Saturday, October 31, 2015

Maestro Justus Frantz conducts and solos with the Israel Sinfonietta Beer Sheva and the Philharmony of Nations in a concert in Jerusalem celebrating 50 years of Israeli-German diplomatic relations

Maestro Justus Frantz (
Of the many events taking place in Germany and Israel to celebrate 50 years of Israeli-German diplomatic relations, one was a concert on October 27th 2015 in the Henry Crown Auditorium of the Jerusalem Orchestra in which the Israel Sinfonietta Beer Sheva hosted the Philharmonie of Nations. Maestro Justus Frantz is musical director and principal conductor of both orchestras. Based in Germany, the Philharmonie of Nations was established by Leonard Bernstein and Justus Frantz in 1995 as a symbol of peace and understanding and includes players from some 50 countries. Established in 1973 with mostly immigrant musicians, the Israel Sinfonietta Beer Sheva has maintained a high standard of performance, also placing emphasis on performing concerts for youth and children. The Sinfonietta has taken several overseas tours, in 2012 performing in China and in the Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow in the summer of 2013. Born in Poland, Prof. Justus Frantz is an internationally renowned pianist and conductor and an artist active in discovering and nurturing outstanding young musicians.

The program opened with Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Egmont” Overture, incidental music written for Goethe’s play “Egmont”; it is set in 16th century Spanish-occupied Netherlands, in which Count Egmont leads resistance to the Inquisition and persecution of Protestants. Prof. Frantz introduced the work, referring to the fact the Count Egmont was arrested and executed for his liberty and humanism. The somber work was given an emotional reading, rich in orchestral color, sensitive, fragile at times, with playing attesting to total involvement.

As to W.A.Mozart’s Concerto No.20 in d-minor K466, Frantz spoke of it as Beethoven’s favorite Mozart concerto (Beethoven wrote a cadenza for it, Mozart not having supplied one himself) and as one of the most tragic, ending on an optimistic note. As was premiered by Mozart himself in Vienna (with the ink still wet on the page) Justus Frantz doubled as piano soloist and conductor, with the concertmaster taking more of a lead during piano sections. Frantz’s playing was both forthright and lyrical, at times a little heavy in the left hand. His playing of Beethoven’s cadenza was engaging and strategically paced to present its variety of motifs and the work’s conflicted nature, his playing of it spontaneous and flavored with a touch of Beethoven-type impulsiveness. The orchestra’s precise and elegantly shaped phrasing added to the audience’s enjoyment of this much-loved work.

Of special interest were two works written for the occasion by young composers, one German – Johannes Motschmann - and one Israeli – Gilad Hochman, both Berlin residents today, the connections between the two pieces offering food for thought. Born in 1978, Johannes Motschmann comes from a background in piano, composition, electronic music and, of late, has made a deep study of algorithmic composition. Today Motschmann receives many commissions and his works are performed at prestigious international festivals. “Echoes and Instruments” was recently premiered in Germany. Frantz spoke of the work as dealing in the acoustic dynamics of instruments and different sounds, the concept of the “echo” being rich in layers of meaning, both musical and historical. The composer writes that the work is based on “several melodies and harmonic phrases taken from ‘Nedudim’, Gilad Hochman’s mandolin concerto”. A kaleidoscope of sounds, changing harmonies, rhythmic devices and melancholic melodies in an intelligible, communicative and pleasing musical language, the piece presents the beauty and aesthetics of tonal color and its affect in a style that feels no need to separate tonal- from atonal elements or the static from the active.

Gilad Hochman (born 1982, Israel) an honors graduate from the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music (Tel Aviv) has written a range of orchestral, choral, chamber and solo works, many of which have been commissioned and performed in Israel and throughout Europe. His music has been broadcast on television and radio, in particular, on Deutschland Radio Kultur and the Voice of Music (Israeli radio), with works recorded on four CDs. In its world premiere, “Suspended Reality” for chamber orchestra (2015) was influenced by Hochman’s discussions with Motschmann before- and during writing of the piece, using a specific fundamental chord from Motschmann’s “Augmented Reality” as the harmonic and melodic heart of “Suspended Reality”. Hochman’s work endeavors to portray the Ramon Crater (located in the Negev Desert in Israel) and he looked for musical material that would “capture my experiences of that…powerful, unique, vast and rough…ancient place.” What he has come up with is, in his own words, “a specific state of existence suspended, somewhat tense, unresolved…” The work itself is gripping, its imposing, evocative and heavily-rooted lower string textures, glissandi and interesting use of percussion, with comments from other (mostly wind) instruments, producing a thought-provoking and uncompromising soundscape that is both riveting and rewarding.

The concert concluded with Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No.4 in A major opus 90 “Italian” (1833), Maestro Frantz’s reading of it fresh and energetic, lyrical and nuanced, with as much attention to its delicate moments as to its ebullience, his tempi in the final Saltarello (with its tarantella elements) firing the joyful, leaping Italian folk dance.

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