Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Purcell's "Dido and Aeneas" staged at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance

Imagine Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas” set in a dilapidated psychiatric hospital. Dido is one of the inmates and Aeneas is a young psychiatrist. A far cry from the more conventional staging of Henry Purcell’s 1688/9 opera in three acts to a libretto of Nahum Tate (first performed at Josias Priest’s Girls’ School in London), stage director Danny Ehrlich pointed the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance’s student production in a totally new direction. (Ehrlich is not alone in creating new settings for the opera that has its origins in Greco-Roman mythology: at the 2013 Bath Music Festival an eventually unhinged Dido strips before her final heartbreaking aria and at the Sydney Festival of January 2014, “Dido” was performed in a giant water tank.) So, with the text and truly marvelous music intact, the audience attending the JAMD production was required to shed any conservative ideas of Dido as queen of Carthage dying for the love of Aeneas, a Trojan prince, sent away from her by evil trickery, and to witness the proceedings as taking place in a psychiatric hospital, with Dido committing suicide there. The witches are now strict nuns working at the hospital, well played and effectively dressed with large white cornettes (headdresses) What struck a very different note here from the Dido we have known as remote and separate on a sparse stage was the sense of community of the patients (choir), a group of people constantly together, active, moving, entering, leaving, interacting and dancing, and all of these actions also taking place during the playing of instrumental pieces.

There were four performances, using two casts, each performance conducted by a different student. This writer attended a performance on February 19th, in which Yael Plotniarz conducted. David Shemer was musical director of the production. What is obvious is that the JAMD boasts many fine singers, with these young artists already showing confidence and stage experience. Efrat Wolfson dealt admirably with the role of Dido, as did Lucy Bloch as Belinda. The hall’s acoustic was not encouraging to Ron Silberstein’s (Aeneas) light, very pleasant tenor voice. Tenor Hillel Sherman gave a hearty rendition of the sailor’s aria. Mezzo soprano Rivka Bartlet-Falk displayed impressive vocal ability and color. The instrumental ensemble was indeed competent, its intonation occasionally lacking in accuracy. Stage effects were achieved by changes of lighting and Hebrew surtitles (Mira Zakai, Danny Ehrlich) were provided. No mainstream performance, it was actually a play within a play: the inmates of the hospital were putting on the performance, one presenting love and heartbreak, and with a sense of urgency. The audience was left to decide where to draw the line between performance and reality.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Penderecki's "Polish Requiem" performed by the IPO, conducted by the composer

Krzysztof Penderecki (photo:Pierre-Jean Tribot)
An auspicious event of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra’s 2013-2014 concert season was

Kryzsztof Penderecki’s “Polish Requiem”, conducted by the composer himself. Joining the IPO were the Gary Bertini Israeli Choir (musical director and conductor: Ronen Borshevsky), the Jerusalem Academy of Music Chamber Choir (musical director and conductor: Stanley Sperber) and soloists soprano Melanie Diener (Germany) and Polish artists - mezzo-soprano Agnieszka Rehlis, tenor Rafal Bartminski and bass Robert Jesierski. This writer attended the performance taking place on February 17th 2014 at the Jerusalem International Convention Center.

Born in Poland in 1933, Penderecki has written some forty orchestral works – symphonies and small-scale orchestral compositions – solo concertos, chamber music, vocal works, operas and film scores. His sacred works have established him as one of today’s most important composers of the genre. Penderecki is a Catholic, but his personal background explains where his sacred music comes from. In an interview with Monika Skarzinska for DW Magazine in 2013, he explained that he had been “a very religious child. My grandfather was German and a Protestant. My father, a lawyer, was Greek Catholic…My mother was very religious and went to church twice a day. My grandmother was Armenian…I was raised with three different faiths – that’s why I am so open…” Before putting pen to paper, Penderecki took ten years to think through the concept of his Polish Requiem. Then, much in the manner J.S.Bach’s Mass in B minor was written, the sections of the Requiem were added over several years, with most of the individual sections premiered separately from 1980 to 1984. The “Sanctus” was added in 1993. Dedicated to his country’s suffering, the “Polish Requiem” was written during the difficult period of martial law; reading into the work, one is aware of the composer’s specific position. Dedications in the Requiem are of two kinds: those commemorating important events in Polish history and those singling out people whose actions for their country have been laudable. The “Lacrimosa”, commissioned by Lech Walęsa, is dedicated to the victims of December 1970, the a-cappella “Agnes Dei” was written in 1981 on the death of Cardinal Wyszynski and sung at his funeral, the “Dies Irae” commemorates the 40th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising and Polish resistance to Nazi Germany, with the “Recordare” dedicated to the memory of Father Maximilian Kolbe (the Polish priest who gave his own life for that of another prisoner in Auschwitz in 1941) and the “Libera Me, Domine” remembers the victims of Katyn. Penderecki has introduced an excerpt from a Polish supplication “Święty Boże, Święty Mocny” (Holy God, Holy and strong), a prayer sung in moments of danger, this constituting an element both personal and patriotic; it is over-layered with the solo singing of “Recordare Jesu pie”.

