Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The first musical event of the 2016 Israel Festival combines performance of 'cellist Sonia Wieder-Atherton, magnetic tape and texts of Israeli novelist Aharon Appelfeld

Aharon Appelfeld (ithl.org.il)
On May 28th, the 2016 Israel Festival’s musical events began at the Rivka Crown Auditorium of the Jerusalem Theatre with “Odyssey”, an event combining three elements – performance of ‘cellist American/French Sonia Wieder-Atherton, a pre-recorded magnetic tape and recorded readings of Israeli novelist Aharon Appelfeld from his 1999 autobiographical book “Story of a Life” (Keter Publishing House). Aharon Appelfeld was born in 1932 in the Bukovina region of Romania (today the Ukraine), immigrating to Israel in 1946. Created for the Israel Festival, the event was designed and directed by Wieder-Atherton. Composer Franck Krawczyk was also involved in the musical aspect, Franck Rossi compiled the magnetic tape; production was by Walter Sound. The 13 solo works played by Wieder-Atherton were based on music of J.S.Bach, Prokofiev, Andre Hajdu and on songs from Syria, Egypt and the Byzantine Empire. This is the third part of a musical triptych in which Wieder-Atherton has been researching music of the Mediterranean Basin and blending it with other styles. The project is supported by the Ostrovsky Family Fund.

 With the theatre and stage plunged into darkness, there was one spotlight focused on the ‘cellist seated on the stage.  Backed by the magnetic tape, at times as a drone, at others in a more active role, Wieder-Atherton begins to play. Time seems to stand still. We then begin to hear Appelfeld talking, his voice attesting to his age and wisdom as he enunciates each word clearly and slowly in language never convoluted by superfluity. He begins by asking when memory begins to remember. The music and other sounds flow into each other, meeting the text, reflecting upon it and drawing the listener into each scene, each description, each silence. Appelfeld describes many scenes and situations through the eyes of a small child – the family home, its balconies, the familiar smell of starch, the chimney sweep, a book of Grimm Brothers stories, thunder, his father’s love of walking to the river and singing there spontaneously. He describes a visit from gypsies, how he feared their music and his mother paying them to leave, we hear of the joy of a basketful of strawberries brought to them by a little girl, the girl’s singing, the memory of his mother serving the fresh strawberries with sugar and cream. We learn that he and his mother spoke German together, that his grandparents spoke Yiddish.  Appelfeld’s narrative always conveys what remains as thoughts, what is left unsaid, the untold secret, the child quietly observing family members and the importance of observation, as he subtly infuses many scenes with an aura of this probing silence.  Not all is so quiet – there are agitated pieces, the rattling of trains, thunderous effects, voices of a crowd of people culminating in a scream, these possibly hinting at the retaking of his hometown after a year of Soviet occupation in 1941, when his mother was murdered. (With his father Appelfeld was then deported to a Nazi camp in Romanian-controlled Transnistria, from which he then managed to escape.)

 Sonia Wieder-Atherton’s playing seemed to find relevance and natural coherence in the mix of repertoire chosen to accompany Appelfeld’s texts. She is one of today’s most dynamic and original artists. She studied in Paris and Russia, today performing mainstream 'cello repertoire but also much new music, many works of which have been written for her. Her traversing of stylistic boundaries, of east and west, is a natural, well-oiled course of hers, taking the form of profoundly emotional utterance, free, polished, sophisticated and convincingly intertwined with the spoken text. Her technical mastery is indeed matched by her passionate involvement in performance. Not to be ignored is the finely created, effective and integrated magnetic tape. The event, concluding with Aharon Appelfeld’s initial question on memory, was humbling and moving. Appelfeld himself was present.

