Rays of Sun) for voice and theorbo (Scherzi Misicale, 1632) we learn that spring comes along to thaw the heart. In S.Landi’s (1587-1639) “T’amai gran tempo”, (I Have Loved You for a Long Time) however, love has turned sour. The man addresses his lady, suggesting she look at birds rather than at other men. Ayala Sicron brought the text alive. She and Moscovits interacted well. In G.G. Gastoldi’s “Io foco son” (I Am as Fire) from his Balletti of 1594, we heard Sicron, Bruck (on tenor recorder) and Moscovits blending superbly in a mellow, homophonic piece that spoke of one lover being on fire, the other, ice! In Monteverdi’s “Ed e pur dunque vero”, (It is the Truth, Nevertheless) performed by all three artists, we were witness, yet again, to more suffering in love. The man (played by Sicron) has been left by Lydia (Bruck on soprano recorder). As voice and recorder reveal a miniature drama, we understand how unhappy he is, on one hand, and how exuberant Lydia is on the other. Despair has the last word. In “Menti lingua bugiarda” (Lying Tongue), Tarquinio Merula (1594-1665), whose years of employment as church organist were a series of scandals and acts of indecency, advises the lady to stop lying; she should need nobody else as he loves her. The recorder introduces the song, comments and provides charming interludes. Sicron’s performance invites the audience to be involved, her voice is creamy and she sings with vocal ease. Singer and composer, Barbara Strozzi (1619-1677) was unique in that she published her works in single-composer volumes. Most of her works were for soprano voice and continuo, suggesting they were for her to perform. In “Amor dormiglione” (Dormant Love), Sicron gives the song a lively reading; her voice glides and skips at will.

To provide respite from the trials and tribulations of love, we heard some instrumental pieces. Bruck and Moscovits performed G.P.Cima’s (1570-1622) Sonata no. 1. Scored for recorder and theorbo, Bruck brought out the Italian temperament of the piece, showing fine technique and good taste. Dario Castello (c.1590-c.1630) was a composer and cornetto player in Venice. His Sonata II, played brilliantly by Bruck on soprano recorder with Moscovits on theorbo, is inventive and technically challenging, complex and entertaining. Johannes Hieronymus Kapsberger (c.1580-1651) is mostly remembered for his works for lute and chitarrone. To the enjoyment of the audience, Barry Moscovits performed Kapsberger’s “Toccata arpeggiata” (1604) with elegance and attention to the many surprising harmonic developments, contrasts and unusual rhythmic groupings of the piece.

The Crypt was a fitting venue for “La Fresca Rosa Ridente”, performance was of a high standard, explanations were informative and the program well balanced.

Behind the Kiryat Yearim Church, in a spot that boasts the most wonderful view, there are leafy, old trees under which you can sit and listen to a relaxing, informal concert. “The Winds of Change” is a trio of orchestral players: Alexander Fine-bassoon, Dafna Yitzhaki-flute and Demetrios Karamintzas-oboe. They opened their recital with two Baroque works. Antonio Vivaldi’s (1678-1741) Concerto di Camera in g minor, performed here in its original scoring, is an attractive work in three movements. The pleasant acoustic of this venue gave each musical gesture expression. This was followed by G.P. Telemann’s (1681-1767) Sonata in c minor, also in its original scoring. In this sonata da chiesa, the audience enjoyed the contrasts between movements, the trio’s fine technique and clean tuning. J.Haydn’s London Trio no. 1 was originally written for flute, violin and ‘cello. It worked well on flute, oboe and bassoon and its Haydenesque lightness and joy came alive in the outdoors. C.P.E. Bach (1714-1788), J.S.Bach’s second son, composed only one sonata for oboe and bassoon. The piece, ending with a set of variations, delighted listeners gathered around. Young, Greek-born Karamintzas, a member of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, delighted listeners with his excellent playing. Fine is known to concert audiences both as an orchestral player and as a player of Baroque oboe and bassoon. His explanations and humorous comments were enjoyed by the audience.