Seated in the auditorium of the Jerusalem International Convention Center to hear this monumental work, one was gripped by its powerful aura of reverence, sublimity and destiny. The choirs and IPO players played out its neo-Romantic style and its microtonal passages (the latter, nevertheless, removed from his earlier provocative and controversial writing), both bewitching and entrancing to the ear as the composer’s timbral textures allow the music a sense of being suspended, hovering above reality. Densely clustered harmonies provide immediacy and depth to the text. Penderecki’s conducting mostly hinged on the beat; the choirs, however, well conversant with the fine details of the text, created its large canvas with involvement, intensity, expression and with a vivid palette of vocal color. Each of the four solo singers, all of whom were appearing with the IPO for the first time, was impressive, contending well with an orchestra as massive as the extended IPO. They shared a common approach that was comfortable, direct, reverent, unmannered and well connected to each gesture of the text. The IPO is the right orchestra for Penderecki’s “Polish Requiem”; uncompromising in its accuracy and splendid quality of sound in all sections, the orchestra presented the Requiem’s instrumental solos with captivating beauty, its tutti with convincing grandeur and humility. Grave and austere, with powerful and intense moments, several movements of Penderecki’s “Polish Requiem” conclude with the haunting sound of the chimes – the death knell. The composer has referred to the work as being “frighteningly expressive and emotional but also melodic and accessible”. Speaking not only of its depiction of the complicated destiny of his nation, but also about universally human values like courage, selflessness and faith, Penderecki said “I consider it a very special piece. I always empathize with its performance”. Attending the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra’s performance of the work was a moving, thought-provoking and humbling experience.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Michael Tsalka records Daniel Gottlob Turk's "Connoisseur" Sonatas

Michael Tsalka (photo:Rami Tsalka)
As beginning piano students, many of us were introduced to Türk’s music through small works from his “Kleine Händstücke für angehende Klavierspiele” (Small Pieces for Future Pianists) a pedagogical collection of miniatures. The renowned North German music teacher, pianist, theorist, organist and prominent composer Daniel Gottlob Türk (1750-1813) was born in Claussnitz, Germany. His first teacher was his father, a court instrumentalist. By his teens, Türk had become a student of composer, cantor and organist Gottfried Homilius who, himself, had been a pupil of J.S.Bach. As a student at the University of Leipzig in the early 1770s, Türk came into contact with keyboard virtuoso Johann Wilhelm Hässler, who introduced him to C.P.E.Bach’s keyboard sonatas as well as to the younger Bach’s “Versuch über die wahre Art das Klavier zu spielen” (Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments) of 1753, a substantial work on new keyboard technique, fingering, ornaments and the correct use of figured bass, counterpoint and harmony.

At age 24, Türk moved to Halle, becoming a central figure of musical life there, where he held church positions (succeeding W.F.Bach in one) and taught general subjects at the Lutheran School. As professor of music at Halle University, he conducted many performances, also teaching music theory, composition and music history. His treatise “On the Role of the Organist” (1787), written when he was organist of the university, presents a detailed discussion on chorales, preludes, accompaniment and organ construction and maintenance. Under the guidance of his friend and mentor, the influential music scholar Johann Adam Hiller, Türk started work on his two volumes of sonatas. He composed 48 sonatas. Written in 1789, when the pianoforte was replacing the clavichord as the main domestic keyboard instrument, Türk’s “Klavierschule” (School of Piano Playing) became one of the most notable sources on keyboard performance practice of the late 18th century, dealing not only with the finest details of technique but also with aesthetic issues. 1789 was also the year he published his “Six Sonatas for Connoisseurs”. All of the above information points to Türk’s knowledge of- and interest in keyboard instruments in general. In the premiere recording of these pieces, this fact was surely that which gave rise to keyboard player Michael Tsalka’s decision to play the “Six Keyboard Sonatas for Connoisseurs”, using his own new critical edition, on different keyboard instruments.

Born in Tel Aviv, Michael Tsalka graduated from Tel Aviv University with a bachelor’s degree, continuing studies in Germany and Italy. From 2002 to 2008, he resided in Philadelphia, studying at Temple University – fortepiano and chamber music with Lambert Orkis, modern piano and duo piano with Harvey Wedeen and harpsichord, clavichord and positive organ with Joyce Lindorff. His doctorate is in piano performance. A versatile musician, Tsalka performs solo- and chamber music from Baroque- to contemporary music on modern piano, harpsichord, fortepiano, clavichord, square piano and chamber organ. He performs and presents lecture-recitals worldwide, recording for the Naxos and Paladino labels. Tsalka currently teaches early keyboards and chamber music at the Lilla Akademien in Stokholm,Sweden.

Michael Tsalka performance of the “Klaviersonaten, grösstenteils für Kenner” (Six Keyboard Sonatas for Connoisseurs) is on different historical keyboard instruments of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection. Referring to the experience as “exhilarating”, he mentions the fact that these works “provide the performer with excellent opportunities to display virtuosity in conjunction with expressiveness and stylistic sophistication”. Today’s concert-goer tends to hear Baroque keyboard instruments in certain concerts and the modern piano in others. I would add that Tsalka is reminding the listener that there is a whole evolution of keyboard instruments spanning the period from the clavichord to the modern piano and that, if that same listener wishes to enter the mind of the composer, he is at an advantage hearing works played on different authentic instruments of the time. Despite claiming the clavichord as his favorite keyboard instrument, it seems that Türk did not specify which instruments were to be used for these six sonatas.

As one begins to listen to Sonata no.1 in A minor HEDT.104.8.1, played on a fortepiano by Conrad Graf (Vienna, c.1838), one dismisses any idea of these pieces constituting merely polite salon music. Here is the North German sonata form with much to say. Tsalka’s playing celebrates the two outer movements’ strong character, their outspoken lines and fast mood changes heard as he delights the ear with clean, exciting finger work. His playing of the middle movement – Poco adagio, patetico e sostenuto – is spontaneous and carefully paced. Under his fingers, the Graf fortepiano (tuned to a’=406 Hz), made almost entirely of wood (there is no metal frame) springs to life like a wild animal, rendering the work’s musical gestures as exciting, real and human.
Sonata no.2 in E flat major HEDT.104.8.2 is played on a (most exquisitely beautiful) clavichord built in 1763 by Christian Kintzing (Germany). Tsalka’s rubato reading of the first movement gives it a sense of urgency. The use he makes of the instrument’s pantalon stop offers a sustained effect. Following this, the Adagio cantabile e sempre piano movement is touching in its poignancy; the final Allegro is exuberant and indeed stirring. Well recorded, the CD presents the clavichord’s timbral and dynamic potential, much to the listener’s advantage – a small instrument but boasting plenty of character!

Sonatas no.3 and no.4 were both recorded on a grand piano built around 1790 by the Austrian Ferdinand Hofmann, an influential member of Vienna’s Civic Keyboard Builders’ Association. The instrument has a range of five octaves, is double-strung in the bass and triple-strung in the treble. Knee levers lift the dampers. Once the listener’s ear adjusts to the fast decay of sound he is ready to navigate the adventures of Sonata no.3 in B minor HEDT.104.8.3 together with Tsalka. In the opening Allegro con espressione, Tsalka keeps his listener in suspense as he colors, shapes and examines the spirit of each of the erratic and unpredictable gestures, Classical in form and in pianism, yet so personal, we are also exposed to the legacy of the Baroque practice of ornamentation. In the middle Adagio movement, Tsalka operates the mute to create an intimate soundscape. The second movement of Sonata no.4 in G major HEDT.104.8.4 - Grave e pomposo – is very colorful in its effusive “dialogue”, with the following movement – Allegro assai – no less so, treated by Tsalka with a touch of whimsy. Tsalka takes advantage of the crisp and distinctive timbre of this instrument in bringing these pieces alive.

