Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra performs on the eve of Israel's 2014 Independence Day

The annual Independence Eve concert of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra IBA took place on May 5th 2014 in the Henry Crown Symphony Hall, Jerusalem Theatre. Due to illness of the orchestra’s house conductor, Frédéric Chaselin, the concert was conducted by Yuval Zorn and Amos Boasson.

Having performed extensively as a pianist in Israel and Europe, Israeli-born Yuval Zorn today combines conducting, assisting and coaching, working in opera festivals and opera houses, the latter including the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (London) and the Frankfurt Opera. The 2013-2014 season sees him taking musical direction of Salvatore Sciarrino’s “Lohengrin” at the Oldenburg State Theatre (Germany).

The 2014 Independence Eve event opened with Arie Shapira’s (b.1943) Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (2014). This was the composer’s debut with the JSO. Soloist was Amit Dolberg. A brief, mostly atonal work, making use of aleatoric elements, the score calls for an orchestra of 23 instruments in keeping with Shapira’s view that “Israeli music should be lean and precise...not obese and sweaty…” (Interview JSO, May 3rd 2014.) The work is built around the constant, relentless piano role, this given articulacy, energy, a sense of urgency and direction by Dolberg. The piece begins with a large, brisk and colorfully-timbred screen of single notes. As the piece progresses, the small orchestra seeks to join the piano, its players’ random sounds and tempi eventually joining Dolberg in what becomes a texture more unified in pitch and close to homophony. The piece ends on a major chord. Shapira claims there are “no Israeli sounds” and that he is the only Israeli composer who feeds on the Israel situation – “nervous, frantic, unclear, doubtful, relentless, violent”. Maestro Yuval Zorn guided the players through each section of the work with assured precision and transparency. Amit Dolberg is the founder and director of the Meitar Ensemble; today he heads the Workshop for Contemporary Music at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance.

Then to Argentina, to Astor Piazzolla’s (1921-1992) “Las Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas” (The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires). Best known for the sophisticated and experimental genre he created in the 1940s from the traditional tango he combined with jazz and classical music to produce the (then controversial) “Nuevo Tango” (New Tango), music designed more for listening than for dancing, Piazzolla wrote four separate pieces pertaining to the seasons. Composed from 1965 to 1970, and scored for his quintet of violin (viola), piano, electric guitar, double bass and bandoneón (a kind of concertina playing an essential role in the tango orchestra) the pieces were not originally intended to be performed together. After Piazzolla’s death, violinist Gidon Kramer commissioned Russian composer Leonid Desyatnikov (b. 1955, Leningrad) to place the four pieces together and transcribe them for solo violin and string orchestra. Kremer wanted a piece he could perform in concert on the same program as Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”. Desyatnikov created a bridge between the two works by interpolating witty references from Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” into Piazzolla’s work, one whimsical idea being the quoting of Vivaldi’s “Winter” in Piazzolla’s “Summer”. As in Vivaldi’s work, each season of Desyatnikov’s setting falls into three sections. The movements are “Verano Porteño (Buenos Aires Summer), originally composed as incidental music for the Alberto Rodriguez Muñoz’ play “Melenita de Oro”, “Otoño Porteño” (Buenos Aires Autumn), “Primavera Porteña” (Buenos Aires Spring) and “Invierno Porteño” (Buenos Aires Winter). In these descriptive and evocative tableaus, Desyatnikov, transferring the composer’s stylistic- and programmatic elements to the world of the virtuoso violin concerto, has combined Piazzolla’s tango-inspired rhythmic pulse and complex contratempos with his own skilful orchestration. Piazzolla’s dissonances and abrupt tempo shifts, electrifying rhythms, together with some instrumental effects, make for exciting listening.

The violin soloist in this work was Rusanda Panifili (b. 1988, Moldova). Endowed with a fine inside view of the musical text, a masterly, dazzling technique and much temperament, this violinist, violist, dancer, actress and composer had the listeners perched at the edges of their seats as she revealed her large expressive range, spicing her playing with shape, exuberance, sultry nostalgia, sensuality, heart-on-sleeve lyricism, spontaneity and unbridled, defiant energy. She was the perfect artist for the demands of this genre. In his mellifluous solos, ‘cellist Oleg Stolpner wove pensive melodiousness and melancholy into the “Autumn” movement. Co-principal violist of the JSO, Amos Boasson, also assistant conductor of the Israeli Sinfonietta Beer Sheva since 2011, conducted the work with as much attention to detail and melodic shape as to the work’s large emotional range, introducing the enchanted audience to its heady, colorful mix of jazz, Romantic- and Impressionistic ideas, its humor and playful modern techniques as well as to its sentimental beauty.

For her encore, Panifili performed Alexey Igudesman’s (b.1973, St. Petersburg) “Flamenco Fantasy”, an energy-packed display of color, virtuosity and panache, its Spanish flair supported by occasional percussive foot-stamping.

The concert ended with Yuval Zorn conducting P.I.Tchaikovsky’s (1840-1893) Symphony no.5 in e minor, opus 64, the symphony composed in 1888 in the tranquility of the composer’s vacation residence on a forested hillside outside Moscow, where he had taken up residence. However, despite the beauty of his idyllic surroundings, Tchaikovsky’s music was never divorced from his own personal existential issues as he struggled with thoughts on destiny and the quest for happiness. Although audiences were enthusiastic about the work’s first performances, Tchaikovsky was fraught with self-doubt, writing “Having played my symphony twice in St. Petersburg and once in Prague, I have come to the conclusion that it is a failure. There is something repellent in it, some over-exaggerated color, some insincerity of fabrication that the public instinctively recognizes.” Whether or not the listener chooses to relate to the message of “fate” or “providence” in the somber theme enunciated at the outset of the work in low clarinet register, the motif then threaded throughout the fabric of symphony, is immaterial to the individual’s enjoyment of the work. What came through in the JSO’s performance of the work was its emotional power, its vivid orchestral coloring, its geniality, large dynamic range and its flowing, majestic melodies. Scored for 3 flutes (the third doubling on piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets and 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani and strings, the work asks for fine wind playing and the JSO players did not disappoint, from the imposing clarinet statement opening the work, to the languid, lush horn melodies going on to converse with other winds in the second movement and the subdued, caressing statement of clarinets and bassoons towards the end of the third movement. Relieving the mostly weighty seriousness of the symphony, the Allegro moderato Waltz movement was given a light, buoyant reading, striking an association with the composer’s graceful ballet music. Fine orchestral fare, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no.5 made for a satisfying and enriching end to the program.

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