The “Criolla Celebration, a Concert of Festive Music for Guadalupe” was performed in the Kiryat Yearim Church to a full house. This program is a collection of pieces put together by musicologist and researcher Bernardo Illari especially for the PHOENIX Ensemble and for the Abu Gosh Festival. Music of Baroque composers, such as Spaniards Tomas de Torrejon (1644-1728) and Juan de Araujo (c.1649-1712) and Bolivian composer Roque Jacinto de Chavarria (1688-1719) is represented; in addition, there are a number of traditional pieces of that region. The celebration is that of Our Lady of Guadaloupe, a festival which took place in the city of La Plata c.1717 and which lasted for more than a week.

PHOENIX, under the musical direction of Brazilian-born researcher and viol player Dr. Myrna Herzog, performed it on period instruments - such as the shawm, dulcian, harpsichord, theorbo, Baroque guitar, recorder, viol and harpsichord – producing a delicate but highly colorful consort timbre. The choir was the excellent Shachar Choir from Rechovot under the direction of Gila Brill. Vocal soloists were Macarena Lopez-Lavin-soprano, Michal Okon-soprano, Hadas Gur-mezzo-soprano, Shlomo Blumenfeld-baritone, Noa Horev-alto, Noa Stav-alto and Boaz Brill-tenor.

The performance opened with singers and percussionists entering in procession from the back of the church, singing “Todo el mundo en general” (May the Whole World Say in Full Voice) from La Plata (1717). The ensuing work is a mosaic of solos alternating with and joined by the other soloists or by the choir, creating the impression that all there are part of the festival. This is strengthened by the fact that we hear allusions to South American folk music and dances; singers sway to the rhythms and utter shouts of joy. Religious and secular are intertwined. Melodies are cushioned in richly-colored harmonies, inviting the audience to enjoy the accessibility of this music. There were poignant moments, too. The antiphonal “Silencio pasito” (Silence Softly), referring to Mary sleeping, was naïve and delicate as was Lopes’ solo in “Maria todo es Maria” (Mary, All is Mary) sung first against the viol in a very minimal setting, then joined by the women’s section of the choir. Michal Okon gave the almost fragrant “Cefiro de las flores” (Zephyr of the Flowers) a mellifluous reading. Hadas Gur and Boaz Brill, with smaller voices, were not always heard clearly above the ensemble. Lara Morris’ two recorder solos – the Cachua (an Indian dance from Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru) and “Baile de toritos” (Dance of the Small Bulls) – were brilliant. The first was an improvisation over an ostinato, whereas the second was an intense, purely melodic piece. Versatile baritone, Shlomo Blumenfeld’s voice has a warm quality which reaches out to his audience.

This Festive Baroque concert was the right fare for a festival. The concept of religious service, folk music, dance and spontaneity existing together is refreshing. The audience found its joyousness infectious. Having the text (and its translation) in the program was important to the understanding the of the various aspects of such a celebration. Herzog’s high standards of performance, her choice of musicians and attention to detail are her own hallmark of excellence; in this program, we also sense her love and familiarity of the spirit of South American music.

The Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival
June 9, 2008

Monday, June 16, 2008

Authentic performance of street music from southern Italy

“Via Toledo”, performed by the “Accordone” Ensemble from Italy, was surely a highlight of the 2008 Israel Festival. Founded in 1984, with the aim of researching and performing Italian music from the Renaissance to the beginning of the 18th century, the group combines both musical and dramatic elements in authentic performance. This concert focused on the music of southern Italy – tarantellas, love songs, songs with religious content, laments and dances. In order to put the program together, members of the ensemble went from village to village collecting material and recording older people in songs that have been oral tradition for hundreds of years. The south of Italy, with its temperate climate, has always been the natural meeting place of people from Mediterranean countries – Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans Spaniards and French people – and the various traditions of these people have left their mark on the music of the region.

The concert began with actor and singer Pino de Vittorio singing unaccompanied. His voice is natural and strong and, between stanzas, he takes a few dance steps. We may have been sitting in a concert hall, but, in effect, we were in the streets of Italy. De Vittorio is a real showman – his singing is full of pathos; with underlying humor he croons love songs and convinces the audience of his devotion and suffering. “Na via di rose”, a traditional song from Basilicata, is a lilting love-song. The singer was accompanied by plucked instruments and a drum.
‘In the middle of the road
There is a path of roses,
I picked one and it pricked my hand.
In the middle of the road
I must make a bridge
Of precious stones, rubies and diamonds,
Not even the Saints must cross it,
But only my beloved lady for a moment
And only my beloved, in one moment
Closes the door, because the wind comes in.’

