Sunday, July 31, 2011

Renee Fleming and Joseph Calleja perform in Jerusalem with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Zubin Mehta

On the evening of July 28th 2011, a festive concert featuring soprano Renée Fleming (USA) and tenor Joseph Calleja (Malta), together with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and Maestro Zubin Mehta, took place at the Jerusalem International Convention Center. The event was screened live in 480 movie theatres throughout the USA. The concert, a tribute to the renowned American tenor and cantor Richard Tucker, and supported by the Richard Tucker Music Foundation, was the closing event of the Jerusalem Season of Culture 2011, six weeks of cultural events and artistic experiences that included dance, music, poetry, philosophy, visual arts, new media, and more. Events took place in a variety of locations - from the Tower of David Museum, to the Israel Museum, the Goldman Promenade, to private homes and to Jerusalem’s colorful Mahane Yehuda open-air food market. This being its first year, the Jerusalem Season of Culture offered a summer festival of events created by Israeli- and other artists, “summoning the ancient muse” of 3000 years of the city’s history to entertain and inspire people of all ages and walks of life.

Lyric soprano Renée Fleming is one of today’s greatest singers, drawing audiences to opera houses and Lied recital halls and performing at momentous occasions such as the 2006 Nobel Prize ceremony, the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and the Obama Inaugural Celebration. A three-time Grammy winner, Ms. Fleming has recorded widely, of late, releasing the CD “Dark Hope” focusing on songs by indie-rock and pop artists! Fleming is also involved in new music, performing works of contemporary composers. An advocate of literacy in the USA, her own book “The Inner Voice” was published by Viking Penguin in 2004.

Born in Malta in 1978, tenor Joseph Calleja began singing at 15, making his professional debut in his country in 1997, going on to win awards and becoming a prizewinner in Domingo’s Operalia (1999). Mr. Calleja has performed in opera houses throughout Europe and the United States and in solo recitals in France, Romania, Japan and his native Malta. With many acclaimed recordings, his festival appearances include Salzburg, Regensburg and the BBC Proms. Renée Fleming and Joseph Calleja collaborated in a DVD of Verdi’s “La Traviata” under the direction of Antonio Pappano.

Following the overture to Verdi’s “La forza del destino” (The Force of Destiny), the audience enjoyed hearing Joseph Calleja in a rousing performing of “La donna è mobile” (Woman is flighty) from Verdi’s “Rigoletto”. Enter Renée Fleming, dressed in a sumptuous gown of strong pinks. She began by performing the Jewel Song from Gounod’s Faust, her vocal lightness and agility posing the questions and expressing the amazement of the modest Marguerite at seeing herself in the mirror decked in jewels. Performing the aria “Vissi d’arte” (I have lived for my art), from Act II of Puccini’s “Tosca”, in which Tosca sings of the two driving forces of her life – love and music – Fleming is pensive, alternating asides with vehement passages in an eloquent, impassioned statement and outpouring of grief. Now dressed in a luxuriant, frothy black gown, Fleming’s singing of the lovely, haunting “J’ai versé le poison” (I have poured the poison) from “Cléopâtre” by Massenet unfolded in a hand-in-glove performance with the orchestra, her fragile, delicate and personal rendering boasting sensuousness, control and French transparency.

Opening with an ominous clarinet solo, we heard Joseph Calleja in “E lucevan le stelle” (How the stars used to shine there) from Act III of Tosca. An aria sung by Tosca’s lover, the painter Mario Cavaradossi, while waiting for his execution, Calleja’s beauty of tone, passion and sheer strength were a veritable tour-de-force. Calleja joined Renée Fleming in “Parigi, o cara” (Dearest, we will leave Paris) from Act III of Verdi’s “La Traviata” in a tender, communicative rendering, Fleming evoking Violetta’s selflessness and inner despair, her short detached phrases ( matched with those of the orchestra) characterized by tessitura leaps creating a sense of anxiety. The program ended with the duet from Act I of Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” (Fleming’s first performance of it) in the scene where Pinkerton and Butterfly discuss their feelings towards each other and declare their love with an intertwining of vocal lines and gestures. Fleming is a feminine and vulnerable Butterfly, her upper register notes soaring in golden timbres, her characteristic lower register fruity, her facial expression reflecting the text’s every mood.

Most enjoyable was the selection of opera overtures and instrumental pieces performed with eloquence by Zubin Mehta and the fine IPO players – the Overture to Verdi’s “Forza del destino”, opening with its festive brass, was both lyrical and expressive of doom. Mehta’s treatment of the Prelude to Act One of Verdi’s “La Traviata” is both mysterious and delicate, a sense of expectation setting the scene for the ensuing social scandal. Originally composed for piano, Albeniz called his Iberia pieces “impressions” of Spain. “Triana” – inspired by the gypsy quarter of Seville - from this collection in its orchestrated form, was a fine vehicle for the IPO’s rich palette of colors, dynamics and timbres. Remaining in the Spanish temperament, what music could be more Spanish in flavor than Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Capriccio Espagnol”, of which we heard the 4th- and 5th movements. Bristling with solos, elegant percussion-playing and glittering harp passages, the work finally breaks into a dizzying, joyful fandango. One of the most magnificent instrumental movements in all of opera, the Intermezzo from Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut” describing Manon’s voyage from Paris to the prison at Le Havre, draws together the threads of the story so far, interpolating a reminder of the fragile “nell’occhio” (In your profound eyes) love theme with the underlying presence of fate lurking not far away, the latter heard in the crashing of timpani, to be followed by an almost optimistic conclusion reached as we arrive in Le Havre to find Manon in chains. Mehta paints in fine brush strokes, his orchestral language ever detailed and transparent, no matter how dramatic, as he invites his audience to discovere the information and messages these instrumental pieces have to reveal about the operas in which they appear.

Renée Fleming’s first encore was a poignant, gently flexed rendering of “O mio babbino caro” (O my dear father) from Puccini’s opera “Gianni Schicchi”. She then moved into a completely different genre, singing Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. Singing in her middle range and making use of a microphone, the quality of Fleming’s now smoky, relaxed vocal timbre was a far cry from her opera personality as she invited the audience to join her in singing the refrain.
Calleja then joined Fleming in an exuberant performance of the Wine Song from Verdi’s “La Traviata”:
‘Let us drink from the goblets of joy
Adorned with beauty,
And the fleeting hour shall be adorned
With pleasure.’

Lyric soprano Renée Fleming is one of today’s most exciting and charismatic artists. What a treat it was to hear her here in Jerusalem performing various operatic roles and to experience her magnetic stage presence and artistry. Joseph Calleja’s performance was dashing: he is, indeed, a natural, his glorious voice, spontaneity and joy of singing happily intermixing with his appealing personality and modesty.

The audience reacted with a standing ovation. It was an evening to remember!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Young Israel Philharmonic Orchestra performs under the baton of Hans Peter Ochsenhofer

The Young Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, under the auspices of the Jerusalem Music Centre and in cooperation with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, consists of 80 or so of Israel’s finest young musicians from age 14 to 18, most of them recipients of Israel-America Cultural Foundation scholarships. Founded by Mr. Bruno Landesberg and the Hanan Susz Foundation, the YIPO is also supported by the Marc Rich Foundation, the America-Israel Cultural Foundation, the Beracha Foundation and the Austrian Cultural Forum. Major General (res.) Nehemia Dagan and the Karev Foundation help in obtaining scholarships for YIPO members currently serving in the Outstanding Musicians Program of the Israel Defense Forces.

Throughout the academic year, the young players study mostly solo- and chamber works; the YIPO provides the students with an opportunity to play orchestral repertoire and gain experience in music-making of a different kind. The players are selected from all parts of Israel and from different communities. Twice a year, the YIPO meets for intensive playing sessions, guided by renowned Israeli- and overseas conductors. The orchestra has also collaborated with the RIAS Young Symphonic Orchestra in Berlin (2008) and with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (2009) in joint programs. Coaching the players in the 2011 summer session were violinists Nitay Tzori and Uri Dror, violists Zvi Carmeli and Kshistoff Kozalsky (UK), double bass player Nir Conforti, flautist Yossi Arnheim, bassoonist Miri Ziskind, trumpeters Eran Reemy and Yuval Shapira, horn players Alon Reuven and Luca Benucci (Italy) and percussionist Alon Bor.

Conducting the YIPO on July 21st 2011 in the Henry Crown Symphony Hall (Jerusalem Theatre) was Maestro Hans Peter Ochsenhofer (Austria) whose instrumental background includes trumpet, violin and viola. This was the second time he has worked with the YIPO. Ochsenhofer has played with the Vienna State Opera Orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, the Wiener Virtuosen and the Vienna String Quartet and has taught at the Vienna Conservatory, being offered a full professorship for viola at the Vienna National University of Music in 1993.Maestro Ochsenhofer has conducted and instructed orchestras in Europe, the USA and Japan.

German composer Paul Hindemith (1895-1963), having frequently clashed with Hitler’s government (he was not Jewish), left for America in 1940 (a country once referred by him as the “land of limited impossibilities”.) There, he had a working relationship with the ballet impresario Léonide Massine, having composed the music to his “Nobilissima visione”; the two discussed the possibilities of producing a ballet with music based on works of Carl Maria von Weber. A falling-out ensued and the project was dropped. Three years later, however, Hindemith reworked the piece, resulting in his “Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber”. The themes are taken from Weber’s Piano Duets opus 60.4, the Overture to Turandot, Piano Duet opus 3.2 and Piano Duets opus 60.2 and 60.7. (Hindemith was familiar with the Weber duets from playing them with his wife.) The 1943 version of Metamorphosis was an immediate success, being the kind of splashy, colorful orchestral piece that appealed to American audiences, and it has remained among Hindemith’s most popular works. The title word “Metamorphosis” is central to the work, with Hindemith adapting one musical extract to each of the work’s four movements, expanding forms and modifying melodies, dressing melodic lines up with trills and freeing up rhythms. From the very outset, Ochsenhofer and his young players draw their audience into a kaleidoscope of orchestral timbres and gestures, the orchestra’s full orchestral sound never too dense to be articulate; they make use of the gamut of dynamic variation and beautiful solos. One was under the impression that the players had delved deeply into the score with its tender melodies, spectacular symphonic writing and its allusion to birdsong, Chinese music and jazz.

As a result of much success and several visits to England, Bohemian composer Antonin Dvorak’s (1841-1904) Symphony no. 7 in D minor opus 70, written between 1884 and 1885, was commissioned by the London Philharmonic Society. It was premiered in London in April of 1885 under the baton of the composer. Composed in the shadow of Dvorak’s mother’s death, the symphony is sometimes referred to as “The Tragic”; Dvorak himself subtitled the work “From Sad Years”, it being the product of a time of “silent sorrow and resignation”. Influenced by Brahms’ Symphony no. 3, Dvorak’s 7th Symphony shows sharper focus on form and polyphony than previous works. An emotionally tall order for a youth orchestra, the audience was presented with a mature, noble and profound performance by the YIPO. Opening with a sense of foreboding, the many disturbing and dramatic elements of the first movement were only temporarily relieved by a small clarinet dance motif. The yearning nostalgia of the second movement found expression in moving performance of horns, ‘cellos and oboe. Following a “driven”, exciting Scherzo punctuated by a rustic-type trio evoking bird calls and hunting horns, anguish and torment return with the final Allegro.

Both works on the program gave the stage to the many fine players and to the individual colors of each of the sections. The YIPO boasts a rich, well-blended string section, fine wind sections and competent percussionists. All were heard. Professor Ochsenhofer’s approach is personable, his conducting language delightfully detailed and clear. Shut your eyes and your ears are met by the musicianship of experienced orchestral musicians. Open them and you see and partakes of the joy and exuberant energy of tomorrow’s finest players.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Trimavera Piano Trio performs at the Felicja Blumental Music Center in Tel Aviv

The Trimavera Piano Trio performed at the Felicja Blumental Music Center (Tel Aviv) July 18th, 2011. Members of the trio are pianist Batia Murvitz, violinist Lea Tuuri (Finland) and ‘cellist Lauri Rantamoijanen (Finland).

Batia Murvitz (b.1982, London) has degrees from the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music (Tel Aviv) and Indiana University. She performs in Israel and abroad, has recorded for the Voice of Israel classical music station, performed in the “Youth at the Center” concerts at the Jerusalem Music Center and has appeared on Israeli television. Her work has included playing for workshops of the Israel Opera. Performing with several chamber music players, Murvitz is also a member of the “Sine Qua Non” Ensemble, together with violinist Helena Madoka-Berg, clarinetist Uriel Vanchestein and ‘cellist Se-Du Park. As of April 2010, Ms. Murvitz has been a member of faculty of the Mehli Mehta Music Foundation, Mumbai.

Lea Tuuri (b.1985, Finland) began violin lessons at age five, later studying at Indiana University and the New England Conservatory. She is presently completing an M.Mus at the Sibelius Academy. She has performed in the USA, Israel, England, France and Italy, participates in master classes and has recorded for MTV3 and the Finnish Broadcasting Company. She plays on a Jean Baptiste Vuillame violin with a Noel Burke bow.

Lauri Rantamoijanen (b.1985, Finland) began ‘cello studies at age seven, moving on to the youth department of the Sibelius Academy, where he later began the performing artists’ program in 2005. He was a young soloist with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra in 2003 and Finnish finalist in the Eurovision Young Soloists. He is currently studying at the Sibelius Academy under Professor Martti Rousi. An active chamber musician, Rantamoijanen plays in several ensembles. He plays on a Francesco Ruggiero ‘cello, dated 1693.

