Saturday, September 7, 2013

Classical saxophone features in a concert in the Jerusalem Hills

Nestling in the Judean Hills is the tranquil village of Nataf. The “Teatron Bahatzer” (Theatre in the Yard) is an outdoor theatre functioning over the summer months in the grounds of the private home of Hadassa and Eitan Jacobus. In recent years, the Teatron Bahatzer has been hosting a great variety of cultural events, from music to dance to theatre and literary evenings. This charming, unique venue draws its audience from both the surrounding communities as well as from further afield. With a strong background in acting and theatre in education, Hadassa spends the winter months selecting artists and events that make for richly varied and thought-provoking fare for many a balmy evening.

This writer attended an evening there titled “Classical and Unconventional” on August 31st 2013. Artists performing were Gan Lev–saxophone, Rachel Mazor–saxophone/flute and Netanel Fastman-piano. The concert focused on the saxophone as a classical instrument. Reminding us that the saxophone is not solely a jazz instrument, Gan Lev mentioned that French composers, such as Bizet, were those who developed the tradition of using the saxophone as a classical instrument; they also contributed to the development of the instrument itself. Having studied in Israel, New York and Paris, Lev has performed with Israel’s finest orchestras, touring with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. He has been instrumental in bringing the repertoire and technique to Israel. A founder of the Ensemble Nikel (Israel), a member of the prestigious Israel Contemporary Players, the Tempera Ensemble (Israel) and the Tel Aviv Saxophone Quartet, he established the course for classical saxophonists at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance in 2000.

Rachel Mazor studied the flute with Uri Shoham, also studying saxophone with Boris Gammer in the Jazz Faculty of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. Today she is learning classical saxophone with Gan Lev. She has played flute and saxophone in several ensembles and has taught music in schools and music centres. In recent years she has been joined by Ofri Akiva in performances of original text readings together with music.

A student of Professor Eitan Globerson and Professor Michael Bugoslavsky, pianist Netanel Fastman received bachelors and masters degrees from the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. He was awarded scholarships for excellence in chamber music performance and the Academy Competition Prize. As a solo pianist, in chamber ensembles and accompanying singers, he has performed in festivals and master classes in Israel and overseas.

The program opened with J.S.Bach’s (1685-1750) Concerto for Violin and Oboe in C minor, BWV 1060 played on two saxophones and piano. (Existing as a concerto for harpsichord and strings, there is a reconstructed version of it for two violins or violin and oboe.) Gan Lev and Rachel Mazor gave a sympathetic and informed reading of the work, engaging in fine contrapuntal dialogue and communicative and expressive dialogue. In the middle cantabile movement, the artists kept a safe distance from sentimental playing, allowing the poignancy of the music to speak for itself; they also avoided breakneck tempi (too often heard in the concert hall) in the lively outer movements. The piano (Netanel Fastman) came off as the poor relation in this performance: the piano sound needed more amplification, became diffuse in the outdoor venue, with the richness and beauty of Bach’s melodic- and harmonic gestures not audible or integral enough to achieve (the continuo’s) expressive goals.

Remaining in the Baroque, we heard Lev and Mazor performing G.Ph.Telemann’s (1681-1767) Canonic Sonata no.1 in G major, played on two saxophones. First published in 1738 as one of a set of six, the sonata is mostly performed on recorders or Baroque transverse flutes (Telemann, himself, was a recorder virtuoso) but sometimes on violins; settings for violas and ‘cellos also exist. Mazor and Lev’s reading of the work adhered clearly to Telemann’s ideas, bringing out the style of Baroque strict canon-playing, using different textures to evoke the work’s light playfulness and Telemann’s sometimes surprising counterpoint as well as his good humor. Their intonation was good. The poignant middle movement, with its unusual rhythm based on the Scotch snap, was played attentively and with delicacy.

