Saturday, September 22, 2012

Gala opening concert of 2012 Israel Music Celebration

 The gala opening of the 15th Israeli Music Celebration took place September 19th 2012 in the Henry Crown Auditorium of the Jerusalem Theatre under the auspices of the Israeli Council for Art and Culture and the Ministry of Culture and Sports and in cooperation with “The Voice of Music” Israeli Radio IBA. Taking over this year as musical director of the festival, composer and teacher Dr. Boaz Ben-Moshe opened the event with words of welcome. Paul Landau, outgoing president of the Israel Music Institute, mentioned the fact that in this year’s festival there would be concerts in five cities – Jerusalem, Haifa, Tel Aviv, Upper Nazareth and Beer Sheba, that the programs would include old- and new music, classical- and lighter music, eastern- and western music and that the composer of the year would be Mordecai Seter. Maestro Guy Feder conducted the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra IBA in “Transitions”, the Jerusalem concert. Prior to the evening’s program, we heard an orchestrated version of a song of Haim Hefer, a tribute to the great Israeli playwright, poet and songwriter who had passed away the previous day at age 86. The first work on the program was Mordecai Seter’s (1916-1994) “Midnight Vigil – Rhapsody on Yemenite Themes”. The work, in which tradition and language are intertwined, has undergone a number of transitions, from a ballet of fourteen minutes to an oratorio of 43 ; the version for symphony orchestra was written in 1959, the fifth and final version being a concert oratorio for tenor (or alto), three choirs and symphony orchestra. The work, inspired by oriental chants, is scored for a large orchestra, including four percussionists. The JSO presented the work’s rich collage of melodies and dance, of timbres created by effects and multi-layering, of jubilance, of dark- and disturbingly intensive instrumental mixes as well as haunting textures. One of the work’s strengths is its huge offering of solos, the orchestra’s wind- and percussion players receiving the lion’s share, these solos providing much pleasure to the audience. We then heard “Images of the Soul” a concerto for two clarinets and orchestra by Benjamin Yusupov (b. 1962, Tajikistan). The piece, commissioned by the Rishon LeZion Orchestra, is the first to be composed for twin clarinetists Alex and Daniel Gurfinkel (b.1992). The composer’s choice of clarinets was due to the fact that, in Jewish tradition, the instrument “has always been identified with the soul” and “its virtuoso qualities and rich color” gave him “a lot of space”, in the composer’s words. The work comprises four movements, each describing various characteristics of the soul: restlessness and turbulence, despair, tranquility and spirituality. Yusupov’s score, handled skillfully by Feder and the JSO, was astounding in its instrumental color, interest and emotional content. The Gurfinkel brothers, working in superb collaboration, were totally immersed in the emotional course of the work, their performance bristling with youthful verve, excitement and technical brilliance. The first movement, evoking the sound of the duduk (a double-reeded oboe-type instrument indigenous to Armenia), presented a mix of vehement, uncompromising textures, loud drum interjections and relentless, indeed, screaming effects on the clarinets, contrasted with soft, soul-searching, muted effects culminating in a wild dance with hints at klezmer- and jazz styles. The second movement “Potent Stillness” is soulful, the long, drawn-out clarinet sounds joining the orchestra in emerging clusters, building up to unrest, later reverting back into the initial mesmerizing mood. Yusupov titled the third and final movement “Exuberant Rhythms of the Soul”. It begins with a thunderous awakening, a broad orchestral sound, includes dance rhythms, much percussion, much clarinet presence, its melodic subjects threaded throughout the vibrant canvas of this moving work. We then heard the world premiere of “At Dawn” by Menachem Zur (b. Israel, 1942). A prolific composer and professor at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, Zur’s oeuvre includes chamber music, vocal-, symphonic- and electronic music and an opera. “At Dawn” is a work of huge orchestral scope and intricate instrumental detail; descriptive and, at times magical, the work exposes the many timbres of the symphony orchestra, including nature associations – insects, birds, etc. This mood piece calls for a large orchestra with a mildly eclectic addition of instruments, such as the oud (the sound of which was produced on a synthesizer) and the rain stick. Each musical idea presented its own take on instrumental timbre. The concert concluded with “Transitions” by pianist, conductor and composer Yaron Gottfried (b.1968), an artist whose repertoire spans classical-, contemporary- and jazz music. In “Transitions”, commissioned by the Rishon LeZion Orchestra and premiered by it in 2000, the composer, influenced by the significance of the time in history, asks some universal questions, creating a dialogue with the audience as to what the new millennium is to bring - “wars and destruction…peace on earth” and what kinds of human beings we are to become…. “programmed to the point of losing emotions?” The work consists of four movements played without a break. A reflective piece, it opens with a horn solo and bells over a haunting “screen” of sound, the second movement darker and more static, culminating in a melancholy violin solo. The third movement, disturbing in its sense of restlessness and chaos, is followed by an optimistic, soothing, almost sentimental fourth movement. Gottfried’s writing is both compact yet full of meaning, his musical writing challenging the listener and reaching out to his audience in an articulate and communicative language. Guy Feder’s conducting of the festive concert, a program representing many facets of modern Israeli musical composition, was articulate and the result of deep and sensitive reading into the scores of all four works.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