The concert opened with Franz Schubert’s (1797-1828) Piano Trio in B flat major D28 (Sonatensatz), a single-movement work composed in 1812. Schubert had been a chorister in the Court chapel, and, with his voice breaking, he had written on a choral score “Schubert, Franz, krähte zum letzten Mal” (has crowed for the last time) 26 Juli, 1812”. Schubert had now become a pupil of court Kapellmeister Antonio Salieri, the result being a flow of compositions, many of them since lost. The Sonatensatz, the teenage composer’s first attempt at writing music for piano and strings, reveals the young composer’s potential with moments of beauty and interest. As to the evening’s program, the best was yet to come.

Prominent and award-winning composer Kelly-Marie Murphy (b.1964), one of Canada’s most frequently performed, writes music ranging from orchestral- to electroacoustic music, as well as much chamber music. Commissioned by the Gryphon Trio (Canada) in 1997, “Give Me Phoenix Wings to Fly” was inspired by the Phoenix myth as addressed in two poems. One is Keats’ poem “On Sitting Down to Read King Leah Once Again”:
‘But when I am consumed in the fire,
Give me new Phoenix wings to fly at my desire.’
The other poem is Robert Graves’ “To Bring the Dead to Life”:
‘Blow on a dead man’s embers
And a live flame will start.’
Kelly-Marie Murphy writes “I’ve always been intrigued by the myth of the Phoenix, a bird that immolates in fire and then rises up again from its own ashes. It is such a powerful image, and one which is relevant to disaster. No matter how devastating any single event might be, you can still recover and begin again.’

A work in three movements, “Give me Phoenix Wings to Fly” opens with untiring, driving rhythms peppered with heavily accented clusters. In the second movement, with the dense textures and virtuosic, fiery scene of the first movement left far behind, the piano sets up a drone (a somewhat tonal center), creating a transparently icy and eerie soundsape, against which violin and ‘cello each play expressively. As if a single voice emerging from a lifeless vista, the ‘cello then leads into the third movement with a quasi cadenza, and we find ourselves back in the unrelenting intense, demonic energy heard in the first movement. A somewhat programmatic piece, it can be enjoyed as absolute music. The Trimavera musicians performed this demanding and highly virtuosic work with oneness of spirit, its dramatic, evocative text finding a communicative voice within themselves, its performance creating a gripping, live-music experience.

At the age of 21, Johannes Brahms’ (1833-1897) published his Trio no. 1 in B major opus 8. Fiercely self-critical, the composer had burned all his previously composed chamber works. In 1890, close to the end of his creative life, having written all his symphonies and concertos, Brahms decided to revise the trio, shortening it significantly, yet leaving its original form and moods intact. “I did not provide it with a new wig” he wrote, “just combed and arranged its hair a little”. Significantly, the Trio in B major represents both the young Brahms at the beginning of his public career and the maturity of the elder Brahms.

Despite its “official” B major key, the work, in its many moments of dark brooding, gravitates naturally to minor keys. In the lengthy, restless first movement, the Trimavera players create a mellow canvas, swelling into richly-colored Romantic textures that are melodically and harmonically expressive. In the duality of the trio’s scoring, with the piano part carrying half the tonal weight, Batia Murvitz displays plenty of strength, juxtaposing Brahms’ thick piano textures with those of the strings as she leads her fellow players through the score in a manner that never oversteps the bounds of good taste. In the poignant Adagio movement, Murvitz sets the scene, giving a little extra time to some of the spacious, meaningful chords, dispensing the movement’s magical quality at a delicate pace, to be answered by the strings in pensive dialogue. In the turbulent, complex Allegro movement, the strings are adversaries, each mostly playing alone with the piano. In the breathless urgency of the disquieting final movement, motifs come thick and fast, the final moments reminding us once more of the work’s enourmous scope and sound. The Trimavera’s reading of the work was rich and exciting, truly Brahmsian in the artists’ approach to its dark, massive and contrapuntal fabric.

The concert ended with another Schubert work - Piano Trio in B flat major D.898 opus 99 – a work composed only 15 years later than the student work Sonatensatz, however, being the last year of the composer’s life. The first of his two monumental piano trios, the B flat Piano Trio was not performed publicly, nor was it published during the composer’s lifetime. The Trimavera Trio’s performance of the work was up-front, fresh and dynamic. The players’ deep reading of it produced much contrast, with intimate, fragile sotto voce moments alternating with those of life-affirming energy in an acute awareness of Schubert’s turn of ideas and of the charm inherent in the Viennese style. Lia Tuuri weaves melodies of exquisite expression; ‘cellist Lauri Rantamoijanen convinces and moves his audience in sonorous, sweeping melodic lines. Batia Murvitz makes skilful use of timing to address each musical gesture, often poignantly “underlining” one key note. Embracing Schubert’s style, the trio’s playing is emotional but never precious.

The artists sent the audience home in the exhilarating, jazzy, uninhibited mood of the fourth movement of Austrian composer and jazz musician Werner Pirchner’s (1940-2001) “Wem gehört der Mensch” (To whom Man belongs) (1988).

The Trimavera Piano Trio offers its audiences much interest in its wide choice of repertoire. Its members are, indeed, young players but they are already endowed with much fine musicianship and experience. Their performance is articulate and confident, their individual expression and collaboration superbly balanced.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Gloriana Ensemble performs "Gloriana Armada" at St Andrews Scots Memorial Church in Jerusalem

Focusing on Renaissance music, the Gloriana Ensemble is one of Israel’s newest vocal groups. It was founded two years ago by countertenor Noar Lee Naggan; in the meantime, however, the ensemble has undergone changes in an effort to find suitable singers and the kind of blend Naggan had in mind. It presently consists of mezzo-soprano Avital Dery, countertenor Noar Lee Naggan, Eliav Lavi-tenor voice and lute and bass-baritone Oded Reich. An unusual combination of voices, Lee Naggan sings the soprano part, with Dery (whose lower register is extensive and mellow) singing the second line. Noar Lee Naggan studied Animation at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, nowadays designing websites, but has taken voice lessons and sung all his life, soloing as a boy and adult with choirs and orchestras.

At St. Andrews Scots Memorial Church (Jerusalem) on July 17th 2011, the Gloriana Ensemble performed a concert of English- and Spanish Renaissance music, both sacred- and secular. The program’s title - “Gloriana Armada” (The Armed Queen) – refers to the “Golden Age” in England – the period of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (she was sometimes referred to as “Gloriana”).

From the first notes of an anonymous Spanish villancico (a 15th- and 16th century Spanish form of poetry and music similar to the frottola) “Riu riu Chiu” (representing the chirping of the nightingale) to a text about shepherds in the Christmas story, the ensemble’s rich, bold signature timbre, superbly blended sound and finely sculpted phrasing became apparent, and the singers had the audience in the palm of their hands for the duration of the evening! They gave life and humour to the saucy, miniature anonymous Spanish romance “Dindirindin”, the song’s message also embellished with bird calls. Still on the subject of birds, we heard composer and playwright Juan del Encina’s (1468-1529) villancico “Cucú, cucú” a whimsical song that deals out a few home truths on how to keep one’s wife from straying!

Of the English sacred music in the ensemble’s repertoire, we heard three works of Thomas Tallis (1505-1585). “Remember not, o Lord God” and “If ye love Me” are both anthems, written in the vernacular, for the use of the Anglican Church. (Tallis was a Catholic.) The mostly homophonic style of these pieces gives rise to emphasis of specific key words and to the devotional sentiment of the works. In the votive antiphon “Sancte Deus” (Holy God, Holy Mighty One), its Latin text, however, reflecting Tallis’ Catholic faith, the Gloriana singers bring out the highly personal character of the work. Their crystal-clear diction, fired with consonants, addresses the importance of the textural meaning. Also of the Catholic faith, William Byrd (1543-1623) was a pupil of Tallis. The Gloriana Ensemble gave a moving performance of Byrd’s magnificent motet “O Admirabile Commercium” (O wondrous exchange) in a reading rich in choral color and melodic shape.

With the lights in the church lowered, the audience was invited to appreciate the mystic and spiritual temperament of two works of Tomas Luis de Victoria (c.1549-1611). “O Vos Omnes” (1585) belongs to the Tenebrae, a prayer ritual traditionally sung in a darkened church. A work of extraordinary pathos, the composer outlines words of the plangent text with chromatics and other musical devices.
‘O all you who pass by the way,
Pay heed and see
If there is any sorrow like my sorrow.
Pay heed, all people
And see my sorrow.
If there is any sorrow like my sorrow.’
From the same Responsories from the Tenebrae Matins, we heard “Judas Mercator Pessimus” (Judas, the vile merchant), a vehement, at times stark decry of Judas Iscariot. The singers display the passionate, emotional quality of the piece, showing awareness of its “text painting”. Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla (c.1590-1664) was greatly influenced by the music of the older Victoria. Using one of the great Marian texts, describing the mother of Jesus at the foot of the cross, Padilla’s “Stabat Mater” is more modest than that of Pergolesi, its scoring less lush that the music of Victoria.

And to the secular content of the program: Alonso Mudarra (1510-1580), a canon at Seville Cathedral, played the vihuela lute and wrote music for it. We heard Avital Dery singing a coquettish, traditional-style villancico from his “Tres Libros de Música” (1546) with Eliav Lavi on lute. Dery and Lavi bring to life Mudarra’s lively vocal- and instrumental score, creating a charming vignette of situation and emotion. Dery’s voice is stable, her singing effortless and pleasingly rich; she displays confidence and competence. A member of the Israeli Bach Soloists, she has soloed with ensembles and orchestras, among them, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Dery is also a physicist.

On the lute, Eliav Lavi then performed a fantasia by court musician Luiz de Narváez, one of the great 16th century masters of Spanish music. “La canción del Emperador”, a reworking of Josquin des Pres’ “Mille Regretz”, can be found in “Les seys libros des dolphin” (1538), a collection including most of Narváez’ works, the vihuela parts written in contemporary Italian tablature. From the rich number of ideas in the piece, it is apparent that Narváez was a skilled improviser on the vihuela. Lavi’s playing of it was delicately paced and flexed, his melodic lines almost narrative in character. This was followed by John Dowland’s Cornish Galliard. Lavi is studying lute at the Academy of Music. He has sung in a number of choirs and taken part in larger productions, including Purcell’s “Fairy Queen”. Lavi has also been a member of a rock band and sometimes plays electric guitar for rock- and pop recordings.

Oded Reich, a student of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, is no unknown quantity to the Israeli concert-goer, his soloing in many large choral works, such as Fauré’s Requiem, Gounod’s Saint Cecilia Mass (Aharon Harlap, Oratorio Choir) and the Bach B minor Mass (Andrew Parrott, Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra), inspiring and thrilling audiences with his expressive quality and rich vocal timbre. He will presently be joining the Opera Studio of the Israel Opera.

The Gloriana Ensemble cashed in on the playful and risqué character of John Farmer’s polyphonic, pastoral chanson “Fair Phyllis I Saw Sitting All Alone”, enjoying its humor and conjuring up the hide-and-seek antics of shepherdess Phyllis and her lover.

“When Griping Griefs”, found in William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”, survives both in text and music. A poem by Richard Edwards printed posthumously, reads:
‘Where griping grief the heart would wound
And doleful dumps the mind oppress
Then music with her silver sound
Is wont with speed to give redress,
Of troubled mind for every sore,
Sweet music hath a salve therefore.’
This bitter-sweet work, its melodic and harmonic path one of surprises, was performed by Naggan and Reich, singing alternate verses and then joining, with Lavi accompanying on lute. Noar Lee Naggan understands the genre of Renaissance vocal music; he has fine vocal presence, his countertenor voice powerful, highly colored and even.

The Gloriana Ensemble singers presented their audience with an interesting and well-balanced program, their voices embracing the (problematic) acoustic of the Scottish Church with exuberance and alacrity. The four singers communicate with the audience and each other, presenting a cappella performance with excellence; their accuracy, fine intonation, pleasing pronunciation and innate musicianship will appeal to the most discerning of music-lovers in Israel and further afield. Lutenist Eliav Lavi is an asset to such a group.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Fleshquartet (Sweden) performs Steve Reich's "Different Trains" and their own composition "Tears Apart" at the Tower of David Museum of Jerusalem

As the sun was setting over the Old City of Jerusalem, we entered the Tower of David Museum via the Jaffa Gate on July 16th, 2011. The banalities of daily life were suddenly left way behind as we negotiated Jerusalem’s Citadel, the imposing walls of the city’s medieval fortress looming above, below and around us as we descended and mounted the wooden castle moat steps in awe-struck silence on our way to the recently opened Kishle Prison. Jerusalem’s long and eventful history was paramount. The Kishle Prison was built by Ottoman Turks in the mid 1800’s; it later served as a British jail, housing Jewish- and Arab prisoners up to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. A decade ago, archeologists dug below the prison, finding important remains dating back three millennia that included walls built by King Herod and medieval facilities for dyeing fabrics. The infamous Kishle landmark was especially renovated and reopened in July 2011 to serve as the venue of an unusual and extraordinary artistic event of the Jerusalem Season of Culture.

Entering the minimally lit, rectangular hall, the audience is seated around the walls. Islands of large glass vessels are visible, many of the tear-shaped glass vessels also hanging from the ceiling. A podium for the players is positioned between the islands of glass. The glass installation was created by Ann Wåhlström (b.1957, Stockholm). Film screens are situated on the two far walls. We were to hear two works performed by the award-winning Fleshquartet (Sweden), an (often) electric quartet whose musical styles range from classical string music to experimental rock; members of the quartet are Christian Olsson-sampled violin, Örjan Högberg-viola, Mattias Helldén-‘cello and Sebastien Öberg-‘cello.

