Saturday, July 17, 2010

The annual gala concert of the Moran Choirs at the Tel Aviv Museum

The 2010 Annual Moran Choirs Gala Concert was held in the auditorium of the Tel Aviv Museum July 5th. The evening hosted the Friends of the Moran Choir, proceeds going to the in-depth musical and artistic training invested in each choir member, as well as to the Moran Organization’s several outreach programs. The original Moran Choir was established by Naomi Faran in 1986 at Beit Itzhak, Emek Hefer (an agricultural region in the centre of Israel, situated between Netanya and Hadera). Naomi Faran continues in her capacity as musical director, there now being four separate choirs – the Moran Little Ones Choir (for children aged 5 to 8; they did not take part in the evening’s concert), the Moran Youth Choir (for children aged 8 to 11), the Moran Choir (comprising of some 50 singers between the ages of 12 and 18) and the Moran Singers Ensemble whose members include graduates of other Moran choirs, Academy of Music students and soldiers from the Outstanding Musicians Program. The two more advanced choirs perform widely in Israel and overseas.

Words of welcome were expressed by chairman and president of the Moran Choirs committee Mr. Shmuel Ben Dror, by president of the Emek Hefer regional council Mr. Rani Idan and by Naomi Faran herself. Faran spoke of singing as promoting love and happiness, as training young people in the art of listening and as giving them self-confidence. Faran thanked all members of her staff for investing their talents and devotion in all four Moran choirs.

The concert began with Israeli composer Aharon Harlap’s (born 1941,Canada) “Jephtha’s Daughter” for horn and chorus, performed by the Moran Singers Ensemble, with Sharon Polyak playing the horn solo. An intense and moving work, choir and soloists presented its narrative and drama with articulate diction, Polyak’s playing shaped and highly expressive. Opera arias featured soloists from the Ensemble – Hadas Faran-Asia in a convincing, beautifully controlled presentation of “Il faut partir” (One Must Part) from G.Donizetti’s “Daughter of the Regiment” and soprano Alexandra Falkovsky with tenor Liran Koppel in “Libiamo ne’ lieti calici” (Drinking Song) from Verdi’s La Traviata. Joined by the Ensemble singers, the latter aria was charmingly staged. On a different note, “Yad Anuga” (A Delicate Hand), an oriental melody to a poem by Zalman Shneur, was given an exotic and theatrical reading by mezzo soprano Doris Nemni, who sang to the accompaniment of a drum. The Moran Singers Ensemble presented a number of Israeli songs, some of the arrangements tastefully created by composer Eyal Batt, the Moran Singers Ensemble’s home pianist.

The Moran Singers Ensemble was joined by singers from the Nitzan Onim Center, Kfar Saba (a residential facility for young adults with learning, functional and adaptive disabilities) to perform a medley of songs originally sung by the Israeli comedy group Hagashash Hahiver (The Pale Tracker), and perform they did! The audience loved every moment of this polished, musical and whimsical performance. Ofir Nuriel, a student of the Nitzan Onim Center, read one of the poems from a collection of his poetry soon to be published.

The Moran Youth Choir, a girls’ choir conducted by Sharon Ram, sang Idan Raichel’s (b.1977, Israel) song Mai Nahar (River Waters) arranged by Rani Golan (resident composer of the Moran Youth Choir).
‘Flowing waters of the river
These are the days of your life
Washed in the current
That begins with the first rain…’
Under the Sharon Ram’s expert guidance, this choir, most of its members being little girls aged eight to eleven from the Ethiopian community, produced a pleasingly velvety choral sound as they moved to the music. The Moran Youth Choir meets children from the Tokayer Boarding School at Kibbutz Bachan (a facility for at-risk youth) participating in joint activities. We heard the two groups collaborating in part of “Sar HaYeladim” (Leader of the Children), a musical play written for them by Avi Greinik and set to music by Rani Golan. It is based on Leah Goldberg’s story of the same name.

