Sunday, January 26, 2014

Opera Aeterna performs Donizetti's "Don Pasquale" in Jerusalem

Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale” was performed by Opera Aeterna at the Khan Theatre, Jerusalem, on January 21st 2014. Established in 2003 under the auspices of non-profit organization Musica Aeterna, Opera Aeterna is supported by the Keshet Omanuyot Association, the Center for Absorption of Immigrant Artists and Returning Residents and the Ministry of Aliyah and Absorption. Under the musical direction of Maestro Ilya Plotkin, the company has produced several fully staged operas as well as opera concerts, with the majority of artists hailing from the former Soviet Union. For this event, Plotkin, musical director of Musica Aeterna, conducted a 10-piece ensemble and the singers from the stage. Stage director was Gera Sandler, who also added witty explanations of the plot in often rhyming Hebrew. Irina Tkachenko was costume- and set designer.

“Don Pasquale” is the 64th of Gaetano Donizetti’s (1797-1848) 66 operas. A domestic comic opera in three acts, the librettist Giovanni Ruffini based it on a libretto of Angelo Anelli. “Don Pasquale” premiered in January 1843 in Paris. Written a year before the onset of the illness that would eventually overwhelm the composer, the opera is one of the greatest pieces of Italian comic opera, but it shows other undercurrents. Thus, if one peers a little behind the wit of this opera buffa, one can glean a glimpse of pathos and the dark side of life. Don Pasquale (Yakov Strizhak) is an aging man who nonetheless wants to marry a young woman and produce an heir, being dissatisfied with the current heir, his nephew Ernesto (Dmitry Semyonov), whom he intends to disinherit, for Ernesto has fallen in love with Norina (Galina Tziferblat), an impoverished widow. Doctor Malatesta (Andey Trifonov), Pasquale’s physician and co-called friend, arranges a marriage between the old man and the disguised Norina, still assisting Ernesto and Norina in a vindictive plot.

With the four singers and Sandler’s costumes somewhat reminiscent of the commedia dell’arte style (minus the masks) Tkachenko had all four characters dressed vividly in clown costumes, excepting for Ernesto, whose clown costume was white. The opera began with actor and emcee Gera Sandler introducing the characters, then carrying each in like large shop dummies – an original and charming effect. Following the overture, the performance proceeded seamlessly with a mix of humor, mischief and marvelous music. Playing the prototypical basso buffo title role often sung by much more veteran singers, young Yakov Strizhak took the bull by the horns, playing an absurdly funny and slightly pathetic Don Pasquale, his ample voice fresh, rich and spontaneous taking on board florid passages, his facial expressions and clumsiness revealing his understanding of the unfortunate, gullible old man and his eventual introspection. The patter duet sung with Malatesta “Cheti, cheti, immantimente” (Quietly, quietly, right away) one of the most hilarious and demanding opera duets, was well handled.

Galina Tziferblat, well cast, is temporarily demure in the arms of her beloved Ernesto, but once free of them she becomes the saucy and cunning Norina of dubious morals, portrayed with a good measure of flirtation and cheapness. Tziferblat is loaded with stage personality and youthful zest, but, together with this, her voice is robust and commanding as she contends well with the sophisticated coleratura vocal part written by the mature Donizetti, bringing variety and contrast to the music.

Lyrical tenor Dmitry Semyonov played a totally naïve, love-struck Ernesto, his eyes often shut in total self-absorption (or showing us that love is also blind!) His pure, delicate and mellifluous voice dealt impressively with singing so much of the role in the upper third of the tenor range. His third aria, the poignant and touching serenade “Come’e gentil” (Soft beams the light) shining with his smooth tone, was delightfully accompanied by Uri Brener, who chose the lute register of the electric piano.

Displaying much opera experience and warmth of tone, baritone Andrey Trifonov, as Malatesta, was comfortable in the role, suave and smoothly manipulative, a schemer rather than a jokester, taking pleasure in his own connivances as he manipulated the three other characters. He even found time to flirt with one of the lady violinists!

Actor Gera Sandler emigrated from Moscow to Israel in 1990 and is prominent in Israeli theatre, television and the local film scene. His translations into Hebrew include plays from Russian and Yiddish poetry. His humor, articulacy and natural stage ability are always appealing. Delivering whimsical updates on the plot, he enabled non-Italian speakers in the audience to stay one step ahead of the opera’s hi-jinks.