Sonata no.5 in B flat major HEDT.104.8.5 is played on a grand piano of around 1790, an instrument thought to have been built by Johann Schmidt (Salzburg). Schmidt was a friend of the Mozart family; in fact, “W.A.M.” scratched on the inside of this very instrument would probably point to the fact that Wolfgang Mozart had played it in Salzburg. In addition to being completely double-strung, having knee levers that operate the dampers and a “soft” stop, this piano has a hand lever that operates a buzzy-sounding bassoon” stop. It also has a pedal board (played like that of the organ), a feature not uncommon to 18th century stringed keyboard instruments. Written more conservatively than other sonatas, Sonata no.5 becomes a sympathetic, graceful piece in Michael Tsalka’s hands, the composer’s musical reasoning inviting the listener to follow it through. In the final movement – Allegro scherzando - the pianist flexes tempi gregariously, joking along with the composer in some musical hide-and-seek. The final work of this collection – Sinfonia no.6 in C major, HEDT.194.8.6, also performed on the Schmidt grand piano, is a fine piece of musical rhetoric; Tsalka’s reading of it presents its vivacity, humor and some almost theatrical elements, perhaps a reference to opera buffa, especially in its outer movements. The middle movement, which well could have been based on a simple, traditional song, even a hymn, provided much contrast to the effervescence of the outer movements.

Listening to this recording, one’s mind goes back to the fact that Türk himself was a fastidious pianist; his personal musical voice and ideas on keyboard playing formulated in the “Klavierschule” treatise have found expression in this groundbreaking recording. Recorded in 2012 for World Première Recordings, Dr. Michael Tsalka is offering the listening public the chance to hear these seldom-heard, immensely pianistic works and on keyboard instruments not, for obvious reasons, played in most concert halls. With superb technique at his disposal, Tsalka is a performer whose imagination, spontaneity and understanding of the spirit and variety offered by the musical text produce a sound canvas that is palpable, human and emotionally compelling.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Philip Pickett directs Barrocade in John Blow's "Venus and Adonis"

“Venus and Adonis” was the title of Barrocade’s – the Israeli Baroque Collective - third concert for the 2013-2014 concert season. This writer attended the performance at the Kiryat Ye’arim Church, Abu Gosh on February 1st 2014. Joining the first class instrumental ensemble were soloists - sopranos Revital Raviv and Ye’ela Avital, countertenor Alon Harari and bass Oded Reich – Barrocade Vocale (directors: Yizhar Karshon, Ye’ela Avital) and the Young Efroni Choir (director: Shelley Berlinsky). Philip Pickett (UK), whose Israeli production of Händel’s “Acis and Galatea” in 2012 was truly memorable, was both recorder soloist and conductor in this program of English music.

There has been much talk of the Barrocade performance of John Blow’s “Venus and Adonis”, and more about that presently; the first part of the program “A Banquet of Musick” - a selection of 17th century pieces – however, certainly deserves more than a mention. If John Playford’s 1657 “Banquet of Musick” promised “A collection of the newest and best Songs Sung at Court and at Publick Theatres, being most of them within the Compass of the Flute [recorder]... with a Thorow-Bass for the Theorbo-Lute, Bass-Viol, Harpsichord or Organ…composed by several of the Best Masters…the Words by the Ingenious Wits of his Age” we were in for some hearty fine entertainment.