2012 Jerusalem International Chamber Festival September 12th.

Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky

In the 13th concert of the 2012 Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival, September 13th in the Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Friendship of the Jerusalem YMCA, the majority of works were by Russian composers. As in several other JICMF concerts this year, the opening work was one of Ohad Ben-Ari’s instrumental arrangements of movements from Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky’s (1840-1893) piano work “The Seasons”. The joyful, busy rural scene of “July: Song of the Reapers” was scored for flute-Guy Eshed, clarinet-Shirley Brill, bassoon-Nadav Cohen, horn-Marie-Luise Neunecker, violins-Tamaki Kawakubo and Petra Schweiger, viola-Madeleine Carruzzo and ‘cello-Tim Park. The playing of this charming, suggestive miniature left one wishing to hear all twelve pieces performed consecutively.

Among the Russian composers who emigrated to the west, Arthur-Vincent Lourié (1892-1966) was a relatively obscure figure. Largely self-taught, he took his early style from the Futurist movement in art and poetry and was influenced by the plastic arts, philosophy and religion; his experiments with atonality, microtones and unusual score formatting were bold for their time. However, he placed great importance on melodic inventiveness, holding fast to his Russian heritage. Lourié composed “Pastorale de la Volga” in his dacha in the summer of 1916, dedicating it to the Symbolist poet Theodore Sologub. A descriptive mood piece infused with Russian folk melodies, at times homophonic, with parallel octaves eventually twisting into parallel major sevenths, allowed for expressive and beautifully crafted moments for oboe (Meirav Kadichevsky), ‘cello (Andreas Brantelid) and bassoon (Nadav Cohen). Joining them were violists Madeleine Carruzzo and Tatjana Masurenko.

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) submitted a string sextet and the Quintet in B flat major, dating from 1873, to a chamber music competition promoted by the Russian Music Society. (Neither brought him prizes; the composer put the quintet’s failure down to the poor performance of the pianist.) We heard the work performed by Denis Kozhukhin-piano, Guy Eshed-flute, Shirley Brill-clarinet, Mauricio Paez-basssoon and Marie-Luise Neunecker-horn. Although Rimsky-Korsakov did not consider himself a chamber music composer, the work is, nevertheless a hidden gem, offering performers and audience moments that highlight each instrument. Following an insouciant, even earthy, well-profiled opening Allegro con brio, the ensemble wove Ravelian magic into the Andante, Neunecker’s fine, competent playing of its poetic horn opening graced by Kozhukhin’s sensitive and generally outstanding reading of the piano part, all addressing its noble, tranquil mood. The dance-like Rondo Allegretto was no less rewarding, with brilliant cadenzas for horn, flute and clarinet peppered with virtuosic comments on bassoon.

One of three violin sonatas composed in the spring of 1816 by the 19-year-old composer, Franz Schubert’s (1797-1828) Sonata for Violin and Piano in A minor D.385 is among the composer’s more neglected works; referred to sometimes as “lightweight”, the three do not lack sophistication. Based on the Mozartean model, these violin sonatas may have been written for domestic use. We heard the A minor sonata performed by Nikolaj Znaider-violin and Saleem Abboud-Ashkar-piano. Their playing was energetic, intelligent and clean, but, despite fine musicianship on the part of both artists, the Danish-born Znaider (1975) and Abboud-Ashkar (b. Nazareth, 1976) seemed to have separate agendas for the work. Znaider’s rich timbre and virtuosic playing were, at times, oblivious of the pianist’s sensitive addressing of Schubert’s fragile, multi-layered piano textures.