There were a number of tarantellas in the program. This dance was associated with the tarantula whose poison was said to cause convulsions, hallucinations and madness. Actually, it turns out that the spider’s bite was not poisonous but the energy of the tarantella itself inspired movement and dance that were considered therapeutic. In a group of three tarantellas with texts so very Italian, and inspired by the Neapolitan tradition, singer Marco Beasley, who edits texts sung by the group, was accompanied by plucked instruments and organ as well as frame drum and castanets.

Beasley’s tenor voice is silken and he has fine stage presence. In the unaccompanied “Pigliate l’alma mia” (Take My Soul), music by Severino Corneti (1530-1582), he used rests as a dramatic effect in a moving performance. On a very different note, “Sona Carmagnola” (At the Sound of the Bass Drum), this song of the troops of Cardinal Ruffo of Calabria (1799) tells of war and rebellion. It was introduced by plucked instruments and drum; Beasley sang the verses and the ensemble joined in, singing the refrain.

Instrumental accompaniments were delicate, authentic and tasteful. Maure Durante played a virtuosic solo on the frame drum, an unsophisticated instrument that had reached Europe through Islamic culture. Durante amazed the audience with a dazzling variety of effects, pitches and timbres.

Accordone’s performance was interesting and refreshing, dynamic and joyful. Singers and instrumentalists, under the musical direction of Guido Morini, were first class. The audience was delighted and Accordone, in true Italian spirit, obliged with four encores.

Accordone (Italy)
“Via Toledo”
Guido Morini-organ, harpsichord, musical direction
Marco Beasley-voice
Pino de Vittorio-voice, battente guitar
Stefano Rocco-lute, Baroque guitar
Fabio Accurso-lute
Franco Pavan-theorbo
Mauro Durante-frame drum, violin
The Henry Crown Symphony Hall, Jerusalem Centre for the Performing Arts
June 7, 2008

Friday, June 13, 2008

Sephardic Music of the Diaspora

Spanish Jordi Savall is known to Israeli audiences as a prominent viol player and for the Hesperion XXI Ensemble, of which he is the director; this a group focuses on authentic performance of works from the Middle Ages to the Baroque. In the 2008 Israel Festival “The Sepharadi Diaspora”, another of Savall’s ambitious projects, presented the music of the Jews banished from Spain in 1492, their musical and cultural heritage together with the influences of style from the various countries to which they had wandered. Some of this rich collection of song, handed down from generation to generation, was for entertainment, some functional music, some secular, some of it religious. The Spanish language used by them has undergone many changes and has also adopted words from the various countries in which these Jews settled. Artists taking part in this concert were Savall himself, musicians of Hesperion XXI, Israeli oud player, teacher and researcher Yair Dalal and singer Montserrat Figueras.

The program opened with Savall in a pensive solo. A drum joined and the mood gradually changed, becoming more energetic. Pierre Hamon added a haunting flute melody. They were then joined by Figueras. Against an understated accompaniment, Figueras sang “Pregoneros van y vienen’ (Through all the City of Aragon), an anonymous song from Sarajevo. Her singing was as intense and commanding as ever as she let the story unfold, her voice interacting with the flautist. “Levantose’l Conde Nino” (The Childe Count Rose) is an old ballad from Salonica. Beautiful in its assymetrical rhythmic patterns, it begins with a psaltery solo (Begona Olivade). Figueras ornamented the melodic line, with the instrumental ensemble commenting at the end of each phrase.

“Taksim Lami” was played by Yair Dalal (oud). Highly melodic and expressive, Dalal’s improvisations brought out the exotic character of the mode. A percussionist joined in wearing ankle bells, which he used sparingly. Dalal was joined by Savall in an instrumental version of the song of the Jews of Sarajevo “El Rey Nimrod” (King Nimrod). People in the audience, familiar with the melody, hummed along. Another fine instrumental arrangement was that of “Hermoza muchachica” (Pretty Little Girl), a melody belonging to the Jerusalem Sepharadi community. The melody itself was played on recorder, with other players taking turns to improvise solos.

