Saturday, March 22, 2014

Ensemble PHOENIX performs Hummel's settings of Mozart and Beethoven symphonies

Amidst deafening thunderclaps and forks of lightning illuminating the night sky on March 12th 2014, we mounted the steps to the Austrian Hospice of the Holy Family in the Via Dolorosa in the Jerusalem’s Old City. The evening’s event was “A New Angle: Hummel’s Chamber Versions of Mozart and Beethoven” performed by Ensemble PHOENIX members Flautist Moshe Aron Epstein, violinist Jonathan Keren and keyboard player Marina Minkin, with PHOENIX founder and director Myrna Herzog on ‘cello.

Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837), a prominent composer of the late Classical period, was best known for his solo compositions and piano concertos, but his oeuvre includes chamber music, operas and sacred works. His groundbreaking three-volume treatise “A Complete Theoretical and Practical Course on the Art of Pianoforte Playing”, published in 1828, was bought by thousands of musicians throughout Europe. Hummel was born in Bratislava. When his family moved to Vienna in 1786, he went to study with Mozart, with whom he lived for two years; these two years paved the way for his career as a piano virtuoso, composer and conductor. After a concert tour of Europe at age ten, Hummel and his father spent time in London, where Hummel studied with Clementi. Back in Vienna in 1793, Hummel, now 14, began studies with Albrechtsberger, turning his attention from the concert stage to teaching and composing. His first major appointment was in April 1804, when he took the position of concertmaster to Prince Nikolaus Esterházy at his Eisenstadt court, from which the composer was dismissed in 1811. Returning to live in Vienna, he toured Europe with much success as a pianist and conductor. His last posts were as Kapellmeister in Stuttgart (1816) and Weimar (1819).

Musical arrangement was central throughout Hummel’s career. These transcriptions served as house music. Dr. Myrna Herzog introduced the concert by reminding the audience that people of the time did not attend many concerts and those who played instruments could enjoy familiarizing themselves with these orchestral works by playing them at home. Many 4-hand piano arrangements of symphonies exist from that time. Hummel’s transcriptions for more instruments, however, create a more orchestrated soundscape. He produced some fifty transcriptions of works in a variety of musical genres, from opera overtures to symphonies and chamber music.

We were to hear two arrangements played by instruments of his time: Moshe Aron Epstein played a late Classical/early Romantic flute built by George Rudall (London, 1827), Jonathan Keren played on an English violin of the late 18th century, Marina Minkin on an 1800 Baas fortepiano, and Myrna Herzog on a ‘cello built by Andrea Castagnery (Paris, c.1740). Herzog and Keren were using Classical bows, producing a sound very different to that heard when playing with Baroque bows. The salon of the Austrian Hospice could only be considered the ideal setting; its side walls painted by F.Eichele and J.Kaltenbach, with four biblical scenes on the ceiling painted by an unknown wandering artist, transported the audience back in time to experience what would have been music-making in a private home in the early 19th century.

Hummel’s arrangement of Mozart's works are an eloquent mark of respect to his teacher. In 1823 and 1824, he received the commission for these arrangements from J.R.Schulz, a musician/publisher living in England at the time, a good businessman and negotiator. These arrangements were completed during Hummel's time as Kapellmeister at the Weimar court. They display a deep understanding of Mozart’s music and thinking; it is known that Hummel invested much time into writing these arrangements and that the outcome was lucrative. Schultz wanted Hummel to change some of Mozart’s harmonies, the request supported by fellow composer Ignaz Moscheles, but Hummel was not comfortable with the idea. Changes he did make tie in with contemporary (early Romantic) taste and his own virtuosity, making the piano prominent in these settings. To create a sense of orchestral sound, he made some rhythmic changes, inserting crescendo signs and also adding more contrasted dynamic markings. He took a more modern approach to the manner of ornamenting, abandoning the Baroque practice of starting an embellishment a second above the melody note; he also gave each movement precise metronome markings (not that early metronomes were precise).

