Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Members of the Helsinki Baroque Orchestra and soloists at the 2011 Israel Festival

Members of the Helsinki Baroque Orchestra, with harpsichordist Enrico Baiano (Finland-Italy) performed a concert of J.S.Bach harpsichord concertos May 28th 2011 at the Henry Crown Symphony Hall, Jerusalem Theatre, as part of the 2011 Israel Festival. The Helsinki Baroque Orchestra was founded in 1997; as of 2003, harpsichordist Aapo Hakkinen has been the HBO’s artistic director.

Johann Sebastian Bach composed seven complete concertos for single harpsichord, three for two harpsichords, two for three harpsichords and one for four, their opus number ranging between BWV 1052 and1065. All (excepting the Brandenburg Concertos) are thought to be arrangements from previously composed concertos for melodic instruments, probably from Bach’s time in Cothen. From 1729 to 1741, Bach directed the “Collegium Musicum” in Leipzig, a student society (founded by Telemann) that played at Zimmermann’s coffee house. Bach’s keyboard concertos, among the first of their kind, were performed there.

All the concertos on the program consisted of three movements, of the Vivaldi concerto model of fast-slow-fast. The program opened with Concerto for Two Harpsichords in C minor BWV 1060 (1735), thought to be a transcription of an oboe and violin concerto which has been lost. The differences between the two harpsichord parts would suggest that the original work was for two different treble instruments. Whether the latter existed or not, the Concerto in C minor exists for two harpsichords, the composer having written it to be performed by himself with the Collegium Musicum in Leipzig. The first two movements were presented somewhat blandly by the HBO, with more energy infusing the third movement.

We then heard Bach’s Concerto for Harpsichord in D minor (1738-1739), a piece reworked from previous works of the composer. A mammoth work demanding virtuosity on the part of the soloist, Enrico Baiano spelled out its intensity, complexity and dazzling beauty. The ripieno string members commented and communicated.

In the Concerto for Harpsichord in D major BWV 1054, recast from a violin concerto in E major, transposed down a tone, and with new figurations, we heard Hakkinen as soloist in an articulate, spirited reading of the work.

It is assumed that Bach’s Concerto in C major BWV 1061 originally consisted of the two harpsichord parts, with the string parts having been added later. The strings play a less focal part, being absent in the second movement. There was much lively interaction between Baiano and Hakkinen.

There is no denying the high quality of the HBO players. The works were delivered with competence but the evening lacked panache. There were moments when Bach’s music was pared down to being pedestrian. Where was the flair and pizzazz that make Bach’s music so timeless? The two fine harpsichord soloists might fare better in a more inspiring environment.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra hosts oboist Alfredo Bernardini in works bridging from the Baroque to Classicism

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra’s sixth and final concert of the 2010-2011 subscription series – “Pygmalion” – focused music written in the transition between the Baroque- and Classical periods. Guest artist and conductor, oboist Alfredo Bernardini, joining the JBO for the first time, drew the audience’s attention to the fact that the works performed in this concert had been composed within a span of less than 30 years. Bernardini’s predilection for this music stems from its overtly emotional content. This writer (I am a member of the board of the JBO)attended the concert May 24th 2011 at the Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Friendship YMCA, Jerusalem.

Alfredo Bernardini (b. Rome, 1961) in Israel to direct JBO concerts in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and hold master classes at the Israel Conservatory of Music, is among today’s leading Baroque oboists. A soloist and member of several prestigious early music ensembles, Bernardini researches the history of woodwind instruments. His more recent teaching appointments have been at the Escola de Musica de Cataluna (Barcelona) and the Conservatory of Amsterdam.

The evening’s program opened with the Suite from Jean-Philippe Rameau’s (1683-1764) “Pygmalion”, an opera written (in eight days) in 1748 to a libretto of the same name by Ballot de Sovot. The story, told and retold over the last 2000 years, of the artist who falls in love with one of his own sculptures, was the perfect vehicle for the typically French Baroque genre of the “acte de ballet”, an autonomous sung and danced stage work. Bernardini, his playing partnered well with that of oboist Shai Kribus, takes an energetic (and not the languishing) approach to the suite, creating lively interaction between the string section and the whole orchestra. The various dance types are presented individually and contrasted, with orchestral timbres and textural devices coloring a rich canvas: piccolos (Genevieve Blanchard, Idit Shemer), silvery harpsichord touches (David Shemer) with the rich, fruity quality of the woodwind section based and “bassed” on the secure, supportive, well-phrased and lively playing of bassoonist Alexander Fine throughout the evening.

In his program notes, Dr. David Shemer, JBO founder and director, draws attention to the fact that Joseph Haydn’s (1732-1809) “Lamentatione” Symphony no.26 in D minor (c.1770) is of the “da chiesa” genre of symphonies, having been “performed in conjunction with church services”. In fact, its motifs include Gregorian plainchant that weaves its way through the work, making for its somber atmosphere. Embodying the manner of “Sturm und Drang” (Storm and Stress), the symphony belongs to Haydn’s middle period, and, although composed only 20 years later than the Rameau Suite, we are aware, from the outset, of the nervous, restless atmosphere the fabric of which the work is created. The horns (Baroque natural horns in the competent hands of Italian guest artists Alessandro Denabian and Fabio Forgiarini) served to add beauty and intensity to the ominous atmosphere. Even the Minuet and Trio are serious and austere, bringing to an end a work so different from those of the jolly, humorous Haydn we often hear in the concert hall.