The first work was Steve Reich’s “Different Trains”. One of America’s greatest living composers, Reich (b.1936, New York) has been a leading pioneer of Minimalism, in his youth breaking away from the “establishment” (serialism). He studied, among a variety of other disciplines, the Gamelan, African drumming and the chanting of the Hebrew scriptures, embracing non-western harmonies and American vernacular music. Composed in 1988, “Different Trains” evolved from the sound and rhythm of trains, familiar to Reich from an early age. The work is semi-autobiographical, the speech overlay being phrases taken from Reich’s interviews with Virginia (the composer’s governess, who had taken him on the many train trips between his divorced parents), Lawrence Davis (a retired Pullman porter) and three Holocaust survivors. The direction, concept and set design for the “Different Trains” performances at the Tower of David Museum is by Pia Forsgen of The Jewish Theater, Stockholm. The production’s state-of-the-art synchronization includes computer screen music stands.

Constructed of repetitive fragments, this is the first work in which Reich uses music extracted from speech-melody patterns that are woven into a continuous musical texture of live and pre-recorded string quartets, over-layered with harsh, metallic train noise. In three concise movements, the composer contrasts the cross-continent trains of his childhood with the cattle trucks to Auschwitz. On the screens, we view black-and-white slides of trains and of people crowding to alight them in the Holocaust. Specially designed lighting units bring out refractions of different colors in the glass vessels, which light up according to the work’s content – red, when, for example, when the text talks about the Nazi camps.
‘Flames going up to the sky – it was smoking.’
Each audience member is obliged to grapple alone with the intense and urgent musical score and effects in a hall basically plunged into eerie darkness, the various lighting effects attracting one’s eye to the glistening, icy, motionless tear-drop glass pieces at least as often as to the screens. Suddenly the recorded audial effects cease and the quartet is left to play on alone:
‘…and the war was over.
“Are you sure?”
“The war is over.” ’
The railway rhythms then commence once more, this time to describe lively train movement in post-war America. The screen now shows slides in color. The work ends with the poignant reminder of a Jewish girl with a beautiful singing voice:
‘and they loved to listen to the singing, the Germans
And when she stopped they said
“more, more” and they applauded.’
In this dark and compelling piece, Reich concludes by reminding us that the Germans’ artistic awareness constituted a haunting and horrific contrast to their actions.

“Different Trains” was immediately followed by the Fleshquartet’s own recently composed work “Tears Apart”, a commentary and reflection on Reich’s “Different Trains”. Utilizing the glass installation, the instrumentalists leave their podium to produce sound effects, such as that of the rubbing of rims of water-filled glasses, the playing of a set of chimes mounted on hanging glass vessels, a percussive maracas effect from shaking a glass piece filled with stones, etc. Colors and simple designs were projected onto the screens. With the players gradually returning to the podium, the water glass drone was eventually replaced by a low electronic synthesized ‘cello throbbing buzz. Then, unexpectedly, we suddenly find ourselves floating together with an inebriating and nostalgic melody. This is followed by many rapid mood- and style changes: jazzy, cool moments and zingy percussion, music reflecting a gentle, vulnerable mood, rock music, and more. In a conversation with Swedish writer Aris Fioretos, Pia Forsgen says “It was important that Different Trains be followed by Tears Apart. I wanted to let go of the high tension that Reich maintains… I also wanted them (members of the Fleshquartet) to restore a strong sense of joy to the audience – sensualism, hope, playfulness.”

The Fleshquartet is a highly intelligent and versatile ensemble, its performance breathing accuracy deep searching into the meaning of music and art. The program was unique, creative and superbly performed. It was powerful - a moving and unforgettable experience.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Renaissance 2011 Ensemble hosts viol player Tal Arbel at a concert in Tel Aviv's Felicja Blumental Music Center

The “Renaissance 2011” Vocal Ensemble is a small group of singers whose members come from well-known Israeli choirs. It focuses on genres of music that give personal expression to each voice, in particular, Renaissance music, in which balance between voices and transparency of expression meet. A chamber choir, it is directed by Alon Weber, a graduate of the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music in orchestral- and choral conducting and whose experience includes the conducting contemporary music. Weber founded the choir three years ago. It has, however, undergone changes. The concert, with the enigmatic title of “Songs -Sacred and Secular – Yehuda Halevi, Corner Ibn Gvirol” was the choir’s first in its current form. Viol-player Tal Arbel was guest artist.

The ensemble performed several a cappella Renaissance works. The evening began with sacred works. English composer John Dowland (1563-1626) composed 13 Psalm settings: “All people that on earth do dwell” appears in “The Whole Booke of Psalmes” (1592) of Thomas Est. Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina’s (c.1526-1594) “Confitebuntue Coeli” - Psalm 89 (For who in the skies can compare with the Lord?) is from his 68 Offertories published in 1593, as is his “Benedicam Dominam - Psalm 16 (I will praise the Lord who counsels me).

Of the ensemble’s secular repertoire, we heard two chansons by Franco-Flemish composer Josquin des Pres (c.1450-1521) – “Plusieurs regretz” and “Cueurs désolés”, both of which speak of disappointed love.
The text of “Plusieurs regretz”:
‘A thousand regrets at leaving you
And departing from your loving look.
I feel such great sorrow and grievous pain
That all will see my days are numbered.’
Josquin’s satirical little frottola “El Grillo” (The Cricket) (c.1505) is thought to be a hint to his patron Galeazzo Sforza to pay his musicians. Largely homophonic, it is earthy, humorous and full of double-entendres and word-painting.

The leading composer at the court of Burgundy, Pierre de la Rue (1452-1518) was both prolific and innovative. We heard his “Autant en emporte le vent” (It is as if gone with the wind), composed around 1500.

The ensemble concluded its concert with three chansons by Clément Janequin (c.1486-1668), a priest who composed some 250 chansons, some vividly descriptive, some moving and others outright bawdy.

The “Renaissance 2011” Vocal Ensemble’s repertoire is indeed rich, attractive and challenging. The audience appreciated hearing choir members reading translations of many of the texts into Hebrew. The group would be wise to focus more on a finer blend of sound, a more transparent timbre, better shaped phrasing and more distinctive pronunciation of English and other languages. The vibrato employed by some of the singers can be detrimental to Renaissance intonation. All these pitfalls are typical teething problems encountered by groups starting out on the long and difficult journey into authentic performance of early vocal music.

And to Yehuda Halevi and Ibn Gvirol, the play on words alluding to streets named after the two poets in Tel Aviv. We heard Alon Weber reading texts by both poets.