In a carefully balanced reading of Hummel’s setting of W.A.Mozart’s Symphony no.38 in D major, the distinctive sounds of the four instruments played off against each other in a combination of sounds that formed a vividly-colored interwoven musical fabric, yet one highly personal and articulately delineated by nature of the timbres of the four instruments and their players. With Marina Minkin’s spirited treatment of the virtuosic keyboard part, the ‘cello’s support present in its imperative role as the bass timbre, violin (Keren) and flute (Epstein) communicated closely in interaction bristling with charm and tenderness. Moshe Aron Epstein’s secure, stable sound came across as effortless, the 1827 Rudall flute sounding warm, mellow and solid. With Jonathan Keren, no gesture passed him by without receiving response, shape, expression and affect. The Baas fortepiano is proving to be no wimp; following recent work on it by restorer Zamir Havkin, its unbridled sound dazzled and excited more than ever under Minkin’s fingers. Its uniquely gregarious timbre is not to be missed by anyone interested in historical instruments. With no intention to imitate a symphony orchestra and no apology for the absence of clarinets, Hummel’s setting of the “Prague” Symphony was an uplifting experience.

For many years, Hummel enjoyed a close friendship with Beethoven, this more than once marred by disagreements, the last of which taking place in the late 1810s, possibly over Hummel’s arrangements of Beethoven’s music. Then, hearing that Beethoven was very ill, Hummel traveled from Weimar to visit the great master before his death. At Beethoven’s wish, Hummel improvised at his memorial concert. In Hummel’s 1826 arrangement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony no.1 in C major, the keyboard player is, once again, presented with a score abundant in challenges; Marina Minkin took them on impressively. The quartet juxtaposed the drama with the cantabile aspects of the symphony, the tutti substantial, warm and satisfying, the more minimally orchestrated (and exposed) moments searching, fragile and carefully crafted.

No season goes by without Dr. Myrna Herzog offering audiences new insight into rare works or seldom-heard settings of familiar works. This unique program constituted more than just a musical curio: here was superb house-music of times past delivered with stylish and well-informed performance. Elated and inspired, some listeners stayed on, not ready to leave the venue before engaging in lively discussion with the artists on Hummel's arrangements before braving the elements outside.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Highlights from the 2014 Eilat Chamber Music Festival

The 2014 Eilat Chamber Music Festival took place at the Dan Eilat Hotel from February 24th to March 1st. In its 9th year, the festival’s general- and artistic director is violinist and conductor and founder of the festival Leonid Rozenberg. Gilli Alon-Bitton of Carousel Artists Management & PR was artistic consultant and coordinator. Yossi Shiffmann presented each of the concerts. The festival offered 14 concerts as well as master classes for young musicians. Concerts took place in two halls at the Dan Hotel – the Tarshish Hall and the larger Big Blue Hall.

“Trees, Walls, Cities”, its title taken from the final work in the concert performed by the Brodsky Quartet and mezzo-soprano Lore Lixenberg, was one of the high points of the 2014 Eilat Chamber Music Festival, both in the concert’s distinctive performance and its original programming. In a very atypical opening to a concert of this kind, the Brodsky Quartet and Lore Lixenberg shake the chamber music audience out of any conventional expectations by performing Icelandic composer-singer Björk’s philosophical song “Cover Me”. We are now already a party to the quartet’s delicate approach and Lixenberg’s multi-faceted art. It transpires that the Brodsky Quartet has recorded with Björk, herself.

With convention happily out of the way, it was smooth sailing into Franz Schubert’s “Du bist die Ruh” (You are Rest and Peace), with quartet and singer floating the sensuous, almost spiritual course of the song in rich tranquility, with Lixenberg moving seamlessly from forte to fragile piano, losing no sonority on the way. This was followed by a memorable performance of Schubert’s “Der Tod und das Mädchen” (Death and the Maiden), the miniature but powerful dialogue playing out in Lixenberg’s convincing and controlled depiction of both characters, ending with Death’s voice depicted in dark, soothing tones. In “Dido’s Lament”, from Henry Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas”, Lixenberg and the quartet held onto the piece’s mellifluous calm, Lixenberg using key words to color and build towards the piece’s vehement ending in a performance that was intensely personal. Turning to a different genre, yet connecting with the mood of the preceding pieces, we then heard the Brodsky Quartet in a performance Schubert’s String Quartet no.13 in a minor D.804 opus 29, “Rosamunde”. The players – violinists Ian Belton and Daniel Rowland, violist Paul Cassidy and ‘cellist Jacqueline Thomas - paid respect to the work’s introspective character, its darkly, lyrical mood created by the suffering of an ailing Schubert. With an economical use of decisive, forte playing, the players wove its nostalgic beauty in sculpted, filigree lines, Schubert’s brighter moments clothed in warmth and charm rather than pulsing energy. Taking its name from the great Russian violinist Adolf Brodsky, the Brodsky Quartet, not restricted to merely performing string quartet repertoire in its 40-year existence, tackles non-mainstream theatrical-musical material.