Born in Perm, Russia, soprano Anna Samuil performs widely in Europe, in particular at the Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin. Samuil and JICMF musical director pianist Elena Bashkirova (b. Moscow) performed five miniature songs by Rimsky-Korsakov. The composer composed his songs in fits and bursts – 22 when a student of Balakirev in the 1860s (op. 2,3,4,7,8), returning to the genre in the late 1870s, then composing 47 more romances during 1897-1898. In his earlier songs, Rimsky-Korsakov’s compositional method was to begin with the harmonic progression and allow the melody to arise from it in an instrumental manner, producing contemporaneous Romantic salon music. By 1897, he had changed his method to starting with the melody as dictated by the rhythm and inflections of the poetry. In “Captivated by the Rose” opus 2/2, written by the 22-year-old composer, a sensuous, melismatic, modal song inspired by Persian poetry and suggesting longing for the east, Samuil’s easeful vocal technique took her soaring into her mellifluous high register with effortless pianissimo control. “The Lark’s Song Rings More Clearly” (1897) (text: Aleksey Tolstoy) abounds in nature images, the artists infusing the song of the arrival of spring with a sense of urgency; “It Was Not in the Wind” was given a lyrical, bright and dynamic reading. In touch with her native repertoire, Samuil shifted emotional emphasis within songs, bringing out undertones of meaning through her palette of colors and temperament. Bashkirova brought to life the pianistic beauty and meaning of Rimsky-Korsakov’s accompaniments.

Tchaikovsky’s songs (or Romances, as this genre of Russian song was called) are not frequently enough heard on the Israeli concert stage; more virtuosic than those of Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky composed over one hundred for solo voice and piano to lyrics by Russian composers who were his contemporaries. Composer and music critic Nicolas Slonimsky referred to Tchaikovsky’s songs as “the most poignant creations of his genius”. They bear the stamp of personal experience, this often being failed love and psychological complexity, as in “So Soon Forgotten” (1870), in which Samuil and Bashkirova were convincing in creating both intimate- and dramatic elements, weaving into one process its mix of ecstasy and despair. The artists worked hand-in-glove, addressing both the lyrical- and obsessively autobiographical aspects of Tchaikovsky’s use of the genre: Samuil’s use of facial expression and body language were pertinent to the underlying despair of the songs, whereas Bashkirova’s role frequently sketched in hints defining or confirming the meaning of a song.

Taking time out from his duties at the Moscow Conservatory and from the unhappiness of his private life, Tchaikovsky spent time in Italy, mostly in Florence, where he once wrote to his patroness Nadezhda von Meck that it was in that sunny country that he had spent the happiest months of his life; after having spent the winter of 1890 in Florence, he returned to Russia with sketches for a new string quartet. He stressed that he was composing six solo parts that would combine in a unique way. “Souvenir de Florence”, in four movements, is scored for two violins-Nikolaj Znaider, Michael Barenboim, two violas-Tatjana Masurenko, Madeleine Carruzzo and two ‘cellos-Andreas Brantelid and Kyril Zlotnikov. The audience “basked” in a sense of joy and lightness unfamiliar in most of Tchaikovsky’s concert music (save for an element of melancholy in the third movement), in the warmth of a well-anchored string sound, the second ‘cello allowing for first ‘cello solos, and episodes such as singing melodic conversation in the second movement between first violin and first ‘cello - Znaider and Zlotnikov. With Znaider leading articulately, the performance was a celebration of lush, singing melodies, some definitely flavored with Russian elements, as in the buoyant, contrapuntal last movement.

Kudos to musical director Elena Bashkirova for another event-packed Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival, for bringing together well-established as well as promising young musicians from many countries, for introducing local concert audiences to works seldom performed here, for challenging festival-goers to open their minds and ears to new works and for some memorable, sensitive piano accompaniments for singers.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

2012 Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival, September 8th

Pianist Andras Schiff

The ninth concert of the 2012 Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival, September 8th 2012 at the Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Friendship, Jerusalem YMCA, consisted of works by Schubert, Polish-born and Russian composers. The aperitif was Franz Schubert’s (1797-1828) “Andantino varié in B minor”, D.823 (1827) performed by András Schiff and JICMF musical director Elena Bashkirova. More than economical with the sustaining pedal, Schiff and Bashkirova did not allow the delightful piece’s intricacies weaving around melodic lines to detract from its wistful sincerity. The touching variations, their subject beginning as if in the middle of a sentence, are yet another proof of how precisely Schubert judged the special medium of the piano duet. The artists invited the audience into the salon of a society home to hear one Schubert’s intimate pieces for four hands presented in reposeful play and Biedermeier elegance.

