Saturday, March 13, 2010

American piano master gives master classes in Jerusalem

Following his solo recital in the Henry Crown Auditorium of the Jerusalem Theatre March 6th 2010, American pianist Richard Goode conducted five days of master classes for pianists at the Jerusalem Music Centre and at the Edward Aldwell Center for Piano Performance and Musicianship (Jerusalem.) Pianists taking part ranged from age 12 upwards, the more senior players being students of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance and the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music (Tel Aviv).

On March 8th, I spent some time auditing Goode’s master class at the Jerusalem Music Centre. His work with the students centred around the gestures and meaning of works they had chosen to play. Discussing Mozart’s Sonata in A minor K.310 with young pianist, Yishai Rubin, a student of the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music, Goode talked about the sonata’s first subject being unusual, a little crude in fact, and the very different “other world” of the second subject where “defiance” is followed by “a sorrowful plea”. The maestro reminds us that in Mozart’s music “opera is never very far away”. Goode drew attention to changing dissonances and talked about how to get the right effect of “calando”. He suggested Rubin use the sustaining pedal sparingly….only where strictly necessary. Regarding the second movement – Andante – Goode stressed the importance of giving it a “kind of swing” and of its opening phrases that serve as a kind of “invitation”. He talked of the noble octaves in the left hand to be played in strict rhythm, with the melodic right exercising a little more freedom. Also, on the subject of expression, Goode commented that “the composer’s markings are more drastic and surprising than our feelings”.

Gili Loftus, a student of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, chose to play Schubert’s Sonata in A major, D.664. Goode placed emphasis on the gentle character of the opening and giving the major section a little more warmth, on playing into the key note of a phrase, on making repeated notes “float”, “meditating as if time stops”.
In his discussion of the second movement, Goode talked of Schubert’s lightness which the composer ennobles, of the hands playing independently and of the fact that Schubert is fonder of pianissimo than most other composers. “Piano is a dangerous dynamic”, he reminds Gili, “but it does have its more piercing moments”. Goode talks of the importance of Schubert’s harmonies and of addressing all the dissonances in the sonata.

Richard Goode is a softly-spoken person. The young pianists were focused and relaxed in his company. They enjoyed trying out the maestro’s suggestions. The audience, comprising of students, piano teachers and other people, was presented with a wealth of artistic ideas and much food for thought.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

American pianist Richard Goode gives his first Israei recital in Jerusalem

American pianist Richard Goode gave his first Israeli recital March 6th 2010 in the Henry Crown Auditorium of the Jerusalem Theatre. Proceeds of the recital were generously donated by the artist towards the Aldwell Center’s program which nurtures young Israeli pianists. Maestro Goode followed the recital with master classes in conjunction with the Edward Aldwell International Center, the Jerusalem Music Centre, the Arthur Rubinstein International Music Society and the Conservatory of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance.

Born in New York, Goode has a varied schedule - he performs, teaches and records extensively. One of today’s leading- and most daring interpreters of Beethoven’s music, Goode has recorded the complete Beethoven Sonata cycle and ,recently in 2009, he recorded all five Beethoven piano concertos.

The Henry Crown Auditorium was alive with excitement and curiosity in anticipation of the recital. The program began with an item that was decidedly unusual for a piano recital –William Byrd’s (1543-1623) second- and third Pavan and Galliard from “My Ladye Nevells Booke” (1591), a collection of 42 keyboard pieces for the virginal. (Lady Nevell, possibly a pupil of Byrd, was Francis Bacon’s half-sister and the third wife of Sir Henry Nevell of Billingbere.) Placing emphasis on the majestic boldness of the pavans, Goode arpeggiates and ornaments them profusely, still, however, addressing the importance of perfect intervals and clean lines. He lets go in the galliards, presenting the vitality of the faster court dance as well as its hemiolas and abandon. A daring choice, but certainly well thought-out and interesting.