”Trees, Walls, Cities”, a newly commissioned song cycle for the Brodsky Quartet and Lore Lixenberg is, in the words of Ian Ritchie, initiator of the project and director of the London Festival, involved in the brokering of peace. The project, created by the City of London Festival in partnership with the Walled City Festival and brought together by Nigel Osborne, links Derry-Londonderry, the City of London, Utrecht, Berlin, Vienna, Dubrovnik, Nicosia and Jerusalem via eight songs of local poets and composers in the message that trees symbolize freedom, nourishment, environmental planning and peace, whereas as city walls can exist either as historic, defensive structures surrounding people or as modern means of keeping people apart. At its Israeli premiere at the Jerusalem International YMCA on February 26th 2014, composer and oud player Habib Hanna Shehadeh (b. Rama, a Galilee village, 1974) spoke of the work as a “journey of love”. The songs were varied in style and message; Lixenberg took on the character of each, her sturdy voice once operatic, once folk-sounding, producing bird calls (music-Jocelyn Pook, Richard Thomas-lyrics, London), the reality of spoken text (Theo Verbey-music, Peter Huchel-lyrics, Utrecht), to the entwining of her voice around the sensuous text of the Song of Songs (Hanna Habib Shehadeh-music, Jerusalem). The challenging instrumental settings allowed for much imagination and expression, from the prominent, evocative string part of “Once There Was an Island” (Christopher Norby music, Matt Jennings-lyrics, Derry-Londonderry), to the complex intensity of “Just Outside” (Søren Nils Eichberg-music, lyrics, Berlin), to the atonal, mixed textures of the frenzied “When God Was Creating Dubrovnik (Isidora Žebeljan-music, Milan Milišić-lyrics, Dubrovnik) to the evoking of inner- and outer voices in fragmented word-play uttered by the instrumentalists against Lixenberg’s singing of incomplete Turkish phonemes in the sad, haunting “Walls Have Ears” (Yannis Kyriakides-music, Mehmet Yashin-lyrics, Nicosia) to the energetic, tonal chords but oriental rhythms wedding the Palestinian composer’s music education with the traditions of his background in “Song of Songs”. Born in the UK, singer and director Lore Lixenberg has a palette of timbral colors to match her extensive emotional scope; her repertoire ranges from opera to recitals and concert repertoire and to music-theatre, with much focus on contemporary classical music.


In his piano recital in the Tarshish Hall of the Dan Eilat Hotel on February 28th, Daniel-Ben Pienaar played all 24 preludes and fugues of Book 1 of J.S.Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier”. Born in South Africa, Pienaar moved to London at age 18 to study at the Royal College of Music, where he is now Curzon Lecturer in Performance Studies. After so many of us have followed the authentic movement’s roller coaster re-education on the subject of Baroque music performance practice, here is a pianist aware of all the performance styles Bach’s music has been through and, refuting none of them, brings his own ideas of playing Bach on the piano to the concert platform. Performing the whole of one book of the WTC would have been unheard of in Bach’s time; Bach wrote the pieces for personal enjoyment and for educational purposes. His manuscript consisted only of the musical text with almost no markings for the performer, thus inviting the keyboard player to form his own interpretation of these perfectly formed small pairs of pieces. Pienaar has made a deep enquiry into the micro and macro of Book 1 of the WTC, has formulated his own ideas on each piece and how they all “stack up”, in his words. Utilizing his superb technique, his fantasy and the possibilities of the modern piano, Daniel-Ben Pienaar takes us on a truly exciting journey through the pieces, showing the uniqueness of each as well as how the pieces can be contrasted with each other. Prelude no 3 in C sharp major, for example, is played with light, buoyant brilliance, its fugue fresh and bold. Following it, Prelude no. 4 in C sharp minor’s mystery unfolds via Bach’s surprising harmonic course, its fugue bathed in a sense of almost religious awe. Prelude no.15 was played a sense of weightlessness, the incredible speed and agility with which the artist took it ruling out neither articulacy or nor direction. The fugue was a celebration of Bach’s literally offbeat rhythmic ideas. Pienaar is into the use of textures and color and sees his use of the sustaining pedal here as inter-connected with other musical techniques and ideas. Another strategy he uses is taking tiny pauses between pieces or not, using the latter to keep tension high by proceeding directly with no breath between pieces. Listeners were kept at the edge of their seats throughout, finally arriving at Prelude no. 24 in B minor. Here, Pienaar took the listener into both the inner regions of the mind and into the sophistication of Bach’s canonic thinking, then concluding with the mighty 4-voiced B minor fugue (actually marked Largo by Bach), its subject using all 12 semi-tones, a work atonal well before its time, bringing to an end a recital bristling with interest, creativeness and aesthetic beauty.