Igor Stravinsky’s (1882-1971) “Three Pieces for String Quartet” were played by the Erlenbusch Quartet – violinists Michael Barenboim and Petra Schweiger, Madeleine Carruzzo and ‘cellist Tim Park. Founded by first violinist Michael Barenboim, its members are based in Berlin. Stravinsky composed the “Three Pieces” at age 32; however, all three miniatures already have the Stravinsky hallmark stamped on them. The Erlenbusch Quartet players read into the style, structures and aphoristic, enigmatic character of the pieces, not an easy task; this is no conventional work for string quartet! They placed the tiny first piece, “Dance”, making its point using four repeated motifs - one evoking a Russian folk tune - on the stage, their performing of the “Eccentric” second movement, its seemingly unrelated, nervous scraps of musical material, as humorous and clownish as its inspiration (the British clown “Little Titch”). They then stood back to sketch the slow, gentle, brumous and dissonant chorale of “Canticle” with a sense of detached mystery. This was a rewarding performance and well suited to festival fare.

Born in Poland, Mieczysław Weinberg, also known as Moyses Vaynberg (1919-1996), fled to Minsk, Byelorussia, where he was encouraged to develop a “Jewish” national style. When the Nazis invaded Soviet territory, Weinberg fled to Tashkent, Uzbekistan. In 1943, he sent his first symphony to Shostakovich who was so impressed with it that he encouraged Weinberg to move to Moscow, where the two remained firm friends and colleagues. A highly prolific composer writing in all genres of the day, including film music and a Requiem, Weinberg’s music is today regaining recognition through recordings and in concert halls. Weinberg’s Piano Trio opus 24, a wartime piece written 1943 in his early years in Moscow, reflects the emotional mindset of the Jewish refugee in the Soviet Union. We heard it performed by pianist Alexander Melnikov (b.Moscow 1973), violinist Dmitri Makhtin (b. St. Petersburg, 1975) and American-born ‘cellist Alisa Weilerstein (b. 1982 Rochester, New York). The artists took on board the technical, musical and densely emotional roller-coaster ride the piece presents: a work playing on the limits of tonality and beyond, fraught with tension and uncompromising in its bleak message, save for some wonderfully singing, melodic moments for each instrument. Following the insistent, accented piano chords of the unsmiling, intense Toccata (second movement), the Poem (third movement) opened in a more relaxed, eerie manner, the instruments pairing in sensitive, intimate utterances, the “aftershock” sensation sweeping the work’s former intensity away, but only temporarily. The fourth movement, with its avalanche of ideas, its wild counterpoint and unsettling energetic figures, kept the audience busy; introducing a chorale and some tonal references, it nevertheless ends with a bare, deserted soundscape of string overtone sounds (à la Shostakovich). The three young artists gave the work their all, bringing together its wide mix of stylistic contradictions in a coherent, integrated and highly expressive whole.

The program’s most contemporary work was Vladimir Tarnopolski’s (b.1955) “Eindruck-Ausdruck III - Hommage à Kandinsky” (Impression-Expression III). Tarnopolski, a graduate of the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory, later becoming professor there, is a central figure in the furthering of contemporary music in Russia and beyond, his works being widely commissioned and performed. “Impression-Expression III” is the third version of a work composed in 1989 originally for piano solo, rearranged in 1992 for piano and large ensemble, the setting we heard written scored in 1996 for piano, flute, clarinet and string trio. The composer has referred to the work as a “musical zodiac” built of 12 heterogeneous elements. At the festival concert It was performed by the prestigious local Meitar Ensemble, established in 2004. Joining conductor Guy Feder were Amit Dolberg-piano, Roi Amotz-flute, Gilad Harel-clarinet, Moshe Aharonov-violin, Itamar Ringel-viola and Jonathan Gotlibovich-‘cello. The work opened with individual instrumental fragments, a study of different expressions, timbres and effects – flatterzunge in the flute, clarinet multiphonics, dry string pizzicato, etc. As the work progresses, whimsical imitations take place between players and, eventually spiraling into tutti. In the tutti parts, instruments preserve their specific motifs and personality, the resulting sound bristling with individual movement. With a theatrical dimension to it, the artists presented an interesting performance of defined ideas, brought together under Feder’s articulate and competent conducting.

