Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Atar Trio and Eran Zur in a performance of S.Y.Agnon's "A Simple Story" at Beit Avi Chai, Jerusalem

 The Atar Trio’s performance of “A Simple Story” is an event combining the reading of the S.Y. Agnon
 story of the same name and music for piano trio. This writer attended the performance at Beit Avi Chai, Jerusalem, May 14th 2015.  Taking part in the performance were composer and singer Eran Zur – narrator, Ofer Shelley – piano and musical arrangement, Tanya Beltser – violin and Haran Meltzer – guest ‘cellist of the Atar Trio. 

When, in 2009, founder and director of the Atar Trio Ofer Shelley expressed the idea of combining the reading of a literary work together with musical performance, an idea inspired by Stravinsky’s “A Soldier’s Tale”, actor Jonathan Cherchi suggested taking a work of S.Y. Agnon (1888-1970) and “A Simple Story” (1935) was chosen; texts from the novel were arranged for this setting by Michal Akerman and a year of rehearsals got under way. Eran Zur is the third narrator to take part in this work, those preceding him being Cherchi himself and Benny Hendel.

Agnon’s novel tells of a bitter-sweet romance taking place in Szybusz, a small town in Jewish Galicia at the beginning of the 20th century. With the writer’s ever ironic, allegorical touch, he names the main characters of the story Blume Nacht (flower of the night), Hirshl (little deer), Mina Ziemlich (almost, not quite) and Dr. Langsam (Dr. Slowly). And, as has been pointed out by literary critic and novelist Hillel Halkin, the town name Szybusz rings close to “shibush”, which in Hebrew means “muddle” or “error”. And so, reading from Michal Akerman’s selections from the novel, Eran Zur transports the audience into this domestic tale of the shtetl life of shopkeepers – of how Hirshl falls in love with Blume Nacht but is married off to Mina Ziemlich, his night foray to Blume’s house, his nervous breakdown, his recovery and joy at the birth of his and Mina’s second son.

In a conversation with Ofer Shelley, the pianist spoke of how natural it was to integrate music with this text, due to the innate musicality and poetic style of Agnon’s language. Add to this the finely musical and narrative sense of Eran Zur and you end up with the sensitive, hand-in-glove coaction that characterizes this performance, the collaboration also working well with the more improvisational pieces of music. Threaded throughout the event were excerpts of works by Shostakovich, Messiaen, J.S.Bach, Schubert, Dvořák, Ligeti,  Joseph Achron, Jan Freidlin (b.Russia 1944, today in Israel), Israeli composer Eran El-Bar (b.1967), Jewish American composer Paul Schoenfeld (b.1947) and a Klezmer-style wedding medley put together by Shelley himself. The works, scored for solo instruments, duets and trios and presented in sensitively shaped playing by the three outstanding and involved musicians, reflected each stage and mood of the plot, its tensions and joys as well as Agnon’s sensuous descriptions of love and attraction. How better to evoke the atmosphere of these people’s lives than with eastern European Jewish music and how better to depict Hirshl’s parents’ confusion at their son’s depression than with atonal music? And how poignant a picture Zur and the musicians “painted” of a street musician in the snow! Another effect, albeit more subtle, was achieved by changes in stage lighting.  One of the most powerful and confrontational strategies, however, was the total ceasing of music at points of highest tension, an effect taking the listener into the raw emotions of the story and of his own mind.

Ofer Shelley is interested in creating repertoire that is distinctive and exclusive to the Atar Trio. This does not exclude challenges of experimental ideas. One challenge for the artists has been how to strike a fine balance between two such powerful forces as verbal text and music, without detracting from the meaning of either. Interestingly, each performance of “A Simple Story” emerges as  different and new, the spontaneous pace of narration or that of the music offering flexibility and setting the scene for variety. The performance at Beit Avi Chai was entertaining and engaging, offering polished performance, a good story and much for the senses.

The evening’s program concluded with Eran Zur’s emotional singing of “Evening in Kislev”, a song to his own text (music: Yuval Mesner, arrangement: Ofer Shelley).

The next performance of "A Simple Story" will take place on June 19th at Beit Hayotzer, Tel Aviv.


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