J.S.Bach’s (1685-1750) Partita no.6 in E minor BWV 830, composed some time between 1725 and 1730 and published in 1731, is grand both in length and in its profound expression. Goode’s reading of the opening lengthy Toccata is contemplative and spontaneous and, in his playing of it, he prepares his audience for the runs and ornamental passagework with which he is to spice his playing of the entire suite. Throughout the work, we are a witness to the artist’s amazing agility and lightness of touch, as in the Corrente, where Goode’s swift, brilliant, feather-light playing underlines key notes and syncopations. Altogether, he identifies with Bach’s taste for unusual shapes that ignore bar-lines, and his playing is intellectual and virtuosic. The relaxed and clean lines of the court dance were not of high priority.

Although leaving his native Poland at age 19, Frederic Chopin (1810-1849) began his composing with a Polonaise and ended it with a Mazurka. He composed 58 Mazurkas, bringing them to the concert stage as finely crafted miniatures that reflect his background and originality, inviting the performer to play along with their moods, modes, dissonances and textures. performing four Chopin Mazurkas, Goode’s reading of them is delicate, flexible, his attention to motifs and Slavic scales combined with spontaneity. In Mazurka Opus 50 no.4 in C sharp minor, Goode’s rich palette colors the dance with nostalgia, the various dance episodes each different in concept. He guides the listener through a texture fashioned of folk rhythms, counterpoint, modal harmonies and chromatic writing, laying bare phrases written as a single melodic line, presenting Chopin’s richness of ideas through his own magical touch.

Goode then played Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantasy Opus 61 ( published 1846). Giving this demanding and emotional “rollercoaster” a vivid and intense reading, Goode punctuates complex sections with sensitive, cantabile melodic moments that are intensely human. The Chopin content of the recital surely ties in with 2010 as the World Chopin Year.

The recital ended with the artist’s performance of Robert Schumann’s (1810-1856) “Kreisleriana” Opus 16, completed by the composer within four days in April of 1838. The title refers to the fictitious Johannes Kreisler, a brilliant and eccentric conductor, characterized in the works of E.T.A Hoffmann, but it may also refer to his future wife Clara Wieck, who had created some of the motifs used by Schumann throughout the work.. Goode’s masterful and imaginative treatment of the eight fantasias combines the typically Schumannesque stormy- and vulnerable sides; weaving weakness and strength into languishing, contemplative moments, Goode “orchestrates” the piano in a soundscape of mixed harmonies and multiple textures, his careful timing adding to the meaning of the work. His many-faceted performance of “Kreisleriana” thrilled the audience.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The PHOENIX Early Music Ensemble presents J.S.Bach's "Art of Fugue"

J.S.Bach’s (1685-1750) “Art of Fugue” is clouded in mystery – the composer, himself, had discussed it with nobody. Begun in the early 1740’s he seems to have worked on it sporadically till his death, never completing it. His son, Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach, found it in 1751 and published it in its incomplete state.

March 6th 2010 was a mild winter’s day and Ein Kerem was drenched in sunlight, its bird population singing in full throat. Stepping through the wild, succulent garden of the Eden-Tamir Music Centre, one mounts the steps to leave the outside world far behind and enter one of Jerusalem’s most unique “sanctuaries” of music-making. We were assembled to hear the PHOENIX Early Music Ensemble’s working of Bach’s “Art of Fugue”. Those performing were Yasuko Hirata-Baroque violin, Shai Kribus-Baroque oboe, oboe d’amore, recorder, Katya Polin-Baroque viola, recorder, Alexandra Polin-bass viol and founder and musical director of the PHOENIX Ensemble Myrna Herzog on bass viol. The players were using period instruments, the bowed instruments being strung with gut strings to provide the intimate, warm color and timbre evocative of Baroque chamber music. Excluding the four Canons of the collection, we heard the 14 Contrapuncti from the Simple Fugues, through the Stretto Fugues, Double- and Triple Fugues, Mirror Fugues to the final gigantic, incomplete Quadruple Fugue. Audience members were provided with a table of themes and countersubjects to guide them through Bach’s plans and fugal techniques.