Czech composer and instrumentalist Johann Stamitz (1717-1757) was one of the most influential figures in European music of the mid-18th century. A notice advertising a concert in Frankfurt am Main on June 29th 1742 informed the public that Stamitz was to perform alternately on violin, viola d’amore, ‘cello and double bass and that the concert would also include a concerto for two orchestras composed by him! He is known for his work with the Mannheim Orchestra (referred to by Burney as an “army of generals”), composing a number of concertos (14 for flute), yet only one for oboe, all of them probably inspired by the fine standard of the players of the Mannheim Orchestra. We heard Johann Stamitz’s exuberant Concerto for Oboe, its technical demands on the oboe apparent from the very first strains of the opening Allegro movement. Bernardini’s treatment of the warm, gallant slow movement was delicate and embellished, his (Bernardini’s) original, spontaneous cadenza carefully spelled out. Lyrical, charming, infused with Bohemian joie-de-vivre and virtuosity, the work also attests to the emergence of the Classical style. Bernardini’s leading and playing held the work’s energy and excitement to the end.

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788), J.S.Bach’s prodigiously talented second son, wrote 19 symphonies, the Wq 183 symphonies among his greatest symphonic achievements. Symphony in D major Wq 183/1 calls for horns, oboes and bassoon. Peppered with urgency, leaps, rapid mood changes and jagged melodic lines, we are faced with C.P.E.Bach’s “Empfindsamkeit” style, in which emotions are the driving force behind his musical expression. The composer wrote that “music has higher intentions…to set the heart in motion”. Intense, yet spontaneous in character, the JBO’s performance of the symphony spoke of energy and joy, of rich orchestral color and vitality. Bernardini and his players let their hair down, taking on board the adventurous, innovative and individual character of this music. The audience was thrilled.

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra’s 2010-2011 season, now ended, was one of highlights, much interest and fine performances. Baroque music lovers have yet another treat in store. The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra will perform four of J.S.Bach’s Brandenburg Concerts (3, 4, 5 and 6) at the Jerusalem Opera Festival. The concert will take place June 3rd at 11:30 a.m. at the St. Vincent de Paul Church (Mamilla, Jerusalem.) Subscribers to the 2011-2012 season are eligible for reduced price tickets. These can be purchased at Bimot: (02) 6237000 www.bimot.co.il

Friday, May 27, 2011

Ensemble Mezzo performs at the Redeemer Church in Jerusalem's Old City

Having descended several steps from the Jaffa Gate, past the colorful shops of Jerusalem’s Old City market, one turns right into the Muristan area of the Christian Quarter and, leaving behind the noise of the vendors closing and shuttering their stores, one enters the tranquility of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. The occasion was the recital of recorder player Doret Florentin and organist Assif Am-David - Ensemble Mezzo – on May 21st 2011.

Doret Florentin, a native of Thessaloniki (Greece), studied recorder in Greece, at Tel Aviv University, and at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague. She also holds a B.A. in Mathematics and Statistics. Florentin is now also playing the early bassoon. She performs widely in Europe, teaches in Tel Aviv and is a founding member of the “Me La Amargates Tu” Ensemble, a group researching and performing Sephardic- and Spanish music of the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. At this concert, Doret was playing on a G.Klemisch Baroque recorder and on two Genassi-fingering instruments made by Yoav Ran (Israel).

Assif Am-David (b.1981, Tel Aviv) started his musical training as a pianist, also moving into the field of early music as a singer and harpsichordist. After completing a B.Mus. degree in voice and conducting at Tel Aviv University, Am-David went to Freiburg in Breisgau (Germany) to complete a diploma in harpsichord. It was there that he also studied organ. Playing and singing in several early music ensembles and other groups, he is also a tutor at the Early Music Workshop of the Jerusalem Music Centre. Am-David is currently working on a dissertation in Linguistics.

The concert opened with virtuoso Venetian cornettist Girolamo Dalla Casa’s suggestions as to ornamenting Franco-Flemish composer Thomas Crecquillon’s (c.1505-1557) chanson “Petite fleur coincte et jolye”. Dalla Casa’s 1584 treatise “Il Vero Modo di diminuir con tutte le sorti di stromenti di fiato, e corda, e di voce humana…” (The correct way of playing divisions on all types of wind and stringed instruments, and with the human voice…) Florentin and Am-David pace the work together at a tranquil pace, Florentin, however embellishing the melody profusely, the general effect creating an exciting yet clean texture, this enhanced by a pleasing balance between the instruments.

Playing on the Redeemer Church’s organ (21 registers, two manuals and pedal) built by Karl Schuke (Berlin) in 1971, Assif Am-David presented “Sei Gagliardi” (Six galliards) by Girolamo Frescobaldi. (1583-1643). Assif’s playing of the dances was tasteful, brighter registers never over-strident, contrasts achieved in various timbres, tempi and small pauses, resulting in the composer’s personal style coming across transparent and exuberant.

Then to Frescobaldi’s daring “Cento Partite sopra Passacagli” (One Hundred Variations on the Passacagli), a work reminding us that the composer was not only a skilled improviser but also an experimenter in modulation and enharmonic chromaticism! Frescobaldi stipulated that “the manner of playing ought not to be subject to a beat, just as we have it in today’s madrigals”. Am-David, not to be side-tracked by Frescobaldi’s audacity, is always in control, presenting the dazzling piece to his listeners with a sympathetic mix of registers, negotiating the musical plan with subtlety and elegance.

