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.

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