With lighter, more melodic gallant style coming into fashion, Bach turns his back on convention to compose this monothematic group of pieces, all in the introverted key of D minor and he provides few clues as to its scoring. Did he have the organ or harpsichord in mind and did he see this work as a textbook on the potential and countless permutations offered of fugal writing? What is clear is that the fugue was a form that had always fascinated the composer - music of eye and mind one level, but music of the soul and the senses on another.

Herzog’s concept is to vary instrumentation from fugue to fugue in order to tie in with the differing character of pieces and to change according to tightly packed counterpoint versus freer episodes. For Contrapunctus I, she chooses strings only to express tranquility and state the main theme. Here one is aware of Bach’s deep, religious spirituality. From then on, combinations change: Contrapunctus II is played on oboe, viola and bass viols, In Contrapunctus III, the recorder (Katya Polin) joins the strings, and so on. In Contrapunctus VI, a French-style piece, the oboe (Kribus) doubling Hirata on the top line comes across rather too strident, whereas in the energetic and challenging Contrapunctus IX, Kribus playing the oboe d’amore doubles each of the strings in turn, underlining key melodies. Herzog dedicates the ensemble’s performance of Contrapunctus XI to Glenn Gould , who had recorded parts of the work on piano and others on organ. Contrapunctus XII is the odd man out, being the only fugue in triple time, with Herzog having the last word with a wonderfully fashioned ornament. In the final weighty Contrapunctus XIV, planned as a quadruple fugue, Shai Kribus doubles different voices with recorder and, later, with oboe, to show the listener through the complexities of the different sections; we hear Bach’s signature motif – B flat-A-C-B – and then, mid-phrase, the work cuts out – a wrenching moment of nothingness and alarming silence, of Bach’s unfinished business.

The PHOENIX performance of The Art of Fugue is the result of much in-depth work on detail, texture and the layers of meaning, all of these enormously challenging to the player. Herzog refers to it as an “intellectual experience – so cerebral, sophisticated and so emotional”, a “kind of farewell to Bach”. It was, indeed, a highly intelligent and professional performance, held together by accuracy, fine musicianship, the beauty and richness of Baroque instrumental timbres and a deep sense of reverence for composer and music. A live performance of this quality brings players and audience together in an experience that reaches far beyond analysis.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra presents a program of "Sacred and Secular Dances" and more

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra presented a concert of “Sacred and Secular Dances” at the Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Friendship of the Jerusalem International YMCA February 23rd 2010. Guest artists were conductor and violinist Walter Reiter (UK) and soprano Revital Raviv (Israel). Works were performed on strings and theorbo (Bari Moskovich), with the JBO’s musical director, Dr. David Shemer, at the harpsichord.

The program opened with Johann Heinrich Schmelzer’s (c.1629-1680) “Musikalische Fechtschule” (Musical Fencing School). Schmelzer, a highly influential Austrian instrumental composer and brilliant violinist, was the first non-Italian to be Capellmeister in Vienna. In addition to three collections of chamber music, he composed much ballet music to be used for entertainment at the court of Leopold I from 1665 to 1680. The “Musical Fencing School” was probably written as a ballet. Its programmatic content adds a whimsical layer to the dance suite: in the penultimate movement, titled “Fechtschule”, the violinists’ part suggests swordplay, with the final aria describing the bathhouse attendant! Composed in 1668 or 1669, the suite is typical of its times, in its vivid style (Musica representativa). Reiter’s reading of it was highly shaped, elegant and precise and with the crafted, fragile delicacy of string playing we were to hear throughout the evening.

Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber (1644-1704), also a celebrated violin virtuoso, was a pupil of Schmelzer. His twelve “Fidicinium Sacro-Profanum Sonatas” (c.1682) present somewhat of a conundrum. Commissioned by the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg Maximilian Gandolph von Kuenburg, the cover of the volume reads “Music sacred and profane for stringed instruments, arranged with art for the court and for the church.” Sonata no. 1 in B minor, scored for two violins, two violas and continuo, with its imposing opening, is serious but never solemn, and brings to mind a new emphasis on harmony. Reiter and Dafna Ravid took the solo violin parts. Reiter then performed Biber’s Passacaglia for (unaccompanied) Solo Violin in G minor (c.1676). This sonata belongs to the Mystery Sonatas, most of which are violin sonatas, the basis of this passacaglia being a deceivingly simple descending tetrachord. (The four-note motif may possibly be a reference to the traditional hymn to the Guardian Angel.) Reiter’s playing puts emphasis on the personal and intimate character of the piece, its contrasts, moods and textures and he provides the “space” necessary to express them. Yes, it is certainly a showcase for virtuoso musicianship, with the passacaglia motif breaking up the 65 statements grouped into five sections, but Reiter takes an introspective approach. The audience was moved.

The subject of “Sacred and Secular Dances” sets one thinking. The question of whether a composer like Biber was concerned with the sacred or the profane was not an uncommon one of the time; the transference from one style to the other was also common practice.

The second half of the concert combined the JBO’s commemoration in the 2009-2010 season of 350 years of Purcell’s birth with the 250th anniversary of Handel’s death.

Henry Purcell’s (1659-1695) masque “The Fairy Queen” (1692) is a setting of an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. In the excerpts chosen from the semi-opera, Reiter presents Purcell’s distinctive sparkle and vitality while identifying strongly with the composer’s daring musical imagination. Soprano Revital Raviv’s singing of arias boasts pleasing voval color and stability and true understanding of the style and text; her convincing expression of the words provides a fitting partner to Reiter’s elegant phrasing. Raviv’s English is decidedly British and articulate.
‘O, let me forever weep:
My eyes no more shall welcome sleep.
I’ll hide me from the sight of Day,
And sigh, and sigh my Soul away.
He’s gone, he’s gone, his loss deplore;
And I shall never see him more.’ (Plainte)

It is not known for what occasion Purcell composed his Chacony in G minor (originally for 4-part viol consort); it is, however, thought to have been written around 1678. David Shemer writes the following: “An article by our colleague, the Israeli musicologist Alon Schav, which is about to be published, corrects some long standing errors in the printed editions of the piece. We are proud to be among the first who perform the work in its corrected version.” Reiter, inviting the audience to revel in the harmonies in the Chacony, refers to Purcell as the “Schoenberg of the 17th century”. Taking a musical form that is relatively new in England, Purcell uses each of his variation techniques twice and, indeed, stretches the limits of harmonic imagination. Reiter’s dynamic range lures, involves and transports his listeners every time.

Revital Raviv performed two Italian, secular arias by Handel. Georg Frideric Handel (1685-1759) composed “Orlando” for the Royal Academy of Music in 1719. Shepherdess Dorinda’s pastoral aria “Quando Spieghi” (When You Recount Your Torments) from this opera is full of poetic phrasing and imagery, with Dorinda talking to a bird in the trees whose singing describes her own pain. Raviv’s silky cantabile hues and expressiveness are both delicate and intense. Her singing evokes the bird’s song. In “Da Tempeste” (When the Ship, Broken by Storms) from “Giulio Cesare” (1724), Raviv takes on the character of the wily, seductive and saucy Cleopatra, savoring the long phrases, melismas and ornaments of the aria with feisty joy, as did the audience. Not to be ignored in this piece is Handel’s extraordinary orchestration, addressed in detail by Reiter.

The concert ended with Handel’s Concerto Grosso Opus 6 no.4. Handel composed his 12 Opus 6 Concerti Grossi in the space of a month in the Autumn of 1739, his choice of 12 works probably reflecting a gesture of respect towards Corelli’s influential Concerti Grossi Opus 6. It is Reiter’s belief that these Handel pieces would have been performed by a large group of players. The concertino consists of two violins and a ‘cello. As throughout the evening, Reiter both conducted and played, often conducting the first notes before beginning to play. Textural, dynamic and melodic contrasts made for delightful listening.

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra attracts some of today’s finest soloists and conductors. Programs are fresh, balanced and alive with interest and variety, introducing concert audiences to a host of wonderful Baroque works not heard here as yet.