Nothing is known about the Venetian instrumental composer Dario Castello (c.1590-c.1568) himself. In fact, it has even been suggested that “Castello” was a pseudonym, despite its being a name common in Venice. Castello’s compositions, however, were and continue to be popular, suggesting that he was among the leading instrumental composers of the early seventeenth century; his works require technical proficiency rarely found among those of his contemporaries. His first volume of “Sonate Concertate” appeared in Venice in 1621, a second in 1629. We heard Sonata Seconda, from the latter collection, played on soprano recorder and organ. Weaving the small contrasted sections featuring virtuoso solo sections (recorder) into concertante exchanges and back again, Florentin’s playing was fresh and interesting, creative in its embellishments and attentive to dissonances, with Am-David sensitive to the nuances of each section.

An Italian composer of mostly sacred music, Paolo Benedetto Bellinzani (c.1690-1757), little known today, but, in his time, known all over Italy for pushing the requirements of recorder playing to a higher level and for the quantity and quality of his works, was one of the many composers to write variations to the 8-bar ground of the Portuguese dance melody ostinato “La Follia”, along with A.Scarlatti, Corelli, C.P.E.Bach, Kapsberger and Lully, to mention a few. This concert was a fine opportunity to hear Bellinzani’s “La Follia” Variations opus 3 (1720), a work not often heard, with both artists exploring the moods, colors, technical- and textural ideas of the divisions, and not all allotted exclusively to the recorder role. Florentin tackled the technical feats of fast arpeggiation, voicing within textures, rhetorical- and intimate moments, both artists providing contrasts between divisions.

Doret Florentin left the organ loft to perform J.S.Bach’s Partita for Solo Flute BWV 1013 from the front of the church. A unique work, Bach’s other suites for solo instruments are for stringed instruments. Not being a flautist, Bach was left to his own ingenuity in producing this superb suite using dances popular at the time. Florentin’s performance of it, bringing out the work’s implied counterpoint and harmonic references via its daring leaps and chromaticism, was expressive, delicate and profound, the final Bourree anglais light and playful. Taking into account the acoustic of the church, Florentin paced each movement strategically, presenting the High Baroque charm and beauty of the Partita to her audience.

The concert ended with J.S.Bach’s Sonata for Flute and Keyboard BWV 1030. Thought to have been composed some time between 1720 and 1741, it is one of three sonatas (1030-1032) to which the composer wrote out the right hand of the keyboard part in full. Originally composed G minor, Bach transposed it to B minor for the transverse flute. Which was then taking over from the recorder; the solo sonata is played in C minor on the recorder. Opening with the expansive, singing first movement, Florentin and Am-David expressed the work’s solemn and aristocratic character as well as its energy.

Despite the Redeemer Church’s welcoming acoustic, performing in a church is no small order when it comes to articulacy, good taste and balance. Florentin and Am-David make it seem easy! This was surely one of the most delightful and pleasurable Baroque concerts of the season. Unfortunately, the recital was not publicized in the local press. For the sake of those music-lovers who missed it, the concert really should be performed again. Not to be missed!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Resonance Ensemble performs Baroque- and early Classical music at the Austrian Hospice

“Vivaldi Goes to Vienna” was the theme of a concert performed by the Resonance Ensemble May 14th 2011 in the salon of the Austrian Hospice of the Holy Family in Jerusalem’s Old City. The Resonance Ensemble is a new Israeli group focusing on Baroque chamber music. Its members have each made their name in the field of performing and, as ensemble musicians, they focus on bringing out the particular spirit of the time of works they perform.

Zvi Meniker, director of the Resonance Ensemble, was born in Moscow but grew up in Israel. An organist and specialist in performance on early keyboard instruments – harpsichord and fortepiano – Professor Meniker performs and records widely and heads the Early Music department of the Hochschule for Music and Theater in Hannover (Germany).

Ira Givol (b.1979, Israel) Ira plays both viola da gamba and ‘cello and mostly devotes his time to the performance of chamber music. A member of several Baroque ensembles, Givol is also a founding member of the Tel Aviv Trio. He is the recipient of several awards and has performed with leading Israeli orchestras.

Avner Geiger (b.1982, Israel), currently a member of the Israel Camerata Jerusalem, plays both modern flute and Baroque flute (traverse). He is a graduate of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance and has taken postgraduate studies in Germany and France. Geiger has soloed with orchestras in Israel and further afield.

Composer, arranger and violinist Jonathan Keren (b.1978, Israel) began his violin studies with Chaim Taub. He spent his three years’ mandatory service in the Israel Defense Force as a member of the “Outstanding Musicians” unit, where he arranged more than 50 pieces for chamber- and vocal ensembles. Keren holds a masters degree from the Julliard School of Music. His works have are performed widely, his most recent piano piece recently appearing on a disc played by David Greilsammer. Jonathan Keren currently resides in New York.

Antonio Vivaldi’s (1678-1741) Trio in D major RV84 for Traverso, Violin and Basso Continuo is, in fact a concerto, in which the flute appears as a solo instrument in the episodes, with the violin functioning as a ripieno instrument in tutti sections. Soloing with the energetic and many-faceted dimensions of the group’s signature sound, Avner Geiger’s performance was lively and flexible, his use of ornaments rich and varied.

It is not known when Vivaldi’s composed his six sonatas for ‘cello and continuo. Not especially demanding technically, they may have been written for students at the Ospedale, the school for orphan girls, where the composer was employed. Ira Givol’s reading of the work was flexible, dramatic and adventurous, infused with emotional energy.