The concert ended with Schubert’s Piano Quintet in A major, D.667 “Trout”, written by the 22-year-old composer in 1819 and inspired by the summer walking trip Schubert took in the “inconceivably beautiful” Austrian Alps (as described by him in a letter to his brother) with his friend the baritone Johann Vogl. The “Trout” Quintet was requested by a wealthy local amateur ‘cellist Sylvester Paumgartner to be played at his soirées; he stipulated that it should include references to one of his favorite Schubert Lieder - “Die Forelle” (The Trout). Members of the ensemble performing it at the JICMF were András Schiff-piano, Dmitri Makhtin-violin, Ori Kam-viola, Alisa Weilerstein-‘cello and Turkish-born double bass player Burak Marlali. Their reading of the work was lyrical, rich and flexible, with Schiff floating the many flowing accompanying lines with charm and also prominently suggesting many of the piece’s emotive shapes; Makhtin’s melodic lines were enticing. The beauty of the performance was the individual interest created by each of the players. Their shaping of the Andante second movement was superb, their textures suggesting the Schubertian vulnerability of soul. Weilerstein and Marlali paid due to the work’s close connection between ‘cello and double bass roles as they created compelling melodic phrases in close collaboration of constant eye contact. Altogether, the quintet gave clear expression both to the work’s gorgeous melodies and to inner voices, subtle accenting, understated hesitations and rubati. Weilerstein’s strongly musical involvement in such a work is ever present. The performance was zesty, exuberant and inspiring, sending the audience home on a high note.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Opening of the 2012 Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival

Elena Bashkirova, musical director

In its opening concert on September 1st in the Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of the Jerusalem International YMCA, the 2012 Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival got off to a promising start. Under the artistic direction of pianist Elena Bashkirova, the festival is embarking on its 15th year of varied daily concerts, presenting many internationally known artists as well as artists newer to the concert hall stage. Concerts in this year’s JICMF each include works by Russian composers – both instrumental and vocal – including some works lesser known to local concert audiences. This year’s JICMF has also commissioned a work from Azerbaijani composer Faradj Karaev. Ringing in the festival on the balmy Jerusalem opening night, we heard Gabi Shefler performing Hebrew melodies on the YMCA‘s 35 carillon bells. Year after year, music-lovers flock to the festival concerts, enjoying the old-world ambience of the Jerusalem YMCA concert hall.

The concert began with Sergei Prokofiev’s (1891-1953) “Overture on Hebrew Themes” for clarinet, string quartet and piano, opus 34. A propitious choice for the opening of the festival, it was the composer’s earliest work that was based on folk idiom. The melodies for the piece were supposedly taken from a notebook presented to Prokofiev in 1919 by the “Zimro” Ensemble (an ensemble working under the auspices of the “Society for Jewish Folk Music”). Attracted by the tunes’ unusual phrasing and melodic twists, Prokofiev sketched out the work within two days, completing its instrumentation two weeks later. (Musicologist Claude Samuel contends that the melodies were actually composed by Prokofiev!) Performing the piece at the JICMF, we heard clarinetist Yevgeny Yehudin, Elena Bashkirova (piano) and the Jerusalem Quartet. Born in the former Soviet Union and today a member of the Israel Woodwind Quintet and teacher at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, Yehudin is also principal clarinet of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. In a performance that was reflective and nostalgic, the ensemble allowed the wistful, bitter-sweet character of the music to temper its pace, gently flexing melodies into forms that breathed and sang expressively. Yehudin’s rich, generous sound was matched by his sense of color, wit and spontaneity, giving the performance of this fine concert piece buoyant freshness.

Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky’s (1840-1893) “The Seasons” opus 37b were commissioned by editor Nicolai Bernard, one piece of the twelve to be published in his journal “Nuvellist” in each monthly edition for a year; the piano pieces were posted there for the first time in 1876. Israeli-born pianist and composer Ohad Ben-Ari performed “October: Autumn Song”, drawing the audience into its thoughtful mood, his light touch and clean, fragile melodic lines creating a picture touched by melancholy and magic. Leaving only “October” in its original piano format, Ohad Ben-Ari has made instrumental arrangements of all the pieces. We heard Ben-Ari joined by Swiss flautist Emmanuel Pahud in “March: Song of the Lark”, a musical vignette intense in melodic substance, Tchaikovsky’s suggestions of the twitterings of the lark and gentle pathos not disguising the fact that March is, indeed, a bleak month in Russia. The artists cooperated to produce a sensitive, thought-provoking performance. One wonders why these delicate and evocative salon pieces are heard so rarely on the concert platform.

In a rush of energy, Alexander Borodin (1833-1887) composed his String Quartet in D major in the summer of 1881. Employed as a full professor of Chemistry at the St. Petersburg Academy of Medicine, the composer referred to himself as a “Sunday composer”. The prestigious Jerusalem Quartet – violinists Alexander Pavlovsky and Sergei Bressler, violist Ori Kam (violist of the JQ as of 2010) and ‘cellist Kyril Zlotnikov – took on board the work’s lyrical lightness, its imaginative melodiousness and sense of well-being, their reading of it never overstepping good taste in its underlying gentle sentimentality… as in the second movement, which was inspired by an evening spent in one of the suburban pleasure gardens of St. Petersburg. After all, the work was composed to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Borodin’s first meeting with his wife. The artists’ playing of the canon of the Nocturne was yet another case of their superb communication; how interesting and entertaining these moments are in live performance! Zlotnikov’s prominent melodic role was a reminder that Borodin was, himself, a ‘cellist.

We then heard Israeli soprano Hila Baggio with pianist Kirill Gerstein performing Schubert Lieder. Baggio has been quite prominent on the Israeli opera scene of late; her performance of sacred- and other works with orchestra has also made a significant contribution to the Israeli concert stage of late. The JICMF now offered audiences an opportunity of hearing Baggio in the intimate genre of the German Lied, a selection of those by Franz Schubert (1797-1828). Opening with a song such as “Nacht und Träume” (Night and Dreams) D.827 (to two poems of Matthaus von Collin) is no mean task. Following a temporary disagreement on the initial tempo, Baggio and Gerstein took their listeners into the floated, celestial spheres of the song, its evocative harmonic moments subtly evident, Baggio’s feet never touching the ground till the final moment of the song. Proceeding to “Ganymed” D.544 (Goethe), Baggio’s singing was fresh, rich and unmannered and her diction clear; together the artists moved, section by complex section, through the song’s ever-shifting tonalities and poetical imagery to create a canvas of sensual transparence to personify nature and the divine, describing the Trojan youth’s journey and transfiguration. Showing enormous control of color and evenness of rhythm, the artists performed “Du bist die Ruh’” (You Are Repose) D.776 to a poem of Friedrich Rückert, evoking the inner peace and meditative character resulting from the poem’s oriental inspiration. Baggio and Gerstein explored the tiniest emotional- and dynamic changes as they walked the tightrope of the works intense calm. In “Der Hirt auf dem Felsen” (The Shepherd on the Rock) D965, composed not long before his death, Schubert leaves the conventional, intimate salon Lied form to embark on a longer piece of a more operatic style – a “vocal scene” - at the request of opera-singer Anna Milder-Hauptmann, and adding the obbligato clarinet part (Yevgeny Yehudin). Telling of lost love, wandering and hope, the three artists chose a fairly swift and vital tempo, intertwining in a performance evoking grief, light, hope and, eventually, effervescent joy refreshed by the hope that nature and spring will bring. Colored by Baggio’s silvery purity of tone and delicate melodic delivery, Yehudin’s sculpted and compelling expressiveness and Gerstein’s ever sensitive and intuitive approach, the performance was exhilarating and not “yet another ‘Shepherd on the Rock’”! Kirill Gerstein, no newcomer to the Jerusalem concert scene, born in Russia, currently teaches in the Musikhochschule in Stuttgart.

Claude Debussy (1862-1918) composed “Syrinx” (1913) for flute solo as incidental music for Gabriel Mourey’s three-act symbolist poem “Psyché”, a unique piece in the fact that it actually conjoins melody with spoken words. Mourey requested that the last melody Pan – a half-goat, half man deity - plays before his death be performed from the wings of the stage. Emmanuel Pahud held the festival audience in the palm of his hand with his sophisticated, seductive and emotive playing, proving the ¾ time signature irrelevant and opting for timbral effects, languishing nuances and a performance of the kind that takes the listener far into the realms of fantasy.