The prolific French composer Charles Koechlin (1867-1950) was a pupil of Massenet and Fauré, the latter proving to be the greatest influence on Koechlin’s colorful, eclectic, user-friendly and somewhat Impressionistic style. A theorist, educationalist and a significant figure in the vibrant early 20th century whirl of Parisian culture, Koechlin wrote for nearly every medium, including much music for Hollywood movies. His interest in the saxophone was linked to this enthusiasm for 1930s cinema. In his “Traité de l’orchestration” (Treatise on Orchestration) he praised the saxophone, the then new instrument of Adolphe Sax, for its sonority and agility and he composed a set of 15 studies for it. His 24 Duos for 2 Saxophones opus 186 were composed in 1946. Mazor and Lev played two of Koechlin’s duets, two tasty morsels peppered with gentle dissonances, hinting at modality and graceful polytonality, yet stamped with the composer’s multi-genre personal idiom. When in his 60s, Koechlin became infatuated with the screen persona of the German-born actress Jean Harlow and started to write much music in her honor. He even had plans to propose marriage to her, but it is thought that they never actually met in person. When she died in the summer of 1937 at age 26, he composed a romance for flute, alto saxophone and piano - the “Epitaph for Jean Harlow” opus 164. The trio at Nataf - Rachel Mazor on the flute part, Gan Lev on saxophone and Netanel Fastman on piano - recreated Koechlin’s imaginative play of timbres and harmonic color, calling on associations with Fauré’s style in a performance abundant in lush, sensuous flowing melodic lines, French charm and enough freedom to allow for different moods to dictate tempi. Here, the piano fared better, with Fastman more audible and present. On his score of “Epitaph”, Koechlin quoted two lines from “Ėpiphanie”, a poem by Leconte de Lisle:
‘Quand le souffle furtif glisse en ses cheveux blonds,
Une cendre ineffable inonde son épaule…’
(When a furtive breeze riffles her blond hair,
Ineffable ashes wash over her shoulder.)

Commissioned as a competition (and sight-reading!) piece in 1898 by flautist and teacher Paul Taffanel, Gabriel Fauré’s (1845-1924) “Fantasie” in e minor opus 79 was originally composed for flute and piano (or orchestra). Louis Moyse transcribed it for two flutes and piano. Louis Aubert made an orchestral arrangement of it. The transcription we heard for two saxophones and piano was written by young Israeli dancer and composer Matan Daskal and was premiered at this concert. Fauré spent much time and effort on writing the work, referring to the task as “irksome torture…plunged up to my neck in scales, arpeggios and staccati…” Yet the airily effusive and rapturous piece, at times mercurial, belies nothing of its compositional hardships. Mazor and Lev’s playing of it was breezily cantabile and fluid, delighting the audience. As to the piano part, Fauré’s luxuriant harmonies were not sufficiently audible.

The recital concluded with a piece by Swedish composer, organist, pianist and conductor Erland von Koch (1910-2009). “Birthday Music for Sigurd M. Rascher” was composed in 1987 to celebrate the 80th birthday of the German-born classical saxophonist, whose frequent contact with composers resulted in much fine music being written for the instrument. Composed for two alto saxophones, von Koch’s work is essentially tonal and melodic, evoking fanfares, marches, folk melodies, some percussive effects, much joy and plenty of whimsical dialogue. Its clean lines and expressiveness were given life and energy by Mazor and Lev, making for an accessible and hearty piece to end the concert.

Following a short intermission, the audience viewed “A Bird Wrapped in a Grey Coat”, an original work by Ella Rothschild (text, choreography, dance) and Matan Daskal (music). The music was played 4-hands on piano by Daskal and Netanel Fastman. Rothschild interspersed her dance sequences with the narration of a dramatic and bleak story. Daskal’s score was a kaleidoscope offering a glimpse into many musical styles and textures, classical and otherwise; it was expressive, artistic and colorful, his playing and that of Fastman nuanced and pianistic. The Teatron Bahatzer is the perfect venue for non-mainstream performance of this kind, with an audience open to new ideas.

Matan Daskal (b.1988) has danced in the Batsheva Dance Company, with Yasmeen Godder, Sharon Eyal and Iris Erez. Following studies at the Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music and focus on Composition at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, he moved to Barcelona, where he is presently studying at the Catalonia College of Music. Ella Rothschild (b.1984) was a dancer in the Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollack Dance Company. She then joined the Batsheva Dance Company. She has since worked with several renowned choreographers. Today she works alone, creating works in the realm of multidisciplinary art forms.

No comments: