Monday, September 26, 2011

Pianist Eduard Stan in a solo recital at the Austrian Hospice (Jerusalem)

The Romanian Cultural Institute in Tel Aviv and the Austrian Hospice of the Holy Family hosted a recital of pianist Eduard Stan in the salon of the Austrian Hospice in the Old City of Jerusalem on September 19th 2001. This recital was the pianist’s Israeli debut. (Photo:Sabrina Scheffer)

Born in the city of Brasov, Transylvania, Eduard Stan moved to Germany at age 11. A student of Arieh Vardi, Karl-Heinz Kämmerling and Martin Dörrie, Stan graduated from the Academy of Music and Drama in Hanover, today having a busy international performing schedule as a recitalist, chamber musician and in a duo partnership with violinist Remus Azoitei. Maestro Stan records, his most recent CD being with baritone Peter Schöne for the Genuin label. For promoting Romanian culture abroad, Stan was awarded the Prometheus Prize in 2009.

Markus St. Bugnar, rector of the Austrian Hospice in Jerusalem since 2004, welcomed the audience, mentioning the fact that local and overseas artists perform at concerts in the salon of the Austrian Hospice and expressing his pleasure at the cooperation between the Romanian Cultural Institute and the Austrian Hospice. Mr. Dan B. Krizbai, deputy director of the Romanian Cultural Institute in Tel Aviv, also addressed the audience, informing us that the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra was to perform the following evening under the baton of Maestro Zubin Mehta in the 2011 George Enescu Festival in Bucharest. Mr. Krizbai spoke of Maestro Stan as being one of Romania’s most acclaimed artists.

Eduard Stan began the recital with Franz Schubert’s (1797-1828) Sonata in B flat major D 960. Playing this monumental work by one of Austria’s greatest composers was a fitting opening gesture at the venue of the Austrian Hospice. Schubert’s last three piano sonatas, all late works, all three penned within a month, hang together as a kind of trilogy. The composer played all three at a party held by Dr. Ignaz Menz on September 27th 1828, having completed the Sonata in B flat major D 960 the previous day. Schubert died less than two months later. Performing this mammoth piece, Schubert’s last piano work, is a demanding technical, analytical and emotional undertaking to the pianist. Constructed of subtle melodic material moving through a sophisticated scheme of modulations, some of Schubert’s markings (such as the “fp” in the last movement) challenge the pianist to ask himself/herself how to reproduce certain effects that were played on Schubert’s piano. Stan’s playing addresses each modulation, taking on board the impulsiveness of Schubert’s melodies as they merge into each other; he sets before us Schubert’s emotional map in the face of death – his resignation, his introspection, his vulnerability and brooding, but also moments of a sense of well-being. Stan’s playing of the delicate Scherzo (third movement) was not overly fast following the sparse, bleak second movement. Altogether, his treatment of the B flat major sonata was profound, colored and sensitive. Franz Schubert was buried at the Währing Cemetery in Vienna. His gravestone bears the following epitaph: “Music has here buried a rich treasure. But fairer in hopes, Franz Schubert lies here”.

Romanian pianist, virtuoso violinist, conductor and pedagogue George Enescu (1881-1955) composed his Piano Suite no.2 in D major opus 10 (1903) for a competition run in 1903 by the French magazine “Musica”, Enescu winning both first prize and the Pleyel Prize for the best piano piece. The piece was dedicated to Louis Dièmer (with whom Enescu had studied piano in Paris). Much of Enescu’s music predominantly reflects the music of his homeland, but this work is also clearly influenced by French Impressionism (Enescu had gone to Paris in 1895, where he studied composition with Massenet and Fauré), three of the four movements bearing the titles of French court dances. (There is a 1943-1944 recording of the work in which Enescu plays the Sarabande and Pavane and Dinu Lipatti, the Toccata and Bourée.) Enescu is usually remembered as a brilliant violinist, but his piano notation and precise markings (pedaling, half-pedaling, for example) attest to his mastery of the piano. One tends to forget that he was an expert orchestral score reader on the piano, that he performed solo piano recitals, did much accompanying of artists, even accompanying his own singing at the piano; the piano figures in 18 of his 33 numbered works.

