Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Charlotta Chorale salutes Daniel Pearl's memory

An event held at the premises of the National Federation of Israel Journalists at Beit Hillel, Jerusalem, on October 13th 2012 marked ten years since the murder of Jewish, American journalist Daniel Pearl in Karachi.  Daniel Jacob Pearl (1963-2002) was kidnapped while working as the South Asia bureau chief of the Wall St Journal, based in Mumbai, India. He had gone to Pakistan as part of an investigation into the alleged links between Richard Reid (the shoe-bomber) and Al-Qaida.

The event opened with a few words from Danny Zaken, chairman of the Journalists Association in Jerusalem, who mentioned the fact that there were concerts being held in Pearl’s memory all over the world during these weeks. Established by the Daniel Pearl Foundation, the “Daniel Pearl World Music Days” is an international network of concerts that uses the power of music to reaffirm the organization’s commitment to tolerance and humanity. Zaken reminded the audience that Pearl was a classically-trained violinist who “travelled the world with a pen and a violin”, in the words of Judea Pearl, Daniel’s father.

Joe Federman, news editor in the AP’s Jerusalem bureau, had known Daniel Pearl professionally. He spoke of Daniel being a talented musician, a witty person and as always trying to understand “the other side”. He mentioned Pearl’s optimism, obvious in a song he had composed - “The World is Not Such a Bad Place” – written for his son who was never to know him.

The Charlotta Chorale of Tel Aviv is a new ensemble, conducted by Eli Gefen – singer, bassoonist and conductor – who was born in Bratislava and has been in Israel since 1939. The Charlotta Chorale of Tel Aviv is named after Gefen’s mother, who perished in Auschwitz. Maestro Gefen and his singers performed the concert “Gifts We Share” in honor of Daniel Pearl’s memory. All the ensemble’s singers have a strong musical background, most having immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union. Anna Korochnik is the choir's pianist.

A fitting opening to the evening was a Gil Aldema’s (b.1928) a cappella setting of Israel Goldfarb’s “Shalom Aleichem” (Peace Be to You). Felix Mendelssohn’s (1809-1847) “Lift Thine Eyes” (“Elijah” 1846) was sung by women members of the choir and was followed by Mendelssohn’s “Guardian of Israel” sung by the whole choir, both in Hebrew. P.I.Tchaikovsky’s (1840-1893) setting of “Let my Prayer Ascend” (Psalm 141) from “Nine Sacred Pieces” (1884-1885) was a high point of the concert. Soloist was Galina Zucker. It was given a finely chiseled performance, a small group of women singers alternating with the whole choir. Sung in Russian, the singers brought out the stately, exquisite beauty of this piece. Also effective and sensitive was Gefen’s reading of American composer Randall Thompson’s (1899-1984) “Alleluia” (1940), a piece for unaccompanied choir, nowadays the composer’s most performed work.  Composed within five days under the dark cloud of the events of wartime Europe, the “Alleluia”’s mood is reflective rather than joyous, its rising- and falling waves of sound enticing the audience to listen and follow the music’s course. Thompson referred to the piece as “comparable to the Book of Job where it is written ‘The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord’.

Eli Gefen has always had a penchant for John Rutter’s music. This is to the Israeli concert-goer’s advantage, as Rutter’s music is sadly neglected in this country. Steering clear of avant-garde styles, choral conductor, scholar and editor Rutter is considered a reactionary in that his works show no signs of progressivism or pull towards contemporary music. What stands out in his music is the influence of the styles of Ralph Vaughan Williams, William Walton and Benjamin Britten. “Look at the World” was commissioned by the British Council for Rural England. Rutter wrote the text himself, referring to the work as “on the theme of the environment”. His strategies in the variation of choral textures – women singing alone, men and women alternating in the singing of the melody etc. – are simple but effective, preserving the work’s childlike sense of wonder. Based on a strophic 19th century hymn text by F.S.Pierpoint, “For the Beauty of the Earth” is a joyful hymn of celebration for mixed choir and piano. In “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” (Numbers 6:24) for women’s voices, we heard the clean singing of young  Efrat Levy, joined by the expressive singing of the women members of the choir. Rutter’s choral repertoire, in its directness, humility and uncluttered style, is accessible to all audiences. With more emphasis on transparency and English diction, these pieces will be small jewels in the Charlotta Chorale’s repertoire.

We heard “You Are the New Day” (1978) by Welsh songwriter, rock musician and record producer John David (b.Cardiff, 1946).  A harmonically simple and basically homophonic a cappella piece, its words are as direct as their sounds, the work’s message being “hope”.  In a performance that was appealing and buoyant, Gefen used short textures to highlight syncopated rhythms. Philip Lawson, a sought-after British arranger, set the Japanese folk-song “Furusato” (Homeland) for six voices. Eli Gefen chose to include the piece in the program because of Daniel Pearl’s good relations with Japan. An arrangement in the western style, (soloists Liora Lupin, Leonid Michelson) the ensemble gave it a pleasing interpretation:
‘The mountains where I once ran after hares,
The streams where I often went fishing;
I still dream of there now and then.
I can never forget my home country…

When I have achieved my ambitions
I want to return home some day.
My home country, where the mountains are blue;
My home country, where the water is clear.’
The concert ended with Gil Aldema’s four-voiced setting of Naomi Shemer’s (1930-2004) “Jerusalem of Gold”.

Only four month’s into the Charlotta Chorale’s existence, the ensemble is showing fine potential. The 16 singers we heard are serious and devoted; under Maestro Gefen’s guidance, they produce a rich choral sound with an ear to blending and intonation. The Charlotta Chorale is a work in process. The concert public can look forward to enjoying the high quality of these artists’ musicianship and the Charlotta Chorale’s refreshingly different repertoire.

A first hand talk on the dangers of being a foreign correspondent in locations of conflict was then given by Ilene Prusher, former staff writer for the Christian Science Monitor, now an independent journalist in Jerusalem and teaching Reporting Conflict for NYU-Tel Aviv.

1 comment:

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