Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Israel Contemporary Players open their 2011-2012 season with works by Avni, Ferneyhough and Adams

Ernesto Molinari

The Israel Contemporary Players, conducted by Zsolt Nagy, opened their 2011-2012 season with a program of music by Israeli-, American- and English composers. The program was one of the events in conjunction with Culture Scapes (Switzerland) with Swiss clarinetist Ernesto Molinari as guest artist. Introducing the Israel Contemporary Players’ 21st concert season, Zmira Lutzky (Voice of Music, Israel Radio) mentioned that the evening’s program would include works of “New Complexity”, “New Simplicity” and styles that exist between them, a program of ensemble works and solo performance. This writer attended the concert on November 6th 2011 at the Jerusalem Music Centre.

Born in 1956 in Lugano, Switzerland, Ernesto Molinari studied clarinet in Basel and bass clarinet in Amsterdam. He performs as soloist and chamber musician throughout Europe, performing Classical, Romantic and contemporary music. He has premiered many works, some of which were composed for him. Molinari is also a jazz musician. He presently teaches at the Conservatory in Bern.

Hungarian conductor Zsolt Nagy (b.1957) is one of today’s most sought-after conductors of contemporary music. A graduate of the Ferenc Liszt Academy (Budapest), Nagy conducts and holds master classes in Europe and further afield. He has premiered over 500 new compositions. He has been conductor and artistic director of the ICP since 1999 and has received a special award for excellence in the performing of Israeli music.

The program opened with Israeli composer Tzvi Avni’s (b.1927) “Five Pantomimes” for eight instruments, a collection of miniatures composed in 1968, each inspired by a different famous painting. Tzvi Avni was present at the concert in Jerusalem and talked briefly about “Five Pantomimes”. He opened by saying that he had seen each of the original paintings, the resulting five pieces describing his emotional reactions to them rather than the paintings themselves. The audience was able to view the paintings on a screen. Stark, uncompromisingly foreboding sonorities, siren-like sounds, the eerie knell of the gong and static moments were expressed in Avni’s piece based on Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica” (1937), a painting representing the bombing of Guernica by Italian and German airplanes during the Spanish Civil War. Following the arid, sadly humorous canvas evoking Marc Chagall’s “I and the Village” (1911), in which we heard a plaintive Yiddish melody (viola) and bells, the atmosphere lightened to show Wassily Kandinsky’s joyful “La petite emouvante” on the screen. Avni’s music describes its two main sections and other smaller details, opening with a lilting double bass melody, the ensemble bringing out the whimsical aspect of the work with an entertaining kaleidoscope of detail and instrumental color. Inspired by Salvador Dali’s surrealistic “The Persistence of Memory” (1931), with its melting, soft watches placed in the painter’s own landscape, the piece invites the listener to indulge in the irrational and the disquieting to the ticking of time. For Tzvi Avni, Paul Klee’s “17 Astray” (1923) describes the temperament and drama in the mind of a 17-year-old. In this whimsical collage of hints and associations, we hear a little Viennese-type waltz, whistles, small mood changes and even a Dies Irae. (Klee was quoted as saying “Art does not produce the visible; rather, it makes visible”.) “Five Pantomimes” is a richly expressive and representative work, using a combination of modernist techniques and reflects the composer’s deep connection with the plastic arts.

Also inspired by painting, the program included British composer Brian Ferneyhough’s (b.1843) “La Chute d’Icare” (The Fall of Icarus). In this case, the work was inspired by Pieter Brueghel’s painting of 1558, where the individual is dwarfed by the landscape around him, as well as W.H.Auden’s poem about the same painting. In Ferneyhough’s score, the role of Icarus is played by the clarinet (Ernesto Molinari). The score, for mixed septet and solo clarinet, is one of complicated substructure (New Complexity), into which relatively free musical material is placed. The composer sees these overlapping rhythmic- and formal layers as “prisons in which the music lives”. In an intense, many-faceted texture, the disquieting music spirals into a clarinet cadenza (representing the downfall of Icarus) in which Molinari’s playing presents anguish in sounds evocative of the human voice. This is a kind of mini clarinet concerto in which the seven other instruments appear to have their own agenda but they pick up on the clarinet‘s energy. Ferneyhough’s complex and technically challenging writing is known to take players out of their comfort zone; not so the Israel Contemporary players and the unruffled Molinari. Zsolt Nagy took his players through the work with clear and emphatic direction.

Brian Ferneyhough’s solo pieces from the mid-70’s – Unity Capsule for Flute, Time and Motion Study I and II for bass clarinet and ‘cello, respectively – all deal with transcendence. The composer said that “these compositions emerged from the moment of explosive confluence of a large array of concerns, many of them not directly or obviously ‘musical’ in nature…..what place music can realistically claim in the task of critically observing the world around us.” Ferneyhough began “ Time and Motion Study I” in 1970, returning to it in 1977, the various fragments coming together in a “network of procedures, transformed into structural energy”. Ernesto Molinari presented the work’s polyphonic aspect – each voice as a different personality - on a monophonic instrument, the work’s fabric composed of a contrast of registers, intensities, moods and emotions. Outspoken gestures are juxtaposed by veiled moments. Disjointed- and conjoined gestures come together as the result of the player’s strategic timing between motifs. It was a deeply moving performance. So strong was the human message of Molinari’s performance that it seems superfluous here to mention the piece’s innate virtuosity.

John Adams’ (b. USA, 1947) “Son of the Chamber Symphony” (2007) was commissioned by Stanford University, Carnegie Hall and the San Francisco Ballet. A homage to Schönberg’s chamber symphonies, it is scored for flute (also playing piccolo), oboe, clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, trombone, piano (also playing celesta), two percussionists, two violins, viola, ‘cello and double bass. This large chamber ensemble, or small orchestra, means that all players get to be soloists, giving Adams “an opportunity to do the kind of challenging virtuoso writing that I would never attempt with a large orchestra”. Referring to the spirit and style of his previous works – his approach a far cry from the academic modernism of many of his contemporaries - Adams lures us into his world of orchestral colors and witty propulsion. “Son of the Chamber Symphony” opens with jouncing, stop-start rhythms and a jazzy urgency and is rife with jagged, dance-like rhythms that make staying seated in a concert hall a somewhat challenging task. The second movement soothes the audience with sonorous, nostalgic melody lines of fluidity and tranquility before twisting itself into a more agitated state, with strings and horns moving together at a frantic pace. The third movement sweeps listeners back to vibrant timbres and forceful rhythms, the bass drum insisting throughout. Adams’ score actually calls for trash can lids for the work’s gentler, hazier parting sounds.

Zsolt Nagy’s approach is of depth, lucidity and articulate musical expression; he and the sharp-witted young instrumentalists of the Israel Contemporary Players communicate directly, providing an evening of fine music, much interest and outstanding performance.

No comments: