Monday, November 16, 2015

Amir Katz solos in the Israel Chamber Orchestra's opening concert of the 2015-2016 season

On November 11th 2015, in the Recanati Auditorium of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, the Israel Chamber Orchestra opened its 2015-2016 concert season with a program of works by Ives, Chopin and Beethoven. The event was conducted by the orchestra’s new musical director Ariel Zuckermann. In his friendly, informal manner, Maestro Zuckermann addressed the audience, referring to the financial straits in which the audience had found itself and to how the board of management and audience are contributing to rehabilitate the ICO, to start the new season on a better footing and to reach out to a wider range of audiences, including those of children. After expressing his appreciation to sponsors and to Dr. Eitan Or, chairman of the ICO’s governing council and to the audience itself, Zuckermann spoke of one of his aims as musical director being to surprise the audience.

With the latter in mind, Zuckermann took the bull by the horns, opening the program with American composer Charles Ives’ “Unanswered Question”. Composed in 1906 and revised in the 1930s, the work is scored for offstage string ensemble, solo trumpet and woodwind quartet. The audience was not quite sure what to make of the hall and stage suddenly being plunged into darkness, with only the woodwind quartet and Zuckermann on stage. In the composer’s modernistic signature musical language, Ives had constructed the somewhat programmatic work (referred to by him as a “cosmic landscape”) in three layers, with the tranquil, otherworldly-sounding, tonal, shimmering chords of the string section representing “the silences of the Druids”, the solo trumpet asking “the perennial question of existence” and the woodwind quartet becoming more agitated and provocative in its dissonant utterances. The work concludes with the trumpet asking the “question” for the last time, to be followed (or answered) by silence. Its free notation making for a new reading of it for each performance, Zuckermann and the ICO players, in a compelling performance of “Unanswered Question”, offered the audience the rare opportunity of hearing - and indeed experiencing - this work, its significance in the concept  of avant-garde music as pertinent as its statement of the co-existence of chaos and consonance.

We then heard Amir Katz as soloist in Frédéric Chopin’s Piano Concerto no.2 in F-minor, opus 21. Written in 1829 (actually  the earlier of the two piano concertos but the second to be published) the 20-year-old composer premiered it at Warsaw’s National Theater in 1830, finding favor with other musicians of the time, among them Liszt, who referred to the work as of “ideal perfection, its expression now radiant with light, now full of tender pathos”.  Following the first movement’s long orchestral exposition, Katz makes his entry with articulacy and eloquence, then proceeding to set before the listener the meaning of Chopin’s score. He creates a canvas as rich in the work’s generous, larger gestures as it is in the smallest of fleeting ornamental detail. Poetic fragility emerges from drama just as majestic and sweeping gestures take their cue from intimate filigree origins. In the Larghetto movement (inspired by Chopin’s infatuation with soprano Konstancja Gladkowska) Katz sets the listener’s heart afloat with a sensitively nuanced reverie of impeccably fashioned melodies, yet interspersed with a measure of intensity.  For Amir Katz, deeply enquiring reading of the musical text on all levels and note-perfect performance serve as the basis for expressing the young Chopin’s strikingly original writing and emotional energy. In a work of notorious difficulty, in which the composer’s virtuosic writing is taken to its optimum, Katz’s agenda is neither that of showy display nor of self-indulgent musings; he addresses the concerto’s lyricism and subtleties, its layering and textures, illuminating the score with fresh, splendidly clean playing never marred by foggy over-use of the sustaining pedal, never burdened by world-weary rubati.  Together all the way, Katz, Zuckermann and orchestra collaborate closely, the pianist at one moment weaving elegant pianistic reflection through the orchestral fabric, at the next, highlighting the noble importance of a solo passage. For his encore, Amir Katz gave a crisp and sparking performance of Chopin’s Grand Waltz Brilliante in E-flat major, opus 18, its succession of different kinds of waltzes, their moods and grandeur of spirit taking the listener, for just a few magic minutes, to the glittering ballroom of affluent Parisian society. One of today’s foremost pianists, Amir Katz (b. 1973, Israel) today residing in Germany, performs worldwide as recitalist, soloist and accompanist.

With the exception of ‘cellists and percussionists, Ariel Zuckermann had his players  standing for the performance of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No.7 in A-major, opus 92. Completed in 1812 and first performed in 1813, this celebratory symphony, dedicated to both Count Moritz von Fries and Russian Empress Elisabeth Aleksiev, was written for the smallest orchestra Beethoven had used in some time, with no trombones and only two horns. Conducting without a baton and with no score, Ariel Zuckermann was totally there for his players; they, freer to express than when seated, produced a large, opulent orchestral sound and plenty of timbral interest in a reading of the work that was aflame with dynamic change and orchestral colors. In the second movement - Allegretto – its solemnity and contrapuntal interest were given much expressiveness and some prodigious contrasts, to be followed by the impassioned Presto, its middle section, played by winds, in rich and pleasing toning. In a carefully exacting yet spontaneous performance of one of Beethoven’s most accessible works, Maestro Ariel Zuckermann’s gripping presentation of Beethoven’s Symphony No.7 concluded the festive event at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, promising more fine and varied concert fare in the ICO’s future concerts.

An artist with a large repertoire, energy and ideas, flautist and conductor Ariel Zuckermann (b.1973, Israel) has a career that takes him all over the world conducting both orchestras and opera. He also tours with his own ensemble “Kolsimcha”; in the group’s recently issued  CD “Contemporary Klezmer”, Maestro Zuckermann conducts the London Symphony Orchestra.  

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