Sonia Wieder-Atherton (lemonde.fr)




Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra, conducted by Yizhar Karshon, concludes the 2015-2016 concert season with "Gloria"

Maestro Yizhar Karshon (jpost.com)
Ervin Drake’s song “It Was a Very Good Year”, made famous by Frank Sinatra, seems to apply especially well to the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra’s 2015-2016 season which has just drawn to a close. “Gloria”, directed by guest conductor harpsichordist Yizhar Karshon and featuring eight singers, took place on May 26th 2016 in the Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Friendship of the Jerusalem International YMCA. The choice of a program including three different versions of the Gloria – a Catholic Psalm setting from early Christianity - was due to the fact that “thanksgiving is a foundation stone of human culture…fundamental to all religions…” in Karshon’s own words.

The concert opened with Claudio Monteverdi’s “Gloria a 7 da Selve Morale e Spirituale” (published 1641), one of Monteverdi’s most splendid and striking works that may possibly have been a part of a Mass directed by Monteverdi himself at St. Mark’s (Venice) in November 1631 to mark the official end of the plague that had swept through northern Italy, killing some 50,000 people in Venice alone (a theory rejected by certain musicologists). For its construction, Monteverdi took his cue for the different sections of the concertata from the text and the words, the work’s design forming a natural arch. The setting calls for seven voices (not as a choir), in this concert sopranos Einat Aronstein and Adaya Peled, alto Anne Marieke-Evers, tenors Oshri Segev and Daniel Portnoy, basses Guy Pelc and Yoav Meir Weiss. In addition to the continuo section, the two violins (Noam Schuss, Dafna Ravid) also played a focal part. From its joyous, celebratory opening, what made the JBO performance of this musical gem so outstanding were the timbral beauty of each mix of voices and the swift flow of contrasting sections, with the quieter, calmer sections emerging as most beguiling. Tenor Oshri Segev’s solo within the “Qui tollis peccata mundi” section was profound and gripping. As to the work’s lively sections, each return revived the intensity more, with the closing section, returning to the thrilling figurations of the opening Gloria, ringing with exaltation.

Of the 12 concerti grossi written by Georg Muffat (1653-1704), a violin virtuoso born in Savoy but who considered himself German, and one of the most cosmopolitan composers of the 17th century, we heard No.11 “Delirium Amoris” (Delirium of Love) composed in 1682 in Rome, appropriately combining French dances with the Italian concerto grosso framework. In a true blend of suite and concerto, Karshon and his players gave poetry to the opening Sonata, offering contrasts and elegance throughout. With Schuss and Ravid placed on either sides of the stage, the work’s conversational effect came alive, both between the two violinists and between the two as against the orchestra. Stylish, precise playing as heard in this performance should encourage more exposure to works of this underrated composer.

German musicologist Hans Joachim Marx discovered the manuscript of Georg Friedrich Händel’s “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” in the library archives of the London Royal Academy of Music in 2001. Although there is no clear documentation, it is thought that the composer wrote it for performance at the estate of Marchese Francesco Maria Ruspoli, a generous Italian patron of the composer. In 1707, Händel lived in Ruspoli’s country estate northwest of Rome for some weeks. At that time, the great virtuoso soprano Margherita Durastanti was also in residence there. It is believed at the “Gloria” was premiered then. At the YMCA concert, young Israeli soprano Einat Aronstein took on board the work’s extraordinary demands, her vocal skill and coloratura versatility sweeping her through the work’s virtuosic demands, its melismas, gestures and fine details impressively, as she conversed with the instrumentalists, weaving the vocal line through Händel’s score, as the players engaged in incisive reading of extroverted Italian score. (It is thought that the first violin may have been played by Corelli.) From the work’s sparkling moments to those more intimate, Aronstein’s rendition was committed, focused and responsive to the text as she shared Karshon’s sensitive ideas of nuance and timing. The poignant “Domine Deus”, accompanied only by organ (David Shemer), was sung with feeling and delicacy, the final Amen a dazzling tour-de-force.