Stage settings were simple, the garden scene, for example, consisting of a small white fence with a few flowers on it; refreshingly free of trendy clothes and contemporary scenes, mobile ‘phones etc., seen in too many of today’s opera productions, the Aeterna production allowed for this masterpiece’s stylish score with its real lyricism and elegant music, wit and beauty to dominate. Maestro Ilya Plotkin evoked the score’s instrumental sparkle with minimal forces: a bass guitar and electronic piano blended sympathetically with the strings and there were no wind instruments. The vocal ensembles were delightful, always highlighting the characters’ individual personalities and plights as each vocal line proceeds independently. In the final quartet, the opera has the characters singing of the foolishness of old men who court young women. Following this outstanding performance, played to a full hall, audiences in Israel would benefit from more performances of Opera Aeterna’s “Don Pasquale”.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Roman and Dmitri Krasnovsky in an all-Bach program at the Jerusalem Redeemer Church

One of the events of the 2013-2014 Israel Organ Festival was an all-J.S.Bach recital by Roman  Krasnovsky (organ) and Dmitri Krasnovsky (flute). The event took place on January 18th 2014 at the Church of the Redeemer in the Old City of Jerusalem, drawing members of the Israel Organ Association, tourists and local music-lovers. Offering words of welcome, Gunther Martin Goettsche, organist and musical director of the church, reminded the audience that the late mayor of Jerusalem Teddy Kollek had referred to the Redeemer Church as the “church where there is music”. Gerard Levi, president of the Israel Organ Association, introduced Roman Krasnovsky and spoke of the excellence of the Redeemer Church's Schuke organ.

Born in Donetsk (Ukraine) in 1955, Roman Krasnovsky studied piano and organ in the Ukraine, with post-graduate studies in organ with Prof. Leo Kremer (Germany) and other organists in Austria. As a soloist, he has performed internationally on some of the world’s finest organs. He also plays the harpsichord. His own compositions include three symphonies. In 1990 he immigrated to Israel, presently being active in the musical life in Carmiel, where he resides. His son Dmitri Krasnovsky, born in 2000, began learning the flute at age 10 and began performing after a year of study. He appears with his father in concerts throughout Europe and took first place in the 2012 American Protégé International Flute Competition.

Roman Krasnovsky opened with Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in c minor BWV 546, the pieces coming from two different periods: the 5-part fugue from the composer’s Weimar period (1708-1717) and the prelude written in 1723 or later. Krasnovsky’s reading of the prelude was noble, rich and vivid, its uplifting interweaving of melodic lines almost choral in approach. In the fugue, the artist chose a more muted registration, creating an intimate mood which spiraled via more strident timbres into the ultimate splendor characteristic of Bach’s organ music.

J.S.Bach’s Canonic Variations on “Von Himmel hoch da komm’ ich her” (From Heaven Above to Earth I come) BWV 769, a late work, were written after his admission to Lorenz Mizler’s Corresponding Society of Musical Sciences in the spring of 1747. (Telemann and Händel were also members). Not only did the work fulfill the category of a “scientific piece”, it also gave the composer an opportunity to indulge in his predilection for canonic writing, to be taken to its highest artistry in “The Art of Fugue” and the “Musical Offering”. Krasnovsky chose a bell-like registration to introduce the Christmas hymn, its falling seconds representing the content of the verbal text. Krasnovsky’s use of different registrations was gregarious - from brassy to reedy timbres, from mellow to mutation stops, furnishing the melody with accompanying parallel octave and fifth overtones (at times sounding bi-tonal). Providing a solid basis for all these coloristic effects were the artist’s exacting rhythm and transparency of texture, not lost in the work’s intricate complexity.

“Allein Gott in der Höh’ sei Ehr” (Alone to God on high be honour) BWV 662, one of the Great Eighteen Chorale Preludes prepared by Bach in the last decade of his life, is one of the most ornate of the Leipzig chorales. In a calm and distinctive manner, Krasnovsky addressed its huge amount of ornamentation with the angels’ message expressed in the florid soprano chorale melody hovering high above all the other more earthly-anchored voices; the soprano- and contrapuntal middle voices were well cushioned in a strong, stable bass.