It opened with selected pieces from Henry Purcell’s (1659-1695) “Abdelazar” Suite. The Barrocade players’ lively, energy-infused playing of the incidental music written for “Abdelazar” or “The Moor’s Revenge”, one of the last plays for which Purcell wrote music, conjured up the theatre scene of the time. Actually, the verbal text was the work of the prolific dramatist Aphra Behn, one of several women playwrights active during the Restoration. (A writer criticized for her lewdness, she was also a spy for the British crown!) In Pickett’s reading of Purcell’s “Three Parts Upon a Ground”, an all-out favorite of 17th century consort repertoire, with the three "parts" played by violinists Shlomit Sivan, Yasuko Hirata and Dafna Ravid, variety of exploration was the keyword - from effervescent, virtuosic playing, to tranquilly singing moments to dancelike gestures; the artists’ attentive playing showed Purcell’s way of wildly straying from the harmonic scheme. From the 1694 “Ode for the Birthday of Queen Mary”, “Strike the Viol” offered the audience the full-on joy of music-making, with a hearty, involved performance by soprano Ye’ela Avital, fine recorder-playing at the hands of Pickett and Yigal Kaminka, with a delicate percussion underlay. In Corydon and Mopsa’s flirtatious duet from Act 3 of “The Fairy Queen”, bass Oded Reich (Corydon) and countertenor Alon Harari (Mopsa in a short black dress), careering on and off stage, pulled out all the plugs with a hilarious slapstick performance of the bucolic haymakers’ “No, no, no, no; no kissing at all”.

Philip Pickett’s setting of the Dutch song “When Daphne from Fair Phoebus did Fly” was enormously rewarding: verses were sung eloquently in fine British English by soprano Revital Raviv, punctuated by recorder-playing by both Pickett and Kaminka, the latter based on Jacob Van Eyck’s clever variations on the song. Their playing was spontaneous, free and expressive. Pickett’s use of fuller instrumental forces and sparer also added to the beauty of the cohesive arrangement of myth and music telling of Daphne’s infatuation.

Pickett and Kaminka also collaborated in stylish playing of William Williams’ (1677-1704) Trio Sonata no.6 in F “In Imitation of Birds” (1703). A work indebted to Jacob van Eyck’s use of bird calls (especially in the opening), the two recorder players engaged in real duo communication, in warm, living sound and blending, also bringing out the work’s occasional “strange” notes.

A different aspect of Baroque English music was heard in Thomas Baltzar’s (1630-1663) Divisions on “John Come Kiss Me Now” from John Playford’s “The Division Violin”. German-born violin virtuoso Baltzar brought new European violin-playing techniques to England. Biographer and writer on music Roger North spoke of him as showing “so much mastery upon that instrument”…”but altogether his playing was like his country: rough and harsh”. Sensitive and personal in approach, Israeli violinist Moshe Aharonov started out by reminding the audience in a most cantabile manner that the variations were based on a song. He then took the listener through the a range of imaginative division options, from flexing a line in languishing gestures, to whimsy, to exciting virtuosic moments and much personal expression.

John Blow’s (1649-1708) “Venus and Adonis” was written for private court entertainment - “A Masque for the Entertainment of the King” - the king being Charles II. In its first performance in Oxford in 1681, Venus was played by Mary "Moll" Davis, the king’s mistress, with their 10-year-old daughter in the role of Cupid. Recent research has revealed the librettist to be a woman – Anne Kingsmill - and she took the opportunity to incorporate into her setting of the mythological episode from Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” references to court morals. The plot tells of the goddess Venus, who falls in love with the mortal and virile Adonis. He leaves her to join a hunt and is mortally wounded by a boar.

The all-Israeli line-up of singers presented the work on all its levels. As Venus and Adonis, Revital Raviv and Oded Reich, suavely outfitted in trendy, modern dress, were intense and compelling, their singing eloquent and articulate, their demeanor bringing out the underlying message as to Charles II’s pleasure-loving regime. Raviv’s crystal-clear, stable and pleasingly bright voice dealt admirably with the challenges of Blow’s vocal writing as she presented Venus’ flirtatious, cunning, womanly stratagems; her stage ease and a direct line of communication with the audience were convincing and moving as were her tempting, comic and enticing laughter and womanly control, eventually turning to despair. Oded Reich, an ardent, amorous and infatuated Adonis, gave an impressive performance, his luxuriant, highly colored and true vocal timbre supporting his depiction of a man controlled, his expressive qualities giving emotional backing to the role. In the major role of Cupid, soprano Ye’ela Avital was vivacious and entertaining as she reveled mischievously in the role’s satire, instructing her army of apprentice cupids (little girls from the Young Efroni Choir) in their craft (that of causing people to fall in love with the wrong person). The choruses, performed by Barrocade Vocale plus guests, dressed as simple country folk, offered much fine, sensitive and dynamic ensemble singing, their plangent final chorus sending the audience home with a sorrowful heart. Barrocade’s instrumental playing was pure delight: fresh and subtle, the instrumentalists’ presentation of the work’s popular dances and interludes bristled with beauty and vitality (also, much fine recorder playing) suggestive of each new mood.