Viola da gamba player, Tal Arbel, back in Israel, following years of study and performance in Basel and London, performed pieces from the repertoire for bass viol. She opened by talking about the fact that composers of these works were viol players themselves, and that the pieces would have been played in private salons. Arbel opened with English composer Tobias Hume’s (c.1569-1645) “Good Againe”, from “Captain Hume’s Musicall Humors” (1605). Hume’s personal history reads very differently to that of any other composer: a “gentleman” (amateur composer) and a contemporary of Shakespeare, he was a soldier and mercenary, some of whose charming solo pieces tell the story of his colorful life. Following its plucked opening section (Hume was one of the first composers to use that technique on the viol) Arbel allows the pensive course of the piece to unfold, showing its different textures and moods. Monsieur de Sainte Colombe’s (1640-1700) Chaconne offered effective contrasts, Arbel’s intricate passagework gracing a number of the variations. In L’Arabesque” by St. Colombe’s pupil Marin Marais (1656-1728), Arbel brings out the piece’s whimsical, conversational and speech-like character. His “Grande Chaconne” emerges as a kaleidoscope of gestures, sounds and textures. Tal Arbel (b.1978, Tel Aviv) began her musical life as a recorder player, her first viol teacher being Dr. Myrna Herzog. Arbel’s solo recitals include her own musical arrangements, original material and improvisations. Her tone is articulate and refined, if not yet daring. Arbel’s characteristic, intelligent reading into works, her knowledge, musicality and competence promise audiences many more fine viola da gamba performances.

We then heard two English solo songs performed by Noa Zachoval and Tal Arbel. Mezzo-soprano Zachoval’s musical focus is on works of the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Baroque periods. Together with Arbel, she performed Tobias Hume’s love song “Fain would that I change that note” (1605). Henry Purcell’s (1659-1695) “Sweeter than Roses” is a love song of a different kind. Composed for Richard Norton’s tragedy “Pausanius, Betrayer of his Country”, it is a seductive song, volatile in its mood changes and virtuosic in its demands on the singer. Zachoval is convincing in her portrayal of the songs’ temperament and messages, her voice not always anchored and stable in melismatic phrases. Arbel’s accompaniments bristle with interest.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Celebrated American lyric soprano Renee Fleming to sing in Jerusalem

Renée Fleming was born in 1959 in Indiana, Pennsylvania and grew up in Rochester, New York. Her parents were both voice teachers and she had the privilege of receiving a very fine music education. She, herself, had also intended joining the teaching profession and took a degree in education at the State University of New York, Potsdam. While still an undergraduate student, Fleming sang at bars with her jazz trio. Hearing her performance and impressed by her singing, the legendary jazz saxophonist Jacquet Illinois invited her go on tour with his big band, but, encouraged to pursue a singing career, Fleming refused and proceeded on to graduate studies at the Eastman School of Music and the Julliard School of Music, joining the Julliard School’s American Opera Center from 1983 to 1987 as a student of Beverly Johnson. Winning a Fulbright Scholarship in 1984, Fleming left Julliard temporarily to study under Dame Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Arleen Augér in Frankfurt, Germany, before returning to New York in 1985 to complete her studies.

Fleming’s debut as Konstanze in Mozart’s “Abduction from Seraglio” at the Landstheater in Salzburg in 1986 was an important landmark in the singer’s profession journey. Fleming became acutely aware that there was still much work to be done on her vocal technique and on the problem of stage fright. She took on any jobs offered her by opera companies, many of them last minute offers, and she became accustomed to learning roles on ‘plane trips. In 1988, Fleming won the Metropolitan National Opera Auditions, resulting in invitations to sing at the Houston Grand Opera, Covent Garden and the New York City Opera; she also won the George London Prize (in the same week!) Fleming’s big break came in 1991 when she stood in for the ailing British soprano Felicity Lott to sing the role of the Countess in Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro”, receiving rave reviews for her fresh, individual approach to the work in what was to become the first of her signature roles.

Fleming’s career then soared to great heights: she performs in opera houses all over the world, her performing schedule also including solo recitals. She is also involved in the performing of contemporary music, premiering many newly-penned operas. Her other big love – jazz – has resulted in plans to record a jazz album. In fact, the eclectic singer has always hankered after music that is more “unbuttoned”. Take, for example, the rock songs by Muse and Arcade Fire Fleming has recorded on “Dark Hope” (2010), in which her two teenage daughters appear as back-up singers! Fleming is, therefore, both heady and earthy. Her CD “Homage: The Age of the Diva” (2006) was nominated for two Grammy Awards. Her DVD “Sacred Songs” (2006) was recorded live in Mainz Cathedral and she starred in “In Search of Mozart”, a documentary film on Mozart’s life, marking the 250th anniversary of his birth.

Renée Fleming supports “Get Caught Reading”, an American national literacy campaign to promote the joys of reading. In her own book “The Inner Voice – The Making of a Singer” (2004) Fleming addresses those contemplating a career in the arts, sharing her life experiences as an artist, discussing practical issues, her doubts, her mentors, the “heart-throat-mind” connection, and more.

Renée Fleming is one of today’s most sought-after lyric soprano singers, whether on the opera stage, in concert or Lied recitals, on television, radio or on disc. In addition to her work on stage, she has represented Rolex timepieces in print advertising since 2001; a fragrance “La Voce by Renée Fleming” was designed for her and she inspired the “Renée Fleming Iris” which has been replicated in porcelain by Boehm. Fleming has performed in auspicious ceremonies – the 2006 Nobel Prize ceremony, the Beijing Olympics and the Obama inauguration. But, above all, the fetchingly glamorous Fleming is a stage artist, capturing audiences with her lush vocal timbre, her innate musicality, her unique stylistic versatility, her artistry and her radiant stage presence.

Joined by Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja, one of today's tenors most sought after in opera houses on both sides of the Atlantic, Renée Fleming will be appearing at the Jerusalem International Convention Center (Binyanei Ha’Uma) July 28th 2011 in a concert with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Zubin Mehta. This event will wind up the Jerusalem Season of Culture. Fleming will be performing both her personal repertoire and songs written about Jerusalem. The concert also celebrates 50years since Mehta’s first Israel visit and will be a tribute to Richard Tucker, the great American tenor and cantor, a gesture by Fleming in support of the Richard Tucker Music Foundation. Ms. Fleming, to be accompanied by her two daughters on what will also be a private visit, is very excited about her first visit in Israel.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The 2011 Sounding Jerusalem Festival presents a mix of european- and oriental music

The Sounding Jerusalem Festival, under its founder and director - Austrian ‘cellist Erich Oskar Huetter - took place June 26th to July 2nd 2011 for the sixth year running. This year’s festival included eight concerts, the last of which was held July 2nd 2011 in the courtyard of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in the Old City of Jerusalem. The festival’s mission is to embrace the region and its people with the artistic event, to offer concerts not usually available to all people and to take the listener on a musical journey that evokes the rich sites of Jerusalem and the region. In addition to concerts, a team of three people interacted with and entertained children in the various locations of the concerts.

As daylight was fading, the Redeemer Church’s tranquil courtyard, built in the 12th century and restored in 1995, was filling with people from many local communities, as well as tourists, enjoying a glass of wine and relaxing in the tranquil, leafy outdoor venue and enjoying the balmy Jerusalem evening air.