Eduard Stan brought out the fusion of the young Enescu’s fast developing pianistic style in a performance of Piano Suite no.2, creating a rich but ever articulate canvas, from the bells issuing in the opening Toccata (Enescu had also titled the suite “Des cloches sonores”) layered with massive pedaling. The Sarabande, with its calm melody accompanied by arpeggiated chords, finds energy in melodies that are propelled from within and colored with both functional harmonies and empty fourths and fifths and chromaticism. Enescu reminds us again of the bells in the Toccata, the second movement ending with the sound and rhythms of massive church bells. Stan’s reading of the somewhat pastoral Pavane was personal and evocative, an introspective, autumnal soundscape, its intensive trilling perhaps suggesting the sound of a shepherd’s pipe, its conclusion tinted with sparkling delicacy. The work ended with Stan’s virtuosic and precise playing of the forthright Bourrée, the artist using a solid, hammered touch, complemented by rhythmic variety. Eduard Stan’s rich and detailed performance brought home how neglected Enescu’s music is in concert hall repertoire and how rich a kaleidoscope his music provides.

Eduard Stan played four pieces by Frédéric Chopin, beginning with the Polonaise in F sharp minor opus 44 (1841) often referred to as the “tragic” Polonaise; the artist’s playing of the dramatic work expressed the generous, noble character of the dramatic piece, as well as its delicate and lush aspects. In Nocturne in F sharp major opus 15 no.2 (1830-1831) Stan weaves ornaments into melodic lines with natural, poetic ease, his reading of the poignant Mazurka in C sharp minor opus 50 no.3(1841-1842) peppered with small Polish folk dances, with Chopin’s “zal” (Polish:sadness) ever present. In Chopin’s Barcarolle in F sharp major opus 60 (1845-1846), his one and only Barcarolle, Stan’s playing suggests the rhythm and motion of a boat on the water, not always calm water, the complexities and huge dynamic range of the piece inspiring personal expression on the part of the artist. Stan’s performances of the Chopin pieces were sincere and unmannered, the pianist delving deeply into the real style and meaning of each genre.

Concluding the festive occasion at the Austrian Hospice, Eduard Stan played Brahms’ introspective and tranquil Intermezzo in A major opus 118, the second of the “Six Piano Pieces”, a late work completed in 1893 and dedicated to Clara Schumann. Stan’s clean enunciation of contrapuntal moments was artfully woven into the tender, expressive fabric of the piece to make for a poignant performance..

Eduard Stan’s playing is a celebration of the expressive and coloristic range of the piano and the result of his deep study of each composer’s ideas and intentions. Standing away from the limelight, he allows the music to speak.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Lawrence Siegel's "Kaddish-I am Here" is performed at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem

As the late summer sun was setting over Jerusalem, hundreds of people were pouring onto Warsaw Ghetto Square of Yad Vashem, Jerusalem on September 8th 2011. Many were overseas guests, friends of Yad Vashem, there were diplomats, members of Knesset and other well-known Israelis and there were many elderly people making their way there slowly and silently; the latter were Holocaust survivors. All were gathered to hear American composer Lawrence Siegel’s “Kaddish-I Am Here”. This was to be the eighth performance of this Holocaust work, a piece commissioned by the Cohen Center for Holocaust Studies of Keene State College, Keene NH, debuted at the Redfern Arts Center at Keene State College in May 2008, with the world premiere in Minneapolis in November 2008. Originally scored for chamber orchestra, a full symphonic version was premiered in Houston in 2010. We heard the work performed by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Gil Shohat, with the New Israeli Vocal Ensemble (Yuval Ben Ozer, conductor and musical director) the Shahar Choir (conductor and musical director Gila Brill) and four American soloists: soprano Maria Jette, mezzo-soprano Adriana Zabala, tenor Thomas Cooley and baritone James Bohn. I had the honor of exchanging a few words with the composer, who was present at the event.

Current speaker of the Knesset, MK Reuven Rivlin spoke of music as belonging to a pure world; he emphasized how the Nazis had shattered this myth. Rivlin, however, contends that music still stands for life, just as the Mourners’ Kaddish strengthens the living by praising life, and that Lawrence Siegel’s work is positive in its purpose. Chairman of the Yad Vashem directorate, Avner Shalev, welcoming guests to the Mount of Remembrance, spoke of music as always having been a part of Jewish life – before, during and after the Holocaust. As a token of appreciation to Jane and Richard Cohen (USA) for their generous support in the project, Shalev presented them with the key to Yad Vashem.

Dr. Lawrence Siegel is a composer, theatre artist, scholar and performer, working in interrelated fields. The artistic director of Tricinium (building communities through participatory arts), he brings his “Verbatim Project” (an encounter in which people create and perform an original work about their own lives) to communities, schools and organizations. Siegel has composed much vocal music, chamber- and orchestral music and music for theatre, also being involved in collaborative projects. Born in the USA, Siegel is not a child of Holocaust survivors; his grandparents migrated to America from Kovno (Lithuania) and Poland.

