Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Israeli musicians perform at the Redeemer Church (Jerusalem) to protest the cancelling of a festival to have taken place in Jerusalem's churches

On February 15th and 16th 2010, two concerts were held by musicians in protest of religious coercion and in favor of freedom of the arts in Jerusalem. The concerts were in response to the fact that a festival of music in the churches of Jerusalem, to have taken place end of February under the auspices of the Authority for Developing Jerusalem, was cancelled by same organization.

The evening of February 16th was wintry. However, inclement weather did not prevent a large crowd of people from attending the concert at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in the Old City of Jerusalem. Following words expressing dissatisfaction at the situation (mostly inaudible, due to the echoing acoustics of the church) the evening’s musical program began.

It was a fitting tribute to the Redeemer Church to begin the concert with a short organ recital. The organ in the Redeemer Church, built in Berlin by Karl-Schuke in 1971, has 21 registers connected to two manuals and the pedal and is an instrument rich in colors and inspiring energy. Gideon Meir opened the concert with Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck’s “Ballo del Granduca” (Ballet for the Grand Duke), a set of variations inspired by a popular tune and originally performed at a wedding of the Medici family. Influenced by court dance procedures, Meir performed the pieces, written in a strict and chordal style, in an unrushed manner, contrasting textures and registers and presenting florid moments with aplomb. This work was followed by a subtle and intimate reading of Sweelinck’s “Pavana Lachrymae” after John Dowland’s “Flow my Teares”. In his treatment of the song, Sweelinck takes the three strains, elaborating on the particular characteristic of each, adding his own mournful effects to the already plangent song.

Turning to works of a more sacred nature, Gidi Meir performed J.S.Bach’s chorale prelude for organ “Wer nun den lieben Gott laesst walten” BWV 642 (Who allows God alone to rule him) from the “Orgelbuechlein” (Little Organ Book). Based on a popular hymn, we hear phrases of the unadorned chorale melody surrounded by counter-themes that reflect the mood of the hymn text. Meir’s playing of it was serene. Joining liturgical- with secular music, Meir completed his section of the concert with Dietrich Buxtehude’s chorale-partita “Auf meinen lieben Gott” (In my beloved God) – dance variations on the chorale melody. All the dances use the same melody and harmonic progression, the play of registers giving expression to each dance. In Meir’s own words “the changes in meter, rhythm and tempo of each dance highlight different emotions and affects, giving spiritual, psychological and emotional depth to the chorale”. This tasteful and moving recital was Gidi Meir’s debut as a concert organist.

Mezzo-soprano Carmit Natan and lutenist Eliav Lavi performed three of John Dowland’s songs, beginning with “Now o now I needs must part”. Natan’s crystal-clear diction and pure, well-projected vocal sound rang through the church, as did Lavi’s finely shaped, artistic and articulate phrases. They ended their part of the concert with Dowland’s “Flow my Teares”, now as a lute ayre. Natan conveyed the grief and melancholy written into its musical- and verbal text.

The Naama Women’s Choir founded in 1989 by singer, teacher, conductor and arranger Mrs. Pnina Inbar, who continues to direct the choir, sang a number of pieces, some a cappella, others accompanied by Yelena Shumietzky at the piano. The choir performs in subscription concerts, festivals and competitions in Israel and further afield. The Naama Choir boasts a fine blend of voices, careful intonation and performance of a high quality. We were presented with a taste of the ensemble’s varied repertoire from a dramatic, well-shaped reading of the little-known but ravishing music of P,G.Chesnokov, Palestrina’s “Sanctificavit Moyses”, a sensitive, well crafted performance of Gounod’s “Ave Verum” and a transparently French performance Faure’s “Ave Maria” opus 93 (1906) scored for two high voices and organ/piano. Following Inbar’s arrangements of a traditional Jewish Bukharian melody and of Psalm 23 (The Lord is my Shepherd), choir members let their hair down with two African American spirituals. Solos were handled well by Tali Yusopon.

And to four works performed by viola da gamba player Myrna Herzog from her solo bass viol recital “Heart to Heart”, recently heard in Israel, to be performed at the 2011 Sarajevo Winter Festival February 22nd. Opening with Aharon Shefi’s emotional and contemplative piece “Known Direction” (composed originally for violin and transcribed for the viol for Herzog in 2010 by the composer), she then lightened the atmosphere playing three short pieces by the eccentric and colorful British viol player and composer Tobias Hume. Following pieces by German composer Karl Friedrich Abel, the last great viol player before the instrument’s popularity gave way to more modern stringed instruments, the artist ended with a performance of Dina Smorgonskaya’s “Sephardic Reminiscences”, a work colored with Spanish temperament and instrumental effects. (Smorgonskaya emigrated to Israel from Belarus in 1990.) The work was composed for Myrna in 2004. Herzog’s playing sounded articulate in the Redeemer Church’s acoustic, her choice of works offering the audience an opportunity to hear and appreciate early- and contemporary viol works in the hands one of today’s most inspiring viol players. Myrna Herzog proved that creating the intimacy of the solo viola da gamba was feasible even in a large church.

The concert ended with songs sung by the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir. With ensemble’s conductor Ronen Borshevsky away overseas and several of its singers not present, Haggai Goren took the lead and conducted some of the works performed in the choir’s recent concert tour of Geneva. Beginning with Amsterdam rabbi David Aaron de Solas’s tranquil “Adon Olam” (Lord of all), they then sang Gil Aldema’s arrangement of “Eli, Eli” (Walk to Caesarea) to words of Hannah Senesh. We then heard a medley of Yemenite songs, Amit Pal’s darbuka playing adding vigor to these already joyful pieces. Their section of the concert ended with two African American spirituals.

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