Waving in the evening breeze, a cloth screen showed photographs taken by Christian Jungwirth (Austria) – pictures of Sounding Jerusalem Festival concerts and their audiences, as well as the street people and sites of East Jerusalem – forming a reminder of the region inspiring the concert series titled “Village Voices” or “Mélange oriental”. The music was performed by an ensemble consisting of Erich Oskar Huetter (‘cello), Mahran Moreb-qanun (Rama village, Galilee), Stefan Heckel-accordion (Austria), Raed Saed-percussion (Jerusalem), Michel Lethiec-clarinet (France) and Wassim Odeh-oud (Nazareth).

Setting the musical scene was Stefan Heckel’s piece “Zenobia’s Desert View” (Zenobia was a 3rd century Syrian queen who conquered- and ruled over Egypt) a piece peppered with the rhythms of Arabic music. Heckel’s piece “Bab al Amud (Damascus Gate) - a tripartite piece, its outer sections monodic, its inner section graced delicately with harmonies played on the accordion – is an evocative work featuring improvisations. The performances of two Armenian dances – “Zouika” and “Zartounk” – reflecting a dance tradition going back 1000 years – were highly energetic and laden with temperament, as was the Longa Sakiz. The longa is a genre of Turkish music that was adapted from the Gypsy music of Eastern Europe in the late 19th century. The latter piece displayed fiery, brilliant playing, the ensemble’s playing accurate and polished.

The ensemble played songful and touching arrangements of “Asentada en mi Ventura” (Sitting at my Window), a Sephardic song of the Ottoman Empire speaking of disappointed love and “Irme Kero Madre”, a 15th century Sephardic song, describing a longing for Jerusalem:
‘O Mother, I want to leave for Jerusalem,
To eat of her fruits, to drink of her waters.
I will make a home there.
I will worship there…’
No less poignant was the gentle and charming arrangement of eclectic American composer John Zorn’s (b.1953) “Mahshav” (Hebrew: thought), a meditative, klezmer-style piece.

Addressing Christian sacred music, the ensemble played an arrangement of “Jerusalem”, the soprano aria from Felix Mendelssohn’s (1809-1847) compelling first oratorio “Paulus” (St. Paul), composed in 1835. The combination of clarinet, accordion and ‘cello, playing homophonically produced an effective timbre somewhat associated with that of the pipe organ.

Palestinian singer Rula Hazzan (b.1985) sings both western- and Arabic music, performing in Israel and abroad. At the concert, she sang a selection of Arabic songs, to the filigree accompaniment of oud (Odeh), qanun (Moreb) and percussion (Saed), with the accordion playing an interlude in the love-song “El Bint in Shalabia” (The Shalabi Girl), a song made famous by the great Lebanese singer Fairuz..
‘You appear in the distance and my heart is wounded
And I reminisce about days past…’
Hazzan has a well-anchored, imposing and stable voice, moving among registers with ease and confidence.

Raed Saed performed an intricate, poignantly integrated solo work on percussion instruments, his technical skills matched with a wealth of ideas and good taste.

The three Austrian team members, who had spent the week communicating with local children in a language of non-verbal gestures, entertained us in the same fashion: Günter Meinhart and Bernhard Richter encouraged the audience to be active, conducting all assembled in a whimsical ad hoc “vocal” work, later inviting some audience members to join the instrumental ensemble. People watched with bated breath as Nicole Kehrberger, utilizing two lengthy pieces of red cloth hung from cables from high above the courtyard, performed a wonderful acrobatic act, accompanied by improvisations played by clarinetist Michel Lethiec in synchronization with her display.

The 2011 Sounding Jerusalem Festival concluded with an evening of music from many of the region’s ethnic groups, It was a meeting of local artists and European musicians collaborating in fine music-making that was polished, elegant, inspired, finely balanced and respective of style.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Young Israel Philharmonic Orchestra prepares for its two 2011 summer concerts

The Young Israel Philharmonic Orchestra is an orchestra made up of 80 of Israel’s finest young orchestral players; their ages range from 14 to 18. The orchestra meets annually for an intensive summer course, rehearsing under the baton of world famous conductors. The YIPO is one of the flagship programs run by the Jerusalem Music Centre, an organization that discovers and nurtures young players in its projects, and enjoys the support of musicians from the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, the Marc Rich Foundation for Education, Culture and Welfare and the America-Israel Cultural Foundation. This year, to perpetuate the memory of Hanan Zoz, the chair of concertmaster will be dedicated to his name, with the help and generosity of the Hanan Zoz Family Foundation.

The Young Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Israel’s national youth orchestra, was founded by Bruno Landesberg and the late Hanan Zoz. Selecting its participants from the finest players of classical music in Israel, its aim is to give these outstanding young people a love of orchestral music, the joy of working together, experience and a chance to work with some of the world’s best-known teachers and conductors. A number of today’s internationally renowned Israeli artists cut their teeth in the YIPO when starting out. Meeting and working together in an environment of excellence and equality, players of the YIPO come from religious- and secular homes, Jewish- and Arabic communities, from the cities, agricultural villages, from peripheral towns, from the north of Israel to the south. Some of the players have grown up with classical music from early childhood, whereas others have discovered it and become deeply involved in it in their teens.

One of the many success stories of the YIPO players is that of double bass player Talia Horwitz, a 12th grade student originally from the western Negev town of Sderot, today living on moshav Nir Akiva (close to Netivot). Talia’s mother runs a day centre for the elderly, her father is a mechanical engineer, her older sister is studying education and her brother is now completing his army service. Talia’s parents have never put pressure on her to study music. She started by playing the guitar and was accepted as a student to the Israel Arts and Science Academy in Jerusalem, a high school bringing together motivated and very able students. It was there that the music staff became aware of Talia’s outstanding musical ability and suggested she learn the double bass. Through her studies on the giant instrument, Talia discovered the world of classical music. Teachers at the high school contacted the JMC, informing its specialist teaching staff of their talented young double bass player. She was auditioned and selected to play in the YIPO and, in addition, was presented by them with a double bass on loan. In the 11th grade, Talia left the Israel Arts and Science Academy to study at the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music at Tel Aviv University, completing her matriculation examinations at the same time. Talia Horwitz has recently been accepted as a student to the Julliard School of Music (New York) on a full scholarship, the dream of every outstanding young musician. If all goes to plan, Talia will defer her mandatory army service by four years and will need to have a double bass of her own for her studies in New York.

The 2011 July YIPO workshop is taking place in the Ben Shemen Youth Village. Participants are busy playing music from morning to night under the guidance of renowned musicians from Britain, Italy and Israel. The results of their hard work will be heard and seen in two concerts with the well-known Austrian conductor Hans-Peter Ochsenhofer. In the meantime, the young players are spending weeks consolidating musical notes and rhythms into fine orchestral performance, at the same time, enjoying the company of their co-players. Ochsenhofer worked with the YIPO in 2008, inspiring the young instrumentalists and audience alike in a program of works by Haydn, Tchaikovsky and Gulda. This year’s program will include Dvorak’s Symphony no.7 and Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber. Audiences will enjoy hearing two great orchestral works not frequently performed in Israel. These concerts will surely be among this summer’s most attractive and inspiring musical events!