Most of the verbal text for “Kaddish-I Am Here” was put together by Dr. Siegel, who condensed material taken from 60 hours of testimonies recorded by the composer himself in personal interviews with Holocaust survivors. Benjamin Warren, the son of Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and Ravensbrück survivor Naomi Warren, initiated the production of the concert at Yad Vashem. In fact, Naomi Warren’s uplifting words end the work: “Here I am! I am here, I survived, and look who is with me!” The work falls into three sections: “The World Before”, “The Holocaust” and “Tikkun Olam” (Repairing the World).

As the work opens with a melancholy instrumental version of the Yiddish song “Oifen Pripichick” (In the fireplace burns a little fire) we are transported to pre-Holocaust Europe. Baritone James Bohn sings the Mourners’ Kaddish. This is followed by the mentioning of names of Jews from different locations as well as colorful pictures of aspects of Jewish life in pre-Nazi Europe - sung by soloists or choir – descriptions of smallholder farms, cooking, the love of learning, anti-Semitic beliefs among local gentiles and many references to tradition. Section flows into section, the music being mostly tonal, Siegel’s choral writing and orchestration are transparent, clean and never overloaded.
‘We could be on the horse and wagon,
And it rained, or snowed
Or sleet or whatever
Came a certain time
My father would stop the horse,
Get off the wagon
Face east
Shama! Yisroel!....(Hear, o Israel)

As the first movement concludes with the Yiddish song “Mutter Erd” (Mother Earth), choral and orchestral textures become disturbingly dissonant, issuing in the stories told in the second movement - “The Holocaust”. “My Daughter’s Name” powerfully tells the story of a survivor’s little sister being killed as his parents stayed with him, looking on; the men singers sing “Arrival at Auschwitz” to the strident, clattering sound effect associated with the sound of trains. “What a Beautiful Place You Have” is an eerie, haunting piece describing the life of a happy, secure and intellectual domestic existence becoming fraught with fear of being caught, ending in descriptions of people’s attempts to hide from the Nazis. “A Burden You Cannot Share” is painted with a cynical brush, at the same time enjoying the flavor of good, rhythmic American-style music. The work’s second movement ends with a spoken collage, a dynamic, loaded but articulate layered canvas of words, whereby choir members and, in fact, all the instrumentalists read out names and dates of people who had perished in the Holocaust, with Maestro Shohat bringing in and fading out small groups of speakers, larger groups and even individuals in the reading of names, ending in just one solitary voice. An outstanding effect.

Issuing in “Tikkun Olam” we heard James Bohn, accompanied by piano and horn, in a mellifluous and moving rendering of the Kaddish prayer, the third movement then moving into a positive mode with “Nothing Is As Whole As a Heart Which Has Been Broken” (words based on the teachings of Rabbi Nachman of Breslau) its refrain being as follows:
‘Nothing is as whole as a heart which has been broken.
All time is made up of healing the world.
Return to your ships which are your broken bodies.
Return to your ships, which will be rebuilt”.
This paves the way for Naomi Warren’s celebration of life, her joy at having survived the Holocaust and in being able to revisit her native Poland and Auschwitz with her whole family in 2003.

Lawrence Siegel steers away from complex, avant-garde musical styles, this sometimes resulting in a lack of sophistication, but he sees to making the verbal text audible and accessible to all, while his orchestration and choral style remain lucid and articulate. The fine diction of both choirs invites audience members to hear each word and gesture, to follow the message of the work and to connect with their own feelings. Maestro Gil Shohat led his orchestra and choirs with precision, clarity and dedication. The four soloists, clearly familiar with the work, its narrative and its meaning, all gave superb performances. With the final victorious, long major chords now just an echo, the people gathered in the Warsaw Ghetto Square of Yad Vashem rose to their feet in silence, respect and remembrance.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Cabaret artist Steve Ross performs in Jerusalem

(Photo: Mike Martin)
How do you explain hearing an evening of American- and European cabaret music from the early- to mid 20th century as one of the events of the 2011 Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival? It is quite simple: Yeheskall Beinisch, chairman of the JICMF, met Steve Ross at a party in the USA and spontaneously suggested he come to Jerusalem to give a performance at the JICMF, now celebrating its 14th year. On September 9th 2011, the Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Friendship of the Jerusalem International YMCA was packed to capacity with people for whom the music of Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Gershwin and Édith Piaf was familiar.

Steve Ross was born in New Rochelle, New York. As a child, he lay under the piano, enraptured at hearing his mother playing songs of Noel Coward, Cole Porter and Gershwin - “all those standards that were collapsing around me”. Ross studied the piano and, following studies at Georgetown University and a stint in the US army, relocated to New York City in the early 1970’s, where he worked as a “background piano player”. In NYC, Ross played in venues that required him to sing and so he began voice training studies. (Steve told me that voice-training for him is an ongoing focus and that today he still enjoys and benefits from working with top voice teachers.)