The Moran Choir’s competence and musicianship (singers from age 12 to 18) were obvious in a variety of songs they performed: two Hebrew songs: one poem by children’s author Yehuda Atlas set to music by Eyal Batt, the other, a choral arrangement of Israeli composer Yossef Hadar’s (1926-2006) “Hof Shaket” (Quiet Beach). Dedicated to Hadar’s memory, the work was heard in a richly blended choral sound. Etz HaLivneh (The Birch Tree) is a Russian song; arranged and performed superbly, with a gentle balalaika effect in the background, the solo in it was sung poignantly in Russian by one of the girls. An entertaining and strikingly different concert piece was an African song, performed with movements, vocal effects and drum accompaniment, giving it an authentic feel. From the Romantic repertoire, we heard “Removal of the Spells” from F.Mendelssohn’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” opus 61(1843). It was musically and visually pleasing, with soloists Shira Kravitz and Adi Zur delighting the audience.

One of the Moran Choir’s community projects is singing together with pediatric cancer patients at the Schneider Children’s Hospital. Another is singing with special needs teenagers from the Dana Club of “Shafririm” – the Institute of Special Education – at Kibbutz Giv’at Chaim. These youngsters were joined by the Moran Choir to perform two songs. In the second, “Angel”, the young singers donned white gloves, accompanying the text with its equivalent in sign language. Soloists were from both vocal groups. It was a touching moment, one attesting to the joy of singing, to Naomi Faran’s meaningful message of togetherness, of all being part of the wider community. All vocal ensembles joined together for the final song “Hine,hine” (There it Goes Again) - words by Ehud Manor, music Matti Caspi.

Naomi Faran’s work brings her staff of fine music educators together with many children and young adults. Choir members receive vocal training, lessons in music theory, acting and movement. The young singers are disciplined and focused. They show respect for the wide gamut of musical repertoire they are exposed to and for the human voice and they show respect for each other. The results heard and seen attest to the culture singing instills in a person. Naomi Faran is touching many lives.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The 2010 "Sounding Jerusalem" Festival with a variety of chamber music concerts

In its fifth year, the 2010 Sounding Jerusalem Festival presented 17 chamber music concerts taking place in Jerusalem and on the West Bank from June 27th to July 11th. Supported by the countries of the various artists, but largely by the Representative Office of the Federal Republic of Germany in Ramallah, the festival’s mission is to offer high quality concerts free of charge to people of different religious, ethnic and social backgrounds of the region. The festival was created and continues to be directed by Austrian ‘cellist Erich Oskar Huetter. The festival’s musical, human and cultural aspects are summed up in the festival brochure with a quote of the great Spanish Catalan ‘cellist Pablo Casals (1876-1973): “Music must serve a purpose; it must be a part of something larger than itself, a part of humanity…”

Cello Bravery
On June 30th 2010 we heard “Cello Bravery”, a recital at the Jerusalem Music Centre by Australian ‘cellist Pei-Jee Ng and Israeli pianist Arnon Erez. Pei-Jee Ng was born in Sydney and grew up in Adelaide. Having recently completed studies with Ralph Kirshbaum at the Royal Northern College of Music (UK), the 26-year-old ‘cellist has performed widely in Australia, the USA, Asia and Europe.

Arnon Erez (b.1965) studied at the Rubin Academy of Music in Tel Aviv. He has performed extensively as a soloist and chamber music player in Israel, the USA, the UK and Europe and currently teaches at the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music (Tel Aviv.)

The Australian Ambassador to Israel, Ms. Andrea Faulkner spoke of a sense of pride in supporting a festival that brings so many people together. Pei-Jee and Arnon Erez opened their recital with Claude Debussy’s Sonata for ‘Cello and Piano. From its opening fanfare motif, the artists set before the audience the lyrical, sentimental, impish and sometimes turbulent temperament of the piece, the work being inspired by the commedia dell’arte figure Pierrot. Ng moves easily from one abrupt change of musical idea to another in the second movement (Serenade) and the manages the wide variety of demanding instrumental effects in the Finale with aplomb.

