Saturday, May 2, 2009

Murray Perahia in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv

Pianist Murray Perahia, president of the Jerusalem Music Centre, was in Jerusalem conducting master classes for pianists at the JMC from April 19th to April 23rd. This workshop focused on Schenkerian analysis as a guide to better understanding of the construction of works being performed. Joining him was Professor Roger Kamien (Dept. of Musicology, Hebrew University) who presented four lectures on Schenkerian analysis during the week. Perahia performed a solo recital at the Mann Auditorium, Tel Aviv, April 26th.

Heinrich Schenker (1868-1935) was an Austrian musician whose analytical approach involved looking beneath the immediate surface of music to find large-scale shapes and patterns as a guide to more meaningful playing. Young musicians taking part in Perahia’s master classes were required to present the maestro with a written musical analysis of pieces they were to play. The workshop began with Berenika Glixman’s performance of J.S.Bach’s Partita no. 4 in D major, BWV 828; it was Perahia’s wish to begin the week with Bach, to discuss the shapes and construction of a musical text in which Bach indicates no direction. This was, however, no academic exercise: Perahia talked of Bach the great harmonist, Bach the improviser, of the emotional meaning of modulation, of dissonance and consonance, of building melodic and harmonic intensity towards the highest point of a phrase. Perahia worked with Glixman on the delicate playing of inner voices, mentioning the many long hours he himself had spent working on inner voices.

During the four days of master classes, sixteen outstanding young pianists performed works of Bach, as well as Classical and Romantic composers, to an excited and involved audience of students, piano teachers and music enthusiasts crowded into the auditorium of the JMC.

Murray Perahia’s recital at the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv was hosted by the JMC and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Proceeds from the concert went to the training of young musicians and the promotion of excellence in music-making in Israel. Born in the USA in 1947, Perahia is one of the most sought-after pianists of today. He is the Principal Guest Conductor of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, London, and has recently embarked on an ambitious project to edit the complete Beethoven Sonatas for the Henle Urtext Edition.

Perahia’s program was accessible to a wide number of music lovers, due to the fact that it was compiled of familiar and well-loved pieces. It opened with J.S.Bach’s (1687-1750) Partita no. 1 in B flat major, BWV 825. The first of Bach’s works to be published and the last set of keyboard suites he composed, they are his freest and most challenging suites. Perahia’s reading of the Prelude and each of the dances was thought-provoking, finely crafted, layered in refined voice-play, his economic use of ornamentation and chord spreads never a hindrance to the general plan of each movement.

Perahia’s performance of W.A.Mozart’s (1756-1791) Sonata in F major K332 was an articulate guide to the musical text of the work: he stressed melodic changes, major-minor shifts and sudden contrasts using gentle rhythmic flexibility to do so, all this expressed in a language of humility and clarity.

Ludwig van Beethoven’s ( 1770-1827) Sonata no. 23 in F minor, opus 57 (“Appassionata”) was composed during the period from 1803 to 1806. In 1802, Beethoven addressed his Heiligenstadt Testament to his two brothers, discussing his deteriorating hearing: “My misfortune is doubly painful to me because I am bound to be misunderstood; for me there can be no relaxation with my fellow men, no refined conversations, no mutual exchange of ideas…” By 1803, the composer was coming to terms with his deafness, issuing in his “middle period” of creativity, one of struggle and renewed strength, during which the “Appassionata” was composed. Perahia’s performance of this monumental work evokes Beethoven’s capriciousness, his vulnerability, but also, at times, a sense of well-being, the tools for this character portrait being the technical possibilities offered by the modern piano. Yet, despite the turbulent inner journey described, the pianist never resorts to the unruly; Perahia remains an observer and an interpreter.

Johannes Brahms’ (1833-1897) Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, opus 24, were composed in September of 1861, dedicated to Clara Schumann and presented to her on her 42nd birthday. She premiered the work in December of the same year. Presenting this wonderful concert piece, Perahia invites the listener to forget the virtuosity involved in its performance and listen to the myriad of ideas, styles, textures and moods, the grouping of variations and to join him in building all towards the dense, many-faceted fugue referred to by British musician and writer, Julian Littlewood, as “a dense, contrapuntal argument”.

In response to a standing ovation, Murray Perahia played two Schubert Impromptus with his signature delicacy, with sensitive attention to filigree details, recreating melodies and harmonies that soar and float and take your breath away.

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