A work not heard enough in today’s concert halls, possibly due to its fate of being a precursor to Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas”, Blow’s “Venus and Adonis” is indeed a masterpiece; covering a range of moods, it bears French and Italian influences, yet it is ever so English. A high point of the 2013-2014 local concert season, here was Baroque pastoral opera at its best. For Philip Pickett, music is theatre and theatre is music; his recorder-playing is inspiring and his productions are not to be missed.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Moran Choirs' annual gala concert at the Tel Aviv Museum

This year’s annual gala concert of the Moran Choirs and the House of Song went under the name of “Interlinking Voices - Songs and People 2014”. The festive event, held in honor of friends and organizations that support the Moran choirs and projects, took place at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on January 26th 2014. The Moran Choir was established in 1986 by Naomi Faran; she remains the non-profit organization’s musical director and chief conductor, with several choirs functioning today. Words of welcome were spoken by Naomi Faran, whose work and mission with the formative powers of singing have taken her to many parts of the world both conducting choirs and as an educationalist. She mentioned the joy and excitement of singing, the excellence it encourages as well as a sense of giving, acceptance and a love of humanity. This year Mr. Shmuel Ben Dror, chairman of the Moran Choirs executive committee, made the decision not to talk but to sing; he was joined in very tuneful singing by a little girl from one of the choirs. Chairman of the Emek Hefer Council Mr. Rani Idan spoke of his community work with Naomi Faran and of their project of the previous year, whereby all primary school children in the area had received singing lessons.

And to the evening’s musical program, which started out with a Spanish folksong “Ai Linda Amiga” sung to haunting sounds of piano and drums by members of the Moran Choir, whose members, aged 12 to 16 (all wearing black hats) gave a competent performance, their well-blended sounds creating the piece’s exotic mood. Moving to Baroque music, their lightness of texture and good English enunciation in “Come Ye Sons of Arts” and “Sound the Trumpet” from Henry Purcell’s “Ode for Queen Mary’s Birthday” made for pleasing listening. Founded in 1986, the Moran Choir performs in all major Israeli concert halls, with orchestras, the Israeli Opera, in national ceremonies and special events and has had several works written for it. In addition, it has represented Israel at overseas festivals, competitions and workshops. Members of the Moran Choir visit the pediatric cancer ward of the Schneider Children’s Hospital, where they sing with the young patients there.

Established by Naomi Faran as a professional choir in 1998, the Moran Singers Ensemble is the senior choir of the Moran family. Among its singers, many of them soloists, are graduates of the Moran Choir, singers from the Outstanding Musicians Unit of the Israel Defense Forces and music academy students. Performing the gamut of choral music, the Ensemble has toured overseas, appearing in festivals and winning prizes at choral competitions. Conducted by Ziv Kozokro, the chamber group performed three movements from Cristóbal de Morales’ “Magnificat primi toni” (1542). The Ensemble presented the work’s piety, its subtlety and intricate Renaissance polyphony with clean, well shaped singing and warmth of sound. Testifying to the wonders of modern technology, the Moran Singers Ensemble was joined by the choir of the Bremen Academy (the latter group seen on a screen) in a poignant, velvety and totally synchronized performance of the Hebrew song “Evening of Roses” (lyrics: Moshe Dor, music: Yosef Hadar).