Following the intermission, the orchestra performed Arcangelo Corelli’s Concerto Grosso No.2, a nice balance to Muffat’s Concerto Grosso and a well-timed hiatus between two settings of the “Gloria” text. In this concerto, one of the 12 Opus 6 works published in 1714, a year after Corelli’s death, and on which Corelli’s posthumous reputation largely rests, the concertino consists of two violins -Schuss, Ravid – and ‘cello - Orit Messer-Jacobi. In this performance, what stood out were the players’ warm, silken timbres, enhanced by the magical theorbo sounds (Ofira Zakai) and some occasional fine-spun solo comments from the harpsichord (Karshon). The players gave expression to the work’s vitality and elegance. How fortunate it was that Karshon did not take up Corelli’s suggestion to players to eliminate the ripieno (concerto grosso) section and just perform the work with the three concertino players!

J.S.Bach compiled his four Lutheran Masses almost completely from movements of his cantatas. The Lutheran Mass in G-minor BWV 236, one of four in Latin, takes its opening from Cantata No.102, with other sections from Cantatas 187 and 72, yet Bach’s piecing careful together has resulted in a most coherent work. Joining orchestra and singers were oboists Shai Kribus and Tal Levin, with Richard Paley on bassoon. Maestro Karshon had two singers on each voice, with alto Avital Dery joining the seven singers who had performed the Monteverdi “Gloria” earlier on. Luring the listener into the work’s exquisite grace from the very outset (Kyrie), the singers highlighted the music’s subtleties, phrasing, words and textures, presenting them with clarity and in an interesting choral mix of good voices. In the “Gratias agimus tibi”, its solo sung well by Guy Pelc - a singer so suited to this medium - the play of the aria’s many layers provided a delightful tease to the ear. No less delightful was Anne Marieke-Evers’ rendition of the “Domine Fili unigente” in conversation with Kribus on oboe, the vocal line discerningly shaped by her well-anchored alto voice in singing that was tranquil and unforced and arising from natural musicality. Also with oboe, supported by bassoon (Paley), Oshri Segev performed “Qui tollis peccata mundi”, enlisting his feel for the text and beauty of vocal colour to result in a moving reading of the aria. Altogether, the performance of the G-minor Mass was both engaging and rewarding.

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra was established in 1989 by harpsichordist and conductor David Shemer, who continues to be the ensemble’s musical director. Addressing the audience at this concert, Maestro Shemer spoke of the JBO’s 2016-2017 season’s program as including violinist Enrico Onofri, Elam Rotem’s “Joseph and His Brothers” and more fine Baroque concert fare. The second "Bach in Jerusalem" Festival will take place in March 2017.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Opera Aeterna in "The Comedy of Love" or "Love as Comedy" at the Jerusalem Center for Performing Arts

Andrei Trifonov,Irina Mindlin,Shirelle Dashevsky (Daniel Zaman)

“The Comedy of Love” or “Love as Comedy”, the Aeterna Jerusalem Theater of Chamber Opera’s newest production, took place in the recently opened Mikro Theatre of the Jerusalem Center of Performing Arts on May 24th 2016. Under the musical direction of Ilya Plotkin, the a-capella Musica Aeterna Choir was founded 20 years ago. Then, thirteen years ago, Maestro Plotkin established Opera Aeterna, its first production being “The Impresario” by W.A.Mozart.  The idea for the 2016 production, a combination of three of Italian Baroque music’s most popular comic intermezzo operas – Pergolesi and Paisiello’s settings of “La serva padrona” and Telemann’s “Pimpinone” -  was thought up by Maestro Plotkin. The idea was realized in the hands of stage director Julia Plakhin. Project director was Eleanore Plotkin. Costumes and sets were designed by Irina Tkachenko, with makeup by Helena Plotkin. Maestro Plotkin directed a competent chamber orchestra of strings players and continuo. Opera Aeterna, whose members (and much of the audience at this performance) are largely Russian-speaking immigrants to Israel, is supported by the “Keshet Omanuyot” Association, the Ministry of Absorption, the Center for Absorption of Immigrant Artists and Returning Residents and by the Gabriel Sherover Foundation.

How does one combine three operas on one stage? For a start, each presents the theme of the maid-mistress setting her sights at an older, gullible man and the consequences thereof, as inspired by Jacopo Angelo Nelli’s 1714 play “La serva padrona” (The Servant Turned Mistress). Opera Aeterna’s comic twist was to have all characters of both operas on stage. From “La serva padrona” there was not one but two Serpinas – Serpina I – soprano Shirelle Dashevsky, soprano II – soprano Julia Plakhin, with bass Andrei Trifonov as Uberto. From “Pimpinone”, Irina Mindlin played Vespetta, with baritone Dmitry Lovtsov in the role of Pimpinone. Opera Aeterna makes no practice of using surtitles in its productions, so, in addition to the traditional Italian characters of both operas, actor Yitzhak Peker assumed the (non-singing) role of narrator: he was the landlord of the house in which all these questionable, go-getter characters were living. In addition to explaining, commenting and constantly communicating with Maestro Plotkin, the landlord himself was also looking for love, thus also being involved in the romantic attractions and rejections all taking place in his house. And there was another new character on the scene - Stam-Coli (tenor Dmitry Semyonov) – the figure of the narcissistic pop singer. Where did he belong in the plot? Actually, nowhere for most of the performance, being so obsessed with himself, his looks, his image, his outfits and his microphone! If early 18th century composers had intended the “serva padrona” characters to represent real-life personalities, replacing commedia dell’arte characters, creating the figure of Stam-Coli was a brilliant touch.

Dmitry Semionov,Julia Plakhin (photo:Daniel Zaman)
At the left side of the stage we see Uberto’s studio with easel, palette and a few discarded empty bottles. Plants, a bench and an antique chair give the impression of a dwelling. Three large windows at the back of the stage allow the audience to see into other rooms of the house. The chamber orchestra and conductor occupy the right wing of the stage. The landlord enters, an abacus in hand to calculate rent owing to him, as Uberto threatens him. We were soon to realize that the evening’s musical bill consisted of some of the finest solos and duets from all three operas. The stage quickly became alive with action, with womanly wiles taking control and relationships complicating. Both Serpinas pine to rekindle their love with Uberto. Shirelle Dashevsky is coquettish, teasing and ebullient; she is so well suited to the opera buffa style and her well-oiled voice sails naturally through each phrase. The other Serpina – Julia Plakhin – is vivacious and flirtatious, her vocal agility, musicality and feminine esprit serving her splendidly. But Uberto is not impressed and wants nothing of either of the competing female admirers; in this role, Andrei Trifinov’s richly resounding voice was as pleasing as his face was disgruntled!  Dmitry Lovtsov, dressed in pyjamas and an elaborate gold brocade dressing gown, was excellently cast as the foolish, elderly and lecherous Pimpinone. Irina Mindlin was a daring and promiscuous Vespetta, scheming, snide and quite the vixenish woman. She and Lovtsov pulled out all the plugs as they entertained the audience with their risqué humour, fine voices and superb musical presentation of Telemann’s masterful duets. And how droll it was to hear the shaky, dejected and finally disillusioned Pimpinone suddenly singing in Yiddish! As to the farcical Stam-Col, Dmitry Semyonov, his tenor voice smooth and easeful, had the audience chuckling at his eccentricity as he seemed to float on and off stage, his face fixed in a rapt expression, and sporting some over-the-top costumes. At one moment, he unexpectedly appeared in a Mexican outfit, complete with sombrero, singing the popular Mexican song “Cielito Lindo”. As narrator and the landlord, Yitshak Peker, although somewhat exotically clad, cut a pathetic, needy figure but, with all the “re-pairing” happening by the end of the performance, he finally managed to win his true love – Serpina I – Shirelle Dashevsky. Uberto had won the affections of the hard-to-get Vespetta. Stam-Coli and   Serpina II – Julia Plakhin found love in each other – an unlikely match…but, after all, this is opera! Only Pimpinone, looking pathetic hunched sadly behind the window, was to remain alone.  In a last spurt of energy, he sprang out, gun in hand, to seek revenge and get Vespetta’s money. There ended the performance, its main themes of money, the duplicity of women and the narcissistic singer interwoven in an evening of fine and truly comical operatic fare.
Dmitry Lovtsov,Irina Mindlin (photo:Daniel Zaman)

Maestro Ilya Plotkin (photo:Daniel Zaman)


Monday, May 23, 2016

The 49th Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival to take place early June 2016

The 49th Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival, under the direction of Hanna Zur, will take place from June 10th to 12th 2016. Concerts will take place at the Church of the Ark of the Covenant, on the hill of Kiryat Yearim (appropriately called the Town of Forests), and in the Crusader Church Crypt that nestles among mature pine trees of a magical garden in the lower area of Abu Gosh.

The Shevuot (Feast of Weeks) Festival will host the Oreya Choir from the Ukraine. Established in 1986, and directed by Alexander Vatsek, the prize-winning chamber choir of 32 voices will perform two concerts at the festival (10.6.’16, 11.6.’16), offering a wide range of music from Renaissance and Baroque to spirituals and modern works, as well as folk songs from the Ukraine and Moravia. Needing no introduction to Israeli- and Abu Gosh audiences, Ensemble Barrocade and the Israeli Vocal Ensemble, conducted by IVE director Yuval Benozer and with as host of very fine Israeli soloists, will collaborate to perform concerts of works by Händel, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Vivaldi, Marcello and Torelli (10.6.’16, 11.6.’16). Another festive event will be the performance of W.A.Mozart’s formidable (and incomplete) Great Mass in C-minor K 427; Hanna Zur herself will conduct soloists, the Ramat Gan Chamber Choir and players of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (11.6.’16). “Dvorak-Brahms-Jobim-Villa Lobos” (12.6.’16) – a concert of the very excellent Gary Bertini Choir (Ronen Borshevsky-conductor, Svetlana Kostova-soprano/pianist) will present music of composers who have taken inspiration from folk song repertoire. Conducted by Ron Zarhi and joined by the Upper Galilee Choir, a fine line-up of soloists will perform Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas” (12.6.’16); Keren Hadar will sing the role of the ill-fated Dido. It has become a tradition for up-and-coming young opera singers of the Meitar Opera Studio (Israeli Opera) to perform with their musical director conductor/arranger David Sebba at Abu Gosh festivals; in “Black Soul Voices (12.6.’16), they will present music of Kurt Weill and Gershwin, also a selection of gospel songs and spirituals.

In the intimate setting of the Crypt, “Voice and Flute with Yossi Arnheim” (11.6.’16) will feature Revital Raviv-soprano, Yossi Arnheim-flute and Irit Rob-piano in works of classical composers and Israeli composer David Zehavi. In “Amazing Grace – the most beautiful prayers” (10.6.’16) Irit Rob will also accompany alto Sigal Haviv in some of classical repertoire’s best-loved arias, a spiritual and Sasha Argov’s “In the Beginning”.

A treat for jazz fans in this Abu Gosh Festival will be an appearance of the virtuosic, sophisticated and international-touring Avishai Cohen Trio (Cohen-double bass/composer/singer, Omri Mor-piano, Itamar Doari-percussion). Not to be missed! “Tomash’s Blues” (11.6.’16), featuring two dynamic and multi-talented artists – actor/singer/musician Tomer Sharon and author/guitarist Yair Yona – will offer hearty entertainment in a program that will include some American evergreens as well as the cream of Israeli song repertoire. And for those of us inclined to indulge in a little sentimentality, soprano Hadas Faran Asia and guitarist Eyal Leber will gently walk us down memory lane in “Hallelujah – A Tribute to Leonard Cohen” (10.6.’16).