There is some mystery surrounding the Sonata for Flute and Basso Continuo in C major BWV 1033, some researchers claiming it was not composed by J.S.Bach. One viable theory is that J.S.Bach wrote it as a solo flute work, suggesting that the skeletal figured bass was later added by his son Carl Philipp Emanuel. What is certain is that the sonata was intended to be played on the newer transverse flute and not on recorder. Young Dmitri’s performance of the flute part was clean, graceful and secure. The challenging passagework of the opening movement was cleanly handled. Moving into the Allegro, Dmitri’s playing was delightful, easeful and unmannered. His solid, mellow, cantabile performance of the serene Adagio was tastefully- and economically ornamented, with organ and flute roles sensitively balanced. In their expressive playing of the minuets, there was much use of detached notes; a greater variety of textures would make for more sophistication. The Redeemer Church’s acoustic projected the richness and warmth of the flute substantially. With father and son’s playing collaborating hand-in-glove, Dmitri’s musicality and competence made for much enjoyment, with promise of more to come.

The recital returned to Bach’s Weimar period to end with Roman Krasnovsky’s virtuosic and gregarious performance of J.S.Bach’s Fantasia and Fugue in g minor BWV 542. Bach indicated that these works be played “pro organo pleno” (for the full organ), implying an ensemble sound based on principal stops with special combinations. The Weimar court must have had a powerful organ for this highly sonorous music. Krasnovsky’s musical world thrives on a vivid and creative use of color, his playing relishing the wildly chromatic and harmoniously adventurous Fantasia in which he explored the organ’s full potential, using a variety of colorings for different gestures. Here he was celebrating the unpredictable (Bach moves to as far as E flat minor), the surprising and the imaginative with a sense of spontaneity that Bach had surely intended for the free fantasia genre. In the Fugue, the virtuosic demands of what has been referred to as “the very best pedal piece by Mr. Bach” did not prevent the artist from articulately allowing the piece’s rich elaboration to unfold naturally and in a straightforward manner from a lighter mood than that the fantasia to the building up of forces into its grand ending.

Roman and Dmitri Krasnovsky sent the audience back out into the winter sunshine with a luxuriant and exotic reading of Gabriel Fauré’s “Sicilienne”.

Roman Krasnovsky

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Tamar Halperin and Andreas Scholl perform Lieder in the Jerusalem Music Centre's Chamber Music Series

Tamar Halperin and Andreas Scholl (Photo:Renate Feyerbacher

The German countertenor Andreas Scholl is no newcomer to the Israeli concert hall or master class scene. He and his Israeli-born wife pianist Tamar Halperin performed a program of “The German Lied” in the fifth concert of the Jerusalem Music Centre’s 2013-2014 Chamber Music Series. The recital took place on January 9th 2014 in the Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Friendship of the Jerusalem International YMCA.

Harpsichordist and pianist Tamar Halperin studied at Tel Aviv University, the Basel Schola Cantorum and the Juilliard School of Music, where she received her doctorate in 2009 with a dissertation on J.S.Bach. Halperin’s performing career, including conducting from the keyboard, takes her all over the world. While her main focus is Baroque music, Dr. Halperin performs Classical- and contemporary music, also composing, arranging and performing popular-, jazz-, electronic and contemporary Classical music.

Born in Germany in 1967, Andreas Scholl began singing with the Kiedricher Chorbuben, a children’s choir, singing music of Bach from age seven. He continued singing in his high vocal register into his teens, the choirmaster observing that his was the countertenor voice. Scholl was the first undergraduate to study at the Basel Schola Cantorum, studying there with Richard Levitt, René Jacobs, Evelyn Tubb, Emma Kirkby and others. One of today’s greatest and most sought-after countertenors, Scholl soloes, teaches and records. In the field of modern music, composer Marco Rosano has created a new Stabat Mater for him; Scholl himself has worked with rock composer and Baroque countertenor Roland Kunz. Although in his teaching Scholl’s slogan has been “Lieber erstmal Lieder” (Firstly Lieder) Scholl has mostly been heard in much Baroque repertoire. In the program presented here, we see him exploring a genre taking him light years away from the works of Purcell, Bach and Händel, in performance of very different repertoire.