Figueras gave the Moroccan lullaby,”Nani,nani”, a bewitching, highly shaped reading. Instrumentation was intense but delicate. Another outstanding performance was that of the anonymous Turkish song “Por alli paso un cavallero” (There Passed That Way a Knight). It began with Olavide playing an ornamented, virtuoso solo on psaltery. Figueras’ performance of this was humorous and coquettish. Having the lyrics in the program added much to the audience’s enjoyment.

‘There passed that way a knight,
Full noble and handsome was he.
“If such be your pleasure, Sir,
You may take your pleasure with me.”

“God who is in heaven forbid
And from such deeds preserve me.
A comely wife and children have I
And for their sake must leave thee”.

“Then get thou on thy way, fine sir,
May all go ill with thee
Mayst thou find thy wife with another
And thy children turned scoundrels see.”

“El moro de Antequera” (The Moor of Antequera) (Rhodes) is one of many early ballads that tell of events between the Christian Spanish front and the Moorish empire of Granada. Figueras gave it a delicate reading.

Jordi Savall and Hesperion XXI give high quality performances and will always delight the senses. Montserrat Figueras has presence, fine diction, and an interesting mix of colors in her vocal range; above all, she breathes meaning into each song. This concert presented a collection of wonderful, flowing melodies, works so familiar and meaningful to many in the audience.

“The Sepharadi Diaspora ”
From Medieval Spain to the Eastern Mediterranean.
Jordi Savall- musical director, bowed instruments
Montserrat Figueras-voice
Hesperion XXI
The Henry Crown Symphony Hall
June 5, 2008–06–10

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Jerusalem - City of Peace concert, Israel Festival 2008

“Jerusalem – City of Two Peaces: Heavenly Peace and Earthly Peace”, in the 2008 Israel Festival, was a musical event that attracted a large and decidedly curious audience to the Henry Crown Symphony Hall June 4. This concert is the outcome of a research project carried out jointly by Jordi Savall (Spain) and Yair Dalal (Israel) and it aims to present many aspects of this city through the musical traditions of all three monotheistic religions….no mean task considering the religious, political and cultural complexities of a city whose history is one of destruction and war, creativity, spirituality and a yearning for peace.

With the hall plunged into darkness, the event began with a startling, intense fanfare played on seven shofars (with some players in the gallery), early wind instruments and percussions, issuing in the first section of the concert under the category of “Heavenly Peace: The Prophets of the Apocalypse and of the Last Judgement”. This began with a piece from the 3rd century based on Jewish sources and Aramaic music. With the everyday world suddenly left behind us, we found ourselves drawn into the inebriating world of the music of this region, with the ever expressive, fresh voice of Montserrat Figueras against a gentle instrumental drone punctuated by men’s voices of La Capella Reial de Catalunya responding in parallel octaves.

In addition to the above mentioned vocal quartet, Jordi Savall’s Hesperion XXI group of early music instrumentalists was joined by Israeli players, artists from Armenia, Greece and Turkey as well as the very fine Al-Darweesh Sufi group from the Galilee

In “Jerusalem, a Jewish City (1000 BC – 70 AD)”, we heard Israeli singer of the Andalusian style, Lior Almalich (b.1984), intoning Psalm 122. His voice is natural and effortless, his understanding of this style of singing profound, and his performance was moving and sincere. He was joined by Delal playing imaginative, creative oud solos. Oud player and violinist Yair Dalal (b.1955) composes and teaches and is a specialist in ethnic Israeli music.

In the third section, dealing with “Jerusalem, a Christian City (326-1244)”, a Crusaders’ Song, performed by the vocal men’s quartet, was introduced by Christophe Tellart on bagpipes. This section ended with a mournful 12th century song from the 2nd Crusade, an intimate piece in the Chejaz mode, sensitively sung and accompanied on strings.