Founded in 1997 and taking its name from Vivaldi (who was both a priest and a redhead) “Red Priest” is an English quartet of early music specialists – Piers Adams-recorders, Julia Bishop-violin, Angela East-‘cello and David Wright-harpsichord – who combine music, theatre and visual effects in performance that is unrestricted by academic formalities, yet well grounded in knowledge of the music. The opening of the “Venetian Carnival” program on Friday February 28th in the Dan Eilat Hotel’s Big Blue Hall saw the Red Priest players performing a Vivaldi concerto (“The Nightmare Concerto”) with frenzied energy; looking satanic in black cloaks, their faces also covered, with images of fire flashed onto the screen and the occasional thunder clap mixing in with the music, the artists were inviting listeners to let down their guard and join them in a musical-theatrical-visual experience that was about as unorthodox as it gets! With cloaks out of the way and faces now in view, the Red Priest players gave their unique take on a number of small works: these included an energetic ostinato-propelled Ciaccona of Mauricio Cazzati, Händel’s “Aria Amoroso” with Piers Adams’ expressive and caressing recorder playing inclusive of interesting ornaments played to scenes showing Venice, ‘cellist Angela East’s luxuriantly resonant and naturally flexed playing of the Prelude from J.S.Bach’s ‘Cello Suite no.1 and Piers Adams’ virtuosic performance of one of the Van Eyck sets of variations, beginning with the theme whistled. Their performance of Corelli’s “La Folia” Variations bowled one over with its variety of fiery moments, a brilliant harpsichord variation, jazz references and the virtuosic Adams making use of different recorders. In the two concerts Red Priest performed at the festival, we were to discover that Piers Adams is the ultimate quick-change recorder artist. And to fuel the satanic mood with which the event began, we heard Robert Johnson’s (1911-1938) “The Witches’ Dance” on violin, ‘cello and harpsichord, its ghostly moments peppered with much brilliant violin playing (Julia Bishop) as well as strange effects and witchlike laughs. (A famous blues guitarist, it was said that the devil gave Robert Johnson mastery of the instrument in exchange for his soul.)

Following the intermission, with the artists’ demonic black and red clothes all but forgotten, the artists appeared dressed as country characters in light colors for the pastoral mood of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”; on the screen, nature scenes and poetry added to the mood. In this work, the instrumentalists were joined by dancers Mario Bermudez Gil and Shani Licht, both members of the Batsheva Ensemble (Israel); expressive and masterful, the dancers added much interest and beauty to the performance. The players themselves presented the moods of each season theatrically and musically, with much pizzazz and the wink of an eye.

In Red Priest’s new program, “Händel in the Wind”, performed March 1st, we heard several of the composer’s celebrated works, however, with the ensemble’s own approach. In his program notes, Piers Adams provides the audience with some background to Red Priest’s decisions, mentioning the fact that Händel was known to have played the harpsichord “at whirlwind speed”, that “in Baroque times the personal whim and creativity of the performer were paramount” and that “some accounts” of concerts of the time “describe scenes more akin to modern day rock concerts than classical recitals”. The performance in hand presented several movements from “Messiah”, the idea initiated by ‘cellist Angela East. The pieces were infused with bird calls (played by Adams on two recorders), an energizing performance of “Every Valley”, “The Trumpet Shall Sound” being replaced by “The Recorder Shall Sound” played by Adams as festively as any trumpet would and with more ornamentation, poignant violin melodies (Julia Bishop), small whimsical quotes, some blue notes and a … jazzy “Hallelujah Chorus”!