The artists then performed L.van Beethoven’s Sonata in A major for Piano and Violoncello no.3 opus 69 (1808). A work of intense sentiment - Beethoven titled it “Inter Lacrimas et Luctum (Amid Tears and Sorrow) – its quasi-improvisational melodies providing Ng and Erez with the opportunity to give it much personal expression and individuality. Ng addresses each gesture with daring and conviction; the two artists collaborate well.

The concert ended with J.Brahms’ Sonata in F major for Piano and ‘Cello (1886). A work no less challenging to the pianist than to the ‘cellist, the artists opened with a rich Brahmsian canvas of cascading musical ideas. Ng reads emotion into each phrase, crafting magically beautiful endings, moving his audience. His technical brilliance and youthful energy are matched by his sensitive, profound and mature grasp of the music. Whisking away the multiple complexities of Brahms, Ng and Erez chose to play British composer Frank Bridge’s (1879-1941) delightfully sentimental and lyrical “Spring Song” from the Four Pieces for ‘Cello and Piano as their encore.

What Feelings Sound Like
This was a morning recital July 4th in the salon of the Austrian Hospice of the Holy Family, in Jerusalem’s Old City. Performers were French Soprano Magali Leger and Israeli pianist Efrat Levy.

Magali Leger has a background in dance and studied singing at the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique et de Danse in Paris; she has performed in opera performances in Europe and the USA since making her opera debut in 1999. Leger is also involved in performance of Baroque music.

Efrat Levy graduated from the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music (Tel Aviv) in solo piano performance and with an M.A. in vocal repertoire instruction. She has performed in solo recitals and chamber music in Israel, Europe and the USA and works as a vocal coach and accompanist.

The recital opened with three songs from Claude Debussy’s “Ariettes Oubliees” (Lost Ariettas) (1885-1887) to poems by Paul Verlaine. The artists presented these very French songs evocatively, bringing out their floating, pastel-shaded, fragrant melodic lines, their harmonic ambiguity and their exotic wistfulness. Leger’s diction is crystal clear, her application of the text dramatic and she communicates with her audience.

Gabriel Faure set to music his “La bonne chanson” cycle opus 61 of nine Verlaine poems between 1892 and 1894. The song cycle was originally scored for tenor and piano; its inspiration came from the composer’s love affair with Emma Bardac (Debussy’s future wife.) Leger presents the filigree lines in all their fragility and sensuous poignancy, her vocal strength at times overstepping the intimacy of the French Lied. Levy presents the glittering, impressionistic and sometimes subdued effects with good taste and finely controlled understatement.

Moving to the late Romantic German Lied, the recital ended with three songs of Richard Strauss, beginning with “Morgen!” (Tomorrow) opus 27 no. 4 (1894) to a poem of John Henry Mackay, the original text being in the German language:
‘And tomorrow the sun will shine again
And on the way which I shall follow
She will again unite us lucky ones
As all around us the earth breathes in the sun.
Slowly, silently, we will climb down
To the wide beach and the blue waves.
In silence, we will look in each other’s eyes
And the mute stillness of happiness will sink upon us.

Leger’s creamy timbre expresses the song’s tranquility, its background of harmonic shifts and interest always addressed by Levy. This was followed by “Allerseelen” (All Souls Day) opus 10 (1885) to a text by Hermann von Gilm and “Nichts” (Nought) another love song from opus 10, both fine vehicles for Leger’s lively temperament and theatrical approach.

Melange Oriental XXL
Melange Oriental XXL, July 7th in the Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Friendship, Jerusalem YMCA, was an concert spanning several centuries and four continents. Erich Oskar Huetter, Sounding Jerusalem’s founder and musical director, spoke of this concert as representing not only all quarters of Jerusalem’s Old City but also as bringing America and Africa to Jerusalem. Seated on the stage was an impressive line-up of musicians: ‘cellist Erich Oskar Huetter (Austria), qanun player Mahran Moreb (Galilee, Israel), clarinetist Michel Lethiec (France), accordionist and jazz musician Stefan Heckel (Austria), pianist Paul Gulda (Austria), the Ensemble Raro String Trio (Germany), the Merel String Quartet (Switzerland) and Studio Percussion Graz (Austria).