The foremost German keyboard composer before Bach, Johann Jacob Froberger (1616-1667) studied with Frescobaldi in the late 1630’s (converting to Catholicism in order to study with him in Rome.) He was in court employment in Vienna and Brussels and won success as a performer in France and England. The personal idiom he developed combined aspects of German, French and Italian styles, his surviving oeuvre consisting almost exclusively of keyboard music. Zvi Meniker performed one of Froberger’s toccatas. Featuring multiple sections, Meniker’s playing of it took the listener into the more daring harpsichord repertoire as he brought out the individual character of each small section, texture, with arpeggiation, ornamentation and other devilish, technical challenges making for a sense of spontaneity and personal expression.

On January 2nd 1791, Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) arrived in England for the first of two visits that would leave their mark on the host country and on Haydn himself. The “London Trios” (1794), originally scored for two flutes and ‘cello, were composed for two of Haydn’s London patrons, Lord Abingdon and Sir Walter Aston, both amateur flautists and, clearly, competent musicians. Geiger, Keren and Givol performed this “lightweight” Haydn repertoire with charm, vitality and technical mastery, emphasizing the work’s naïve, humane lyricism, humor and warmth.

In 1729, Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) wrote of his artistic development: “First came the Polish style, followed by the French, church, chamber and operatic styles, and finally the Italian style, which currently occupies me more than the others do”. He composed the Twelve Fantasias for Flute Solo in Hamburg in 1732 or 1733, the G minor Fantasia TWV 40:13 being the last of the set of twelve. Avner Geiger wove the opening Grave in an almost vocal fashion, creating contrasts between the ensuing miniature movements to the Dolce, built on arpeggios and slow, large intervals, closing with a fast Bourree in Polish style.

Austrian composer Heinrich Ignaz von Biber (1644-1704), considered the greatest violinist of his time, represented the high point of the Austrian Baroque. He was court composer to the Salzburg Cathedral. The first half of his Violin Sonata no.6 in C minor calls for scordatura (altered tuning), resulting in special tone-color effects. Opening with the broad, noble Largo, Jonathan Keren presents the Passacaglia with a mix of richly weighty and light bowing, brilliant passagework and temperament. Keren handles Biber’s musical and technical demands with verve, contending with the elaborate double- and triple stopping written by the violin virtuoso, adding ornaments to repeated sections. He and Meniker partnered in a thrilling and courageous performance of the final Gavotte.

C.P.E. Bach (1714-1788), the second of J.S.Bach’s sons, composed his Trio Sonata for Traverso, Violin and Basso Continuo in B flat major Wq 161/2 (H.587) in 1748 when employed at the court of Frederick the Great. The trio sonatas were an important part of his chamber music output there, the king being a keen musician and amateur flautist. C.P.E.Bach was one of the foremost representatives of the “Empfindsamkeit” aesthetic in music, which slanted towards personal emotions. In his autobiography (1773), C.P.E.Bach wrote “I feel that music must, above all, touch the heart”. The Resonance Trio presented the grace, beauty and melodiousness of this felicitous music, entertaining the audience with its charm and the many dynamic changes, the latter characterising the impish and playful final movement.

The Resonance Ensemble focuses on the energy and excitement of Baroque music, adamantly pressing the point. All four players are impressive in their technical- and musical aptitude, giving individual expression and interest to the music. Their energy and intensity were not balanced with the mellifluous blending and tranquility also inherent in the repertoire performed, the ‘cello, despite its gut stringing, very often sounding too dominant.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Barrocade Ensemble and Shahar Choir collaborate in an evening of Italian Baroque music

The Barrocade Ensemble, Israeli Baroque Collective (musical director Amit Tiefenbrunn), collaborated with the Shahar Choir (director Gila Brill) in a concert celebrating the “Glory of Italian Liturgy”. This writer was present at the well-attended concert in St. Andrews Scots Memorial Church (Jerusalem) May 12th, 2011.

Founded in 2007 by a group of enthusiastic Baroque music specialists, Barrocade – consisting today of some twelve artists - performs mostly without a conductor and is known for its forthright signature sound, its rich continuo section, the latter creating a suitable environment for its bright soprano instruments. The ensemble performs much Renaissance- and Baroque music, venturing into the fields of folk music, modern works and jazz. In rehearsals, all members contribute their own ideas and opinions as to the performance of each work. Barrocade is supported by the Music Department of the Culture Administration of the Ministry of Science, Culture and Sport.

The Shahar Choir was founded by Gila Brill in 1994 and continues to be directed and conducted by her. The choir, characterized by its clean, fresh choral sound, meets in Rehovot and focuses much on Baroque music, also including other styles in its repertoire. The Shahar Choir performs widely in Israel, presenting a cappella music, but also sings with local instrumental ensembles. The Shahar Choir is supported by the Rehovot Culture Fund, the Rehovot Municipality and the Music Department of the Culture Administration of the Ministry of Science, Culture and Sport.