In Red Priest’s treatment of Georg Frideric Händel’s soprano aria “Lascia ch’io pianga”, recycled a number of times by the composer himself, the soulful melody was initially presented most expressively by ‘cellist Angela East:
‘Let me weep
My cruel fate
And sight for liberty.
May sorrow break these chains
Of my sufferings, for pity’s sake.’
This was followed with skilful variations on violin and concluding with a boogie-woogie-based recorder version. In “The Harmonious Blacksmith”, a melody first heard by the composer when whistled by a London blacksmith, the ensemble gave it a folksy atmosphere, with virtuosic performances from East and Adams.

Harpsichordist David Wright’s scintillating performance of the Prelude of Händel’s B flat major Keyboard Suite highlighted the composer’s lavish style, spontaneity and fantasy, its energy and unpredictability. Of Händel’s sonata repertoire, we heard vivid readings of Sonata in F major opus 2 no.4 and Recorder Sonata in B minor in which contrast, beauty of sound and brilliance of technique made for music-making that was vital and spirited.


I wish to mention some of the works in which pianist Amir Katz played. “Trios”, which took place on March 1st in the Tarshish Hall of the Dan Eilat Hotel, opened with Robert Schumann’s “Märchenbilder” (Fairytale Pictures) for viola and piano, opus 113. The set of vignettes composed in 1851 (subtly shaded with the early signs of Schumann’s approaching madness) and centred on the D tonalities (major and minor) was played by Lise Berthaud (France) and Amir Katz (Germany/Israel). In this delightful work, not frequently performed on the concert stage, the artists displayed much give and take and a good measure of fantasy. They used fragile understatement, inner sensibility and play of color; the magical escapism of the world of fairy tales was sensitively balanced with both the forthright- and submissive sides of the composer’s character (referred to by Schumann himself as Florestan and Eusebius).

This was followed by Felix Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio in D minor, performed by violinist Anton Barachovsky (Novosibirsk, Russia), ‘cellist François Salque (France) and Amir Katz (b. Ramat Gan, Israel). Creating a rich kaleidoscope of Romantic textures and moods, these three very fine artists wove together the threads of the work’s personal voice. Amir Katz opened the second movement with a solo infused with the delicate grace of what could easily have been one of the “Songs without Words”. The artists gave the Scherzo - fleet, capricious and devilishly virtuosic – a touch of the playful magic, as heard in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, this to be whisked away by the powerful rush of the final movement, at times orchestral in proportions, in which Katz dealt no less skillfully with its dizzying arpeggios and chromatic octaves as with the work’s lyricism. The performance brought together playing possessing freshness, ideas and total involvement.

Following the series of Beethoven sonatas he performed throughout Europe throughout last year, pianist Amir Katz is laying that specific repertoire aside to engage in recitals of Romantic music. In the festival’s Grand Finale, taking place in the Big Blue Hall on March 1st, Katz performed Frédéric Chopin’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra no.2 with the Igor Lerman Chamber Orchestra from Russia (conductor - Igor Lerman) the resident orchestra for the 2014 Eilat Chamber Music Festival. Chopin wrote his two piano concertos within a year, with Concerto no.2 in F minor actually written first; the composer was only 20 when he completed it. Following the long orchestral exposition of the opening Maestoso movement, Katz tempered the virtuosic piano part with a sense of well-being and poetry; filigree melodic strands, “hidden” voices and delicate details cascading forth were cushioned in the warmth of Chopinesque harmony. Orchestra and soloist struck a fine balance in the Larghetto movement, something of a Nocturne, Chopin’s delicate, dream-filled and limber melodies overlaid with sensual ornamentation that was never marred by excessive use of the sustaining pedal; here, we heard Katz producing some bewitching, glowing, bell-like piano colors. Resplendent with brilliance, the Allegro Vivace, with its piquant references to Polish dances, was not used as a vehicle for showmanship in Katz’s hands: passagework meant direction, with key changes ever shading the music differently.