The evening’s program opened with all the players performing an anonymous 13th century Saltarello, its lively, earthy, leaping dance music peppered with the timbres of accordion and qanun. A violin delicately joined Paul Gulda’s fine piano improvisation over a drone to provide a middle section before a repeat of the energetic Saltarello.

Works with a Middle Eastern flavor were played by all the musicians; decisions as to how to arrange them were a matter of teamwork and arrangements were unmarred by western harmonies. They included Spasoum and a zesty Zartounk, both Armenian traditional dances and a piece by Egyptian composer Riad Sombati, in which accordion and qanun “conversed” pleasantly. We heard an instrumental version of the catchy, rhythmical love song “Al Bint El Chalabiya” (The Pretty Girl). “Lamma Bada”, a sentimental, erotic Arabic traditional song, opened with the qanun alone, to be joined by accordion and ‘cello. A highlight of the evening was Mahran Moreb’s poignant and delicate solo on the qanun (a zither-like instrument played in Turkey and Armenia.)

Two members of Studio Percussion Graz used clapping only to perform American minimalist composer Steve Reich’s (b.1936) “Music for Pieces of Wood”. With articulate skill, the artists guided their audience through gradual alteration of repetitive rhythmic patterns, creating subtle changes in musical texture. Studio Percussion Graz also performed the second movement of American composer John Cage’s (1912-1992) “Living Room Music”, a whimsical, entertaining speech quartet, in which the composer uses “Story”, a poem of Gertrud Stein, treating phrases, words, syllables and letters as musical material:
‘once upon a time
the world was round
and you could go on it
around and around.’
Mamadou Diabate (b.1972,West Africa), in Austria since 2000, is a member of Studio Percussion Graz. In “Femba” he plays the balafon (a resonated frame, wooden-keyed percussion idiophone), singing alternate phrases in a piece evocative of a timeless African landscape.

Taking his cue from “Femba”, pianist and composer Paul Gulda took some of the motifs of the above and began improvising on them. Unbeknown to the audience, this would eventually lead directly and smoothly into a performance of the first movement of W.A.Mozart’s Piano Quartet in G minor K.478. A totally unexpected and skillfully executed transition, however, this provided one of the most interesting moments of the evening. The K.478 Quartet, composed in 1785 in Mozart’s most dramatic key, was given a spirited, powerful reading, with players contrasting the dark drama of the piece with its lyrical vulnerability. No less moving was the performance of Gustav Mahler’s haunting and introspective Piano Quartet in A minor. The Merel String Quartet’s performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s Capriccio for String Quartet in E minor opus 81/3 (1843) was vigorous and convincing.

Sergei Prokofiev composed his “Overture on Hebrew Themes for Clarinet, String Quartet and Piano” in 1919 at the request of the Zimro Quintet (piano, strings and clarinet) in New York. The players wanted to raise funds from a concert tour to found a music conservatory in Jerusalem. The performance we heard of this fine concert piece created a veritable collage of Jewish life in Eastern Europe, with Klezmer melodies, pensive and lyrical moments and much joy with an element of sadness never far away. Eminent clarinetist Michel Lethiec’s playing is always rich in ideas, color and expression, always inspiring.

The Allegro pizzicato movement from Bela Bartok’s String Quartet no.4 (1928) played, indeed, pizzicato throughout, provided much interest in its modal, feisty, harsh drumming and strumming effects, the players investing virtuosity and a sense of urgency into their performance of the piece. Mahran Moreb was prompted to improvise on its musical ideas.

An impossible, disconnected pot pourri of works in one concert? Certainly not. Combining all in a rich kaleidoscope of styles and works, this moving concert brought together fine musicians in of a program of musical coexistence.