The artists opened with three of the Haydn settings of poems by Anne Hunter. On his first visit to London (1791-1792) Joseph Haydn befriended the widowed Scottish poetess Anne Hunter, who inspired him to set fourteen English tests to music, nine of them being her own poems. The result was the first set of Haydn’s English Canzonettas (1794), probably intended for house music at the hands of educated amateurs. Their beauty and sophistication, however, make them enduring concert pieces. Halperin chose to perform “Despair”, “The Wanderer” and “Recollection”. All sad, contemplative songs (“Recollection” is said to have brought tears to Haydn’s eyes whenever he sang it) Halperin and Scholl presented their quiet, intimate moods and occasional intensity with some effective word-painting, clear punctuation and a sense of their fragility. Halperin addressed the songs’ independent and distinctive piano parts articulately in all their small, delicate gestures.

Moving to the German art song, we heard a number of Schubert Lieder. “Im Haine” D738 (In the Woods), with its addressing of nature and so Viennese in its waltz-like style, was given lightness of touch; its lilting rhythm and major-minor duality were graced with small piano gestures. The haunting “Abendstern” (Evening Star) in which Halperin and Scholl move together in one of Schubert’s saddest songs, was followed by Schubert’s setting of Goethe’s “An Mignon” (To Mignon) (he composed two versions of it on February 27th 1815!), in which the artists create the piece’s restlessness and underlying drama. In their superb reading of “Du bist die Ruh” (You are Rest and Peace), one of Schubert’s five Friedrich Rückert settings of 1823, the artists weave subtle dynamics through the motionless wonder of the song, giving its tranquil atmosphere flexibility. In Schubert’s “Ave Maria”, Scholl held the song’s melodic tension with much control with Halperin highlighting melodic content not always presented by pianists. Schubert’s most minimal and one of his most affecting songs “Der Tod und das Mädchen” (Death and the Maiden) Scholl and Halperin presented the song’s two characters in great contrast, Scholl moving out of head voice to sing the part of Death in chest voice…very effective, indeed.

The artists then performed some of Johannes Brahms’ settings of German folk songs for voice and piano. Brahms was a collector of folk songs, this interest tying in with the revival of German nationalism in music. (With the composer being no stickler for authenticity, some of the songs were, however, taken from composed collections of songs.) All speak of love, most combining love with ideas on fidelity, infidelity and loss. In “Mein Mädel hat einen Rosenmund” (My Lassie’s Mouth is Like a Rosebud) the artists use tempo- and temperament changes to bring out the folksy humor of the piece. “All’ mein Gedanken” (Every Thought I Have) and “Da unten im Tale” (Down in the Valley There) were dealt with in delicate directness. In “Es ging ein Maidlein zarte” (Early One Morning) Halperin and Scholl coupled the gently lilting melody with its dire text, coloring it with naiveté and disturbing undercurrents. The Brahms section of the program ended with “In stiller Nacht” (In the Quiet Night), its text thought to be written during the Reformation in Germany by a person who was to be executed the next morning. The song was considered by Brahms himself as the best of the collection. Halperin and Scholl created the setting of night, evoking its wondrous and majestic mood together with sorrow.
‘The beautiful moon wishes to set
Out of pain, and never shine again;
The stars will let fade their gleam
For they wish to weep with me.
Neither birdsong nor sound of joy
Can one hear in the air;
The wild animals grieve with me as well,
Upon the rocks and the ravines.’

In the final song of the program, Mozart’s sadly philosophical “Abendempfindung” (Evening Sensations), Scholl’s smooth silvery, mellifluous and uncluttered singing presented the song’s fatalistic message, supported by flowing eighth-note arpeggios in the accompaniment which come to a grinding halt on certain key words.

Piano solos punctuated the evening’s program: Schubert’s Waltz In b minor opus 18 no.6, played poignantly, gently flexed and sensitive, a superbly paced reading of Brahms’ Intermezzo in A major, opus 118 no.2, its melodic lines interlaced iwith filigree-fine threads of nostalgia, drama and poetry and, finally, Mozart’s Rondo in F major K494, in which the pianist displayed her signature lightness of touch, virtuosity, Mozartian innocence and reference to Mozart’s whimsical touch. Tamar Halperin’s delicacy and articulacy are well suited to accompanying Andreas Scholl on the piano, the German Lied in the hands of a countertenor belonging to a very different soundscape than that presented by other Lied singers.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Carmel Quartet and Duo Silver-Garburg in "Reviving Bach"

With a concert focusing on the subject of “Reviving Bach”, it is no wonder that the auditorium of the Jerusalem Music Centre, Mishkenot Sha’ananim, was packed to capacity on January 8th 2014 to hear the second concert of the Carmel Quartet ‘s 2013-2014 commentated “Strings and More” series. The series takes place in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa. This writer attended the English language lecture-concert offered only in Jerusalem. Guest artists were duo pianists Sivan Silver and Gil Garburg. The Carmel Quartet, established in 1999, performs widely in Israel and further afield, and has won several awards and competitions. Its members are violinists Rachel Ringelstein and Lia Raiklin, violist Yoel Greenberg and 'cellist Tami Waterman.