Once again, the 2014 Eilat Chamber Music Festival offered a fine variety of concerts and repertoire and the opportunity to hear some of today’s most interesting artists.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Dan Eilat Hotel as the venue for the Eilat Chamber Music Festival

The 9th Eilat Chamber Music Festival took place at the Dan Hotel Eilat from February 24th to March 1st 2014. This was the second time the festival has been held at the Dan, a hotel of 375 rooms on Eilat’s north shore. Under the general- and artistic direction of Leonid Rozenberg, the Eilat Chamber Music Festival offered 14 concerts this year, its artists also running master classes for young musicians. Gilli Alon-Bitton of Carousel Artists Management and PR was artistic consultant and coordinator, with Yossi Schiffmann as presenter.

How is a resort hotel transformed to a classical music festival venue? I met with the Dan Eilat Hotel’s general manager Mr. Lior Mucznik on February 28th to discuss the question.

PH: What can you tell me about the Dan Eilat Hotel?

Lior Mucznik: The Dan Eilat is considered Israel’s number one vacation hotel today. The hotel has won several certificates of excellence and awards from several organizations, those including the Council for a Beautiful Israel. By the way, the Dan Eilat Hotel was listed as one of the 25 best vacation hotels of the Middle East, with the top ten being in Dubai. No other Israeli hotel made the list. An Israeli 5-star hotel right on the waterfront, with three pools of its own, the Dan Eilat caters to the Israeli- and overseas visitor, to families and to conference tourism. For obvious reasons, the summer is best suited to family vacationing. In other seasons we run events of a very different kind. The Dan is the main conference center in Eilat. As of the end of October up to February every year, we host a great number of conferences – medical conferences of all kinds, conferences for lawyers, accountants, insurance agents, biologists, solar energy specialists, hi-tech people, etc.

PH: What sections of the public interest you?

LM: We are interested in attracting many different sections of the community, one very specific group being the classical concert-going public.

PH: Do you host music festivals other than the Eilat Chamber Music Festival?

LM: No. But we take part in other Eilat festivals in that we accommodate guests attending them, whether it is the summer Eilat Jazz Festival or the Eilat Winter Jazz Festival.

PH: And the Eilat Chamber Music Festival?

LM: For some time, I have been aware that this is a festival of a superior standard, with high quality events. Two years ago, I took the decision to host the Eilat Chamber Music Festival here at the Dan Eilat. Last year’s festival, the first at the Dan, was in May in order to fit in with American actor John Malkovich’s schedule. He played in “The Infernal Comedy”, which was the main event of the 2013 festival. But May is somewhat problematic timewise, bordering on the summer season; because we need more rooms at the hotel for the Chamber Music Festival, I believe it should take place in the winter. So this year it was at the end of February and we can see how much more successful this timing is. (Next year’s will take place at the beginning of February.)

PH: What is the capacity of the halls?

LM: As concert venues, the Big Blue Hall seats some 500 people and the Tarshish Hall has 323 seats. We sold over 2000 concert tickets for the 2014 Eilat Chamber Music Festival!

PH: To Israeli- or overseas guests?

LM: To both. However, to encourage incoming overseas tourism, I have offered the concert tickets for free to overseas guests choosing to stay at the Dan. Some of these guests, of course, stay longer than the festival.

PH: How much of the hotel is occupied by festival-goers this week?

LM: That is difficult to estimate with any accuracy. I know how many people booked hotel-ticket packages through us, but there are other guests here who ordered concert their tickets separately. However, looking at our guests, it is obvious to me who the festival-goers are. What I can tell you is that, of the 375 rooms in the hotel, we kept 300 for those people attending the festival. The artists are accommodated at the Dan at our expense. There are no vacancies this week, meaning that, whatever the number of guests we have, the festival has attracted a great many people. I would estimate that more than 50% of the rooms are occupied by people here for the festival.

PH: I have noticed that there are many more concerts over the weekend than in the preceding days.

LM: Yes. Here we take into account the fact that people are freer to attend the festival over the weekend. It is a fact that there were considerably more festival guests from Thursday to Sunday.

PH: Have people living locally been buying tickets to the concerts?

LM: Most definitely.

PH: Would you like to talk about preparations made at the hotel for the festival?