The concert opened with Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s (1710-1736) “Stabat Mater”. The work, a setting of the sequence for the Feast of Seven Dolours of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was written during Pergolesi’s last months, these spent at the Franciscan Monastery in Pozzuoli. What is clear is that the ailing composer (probably suffering from tuberculosis) was not expecting to recover and the “Stabat Mater” is possibly the last work written by Pergolesi before his death at age 26. Consisting of 12 sections, Pergolesi’s setting to the somber text is enigmatically lush and bitter-sweet. In the opening choral movements (referred to by Rousseau as “the most perfect and most touching to have come from the pen of any musician”) the Shahar singers (women only) got off to a somewhat staid start, with high soprano notes not quite “covered”; however, by “Fac ut ardeat cor meam” (Grant that my heart may burn) their creamy timbre and careful dynamics came to the fore. The choice of soloists - soprano Revital Raviv and alto David Feldman - could not have been better! Raviv’s singing is delightfully spontaneous, stable and energetic; she is convincing and gripping, singing into the text and its emotions. In “Cuius animam gementem” (Through her weeping soul, compassionate and grieving, a sword passed.) Raviv outlines the dramatic character of the words, expressing compassion in “Vidit sum dulcum natum” (She saw her sweet Son dying, forsaken, while he gave up His spirit). David Feldman is an inspiring artist. He weaves his voice into and around the text, his ease, agility and spontaneity matched by the rich timbre and “depth” of his voice. He chisels his phrases well and is constantly aware of the instrumental score. In their duets, Raviv and Feldman went for superb blending, word painting and tasteful ornamentation. Barrocade’s precise playing brought out the chromatic tensions of Pergolesi’s writing as well as its tenderness, never falling into the pitfalls of so many over-Romantic interpretations of the work. Shlomit Sivan is a strong, articulate leader.

After intermission, the Barrocade Ensemble performed Arcangelo Corelli’s (1653-1713) Concerto Grosso opus 6/4. The six opus 6 concertos, six “da camera” and six “da chiesa”, not published during the composer’s lifetime, nevertheless became some of the most famous pieces of the time. They remain wonderful concert pieces due to their powerful bass scoring, their rich contrapuntal textures and performance options. Concerto no. 4 in D major is a concerto da chiesa, reserved and eloquent, but not lacking Italianiate virtuosic flair. With violinists Shlomit Sivan and Yasuko Hirata seated at the front of the stage, the audience was constantly aware of interaction between them and of the concertino role in particular, their seamless reading of the work not void of individuality. Bright, fresh and audience-friendly, Barrocade’s presentation of the work was neither dizzily flamboyant nor conservatively heavy, but glowing in majesty and joie-de-vivre, the dynamic layers, tempi and timbres of strings, theorbo and harpsichord of the ripieno collaborating and contrasting with those of the soloists.

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) spent most of his professional life teaching and composing for the students of the Ospedale della Pieta, one of the four orphanages for girls in Venice, all known for their high standard of music. (The Ospedali were, in fact, homes for illegitimate female offspring of noblemen and their mistresses.) Vivaldi was given the job of “Maestro di Violino” at the school, only later taking the position of “Maestro di Coro” to fill in for a tutor who had taken ill. It was during the time he filled the latter post that he wrote sacred choral music, performed by the girls in screened-off galleries. It is, however, difficult to pin a date to the “Gloria”. What we do know is that this (and another Gloria) fell into obscurity for 200 years. Vivaldi’s Gloria for Soloists, Chorus, Orchestra and Basso Continuo RV 589 would have been well liked in Venice of the time, its theatrical quality appealing to the Venetian public and to the many people visiting the city. The Shahar Choir and Barrocade performed the D major opening “Gloria” in all its joy and fanfares, its trumpet and oboe “comments” coloring the movement with festive gleam. Brill uses textures and detached notes to articulate certain words in the text, underlying dance motifs and dance rhythms used by the composer. In the third movement (Laudamus te), Raviv engages with choir member soprano Sivan Trajtenberg in the florid intertwining of lines spiced with suspensions. In the sixth movement (Domine Deus) Raviv and oboist Amir Bakman create a duet graced with creamy stability, expressiveness and elegance. Feldman’s sensitive and subtly ornamented singing of the “Domine Deus”, accompanied only by continuo and interpolated with choral comments, represented the intimate pleas of man. The tenth movement, an enigmatic piece, refers to sins and pity, with Vivaldi, however, clothing the words in buoyant dance rhythms. In it, Feldman plays skillfully with sounds and words:
‘Who sit at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us.’
Gila Brill led the Shahar Choir and Barrocade in a performance that addressed the work’s contrapuntal detail in a vital and immediate manner. The triumphant, fugal last movement, bristling with imitations, majesty and lively in its fine wind playing, brought the concert to a joyful, triumphant end.

This was a well-balanced program. Italian music stirs the soul!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Maestro Leon Botstein conducts the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra in the 2011 Independence Eve concert

A large audience filled the Henry Crown Auditorium (Jerusalem Theatre) to attend the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra’s special festive concert for the Independence Eve May 9th 2011 under the baton of Maestro Leon Botstein, Conductor Laureate of the JSO.

The program opened with Marc Lavry’s (1903-1967) symphonic poem “Emek” (Valley) opus 45. Born (Marc Levin) in Riga, Latvia, he settled in Palestine in 1935. His oeuvre is very large, consisting of operas, symphonies, chamber music and popular songs, several of which have yet to be published. Lavry loved the history, poetry and heritage of his new country and was especially impressed with its landscape, the latter serving as the inspiration for several of his works. He is considered to be one of the most important composers active in the formulating of “Israeli Music”. Based on a song of the same name written in 1935 by Rafael Eliaz, “Emek” (1937) was inspired by the pioneer workers of the Jezreel Valley who toiled to drain the swamps in the daytime, in the evening taking time to sing and dance. It remains one of the most frequently performed Israeli works. A festive work to open Israel’s 63rd Independence Day, it bristles with a sense of the landscape Lavry is describing, with Israeli melodies, dance rhythms and pride. A tonal, forthright work, peppered with charming solos, Botstein’s extended orchestra made for a large and colorful orchestral soundscape.

Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) composed his Concerto in D minor for Piano, no.3 opus 30, premiering it as soloist on his first tour of the USA in 1909, a tour rendering him popular there prior to his emigration to New York in 1917. We heard the solo in the hands of young Boris Giltburg. Born 1984 in Moscow, but living in Tel Aviv since early childhood, he is the recipient of numerous international prizes, his a busy performing schedule taking him to the UK, Europe, Hong Kong and Japan. From the thoughtful opening theme, which the composer said “simply wrote itself”, Giltburg’s penchant for Rachmaninoff was clear as he followed the composer’s thread of ideas – full-blown lyricism, bursts of joy quickly melting into fragile moments, darker moments, breathtaking presto runs presented with clear outlines and clean, detailed pedaling. The challenges of the extended cadenza of the first movement, a dazzling piece of pianistic writing, were met with aplomb. Giltburg does not indulge in the showy “fireworks” heard by some pianists in some interpretations of the piano solo; totally in control, he delves into the meaning of the score. Not merely orchestra and soloist, Giltburg and Botstein together weave orchestral- and piano lines into a multifaceted yet integrated whole, the JSO’s sound rich, warm and blended.

For an encore, Boris Giltburg played Rachmaninoff’s highly pianistic setting of Fritz Kreisler’s “Liebesleid” (Love’s grief) in a sensitive, delicate manner, using his agility and lightness of touch to bring out the piece’s charm and intimacy that meet the listener’s ears with a touch of kindly humor. This was surely one of the high points of the evening.

The concert ended with Johannes Brahms’ (1833-1897) Symphony no.1 in C minor, opus 68. The composer made his first sketches for the work in 1854. Burdened by the challenge of writing a work that would live up to his own high expectations and those of his audiences and a work worthy of honoring Beethoven’s memory, Brahms wrote “You have no idea how it is for the likes of us to feel the tread of a giant like him behind us”. The symphony, premiered in 1876, was well received and even called “Beethoven’s Tenth” by some critics. As in Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, Brahms’ 1st begins in C minor, ending in the positive mode of C major. Botstein sets before his audience the broad canvas of this work, the first movement weighty in its message of mental conflict and hope. Botstein did not use a baton to conduct the second movement – Un poco allegretto e grazioso – in which we heard Shira Ben Yehoshua’s lyrical oboe, with concertmaster Geana Gandelman playing the final melancholic melody. Following a sense of wellbeing provided by the lush timbre of the JSO’s woodwind section in the third movement, the mammoth fourth looms large with its horn theme (a melody for Alphorn heard by Brahms in Switzerland), its chorale intoned by trombones and bassoons and majestic coda.

Monday, May 9, 2011

"The Twin Sisters" premiering at the 2011 Israel Festival, combines music, theatre and video art

The 50th Israel Festival Jerusalem will open May 25th 2011, offering a variety of theatrical performances, music, dance and street events. One event combining music, video and theatre is “The Twin Sisters”, a theatrical piece based on a story of the same name by 1983 Israel Prize recipient Avrom Sutzkever. Born near Vilna in 1913, Sutzkever became a renowned Yiddish poet and was considered one of the great poets of the 20th century. A survivor of the Vilna Ghetto and a partisan the New York Times had referred to him as “the greatest poet of the Holocaust”. In Israel, Sutzkever founded the Yiddish literary journal “Di goldene Keyt” (The Golden Chain).

“The Twin Sisters” (1973), a true story, tells of sisters Grunia and Hodesl. Grunia survived the Holocaust, whereas Hodesl, a talented violinist, perished in the camps. In a small café in Old Jaffa in the 1970’s, Grunia meets a poet who had been their neighbor in pre-war Vilna, telling him of Hodesl’s fate; Hodesl had been the love of his youth.

The theatre version of “The Twin Sisters”, to be premiered at the 2011 Israel Festival, was initiated by actress Hadas Kalderon. Kalderon is Sutzkever’s granddaughter and describes herself as belonging to the generation that serves as “a memorial candle, in spite of itself”. Born in Israel, Kalderon is a graduate of the Nissan Nativ School of Acting, has performed in Beit Lessin productions and several independent productions, as well as in television documentaries and series. In 2009, she was awarded the Rosenblum Prize for her acting.

Assuming a key role in the production, violinist Jenny Huenigen plays Hodesl. Huenigen was born in Berlin and studied at the Hanns Eisler School of Music. From 2002 to 2004 she was a member of the Orchestra Academy of the Berlin State Orchestra and has been concertmaster of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra since 2004. Huenigen also performs as a soloist. As did Sutzkever, Huenigen’s (German) grandfather joined the Partisans, while his own father was in concentration camps for six years.

The two artists interact with each other – Kalderon (Grunia) in words and actions, Huenigen playing the “silenced” Hodesl in gestures and through the various melodies she plays on the violin; we are a witness to the fact, that, despite the two different “languages” they speak, their souls are intertwined. This is powerful meeting of theatre, music and video art; audiences will appreciate the artists’ profound performance and will connect easily to its genuine emotions. Dorona Ben Dor is the producer of this performance for three actors; the music, by Daniel Galay, will be performed by the Elysium Ensemble. Musical direction is by Gil Shohat.

June 5th 2011 at 21:00, the New Studio, Jerusalem Theatre

Friday, May 6, 2011

Inaugural concert of the new St. George organ at the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center

The inaugural concert of the new St. George pipe organ at the Our Lady of Peace Chapel of the Pontifical Institute, Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center, took place on Easter Friday, April 29th 2011. The organ had been built in 1905 by the Nelson Organ Company for the St. George Methodist Chapel of Wearhed, County Durham (UK). The instrument has 650 pipes, several having being produced before 1905. The Orgelbauwerkstetten Willi Peter GmbH & Co.KG (organ builders) suggested installing this organ in the Notre Dame Chapel, there having previously been no organ there, and the company invested at least 2000 hours of work in restoring it. This was made possible by the generosity of Georg and Barbara Balkhausen (Germany). The Easter concert at Notre Dame was also one of the official events of a program organized by the Bishop’s Conference to celebrate the beatification of Pope John Paul. Pope John Paul had played a significant part in Notre Dame’s recent history.

Following words of welcome and thanks from church officials, including from Archbishop Antonio Franco, Apostolic Nuncio to Israel, Georg Balkhausen, attending the event with his wife, addressed a few words to the audience and, being an amateur organist himself, played a piece on the organ. The St. George organ is primarily used for worship; there are a few volunteer organists who play it and a chapel choir is in the process of forming.

The concert began with a number of solos played by German organist Thiemo Dahmen, the organist of St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Cologne. Dahmen also directs organ tours, performing on historical organs in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. The first piece he performed was a reworking by J.S.Bach of the Violin Concerto in G major by Johann Ernst, Prince of Sachsen-Weimar. Bach worked in Weimar between 1708 and 1717, during which time he wrote profusely for organ, also writing organ and harpsichord transcriptions of works by contemporaries, notably Vivaldi, Telemann, Marcello and Johann Ernst. It seems Bach was challenged to achieve the concerto effect on a two-manual organ; or, perhaps he and his colleagues wished to familiarize themselves with contemporary works without needing to employ an orchestra. (Bach has also created a harpsichord arrangement of Ernst’s G major Concerto.) Prince Johann Ernst, a nephew of Bach’s employer in Weimar, was a talented young composer; he died at age 18. Bach, in his arrangement of this Violin Concerto, elaborates on the harmonic and contrapuntal layers of the original, preserving the solo and tutti dimensions. The middle Grave movement begins as two single voices before developing into a thicker texture. Dahmen chose bright registers for the young Bach’s setting.

The Liechtenstein organist, composer and teacher Josef Gabriel Rheinberger (1839-1901) wrote instrumental, vocal and choral music (his Catholic liturgical music is still much in use today) but he is principally remembered for his organ music, namely the 20 Organ Sonatas composed throughout his career. Organ Sonata no.8, opus132, is possibly the most popular of them. Dahmen performed the Intermezzo from it, presenting its tranquil, autumnal toning and varied sections poignantly.

Pietro Alessandro Yon (1886-1943) was an Italian-born organist. For a time, he served as an organist in the Vatican and at the Royal Church in Rome before moving to the USA in 1907, where he remained, working as church organist, recitalist and composer. His oeuvre includes instrumental music and songs; he is, however, considered one of the most important American composers of sacred choral- and organ music for the Roman Catholic Church. Yon’s Humoresque “L’organo primitivo” (Toccatina for Flute), inspired by a primitive portative organ he had seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), is written for the most basic of organ resources, but is, nevertheless, technically demanding, more so for both hands than for the feet. The work’s gentle yet bright timbres partner its effervescent, perpetual movement, optimistic and personal and colored with a gentle sprinkling of humor.

The solo organ recital ended with two works by French composers. Jean Langlais (1907-1991), blind from the age of two, became a reputed teacher, improviser, organist, string-player and composer. He held the prestigious position of organist at Sainte-Clotilde (Paris) for 42 years. He composed vocal, instrumental and organ music, the latter being second in extent only to that of Bach! We heard Langlais’ “Chant de paix” (Song of Peace) from his “Nine Pieces for Organ”. The pensive, meditational fabric of the piece is woven in clusters, creating a mood piece of delicate beauty.

One of the more conservative French composers, organist and teacher Francois-Clement Theodore Dubois (1837-1924), wrote important books on counterpoint and theoretical and practical harmony. Most of his compositions have been forgotten. He composed oratorios, ballets and symphonies, his best-known work being the oratorio “The Seven Last Words of Christ” (1867). Dubois’ Toccata in G for organ (1889), from the “Twelve New Pieces for Organ”, is the composer’s most familiar organ piece. A cheerful, tonal piece, Thiemo Dahmen’s playing of it demonstrated dexterity and fine the use of registration. The artist’s choice of works was well suited to the venue, the characteristic bright, clean timbre of the Saint George organ and to the audience.

We then heard the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir in a performance of Gabriel Faure’s (1845-1924) “Requiem in D minor” opus 48 (published 1900) conducted by its musical director Maestro Ronen Borshevsky, with choral conductor and musical director of St. Engelbert Catholic Church (Cologne) Wolfgang Siegenbrink at the organ. Despite the lack of orchestral instruments, or, should I say, as a result of the latter, the audience was able to focus on the choir’s sumptuously colored and finely shaped performance, the organ (Siegenbrink, disadvantaged in being placed behind Borshevsky) providing the mesmerizing, mystical and spiritual musical basis of the work. The choir’s finely blended sound embraced the chapel, the singers’ diction crystal clear, creating a sense of floating timelessness, the “Libera me” bringing the work to a dramatic peak:
‘On that day of dread,
When the heavens and earth shall move,
When You shall come to judge the world by fire.
I am made to tremble, and to fear,
When destruction shall come,
And also your coming wrath….’
Peace is restored with the radiant “In Paradisum”, its intertwining of texts effective and delicate. Young soprano Stav Tsubery sang the “Pie Jesu” expressively (often sung by a boy soprano), her voice pure but not “covered”. Bass-baritone Oded Reich’s performance was outstanding in every way, his singing evocative of the work’s message and spirituality, his mellifluous voice reaching out to move the listener. This was, altogether, a very satisfying performance of Faure’s Requiem, a work that has been referred to as a “lullaby of death”.

