Monday, March 14, 2016

The Moran Singers Ensemble and the Moran Choir perform in "From Silence I Sing" with guest conductor/ composer Ambroz Copi (Slovenia) at the Israel Conservatory, Tel Aviv

Maestro Ambroz Copi (
The Moran Ensemble Singers and the Moran Choir presented “From Silence I Sing”, an evening of choral works and vocal solos on February 5th 2016 at the Israel Conservatory of Music, Tel Aviv. Guest conductor/composer was Ambrož Čopi (Slovenia).

Ambrož Čopi (b. 1973) graduated in Composition from the Ljubljana Conservatory in 1996, then taking post-graduate studies and working as a vocal assistant. He has also worked as a singer. Alongside his work as music teacher in an arts school, he has done much choral conducting, winning several awards as have his compositions. Frequently serving as a jury member in choral events and competitions, Čopi lectures and is involved in choral music seminars in Slovenia and abroad.

The evening’s concert took the audience on a flying visit to many corners of the earth, the program including works and composers not heard in this part of the world. To set out on the journey, we heard the Moran Singers Ensemble, conducted by house conductor Guy Pelc, in a superbly crafted and evocative reading of Edward Elgar’s a-cappella romance “My love dwelt in a northern land” (1890) to the richly wrought and melancholic images of a poem of Andrew Lang, its descriptions of nature, weather and time personifying the relationship being recalled.

And to eastern Europe and two works of Lithuanian composer Vytautas Miškinis (b.1954), a prolific writer of choral music, with over 250 of his choral works written for children’s choirs. Well-known in his own country but not outside of it, here is a composer writing in the new wave of tonal music. Performed by heart by the Moran Choir (35 singers aged from 12 to 18) and conducted by Moran founder and musical director Naomi Faran, Miškinis’ “Missa Brevis” came across as direct and uncluttered, music accessible, expressive and true to its sacred text, its tenderness and message of peace presented in fine detail, with pianist Oleg Yakerevich’s accompaniment depicting bells in the Kyrie and other subtle musical ideas throughout. Miškinis’ a-cappella “Bonum est confiteri domino” (It is good to praise the Lord, Psalm 92) was sung by the Moran Ensemble Singers and conducted by Čopi. A work sacred and otherworldly but anchored in personal utterance, it was conveyed as a polished assortment of small sections and offering a myriad of contrasts in mood and tempo. We then heard a work of another composer primarily writing choral music – Norwegian Ola Gjeiro (b.1978) –  today settled in New York and dividing his time between performing as a professional pianist and composing. The Moran Singers’ Ensemble gave “Ubi Caritas” (Where there is charity) – indeed, a small gem - a reading that was moving and as lush as it was fragile in its harmonic tonings, its course gently flexed. 

The program included two works by Ambrož Čopi himself; first, an awe-inspiring tonal, a-cappella setting of the St Thomas Aquinas hymn “O Salutaris Hostia”, performed by the Moran Ensemble Singers and directed by the composer; its deep, intimate spirituality was reflected in gently flowing melodies and lavish harmonies, with soloist Shira Cohen finding a happy compromise between soloing and blending:

‘O saving Victim, opening wide
The gate of Heaven to us below;
Our foes press hard on every side;
Thine aid supply; thy strength below…’

Following performance of a short piece the composer has dedicated to the choir, Ambrož Čopi conducted the Moran Choir in a performance of his “Missa Brevis” (2006) for treble voices, piano and percussion. Opening with a pensive, autumnal soundscape, the choir’s rendition was precise, their unforced singing lending freshness and natural expression to the work’s beauty. The more rhythmical sections, sounding somewhat South American in character, emerged as buoyant but never raucous, the young percussionist’s use of percussion economical, incisive and tasteful. Solos were sung competently and sympathetically by two of the girls.

The evening’s choral pieces were interspersed with a number of solos sung by members of the Moran Singers Ensemble. Soprano Shira Cohen offered an unmannered, gentle rendition of two of Aaron Copland’s folk song settings, their style and her interpretation of the ballad “Long time ago” and the Shaker song “Simple Gifts” so representative of the straightforward gestures of American music of the 1950s. This was followed by Efrat Hacohen in a sensuous and engaging performance of Xavier Montsalvatge’s “Cancion de cuna para dormer a un negrito’ (Cradle song for a small black child), its inebriating and gently dissonanced habanera accompaniment suggestive of the mother rocking her baby. Soprano Shani Oshri’s splendid, silken singing of the Thessaloniki Ladino folk lullaby “Nani, nani” (arr. D. Akiva) was communicative and poignant and highlighted by her superb vocal control. Alto Zlata Hershberg was engaging, theatrical and convincing in Alexander Matveev’s dramatic arrangement of a Russian folk song, as she moved back and forth from the role of a fearful child and the calming mother. 

The concert concluded with a work by one of Estonia’s most prominent composers - Veljo Tormis (b.1930) – whose choral oeuvre numbers more than 500 works, many based on ancient traditional Estonian songs. Composed in 1972 for a-cappella mixed chorus and shaman drum (played by Yakerevich), “Raua needmine” (Curse upon Iron) is based on the Finnish epic “Kalevala”, with added texts of contemporary Estonian poets.  Conducted by Ambrož Čopi, the Moran Singers Ensemble contended impressively with the work’s rhythmically daring language, its confrontational and relentless repetitiveness as well as the variety of raw, often harsh sounds – whispering, glissandi, chanting, shouting and primal throat singing – the composer uses to express and evoke his timeless, ritualistic style suited to the work’s message.  The audience was challenged to immerse itself in the detail of the long, unremittingly powerful text projected in full onto a screen as the singers addressed the work’s gestures, both musical and verbal:

‘Ohoi cursed, evil iron!
Ohoi cursed, evil iron!
Flesh consuming, bone devouring,
Spilling blood, devouring virtue!
Whither comes your cruel cunning,
Haughtiness so overbearing? Fie upon you, evil iron!
Your beginnings reek of malice.
You have risen from villainy …’

A concert of interesting programming, “From Silence I Sing” presented the audience with yet another instance of Naomi Faran’s ideals (plus those of her professional team and singers) of deep musical enquiry, articulacy, of the “cultured singing voice” and of polished, detailed performance. Oleg Yakerevich’s refined and imaginative piano accompaniments contributed much to the enjoyment of the evening’s program.

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