Dr. Yoel Greenberg opened by referring to J.S.Bach’s music as “above time, for eternity, a cosmic truth.” Greenberg was to talk about the reasons for this, the reasons why Bach’s music “went out of fashion” and the Bach revival. With Bach’s life having little bearing on the timelessness of his music, and with his music not intended to express feelings, philosophy or politics, the answer, according to Greenberg, is that it sought to reflect the Harmony of the Spheres, an ancient philosophical concept regarding the proportions and movements of celestial bodies and “tones” of energy, its balance to be imitated by man. This concept was observed up to Bach’s time, with counterpoint being considered the greatest reflection of it. This is seen in the fugue form, in which all instruments (or voices) are equal in importance. Greenberg remarked that in Bach concertos all lines still have equal melodic importance, upholding the concept of the Harmony of the Spheres. Thus Bach’s Double Concerto for two violins and orchestra in d minor, at this concert heard in the composer’s own setting in c minor for two keyboards and strings, was originally titled a “concerto for six instruments”. With Bach free from ecclesiastical duties (and with an instrumental ensemble in situ) when in the service of the Prince of Anhalt-Cöthen from 1717 to 1723, he took the opportunity to compose concertos. With Sivan Silver and Gil Garburg joining the Carmel Quartet players, the concerto opened with fresh exuberance, with effective differentiation between phrases. The pianists’ clean, buoyant, light-of-finger touch hinting at Baroque keyboard sound, left Romantic pianism for later in the program. In the expansive Adagio, bristling with echoing, crisscrossing and dialogue on the part of the pianists, a fairly cerebral mood was kept well clear of sentimentality; the pianists, however, indulged in a little too much rubato for my taste. The fugal Allegro, taken at a rapid speed, was precise and vital, with all nuances colored. The performance presented a nice balance of Italian grace and verve with the complexities and layering of Bach’s fine contrapuntal writing.

Formed in 1997, Duo Silver-Garburg runs a busy international performing schedule. Sivan Silver and Gil Garburg, also partners in real life, have performed in more than 40 countries; they are considered one of the most remarkable piano duos of today.

Yoel Greenberg made mention of Bach’s “Art of Fugue”, referring to it as the “end of counterpoint”; Charles Burney had even criticized the work for its “cleverness”. With the composer taking centre stage in music, Bach’s writing went out of fashion and his music sank into temporary oblivion. Greenberg traced the Bach revival, referring to Felix Mendelssohn’s directing of the St. Matthew Passion as of March 1829. Baron Gottfried van Swieten, an amateur musician, considered eccentric in his interest in music that was not contemporary, brought Bach and Händel manuscripts to Vienna, commissioning Haydn, Mozart and Dittersdorf to write arrangements of them. In April 1782, Mozart wrote to his father Leopold of his weekly Sunday visits to the Baron, where “nothing is played but Händel and Bach”, encounters that were eventually to have a profound influence on Mozart’s own compositional style. Rachel Ringelstein, Yoel Greenberg and Tami Waterman then performed Prelude and Fugue no.3 in F major, one of the Mozart settings of six Preludes and Fugues for violin, viola and ‘cello K 404a. Each pair consists of a fugue – five being transcriptions of those of J.S.Bach and one of Wilhelm Friedemann – each fugue preceded by a prelude – four preludes written by Mozart and two which are rewritings of Bach preludes. Strange bedfellows as the no.3 pieces are, the artists played the prelude in a cantabile and aria-like Mozart style, the melody emanating from the violin part; preserving the same sense of well-being and brightness, the instrumentalists launched into the strict Bach fugue with all its detail and sophistication. Kudos to the Carmel Quartet for offering listeners the opportunity to hear this unusual and interesting repertoire!