Ross’s work in the popular New York “Backstage” piano bar and restaurant attracted a steady clientele eager to hear his repertoire of American songs; it was there that artists such as Liza Minnelli and Ginger Rogers were known to have stood up spontaneously to sing with him. In New York Ross developed his reputation of communicating easily with audiences, entertaining them well, often plying them with the tongue-twister lyrics of Cole Porter songs. His career spiraled when he became the first cabaret performer of the Algonquin Hotel’s newly opened “Oak Room”. Instrumental in the cabaret revival of New York, Ross has spent many years taking his show further afield - to the London Ritz, to “Pizza in the Park” (London), to Australia, Brazil, to festivals in many countries, yet still performing the length and breadth of America, as well as On-and-Off Broadway. Ross’s performance at the 2011 Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival was his Israeli debut.

Seating himself at the piano, Ross begins by apologizing for the fact that he does not play Brahms or Schubert. He opens with Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz”:
‘Have you seen the well-to-do?
Up and down Park Avenue?
On that famous thoroughfare,
With their noses in the air?
High hats and arrowed collars,
Wide spats and fifteen dollars.
Spending every dime,
For a wonderful time.’

Taking the audience for a wistful, whimsical and, indeed, romantic stroll down the memory lane of the golden age of the sentimental music of the 1910’s, 1920’s and 1930’s, Ross first presents a selection of songs by Eddie Kantor, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and Gershwin. The piano is Ross’s band, adding color, rhythm, tenderness, magic and virtuosic panache to the songs… as well as some amusing interludes: interrupting Irving Berlin’s decidedly erotic “I Love a Piano” (1915) the artist suddenly quotes the pompous opening of Grieg’s Piano Concerto and, later, the much-loved and naïve C major Mozart Piano Sonata you may have played many years ago as a young piano student.

Cole Porter is high up on Ross’s list of favorites; much of the evening’s program focused on Cole Porter songs, including a number of songs from “Anything Goes” (1934) - “I Get a Kick Out of You”, “You’d Be So Easy to Love”, “Anything Goes”, and more. We heard “I’ve Got You Under my Skin”, (1936) a hit that became a signature song for Frank Sinatra and “Just One of Those Things” written by Cole Porter in 1935 for the musical “Jubilee”. The audience was reminded of Fred Astaire’s unforgettable role in “Night and Day”, a performance ushering in a new era of filmed dance in the movie “The Gay Divorcee” (1934) and Astaire’s "tripping the light fantastic” with Ginger Rogers in “Swing Time” (1936). Ross claims that what Porter and he have in common is the fact that they both fell in love with Paris and in Paris. As a Valentine to Paris, Steve Ross conjured up the sparkle of “La Ville-Lumière” and its enticing setting for romance (not forgetting its disappointments) in the wonderful “I Love Paris in the Springtime” and “C’est magnifique” (It’s Magnificent) both from Can-Can (1953), with the audience now less guarded and gently humming along in these numbers.

Another association with Fred Astaire was George Gershwin’s downhearted “A Foggy Day (in London Town” (lyrics Ira Gershwin), introduced by Astaire in the 1937 film “A Damsel in Distress”.
‘A foggy day in London town,
Had me low, had me down.
I viewed the morning with such alarm,
British Museum had lost its charm.’
This was followed by “S’Wonderful”, also written by the Gershwin brothers, for the Broadway musical “Funny Face” (1927) and introduced by Allen Kearns and Adele Astaire (Fred Astaire’s older sister.) Both numbers took the listener back to the heyday of the big band, with its polished, velvety brass instrument playing.

One of the highlights of the evening was a piano medley of Édith Piaf songs, with Ross giving his all, creating a vibrant and moving canvas of the bittersweet songs of the 40’s and 50’s Piaf had sung in Paris nightclubs, for the German forces in occupied France and also in the USA, her songs fired with inspiration and energy but also tinged with the tragedy of her life.

Steve Ross has been performing for 50 years. His voice is as bright and pleasing as his personality. With few spoken words and many sounds, Ross places the music centre stage, using the rich palette of his art to invite his audience to reminisce, to smile, to shed a tear, to take the nostalgic journey back to the time when romance was in vogue, when show-biz people looked chic and when hits reached the status of greatness. Communicating and singing out to his audience, one might almost forget that Ross was also the superb, spontaneous pianist accompanying the program.

The evening was drawing to a close; Steve Ross signed out with two Irving Berlin songs. With the audience in the palm of his hand, there was now no need for Ross to invite the people gathered at the Jerusalem YMCA to join him in singing Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek”. How could one not resist indulging in just one more moment to savor this wonderful era of music?