Thursday, April 30, 2009

Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra Independence Day Concert, 2009

The Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of its house conductor, Leon Botstein, issued in the 61st Israeli Independence Day celebrations on April 28, 2009 with a festive concert in the Henry Crown Symphony Hall of the Jerusalem Theatre. Playing to a full house, the JSO delighted the audience with a program of interest and variety.

What more fitting opening to the evening could there be than Paul Ben Haim’s (1897-1984) “Fanfare for Israel”, composed in 1950. Emigrating to Israel from Germany in 1933, Ben Haim actually took Israeli citizenship in 1948 and was one of the visionaries of that pioneering period of Israeli music. ”Fanfare for Israel” is a short, modal work, spelled out in a colorfully orchestrated idiom, with melody and harmony balanced in a smoothly crafted style.

We then heard Francis Poulenc’s (1899-1963) Concerto in D minor for Two Pianos. Soloists were duo pianists Tami Kanazawa and Yuval Admony; the two artists perform extensively, record and are the recipients of several prestigious awards. They also established the Israeli International Piano Duo Festival, with Admony as its artistic director. From the very first notes of the concerto, Kanazawa and Admony take on board the mix of eclectic, witty, percussive and lyrical style, spiced by Balinese gamelan music, jazz, music in the style of that played for the silent films and the French music hall, all these elements having been tossed into the cauldron of Poulenc’s own musical idiom. The duo’s energetic and articulate approach of the feisty first movement transforms to a delicate and flowing, Romantic texture in the second. Botstein addresses the many instrumental solos and effects in detail. The audience enjoyed the brilliance and joy of this performance.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) began his Symphony No. 5 in C minor, opus 67 in 1804, completing it in 1808. A year and a half after its premiering, composer and author E.T.A. Hoffmann wrote: “Radiant beams shoot through the deep night of this region, and we become aware of gigantic shadows which, rocking back and forth, close in on us and destroy all within us except the pain of endless longing…” Much has since been written about the symphony, in particular, about the opening four-note motif and whether it symbolizes “fate knocking at the door”. Whether it does or not, the symphony remains one of the greatest works of orchestral repertoire, its emotional message, however it is understood in the mind of the listener, is a powerful one. Botstein’s tempi were fast; his emphasis was on strong melodic profile, contrast, and on a spirited, fresh orchestral sound. Brass and ‘cello sections were especially pleasing.

The concert ended with four Israeli songs arranged for orchestra and instrumental soloists by conductor, arranger, composer and pianist, Shimon Cohen (b.1937, Israel). Cohen’s songs and arrangements have become staples of the Israeli music scene.

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