Yoel Greenberg went on to discuss the Bach revival of the beginning of the 19th century, mentioning Johann Karl Friedrich Triest’s 1801 essay on the development of art music in Germany and the J.N.Forkel Bach biography. Bach had become an important cultural figure once again and a patriotic symbol. The German composer, musical theorist and critic A.B.Marx claimed the Bach’s music was bringing back the spirit of Christianity. Greenberg also made mention of two women involved in the Bach revival – Fanny von Arnstein and her sister Sarah Levy, both of whom possessed Bach manuscripts. Berlioz claimed there was no God but Bach and that Mendelssohn was his prophet! Robert Schumann, however, could not be considered active in the Bach revival; still, he referred to the Well-Tempered Clavier as the Book of Books and, together with his wife Clara, played Bach fugues daily. His own music made reference to Bach’s in its use of counterpoint and specific keys. He felt that Bach’s music had freed composers from writing in the shadow of Beethoven (with Schubert also becoming a Beethoven alternative.)

The final work of the program was Robert Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E flat major opus 44; composed in 1842, following his three opus 41 quartets which were written with frenzied energy within two months, this was a wholly new genre, allowing Schumann to combine his mastery of Romantic keyboard writing with the string quartet genre. Greenberg mentioned composers who had influenced the work – the Beethoven idea of the first themes recurring at the end of the work, Schubert’s style in the Hungarian-type themes and that of Bach in the fugue of the final movement. Taking on this large and demanding role (the keyboard has only six bars of rest in the entire composition) Gil Garburg displayed total involvement in style and spirit, communicating closely with the strings all the way; his playing was articulate and finely shaped. Altogether, the players gave the work effusive Romantic exuberance, urgency, lyricism and poignancy, bringing to the fore the work’s melodiousness and intensely human emotions, its moods contrasting from the heroic and gentle opening movement with its lovely ‘cello utterances (Tami Waterman) to the haunting funeral march, from associations with gypsy music to the complexity of the double fugue.

The Carmel Quartet, led with confidence and warmth by 1st violinist Rachel Ringelstein, continues to play with freshness and verve, the players’ inspired performance drawing in their audiences. “Reviving Bach” was indeed a fascinating and well-balanced program, combining familiar works with less familiar and bringing all together in outstanding performance. Duo Silver-Garburg’s playing and depth of enquiry added to the quality of the event. Yoel Greenberg guides his listeners through the evening in a relaxed, articulate and pleasant manner, offering much interesting information (and never too much), yet allowing the music to have the last word. Excerpts from writings of the time were well presented by women members of the Carmel Quartet.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Israel Contemporary Players perform works scored mostly for wind instruments

The Israel Contemporary Players’ Discoveries Series concert of December 29th 2013 at the Jerusalem Music Centre focused on works that are scored largely for wind instruments. Ilan Volkov conducted the concert.

Born in Israel in 1976, Ilan Volkov was appointed Young Conductor in Association to the Northern Sinfonia at age 19. In 1997, he became principal conductor of the London Philharmonic Youth Orchestra; two years later, he was invited by Seiji Ozawa to join the Boston Symphony Orchestra as assistant conductor. He was chief conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra from 2003 to 2009, becoming principal guest conductor. Volkov conducts and records throughout the world. He is one of the guiding forces behind Levontin 7, a Tel Aviv venue bringing together different musical genres, including classical jazz, electronic music and rock. He was appointed director and chief conductor of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra in 2011, where he runs an annual festival and aims to collaborate with composers, non-classical musicians and artists.

The concert opened with Ruben Seroussi’s “Movement?” for thirteen wind instruments (2013). Scored for piccolo, flute, oboe, cor anglais, two clarinets, bass clarinet, bassoon, contrabassoon, two horns, trumpet and trombone, Seroussi’s aim in this work is to “realize an image in sounds not given to visual presentation and which is, indeed, difficult to describe in words.” The work is based on two conceptss – the changing of an idea – movement in space – and focus on the idea itself. The question mark in the title refers to doubt as to the nature of movement or of its existence and the composer’s own questioning regarding the success of his objective. The work begins with the sound of blowing (no pitch). The work progresses in short sections, each characterized by specific textures; not all bear pitch. One recurring texture is the scraping of cards over the keys of the wind instruments. Sections of short sounds contrast with those of drawn-out sounds, small solos emerge; there are fluttering textures, strident timbres versus bass timbres, and more. The breath sound recurs, concluding the work. Following the compositional process, the listener was in on the articulacy and direction of Seroussi’s piece guided by the players. Born 1959 in Uruguay, guitarist, composer and teach Ruben Seroussi came to Israel in 1974.