Concerts will take place in the Henry Crown Auditorium (Jerusalem Theatre) Thursday July 21st at 20:00 and in the Frederic Mann Auditorium, Tel Aviv Friday July 22 at 12:00.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Barrocade signs out of the 2010-2011 concert season with "Concerto"

The concert was titled “Concerto”, and St. Andrews Scots Memorial Church, Jerusalem, was filled to capacity June 28th 2011 for the Barrocade Ensemble’s last concert of the 2010-2011 season. Established in 2007, Barrocade consists of some 12 instrumentalists and a singer and performs mostly without a conductor. The ensemble’s musical director is Amit Tiefenbrunn. Harpsichordist Yizhar Karshon led and directed this concert.

The program began with A.Vivaldi’s (1678-1741) Concerto for Strings, RV 117. Of his more than 500 concertos, some 40 of these small gems are for string orchestra (ripieno concertos) and adopt the three-movement format. Adding flute (Geneviève Blanchard) and a plucked timbre (Jacob Reuven-mandolin, Eitan Hoffer-theorbo) to its string ensemble, Barrocade gave the concerto’s outer movements an accented, strongly profiled character, reflecting the composer’s passionate temperament, the Largo lyrical and poignant.

Vivaldi’s “Stravaganza” opus 4 (the title suggesting “originality” or “eccentricity”) -composed from 1712 to 1713 – constitutes twelve concertos for violin, strings and basso continuo, music that was distinctly experimental for its time. The concertos boast swirling melodies, dazzling solos, compelling gestures and wonderfully lyrical, contemplative moments. An early Vivaldi collection, its music, nevertheless, inspires and transports both player and audience. So how is the Violin Concerto no. 6 in G minor of opus 4 to work with the mandolin as soloist? Paring down their large, solidly anchored sound, the Barrocade instrumentalists and mandolin player Jacob Reuven take the audience into a sound world of both delicacy and exuberance, however, on the mandolin’s terms. Reuven’s melodic lines are finely crafted and articulate, sparkling with vitality and brilliance as he leads his listener through Vivaldi’s harmonic- and tonal minefield. His competence, constant eye communication with fellow players and deep musicality, coupled with technical ease, made for a magical performance of the work.

G.F.Händel’s opus 3 concertos owe their existence to John Walsh, an English publisher, interested in publishing works by some of Europe’s foremost composers. He encouraged Händel to supply him with material as an ongoing arrangement, and, in 1734, the composer (or possibly the publisher) quickly assembled reworked sections of Händel’s previous pieces together with new material, making up the opus 3 Concerto Grossi. Händel, at this stage, was beginning to take more of an interest in non-operatic works, aware that amateur musicians would be interested in performing them. (He was never one to let opportunities pass him by.) The first two movements of Concerto Grosso no.3 are arrangements of anthems written at the time the composer was in the employ of the Duke of Chandos, and the last movement is based on a keyboard fugue from the same time. With Blanchard playing one of the concertino parts , there was much lively passagework on flute and violin (Shlomit Sivan, Yasuko Hirata), Blanchard’s treatment of the Adagio movement appealing and sensitive.

Like Händel, the Italian violin virtuoso Francesco Geminiani (1687-1762) also made his home in London, a city fast becoming a major European music centre, partly due to Händel’s presence there. Both composers had studied with Corelli in Rome. Geminiani was quick to establish himself in London, performing, composing and publishing “The Art of Playing the Violin”(1731) there. When invited to play for George I in 1715, Händel accompanied Geminiani on the harpsichord. Geminiani’s opus 3 Concerti Grossi (1733) were immediately to become very popular, proving him to be a master of the genre. As to his rhythmic and melodic approach, his contemporaries referred to him as “il Furibondo” (the furious). Barrocade took on board Geminiani’s Italian, non self-conscious personality, presenting the opening Adagio statements punctuated generously with dramatic pauses. Violins (Sivan, Yasuko Hirata) and viola (Daniel Tanchelson) created a richly legato singing concertino, Geminiani assigning the viola with a much more significant and independent role than composers before him.

Written in his time as Hof-Kapellmeister to Prince Leopold in Cöthen (1717-1723) J.S.Bach’s (1685-1750) Concerto for Harpsichord and Strings in D minor BWV 1052 is thought to be based on a lost violin concerto. The manuscript calls for a two-manualed harpsichord; the work uses the Italian ritornello form. It was in Cöthen that the composer wrote a great variety of secular works and many instructive pieces. The prince, himself a skilled musician, was particular about the standard of music at court. When Bach became director of the Collegium Musicum in Leipzig, where weekly concerts were held in Zimmermann’s coffee house, he was to supply the music. In the Barrocade concert, Yizhar Karshon performed the solo on a Titus Krijnen two-manualed harpsichord. From the outset, Karshon and the ensemble set out clearly the dramatic conflict between solo and orchestra, their (sometimes) separate agendas, the decidedly large variety of Bach’s ideas as well as the major-minor shifts inherent in the work, the latter not common practice in the Baroque period. From the first notes, Karshon displayed consistently fine playing of the dense harpsichord part, his textures exciting but well controlled and measured, the work’s urgency never lacking direction. In the Adagio movement, also in a minor key, Karshon and his fellow players created the austere, transparent aria-like melody with breath-taking expressiveness, Karshon’s playing unmannered and convincing, his ornamenting delicate and tasteful. In the final Allegro, we, once again, luxuriated in the richness of Bach’s tonal changes, the scoring’s fullness alternating with intimate moments and the nuances of Bach’s writing. Karshon’s playing bristled with sparkle and virtuosity, his quiet confidence allowing for the work’s timeless musical message to emerge.

In his autobiography of 1718, G.P.Telemann (1681-1767) wrote that he was no great lover of concertos; this statement might have meant that he disliked the display of virtuosity for its own sake common in the Italian-style concerto, a genre in which he had encountered “many difficulties and awkward leaps, but little harmony and even poorer melody”. Telemann preferred the four-movement sonata da chiesa model, his interest lying in innovative structure, scoring and style. Only three of his concertos were published during his lifetime; manuscripts of the others do not indicate dates of composition, but it is supposed they were composed before 1735. Telemann’s instrumental training was in harpsichord, violin and recorder, but we read in his 1740 autobiography that he wished to familiarize himself “also with the oboe, transverse flute, chalumeau, gamba etc., up to the double bass and trombone pitched a fifth below”. In his Concerto for Flute and Recorder in E minor TWV 52:e1, Telemann juxtaposes the recorder with the transverse flute, a combination extremely rare in the Baroque, a farewell to the old, a welcoming of the new. Barrocade players Geneviève Blanchard (traverso) and Adi Silberberg (recorder) delighted the audience in a stellar performance of the concerto, their precision, collaboration and uncannily finely matched intonation matched with sweetness of tone and grace. Orchestra and audience reveled in the rousing final movement – a raucous Polish-style dance - with its bass drones and fiddle motifs.

This was an ambitious program, performed with flair, joy and excellence. Barrocade took leave of the concert season on a high note!