For festival-goers there to enjoy the outdoors, the Jerusalem Hills views and the pleasurable and relaxed holiday atmosphere, the Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival offers informal outdoor concerts in five locations around the Kiryat Yearim Church, some excellent craft stalls and an opportunity to picnic and meet friends.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Yonah Zur and Dror Semmel perform sonatas for violin and piano at the Eden-Tamir Music Center, Jerusalem

Bach-Brahms-Beethoven was the title of a concert in the Best of Chamber Music series which took place at the Eden-Tamir Music Center, Ein Kerem, Jerusalem, on May 14th 2016. The concert featured Yonah Zur-violin and Dror Semmel-piano. Prof. Alexander Tamir, director of the Eden-Tamir Center, opened with words on the three B’s, the traits they shared and their influence on music in general.

The recital opened with Johann Sebastian Bach’s Sonata for Violin and Keyboard in E-major BWV 1016, one of the group of six written possibly when Bach was Kapellmeister to Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen, a keen musician, who played both violin and harpsichord. As Bach referred to these sonatas as “trios for harpsichord and violin”, the keyboard parts are written out in full and not in the form of figured bass, as in earlier works, making them the first true obbligato sonatas. A sonata da chiesa in form, the opening Adagio of the E-major sonata prescribes the violin a highly soloistic role; Yonah Zur allowed the florid opening melody to unfold naturally, sensitively and in a myriad of shapes as he poignantly leant into the movement’s harmonically important notes. As of the second movement, a bright Allegro in the form of a three-part fugue, the trio sonata idea becomes more focal, with the artists combining individuality and teamwork with fine articulacy. Zur and Semmel’s playing of the passacaglia-type third movement was moving as they passed expressive melodic lines from one to the other, this leading into the final Allegro, to which they gave a vivid rendition, its effervescent moto perpetuum theme moving around the three voices. Their performance of the work was engaging and meticulously thought out.

The artists then performed Johannes Brahms’ Violin Sonata No.3 in D-minor opus 108. A work of great dynamic variety and sudden emotional contrasts, the artists sensitively addressed all aspects, from the mysterious, sombre moments and tragic outbursts of the first movement, to their finely coordinated rendering of the somewhat rapt, luxuriant and cantabile second movement. Then to the enigmatic third movement, both playful, lyrical and impassioned, ending with two winks of an eye, then to the unbridled, fiery Romantic Brahmsian sound world of the fourth movement, its agitato character temporarily punctuated by a touch of intimacy and reflection. The technical challenges for both instruments of Sonata No.3 were channelled into the work’s emotional agenda and never a focus of acrobatic display. Well received into the warm, lively acoustic shell of the Eden-Tamir hall, Semmel and Zur’s reading of the economically and deftly structured work was articulate, uncompromising and humanly real as they communicated in balanced partnership, one never overwhelming the other.

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No.9 in A-major opus 47 “Kreutzer”, composed in the spring of 1803, has a strange history to it. It was originally dedicated to George Bridgetower, a mulatto violin virtuoso, who performed its premiere brilliantly together with the composer (Bridgetower received the music the day before the concert). Later, there was a disagreement between the two and Beethoven decided to dedicate the sonata to French violinist Rudolph Kreutzer, who described the work as “outrageously unintelligible” and actually never performed it. In the composer’s words, the work was “written in a very concertante style, quasi concerto-like”. Beethoven was known for his pianistic ability, but he was also intimately familiar with the violin and, aware of the changes the violin was undergoing at the time, made demands accordingly. Performing the most difficult of Beethoven’s ten violin and piano sonatas, Zur and Semmel had listeners perched at the edges of their seats, no minor feat in a work whose every note is so familiar to chamber music lovers. Their playing of the opening movement was suspenseful, majestic, fresh and exciting, but also sensitive and tender, with each small gesture painstakingly crafted, their gentle flexing and each soupçon of a pause critical to Beethoven’s rich canvas of moods. Their playing of the Andante con variazione was tranquil, elegant and noble, the manner they set out of the different variations simply delightful and heart-warming. The work’s original sense of urgency returned with the Finale, the artists juggling its unsettled nature with upbeat, virtuosic buoyancy. Throughout the sonata, Semmel and Zur kept the audience aware of Beethoven’s writing for equal forces.