The concert ended with Dmitri Shostakovich’s (1906-1975) Piano Trio no.2 in E minor, opus 67 (1944). Triggered by the grief of the untimely death of the composer’s close friend – musicologist and critic Ivan Sollertinsky – the work is also a comment on the grim events of Europe at the time. We heard the work played by Elena Bashkirova-piano, violinist Mikhail Simonyan (Russia) and veteran JICMF ‘cellist Frans Helmerson (Sweden). The players created the trio’s elegiac, tragic and soul-searching mood, its uncompromising, dark despair punctuated only by moments of sardonic wit. An interesting and integrated work, it is an intimate outpouring, the eerie “moonscape” violin and ‘cello harmonics introducing- and closing it very exposed.

The Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival’s audience is known to be one to express appreciation. This opening concert certainly warranted it.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Old and new meet in a concert of "Selichot" prayers

On August 30th 2012, the Jerusalem Theatre’s Little Theatre was the venue for “Salachti” (Hebrew: I Have Pardoned), a multi-media event organized by “Bama Tova” (A Good Stage, or Platform) and produced and directed by Benyamin Yakovian (assistant director - Asif Kehila). “Bama Tova”, a non-profit organization established by a group of young Jerusalemites, has set its goal to advance the arts in Jerusalem on a broad cultural- and intercultural spectrum, and to helping young Jerusalem artists creating in the genres of literature, poetry, theatre, cinema, the plastic arts, music and photography. Via understanding neighboring cultures and the cultural heritage of local Israelis, the organization aspires to bring artistic expression, on its many levels, to the general community.

“I Have Pardoned” refers to “Selichot”, the ancient prayers of repentance recited by Jews during the month preceding Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year). These prayers are customarily recited at early morning services that take place prior to dawn both daily and on the Saturday night preceding Rosh Hashanah. The Day of Atonement, following soon after Rosh Hashanah, brings this time of reflection to its highest point. The event at the Jerusalem Theatre was devoted to the oriental Jewish tradition, in which Selichot prayers are recited for 40 days, symbolic of the time Moses spent on Mt. Sinai. The approach to repentance in the Jewish religion can be summed up in the following text:
‘The Lord! The Lord! A God compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, rich in steadfast kindness, extending kindness to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He does not remit all punishment…’ (Exodus 34:6-7).

The performance consisted of several of the Selichot melodies. most sung by Benyamin Yakovian and accompanied by four instrumentalists – Manouchehr Belazadeh-tar, Ivan Chershanash-percussion, Daniel Zakai-violin and Eitan Rabbani-oud; these were punctuated by small whimsical sketches presented by actors Alon Wanger and David Ariel. The sketches related to people of different Jewish ethnic groups and their approach to Selichot and atonement. Born in Iran, Yakovian is a “paitan”, a cantor in the oriental tradition. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and has studied at the Akademia Teatralna im. Aleksandra Zelwerowicza (Poland). He is well steeped in oriental Jewish musical tradition, its maqams (scales) and distinctive style of singing. His performance is compelling, his leading confident in the several antiphonal songs on the program, his voice bright, penetrating and consistent in all registers. His skilful use of the occasional melismatic passage was appreciated by the audience. The prayer melodies were strophic, most focusing on a small melodic nucleus, their characteristic repetition and mesmerizing rhythms inviting the listener to join. Accompaniments were tasteful and delicate, the instrumentalists’ support never venturing out of their monophonic style into western harmony, their voices added to refrains and repeated phrases. Some of the evening’s most poignant and intimate moments were heard in the solo improvised instrumental introductions to songs, these offering the audience an opportunity to hear each player in his own personal form of expression. An interesting and very different item was a melody sung in Persian with much feeling and intensity by Manouchehr Belazadeh; the artist accompanied himself on the tar (a long-necked, wasted lute found throughout the Middle East, Caucasus and Central Asia, widely used in Persian music) and was joined by Chershanash on drum. I would have liked to have understood the text.

In a subtle mix of past and present, Yakovian and his players kept well clear of “showy performance”; in an atmosphere of authenticity and humility, they created the sense of togetherness and personal introspection that constitute the two basic elements of traditional Selichot prayer.