The Youth Choir caters to children from ages 8 to 11. At weekly rehearsals, these children receive training in group- and solo singing, acting and movement. The choir has performed in children’s operas, also in an Israeli Opera performance of Puccini’s “Tosca”. In a setting of Yehuda Atlas’s poem “This Child Is Me”, the Youth Choir’s infectious energy, the children’s confidence, use of the stage, of movement, in small solos and much pleasing ensemble singing, one was inspired by the energy, enthusiasm and musicality displayed. Corinne Allal’s catchy song “We Are a Rare Breed”, focusing on the raw reality of life in Israel, brought the Youth Choir together with a few boys from the Tokayer Boarding School. The polished, foot-tapping and well rehearsed performance, with solos sung by boys from the Tokayer School, was hearty and enormously enjoyable. The Tokayer School at Kibbutz Bachan is an institution for at-risk children. The connection between them and the Youth Choir was initiated by Naomi Faran and Nachum Itzkovich, head of the Emek Hefer Council. Weekly rehearsals, under the guidance of Anat Alpan, bring together the 70 children and youngsters of the Tokayer School from age 7 to 15 in what could really be called a “singing school”. A small group of the Tokayer children travel to Beit Yitzhak to rehearse with the Moran Youth Choir.

Another Moran outreach program takes place within the Nitzan Onim Center, Kfar Saba, a facility offering a rehabilitative- and therapeutic framework for young people of 18 to 25 with learning disabilities and problems related to adaptation and social functioning. Composer and arranger Rani Golan works with the young singers there, who take their music studies very seriously. They also join the Moran Singers Ensemble for joint work and performances. We heard the two ensembles in a fine performance of Rani Golan’s upbeat arrangement of Eli Mohar’s “The Great Journey”, its snappy rhythms backed by piano and percussion. In another important project, Ronen Perry runs the choir at the Dana Club (Kibbutz Giv’at Haim Ihud) for special needs children, a project set up in 2001 by Naomi Faran. In addition to its weekly rehearsals, the group also meets with the Moran Choir for joint performances, as we heard in their mellifluous singing of Naomi Shemer’s “I Am a Guitar”. In a small film clip, we saw a little of the joint choral work at the Dana Club, with one of the members talking of the enrichment and sense of self singing gives her.

As of 2006, Naomi Faran has done much to include children of the Ethiopian community in her choirs. One of these projects has been “Sheba”, a choir founded 20 years ago by Shlomo Gronich. Since 2013, the Moran Choir has been meeting with this group from Kfar Yona, a choir conducted by Eva de Majo. Naomi Faran spoke of the unique singing voices and musical tradition of these Ethiopian girls. In what could only be called excellent singing and fine intonation, the two groups joined to perform Shlomo Gronich’s setting of the Bertolt Brecht poem “All Shall Be”.

The Moran Little Ones Choir gave a delightful, fresh performance of a song from “Alice in Wonderland”, the enearing quality of their voices winning the audience over. These are children who are learning the fundamentals of correct singing, how to read music, how to listen and how to express themselves through song. Their repertoire, including movement, is based on songs appropriate to their age and includes some original material.

One of the Moran Choirs’ most prominent graduates is soprano Hadas Faran-Asia. A soloist and opera singer, Hadas was a soloist of the Moran Singers Ensemble for many years and a member of the Israeli Bach Soloists. Today she performs and works as a voice coach with the Moran Choirs. Her performance of Léo Delibes’ “Les Filles de Cadix” (The Maids of Cadiz), a bolero with a flirtatious attitude, was a fine vehicle for her coloratura voice and vocal flexibility as she sailed her way through the work’s virtuosic melismatic turns, vocalizes and trills, chromatic runs. Hadas Faran-Asia’s stable, bright vocal color and superb technique pair well with her animated personality.

Pianist Oleg Yakirevich’s performance of two Chopin preludes lent a tasteful touch to the evening’s music. Quick-witted comedienne Eleanor Sela had the audience in peals of laughter, her patter all based on the subject of the Moran choirs and the event itself.

It was a festive evening of fine music and sheer enjoyment. The audience was offered a rich selection of the work of several of the Moran choirs – of beautiful singing and excellence - as well as the tireless work carried out by Naomi Faran and her devoted team of coaches and pianists. All was done in good taste - the simple but effective costumes, the use of movement and stage and the quiet order in which all was carried out. Behind all of these lies Naomi Faran’s belief in human interaction and respect, in the importance of listening to the other, in acceptance and giving and in the powers of singing.