Bringing the festive evening to a close, the “Laudamus Te” Choir and Orchestra (Stuttgart), joined by a few members of the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir, performed Antonio Vivaldi’s (1678-1741) “Gloria” in D major, RV 589. The choir was founded in 2007 by its conductor, Brazilian-born Monica Meira Vasques, who is no newcomer to the Israeli concert scene. Motivated to bring people of different cultural origins and nationalities together through musical projects in Germany and abroad, the “Laudamus Te” Choir and its members have developed a close relationship with Israel and the Jewish people. Soloists in the evening’s performance were soprano Carin Rommel and alto Sonia Maria Hoefler.

Vivaldi’s “Gloria” was composed in Venice, probably in 1715. In this traditional Gloria from the Latin Mass, the composer’s palette offers daring leaps, imitative and antiphonal styles, chromaticism and bracing harmonies. His most famous choral piece, it is thought to have been performed by the choir of the Ospedale della Pieta, a school for orphan girls where Vivaldi was employed. The “Laudamus te” movement, a duet for soprano and mezzo-soprano (performed here by Rommel and Hoefler) is indicative of the high standard of music at the Ospedale. Vasques’ reading of the “Gloria” was fervent, the choir’s signature sound large, highly colored and joyful, a trifle ragged at times and lacking in moments of subtlety, Vasques’ soloists also having expansive voices; the soloists indulge in more vibrato than might sit well with Baroque music. Hoefler’s solo in the “Domine Deus Agnus Dei” was poignant and meaningful. The orchestra’s trumpeter and oboist added sparkle and verve to the work’s positive atmosphere with their fine performance.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

'Cellist Ithay Khen performs a solo recital at Jerusalem's Austrian Hospice

Israeli artist Ithay Khen performed a solo ‘cello recital April 25th 2011 in the salon of the Austrian Hospice of the Holy Family in the Old City of Jerusalem. Born in Israel, Khen received his first ‘cello instruction from his father, at age 16 beginning studies with Professor Uzi Wiesel (Tel Aviv Academy of Music.) He continued his studies at the Hanns Eisler Academy of Music (Berlin), has performed widely and is the recipient of scholarships and awards. Khen has played in chamber music with members of the Berlin Philharmonic, was solo ‘cellist of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, later becoming first solo ‘cellist of the Nuremberg Opera.

J.S.Bach’s (1685-1750) Solo Violoncello Suites probably date from around 1720, from the time Bach served as Kapellmeister in the employ of Prince Leopold in Coethen. It is thought that the first four were written for Christian Ferdinand Abel, a bass viol player at Coethen or for Christian Bernhard Linigke, a ‘cellist, both players being friends and colleagues of J.S.Bach. Khen opened his recital with a performance of the Suite no.1 in G major BWV 1007. His reading of the opening Prelude was compelling and intense. His playing of the ensuing court dances leaned closer to the energetic than to the reflective, excepting for the Sarabande and the poignant second Minuet, which were, indeed, introspective, the repeats of the noble Sarabande graced with embellishments. Khen uses textures, pauses and gentle rubato to create clear phrasing and for expressive purposes. Beyond the technical, structural and textural complexities of the suite, the artist meets Bach’s challenge – to create his own interpretation in a spontaneous and personal manner.

Gaspar Cassado (1897-1966) was one of the last great composer-performers. A ‘cello student of fellow Catalonian Pablo Casals, he studied composition with Manuel de Falla and Maurice Ravel; his “dual” life was represented in the concerts he gave. He composed and arranged much music for ‘cello, also composing orchestral- and chamber works. (He is also known to have attributed some of his own compositions to other composers, such as Frescobaldi, Boccherini and Schubert!) Cassado’s Suite for ‘Cello Solo (c.1950) reflects his native heritage, his technical expertise and his knowledge of the instrument. Khen takes on board both the technical challenges and the multi-faceted character of the work – its lyrical sensuality, its allusions to oriental modes, to fiery Spanish music and dance as well as its reference to early music (he bases the second movement “Sardana-Danza” on a drone.) The artist performed the work, presenting its kaleidoscope of colors, moods and energy with aplomb.

Hungarian composer, ethnomusicologist, educator, linguist and philosopher Zoltan Kodaly’s (1882-1967) Sonata for Solo ‘Cello opus 8 is one of the major works to be written for solo ‘cello after J.S.Bach’s ‘Cello Suites. One of the composer’s most remarkable and frequently performed works, its formal three-movement simplicity is deceptive when considering its technical complexities. It is influenced by folksong and dance music Kodaly had heard on his field trips with Bartok. Indulging in the work’s variety of pizzicato interspersed with arco bowing, multiple stoppings, virtuosic runs, harmonics, its use of spiccato, strumming, etc., Khen conjures up the sonata’s temperament in its “dark and light” tonings, earthy melodies and its moments of languishing lyricism juxtaposed with its wild restlessness. One of those daunting works tempting the virtuoso player to grapple with it, Khen has, indeed, been tempted; he succeeds in mixing its rich cocktail of ideas with spirit and alacrity.

Having swept listeners off their feet with the performance of three mammoth and complex solo ‘cello works, Ithay Khen brings his audience down to earth with the tranquil, uncluttered melodic beauty of Jean-Louis Duport’s (1749-1819) Etude no.8 in D major. The Austrian Hospice hosts art exhibitions, concerts and lectures; its salon is a wonderful venue for a solo recital.