In “Jerusalem, a City of Pilgrimage (383-1250)” we heard Spanish virtuoso psaltery player and researcher Begona Olavide this time singing Judah Halevy’s (1075-1141) “Zionida: Beautiful land, delight of the world”. Olavide’s interest in the nexus between Spanish and Arabic music has taken her to Morocco, where she studied singing, qanun and the theory of Maghrebi-Andalusian music.

Turkish composer, arranger and virtuoso oud player Mutlu Torun, backed by minimal, light percussion sounds, set the scene for “Jerusalem, an Arabic City (1244-1516) and an Ottoman City (1517-1917)”. Singer Muwafak Shahin Khalil, symbolically placed apart on a raised platform at the back of the stage, presented an impressive rendering of “Mohammed Goes to Heaven after the Temple Mount”. In another solo, he stood at the front of the stage. In the Dance of the Soma Sufi Group Al-Darwish, drum and flute interacted in an intense, rhythmic duet. Usama Ghanayin Abu Ali’s brilliant flute solos dazzled and delighted the audience throughout the evening.

“Jerusalem, a Land of Refuge and Exile (15th – 20th Centuries)”, opening with Savall’s playing of a poignant string solo, was a reminder of much suffering. A candle was lit at the front of the stage. Figueras performed the tragic “Palestina hermoza y Santa” (oral tradition, Sarajevo). We then heard Manuel Forcano reading a poem by the great Jerusalem poet, Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000).

‘On a rooftop in the Old City
Washing is spread out in the evening sun:
The white sheet of a woman who is my enemy,
The towel of a man who is also my enemy,
To wipe the sweat from his brow.

In the sky above the Old City
A kite is flying
And on the other end of the string –
A child
I cannot see
Because of the wall.

We have put up many flags,
They have put up many flags
To make us believe that they are happy,
To make us believe we are happy’.

After a Palestinian lament, we heard the very fine Razmik Amyan (b.1982) in the Andouni Armenian Lament (1915). Amyan’s singing was beautifully phrased and nuanced, tragic and convincing. Lights were turned out and a historic 1950 recording of Cantor Shlomo Katz chanting “El male rahamim” to the memory of the victims of Auschwitz was heard. The recording was crackly and indistinct, distracting one somewhat from the drama of the moment. There was a Funeral March played on shofars and percussion, with this section of the program finishing with an anonymous Sephardic prayer “El Pan de la afliccion” sung in rich harmonies by La Capella Reial de Catalunya. Lights went on and the candle was then extinguished.

Dalal performed a meditative oud piece, providing a transition into “Earthly Peace: a Duty and a Utopia”. This was a series of prayers for peace sung in Hebrew, Arabic, Armenian Ladino and Latin, with some of the prayers performed instrumentally. The evening ended as it had begun - with a noisy, cacophonic shofar and brass improvisation. I asked myself whether this idea really needed a second airing..

Savall and Dalal’s presentation was meaningful and profound. Savall’s instrumental arrangements are always delicate, imaginative and polished; transitions from piece to piece are smooth and pleasing to the ear. His choice of artists is impeccable and he goes for authenticity of instrumentation and style; there was a strong feeling that all performers presented their contributions to the evening with a sense of deep humility. This was truly a multinational group of players and singers. Manuel Forcano, lecturer in Hebrew and Aramaic at the University of Barcelona, read various texts eloquently in Hebrew, adding interest. The evening was a veritable Jerusalem mosaic. The audience found it inspirational and showed its appreciation. If the Jerusalem Festival’s aim is to bring high quality performance and a taste of something very different, this was it!

“Jerusalem – City of Heavenly Peace and Earthly Peace.”
Jordi Savall-director
Yair Dalal-oud
Montserrat Figueras-voice and cithara
Begonia Olavide-voice and psaltery
Lior Elmalich-voice
Razmik Amyan-voice
Muwafak Shahin Khalil-voice
Hesperion XXI
Al-Darwish Sufi Group
La Capella Reial de Catalunya
Mutlu Torun-oud
The Trumpets of Jericho
Manuel Forcano-readings
The Henry Crown Symphony Hall, Jerusalem Centre for the Performing Arts
June 4, 2008