LM: Yes. Prior to the festival, it takes a week to set up our two large halls – the Tarshish Hall and the larger Big Blue Hall – to build stages, to install risers. We need to prepare other rooms for the master classes as well as practice rooms for the artists. In the week set aside for setting up the halls as concert halls, we do not host conferences. Another aspect is the business of planning and marketing the festival, the packages, the special prices and the decision to keep many rooms reserved for festival-goers right up to the last moment. The festival centre is then set up here, as are ticket stands. We need ushers. Then there is the subject of catering and the printing up of new menus; the lobby menu, for example, takes on a more Viennese flavor, with Apfelstrudel and Sachertorte served. And, following the last evening concert each day, our chefs are there with hot soup, pastries, chocolates and wine for everyone. These post-concert spreads have been much appreciated by audiences. The festival ends with a cocktail party for the artists. All the above details come together within one week after months of planning.

PH: Do you bring in extra workers for the festival?

LM: No. We organize it using our own staff. Only when it comes to ushers, we do employ extra people in order to have enough of our security people manning the hotel.

PH: What about pianos?

LM: We have one piano in the hotel. More pianos are brought in for the duration of the festival. And, of course, there is also the importance of tuning them.

PH: Do you consider all of this profitable businesswise?

LM: That I really cannot say and it is not even our top priority in this case. But, as far as putting the Dan Hotel Eilat “on the map”, this is indeed an important and auspicious event.

I spoke to some of the festival audience members to hear their opinions on the festival and on the Dan Eilat as a concert venue. A couple from Tel Aviv – she a biochemist and he in the tourist business – was attending the festival for the third time. They have, however, stayed at the Dan Eilat several times. In Tel Aviv, they subscribe to the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra’s concerts and the New Israeli Opera. Attending six concerts of the present festival, they were happy with the acoustics of the two Dan Hotel halls; with a tendency to back pain, she found the seats uncomfortable. Now attending the festival on a regular basis and full of enthusiasm for it, they mentioned their surprise at the fact that the festival was not highly publicized.

I approached a couple from Eilat. Both now retired, he is an engineer by profession and she worked in air travel. A keen music-lover, she remembers when there were no classical music events in the town. She now attends all classical music events in Eilat, most of them taking place at the Eilat Conservatory. She and her husband have been attending the festival from the day it started, this year choosing to hear two concerts. With a special love for chamber music, she finds the Big Blue Hall less friendly than the smaller, more intimate Tarshish Hall. Another Eilat resident seen at the concerts was Dutch-born Mrs. Agnes Brevet. A pianist, ‘cellist and flautist and teacher at the Eilat Conservatory, she and Leonid Rozenberg have spent much time exchanging ideas on the quality of Eilat’s musical life. Feeling that something was missing in the town’s cultural existence, Mrs. Brevet wanted to contribute to improving it. She contacted the Arnica Foundation in Holland and, with the support of this foundation, she and Rozenberg started the Eilat Chamber Music Festival nine years ago. She has remained involved in the festival ever since and has only praise for the Dan Eilat and for the wholehearted and generous way the hotel has taken the festival under its wing. Mrs. Brevet spoke of the halls at the Dan as, despite not being built as concert halls, being as good as any of the hotel halls the festival has used, and far superior to the Eilat Theatre.

A couple visiting from Manchester, U.K., combining a good-weather vacation with fine music, was attending the Eilat Chamber Music Festival for the third time. The two, he a lawyer and she a social worker, attend concerts and opera at home. Not staying at the Dan Hotel, they were attending five concerts of the festival. Referring back to when the festival took place at the poorly situated Eilat Theatre, the two were more than satisfied with the two Dan Hotel halls. Two other non-Israelis attending the festival were a journalist couple from Berlin, Germany. This was their first trip to Eilat. Regular concert-goers in Berlin, they had heard about the Eilat Chamber Music Festival from a Jerusalem friend and were surprised there had been so little publicity for the event. Staying at a hotel within walking distance of the Dan, they attended three concerts; they found the Dan Hotel halls to their liking and were impressed by the variety of musical events offered. “Trees, Walls, Cities” (the Brodsky Quartet with mezzo-soprano Lore Lixenberg)had left a strong impression on them.