Monday, April 14, 2014

Zsolt Nagy and the Israel Contemporary Players at the Jerusalem Music Centre

Concert no.4 of the Israel Contemporary Players’ 2013-2014 Discoveries Series was a program of premieres - premieres for the ensemble or new settings of existing works by composers. Taking place at the Jerusalem Music Centre April 6th 2014, the concert was conducted by Zsolt Nagy, the ICP’s chief conductor and artistic adviser as of 1999, with soloists Gao Ping (piano, voice) and Boris Filanovsky (voice).

Founded in 1991, the Israel Contemporary Players perform 20th- and 21st century works of composers from many countries, they receive regular commissions, perform and record works by Israeli composers and have premiered over 100 new Israeli works to date. The ensemble and series are under the artistic direction of Dan Yuhas and Zmira Lutsky.

“Rewind” by Ofer Pelz (b.1978) was composed in 2013 for a workshop of the Nouvel Ensemble Moderne. The final version of the work was, however, premiered by the Israel Contemporary Players and received the ACUM Prize for a work presented anonymously. As the name implies, “Rewind” makes reference to the world of digital music, in which “one can turn back and say the same thing again and again”, in the words of the composer. Performed on acoustic instruments, however, the work opened with a lot of very small, delicate effects (instrumental and otherwise) those including the crinkling of paper; it was constructed of short phrases, some of minimal sound, some of delicate, high pitches consisting of flageolets, with others more intense. Phrases were punctuated by silences, these pauses taking on more meaning as they accumulated, plunging the listener into a heightened state of concentration and bringing him into close contact with his own senses. The beauty of small gestures articulated cleanly and with delicacy is paramount in this work. One of Israel’s most prominent young composers, Ofer Pelz is currently engaging in doctoral studies at Montreal University. He was present at the concert.

Born in Leningrad in 1968, Boris Filanovsky recently immigrated to Israel. A graduate of the Rimsky Korsakov State Conservatoire and former student of Paul-Heinz Dittrich and Louis Andriessen, he performs as a vocalist/narrator, with dozens of works by Russian composers dedicated to him. Since 2000, he has been the director of “eNsemble”, the only contemporary music ensemble in Leningrad. “Words and Spaces” (2005) is scored for baritone parlando and nine players. The work is based on the last words of Dutch Schultz (born Arthur Simon Flegenheimer 1901-1935) a New York City German-Jewish mobster, who made his fortune in organized crime and was known for his ruthlessness, violence and temper. A strange stream-of-consciousness, the 600-word text presents the gangster’s final, disjointed, utterances after he had been shot. Filanovsky chose the specific scoring of flute, piccolo, oboe, clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon, contrabassoon, French horn, trumpet, trombone and double bass to create potency and intensity of mood. Performing the text in the original English in what was the Israeli premiere of “Words and Spaces”, Filanovsky’s reading strode well beyond the boundaries of poetry recital. Moving with the music, with the words taking on a theatrical dimension, from vehement shouting, to a kind of Sprechgesang and strange contortions of words, the composer/performer layered the text with “instrumental” effects as offered by the potential of certain words when presenting the confused delirium of the dying mob boss’s warped mind. The work’s instrumental textures moved hand-in-glove with the words in confrontational synchronization. Filanovsky is certainly an interesting artist. This was polished performance at its most expressive.

The second half of the program consisted of works by Chinese composers. Born on 1958 in a small village in southern China, Deqing Wen studied Composition in China, Switzerland and France. Today he is professor of Composition and Analysis of Performance of Contemporary Music at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. His creative style and inspiration bring together traditional Chinese music and complex western techniques. Wen is profoundly influenced by Chinese culture, in particular, philosophy, painting and the ancient art of calligraphy; “Ink Splashing” (2007) for nine instruments is indicative of the latter. Sensitively threaded into an evocative canvas alive with a great many textures, motifs and ideas, including blowing effects, glissandi, muted trombone-playing, vibraphone sounds and long, drawn-out notes sung by some of the players, all came together in a world of imaginings and ancient remembrances. Nagy and his players address the work’s textures, using dynamics ranging from the most fragile to a full-blown, sturdy instrumental statement.

The program concluded with “The Four Not-Alike” (2012), a concerto for multi-function pianist and chamber orchestra by Gao Ping, who was also soloist in his work. Born in the Sichuan Province in 1970, Gao Ping gained his keen interest in vocal music from his singer mother and in contemporary music from his father. A sought-after pianist on the international scene, Gao’s recitals often feature improvisations. He received his doctorate from the University of Cincinnati, taking up a lectureship in Composition at Canterbury University (Christchurch, New Zealand), currently serving as professor of Composition at Capital Normal University (Beijing). Similarly to Deqing Wen, Gao merges western and eastern styles, his music reflecting his interest in China and its multiple pasts. In an interview with Hanna Virtanen for the GBTIMES in July 2012, Gao said that, in his youth, Russian and French music had been the main influence on him, music he had learned and grown up with. “Then there is the other side, my Chineseness, and I think it is a mix.” “The Four Not-Alike” was composed in 2012 for the Forbidden City Chamber Orchestra, an ensemble whose members play on traditional Chinese instruments. The setting we heard at the Jerusalem Music Centre was an arrangement created especially for the Israel Contemporary Players. A vibrant work, Gao’s performance included fresh, buoyant, virtuosic playing, Chinese traditional opera-style singing – his range wide and flexible – and other effects: clapping, whistling, striking the piano, strumming the piano strings, etc. Within its opening notes, the first movement had drawn the audience into a kaleidoscope of vitality, jazzy rhythms and nostalgic Chinese-sounding melodies soaring above a robust instrumental texture. The second movement presented an exotic soundscape based on delicate, descending minor seconds, the flute (Naama Neuman) enouncing a haunting melody, with the third movement expressing deep, personal sentiments via short utterances, exhaling effects and Gao’s vehement singing. The final movement, energizing and full of timbral interest, brought the work to a close.

Zsolt Nagy and the Israel Contemporary Players’ meticulous and diligent performance gave meaning and depth to what was indeed, a fascinating program.

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