Sunday, August 30, 2015

Trio Noga performs on modern instruments at the Felicja Blumental Music Center, Tel Aviv

Trio Noga has been touring Israel with a concert of Classical and Romantic works. Members of this new trio are Idit
Shemer-flute, Orit Messer-Jacobi-‘cello and Maggie Cole (UK/USA)-piano. All performers of Baroque music on authentic instruments, this was an opportunity to hear them performing later music on modern instruments. This writer attended the concert at the Felicja Blumental Music Center, Tel Aviv, on August 24th, 2015.

The program opened with Joseph Haydn’s Trio in G Hoboken XV: 15, one of three trios for which the composer chose to use the flute rather than the violin, the flute being a favorite among the bourgeoisie of the time and of great appeal to London taste. Composed around 1790, here is music that has been unjustly neglected in concert performance in favor of Haydn’s quartets. Trio Noga gave it a fresh, precise reading, delighting the audience with the directness and unadulterated grace of the Classical style, addressing each mood, each textural transition and gesture, also picking up on Haydn’s wit. And how interesting Haydn’s development sections are when played with an intelligent sense of enquiry! In the hands of Maggie Cole, the Classical piano style comes across as so refreshing and satisfying.

A year ago, Cole and Shemer gave performances and recorded works for flute and piano of Philippe Gaubert (1879-1941), a French composer and conductor and one of the foremost exponents of the flute school. Of his 80-or-so pieces, several have become important components of flute repertoire. With its references to music of César Franck and Fauré, Shemer and Cole’s playing of “Madrigal” (1908) was graceful, taking the listener into a world of lyrical beauty and dreamy, pastel tonings. No less beguiling was the three artists’ reading of Gaubert’s “Three Aquarelles” (1915), the composer inspired by the transparency of water color technique and by the individual playing styles of flute, ‘cello and piano. Shemer’s intense and scintillating playing in the first piece, endorsed with sunny references from the piano, presented the clear light of morning. In the second piece, Messer-Jacobi creates the calm, somewhat melancholic mood piece of an “Autumn Evening”, with Cole and Shemer painting in a gentle backdrop, then to be swept away by the vibrant, Spanish-tinged “Sérénade”, with its moving tonalities and exotically spiced harmonies. The three artists, well versed with the “raffinement” of this music, addressed the French soundscape, interpreting this music of the senses, of timbres and delicate colors with artistry.

Still in the French frame of mind, we heard Shemer and Cole in a performance of Gabriel Fauré’s “Morceau de concours” (1898) composed when Fauré was director of the Paris Conservatoire. This small competition piece places emphasis on expressiveness and beauty of sound. Shemer’s captivating melodic shaping and economical flexing of the melody was met by Cole’s attentive, sensitive and strategic placing of each chord in the autumnal harmonic course of the piece. “Après un rêve” (After a Dream) is actually one of three of the opus 7 vocal pieces Fauré wrote in 1877 to a text of Romaine Bussine (1830-1899) based on that of an anonymous Tuscan poet. One of the composer’s most popular songs, it presents a dream of a romantic flight with a lover and the pain of waking to reality and has been transcribed and arranged several times. At the Trio Noga concert, we heard the ‘cello and piano version. Messer-Jacobi played its exquisite, arching and exotic melody with intensity and haunting introspection. Together with Cole’s treatment of the accompaniment, its agenda rich in physical sensation and chromatic shifts, one had a sense of both the tenderness and the pain of the text together with an unrushed feeling of timelessness:
‘Alas! Alas! Sad awakening from dreams
I call you, O night, give me back your lies,
Return, return radiant,
Return, O mysterious night.’

A central work on the program was Carl Maria von Weber’s Trio in g-minor opus 63 WEV P.14 for flute (violin), ‘cello and piano, one of the composer’s three chamber works. One tends to associate Weber with his contribution to the German opera, attributing less importance to his instrumental works and to his fine writing for wind instruments. Of his several works for flute, most are transcriptions of his violin sonatas. As to the flute in his Trio in g-minor (1819) (an unusual trio scoring for the time) it is thought that the Weber probably had in mind his friend and doctor Philipp Jungh, who was mentioned in the composer’s memoirs as being a fine flautist. The Noga Trio addressed the work’s mostly serious mood with conviction and with personal involvement in the work’s melodically rich agenda and emotional content. Its warm, impassioned and graceful opening movement is followed by the Scherzo with its alternating of elegant major flute utterance with a minor-key, confrontational, devil-may-care dancelike subject. As to the “Shepherd’s Lament” (third movement), referring to Goethe’s poem of 1802 about a lovesick shepherd, the artists’ playing was brooding, tranquil and soul-searching. In the final movement, its haunting expressive moments well contrasted with a sense of freedom, Cole, Shemer and Messer-Jacobi’s direct, detailed and committed collaboration afforded the audience an opportunity to enjoy this fine work.