We then heard “METAL” by French composer and conductor Bruno Mantovani (b.1974). A graduate of the Paris Conservatoire and IRCAM computer music studies, he now heads the Paris Conservatoire and collaborates with the Paris Opera, conducts contemporary music ensembles and the National Orchestra of Lille. Mantovani collaborates with novelists, choreographers and film-makers. His music spans a wide canvas, making reference to that of Bach, Gesualdo, Rameau, Schubert, Schumann and to other forms of music, such as jazz and oriental music. The work presented, written for two clarinets, takes its name from the performers who premiered it in 2003. In the JMC concert, it was performed by Chen Halevi and Ido Azrad (bass- and b flat clarinet), who collaborated seamlessly in this mostly homorhythmic work. Their precision and togetherness in many monodic passages, a technique referred to by the composer as “particularly perilous for the two performers” displayed two outstanding players locked into perfect communication. The work falls into many small sections. The artists painted each of them with their palette of artistic- and human gestures, from humor to intensity, from bursts of energy to poignant, tender moments; their affinity and in-depth familiarity with the work made for much fine entertainment in a piece that is all about discourse. Born in Israel, Chen Halevi is considered one of today’s leading clarinetists, performing on modern and period instruments. He is professor of clarinet at the Trossingen Hochschule für Musik (Germany). Born in Jerusalem in 1986, Ido Azrad graduated from the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance and is currently studying with Chen Halevi at the Trossingen Hochschule.

In 1924, an auspicious year in European musical composition, Arnold Schoenberg turned 50, that year also revealing his 12-tone theory. In July 1923, Alban Berg (1885-1935) wrote to Arnold Schoenberg, his teacher, mentor and friend, that he was “at long last at work again” and working on the idea of a piano and violin concerto, completing sketches for the first movement of the Kammerkonzert (Chamber Concerto) by September 1st. The work was completed in July 1924, to be premiered in March 1927 by pianist Eduard Steuermann and violinist Rudolph Kolisch, two ardent supporters of the Second Viennese School. A work written close to the end of Berg’s free atonal period and moving in the direction of Schoenberg’s 12-tone technique, it does include a number of 12-tone rows, but they do not pervade the whole work. The ensemble group of the Chamber Concerto for Violin and Piano with 13 wind instruments calls for piccolo, flute, E flat clarinet, A clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon, contrabassoon, trumpet, two French horns and trombone. What does exist throughout is Berg’s mathematical approach, reflected in the number of bars of each movement, in the symbolism of “three” – three movements, three forces (piano, violin, winds) and in the three composers – Berg himself, Webern and Schoenberg - their emotional link spelled out in the opening of the work via the shared pitches representing their names. And that is not all: on the manuscript, Berg has written initials of people and artists close to him, then using the initials as pitches. He also gave each movement a title: I – Friendship, II – Love, III – World. The Israel Contemporary Players presented the work in all its luxuriant aspects, its Romantic lushness woven into early 20th century atonality, its terse, multi-layered textures giving way to caressing melodic utterance. Sitting within direct eyeshot (not to speak of earshot) of the orchestra allowed the audience a sense of participation in the wind-players’ collaboration and emotional involvement, following the myriad of activity in their building up of textures, expressivity and their small, poignant solos. Pianist Arnon Erez displayed temperament and dramatic flair in confrontational and gripping solos. Primarily known as an outstanding chamber musician, Arnon Erez (b.1965) graduated from the Tel Aviv University Academy, then taking chamber music studies with the Guarneri Quartet. Today he performs widely and teaches at the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music (Tel Aviv). Violinist Yonah Zur, in sensitive, beautifully shaped playing, expressed the delicate, sad, tragic and sometimes eerie content of the violin part, for most of us an association with Berg’s Violin Concerto. Violinist and violist Yonah Zur, a graduate of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance and the Juilliard School of Music, teaches and is also interested in conducting; as a performer he is especially devoted to the performance of new music. Of the Chamber Concerto Berg wrote: “If anyone has realized how much friendship, love and a world of human-emotional associations I spirited into these three movements, the proponents of program music…would be delighted…” The performance at the Jerusalem Music Centre brought home how much programmatic and personal content there is in Berg’s works, even if it has been left undefined.

With the ensemble highly selective in its artists, this was another outstanding and enriching concert of the Israel Contemporary Players.