For their encore, Maggie Cole, Idit Shemer and Orit Messer-Jacobi brought the audience back to Israel, sending the us home with home with the caressing sounds of Avi Bar-Eitan's mellifluous arrangement of Israeli singer-songwriter Boaz Shar'abi's "Still Here".

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The New Israeli Opera celebrates 30 years of performance at a gala event hosted by the Israeli president and his wife

On July 30th 2015, the President of the State of Israel Mr. Reuven (Rubi) Rivlin and his wife Mrs. Nechama Rivlin hosted an event celebrating 30 years of the reopening of the Israeli Opera. It began as a festive garden party in the attractive grounds of the presidential residence. A small exhibition of sets and costumes from various opera productions was also on display in the gardens. As daylight faded on this balmy, breezy Jerusalem evening, guests were invited to take their seats in the open-air concert area where the Israel Symphony Orchestra Rishon LeZion, the resident orchestra of the Israeli Opera, was seated on the stage, to be directed by Israeli-born Daniel Cohen, a conductor active and renowned on the international opera scene.

Emceeing the evening was actor, singer, writer and producer Chaim Topol. Welcoming the guests, he opened the evening’s cultural procedures with a small reminder of the fact that opera is a broad-spanning art form - a story in song and action accompanied by instruments, all directed by a conductor, a genre also including choreography, costumes and scenery. President Rivlin spoke of the 1917 vision of Mordechai Golinkin, a dream that came true in 1923 with Golinkin’s Palestine Opera. He also spoke of American opera singer Edis de Philippe, who arrived in Israel in 1945, creating the Israel National Opera, a company that performed all over the country and that attracted many great international names from the opera world to perform in it. In 1982, the Ministry of Culture and Education ceased its funding for the company and it closed. The Council for Arts and Culture created the New Israeli Opera in 1985, with Uri Offer as its general director for a decade. Today the Israeli Opera is led by its general manager Hanna Munitz. Rivlin spoke of the company’s fine standards, performing not only in Tel Aviv, its repertoire also including new works of Israeli composers, of late, operas by Haim Permont and Yoni Rechter. Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev spoke of this being an auspicious event, that music creates solidarity and that the Israeli Opera is an important institution, a voice of peace, and of its important role of bringing opera performances to the periphery. Hanna Munitz mentioned the Meitar Opera Studio, a training school for emerging opera singers. She spoke of opera performance experiences taking place in kindergartens, schools and parks and of the festive, full-scale performances at Masada, “in the middle of the desert”, in her words. She spoke of a new community project – a choir made up of small children from the Kyriat Hinuch School in Jaffa, later heard at this event with soprano Linor Ilan.

As the last of the birds took their leave from a day of singing and a full moon made its appearance in the night sky, the concert of opera favorites sung by some of the Israeli Opera’s younger and more veteran soloists began. The New Israeli Opera’s first production was Henry Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas”, so it was meaningful to begin the musical program with “Dido’s Lament”, performed by the young, outstanding mezzo-soprano Na’ama Goldman, who later joined Argentinian tenor Gustavo Porta in the “Seguidilla” from Bizet’s “Carmen”, a performance bristling with emotion and temperament. Also displaying the high standards and competence of the homegrown younger generation of opera singers was Hila Fahima in fresh, agile singing of arias from Verdi’s “Rigoletto” and Mozart’s “Magic Flute”, the latter a tour-de-force of drama and excitement. Latvian-born soprano Ira Bertman and Maestro Cohen collaborated closely In a rich and moving rendition of “I lived for art, I lived for love” from Puccini’s “Tosca”. Baritone Noah Briger took the audience with him in his bold, jaunty performance of the “Toreador Song” from “Carmen”, sung in Hebrew (translation: David Sebba). Wielding her large voice with superb control, Romanian-born soprano Mirella Gradinaru created the magic of bel canto singing in “Norma’s Prayer” from Bellini’s “Norma”. No new face to the Israeli Opera, Argentinian tenor Gustavo Forta won the audience over with the anguished farewell to life in “And the stars shone” from “Tosca” and a spine-chilling “None shall sleep” from Puccini’s “Turandot”. One of the major soloists of the Israeli Opera since emigrating from the former Soviet Union, bass-baritone Vladimir Braun has performed more than 50 roles in the company. At this event, his luxuriant performance from Rossini’s “Barber of Seville” created the excitement, tension and theatrical experience of the opera stage. From “Schitz”, a new opera composed by Yoni Rechter, based on Hanoch Levin’s play of the same name (premiered in July 2015) we heard Ira Bertman, Yael Levita, Noah Briger and Oded Reich in “At 6 in the evening”, the opera’s user-friendly music written in tonal musical language.

The Israeli Opera gala event was an evening to remember – the tranquil atmosphere of the leafy grounds of the presidential residence, the trees either side of the stage lit up in changing colors, the music, a host of fine performances and a sense of pride the Israeli Opera has created in the hearts of so many of us.