Dror Semmel returned to Israel after six years in New York, where he studied at Mannes College. completing a doctorate at Stony Brook University. Over recent years, he has been performing as a soloist with orchestras, in solo recitals, and chamber music in Israel, the USA and Europe. Future engagements include concerts in the USA, Italy and the Far East. Most of his recitals comprise German repertoire, over recent years including late Beethoven sonatas, late Schubert sonatas, Schubert’s “Winterreise” and Bach’s Goldberg Variations and Partitas. He and his pianist sister Shir Semmel perform as the Jerusalem Piano Duo. Dror Semmel teaches at the Israel Conservatory (Tel Aviv) and at the Jerusalem Conservatory, where he heads the piano department, is director of master classes and serves as juror for the Jerusalem Young Artists Competition.

Yonah Zur graduated from the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, receiving a Masters degree from the Juilliard School of Music. He regularly performs throughout Israel, the USA and Europe as soloist and chamber musician, playing both traditional and contemporary repertoire, with special interest in music of Israeli composers. He has soloed with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, the Israel Contemporary Players and the Israel Camerata Jerusalem. Yonah Zur joined the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra in 2011, serving as assistant principal violist; he recently joined the Carmel Quartet. Zur is on the faculty of the Conservatory of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. Believing in the artist’s role in society, Yonah Zur has performed much in educational concerts; for the last six years, he has been leading concerts in schools throughout the greater Jerusalem area.


Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra IBA's Special 2016 Independence Day Concert

Maestro Frederic Chaslin (limelightmagazine.com.au)
The Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra’s annual Independence Eve concert took place in the Henry Crown Symphony Hall of the Jerusalem Theatre on May 11th 2016. In cooperation with the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, the concert, most of which was conducted by the JSO’s musical director Frédéric Chaslin, was one of the orchestra’s festive events of its 78th concert season. Soloist was pianist Tom Zalmanov.

Following words of welcome from JSO director general Yair Stern, the event got off to a jaunty and fitting start with an Israeli work -“Amusement Park” by Michael Damian. Born in Romania (1954), Damian immigrated to Israel in 1983, received a PhD in Musicology from Bar-Ilan University in 2002 and has been active in the field of  composing. An experienced conductor, especially of contemporary music, he was the JSO’s assistant chief conductor from 2007 to 2010. Michael Damian is assistant principal of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra’s viola section. A festive concert overture, “Amusement Park” was composed in 2013 and awarded the Mark Kopytman Prize for Orchestral Music the same year. Michael Damian conducted it at this concert. “Amusement Park”, a celebration of orchestral textures, variety and timbral articulacy, offers some nice small solos to the players, a fugal section and a number of appealing, jazzy moments.  Well written and entertaining, this provided a fine, energizing start to the festive event.

We then heard Frédéric Chopin’s Piano Concerto in E-minor opus 11, with young Tom Zalmanov performing the solo role. Written in 1830, when Chopin  was 20 years old, and referred to as No.1, the concerto is actually Chopin’s second piano concerto but the first to be published.  From the opening sounds of the work, Chaslin, Zalmanov and instrumentalists achieved a very fine balance of sound and agenda. Zalmanov’s playing of the opening Allegro maestoso was clean, articulate, at times suitably assertive, at others, tender but never venturing into the quagmire of the over-sentimental. His superb technique and control emerged in runs delicate in agility. Chopin referred to the concerto's second movement as a Romance in the “spirit of reverie”. In a letter to his childhood friend Titus Sylwester Woyciechowski he wrote that “the Adagio…is not intended to be powerful, it is more romance-like, calm, melancholic, it should give the impression of a pleasant glance at a place where a thousand fond memories come to mind.” Here, with natural shaping, grace and lightness of touch, Zalmanov presented Chopin’s “narrative”, taking time to place notes with strategic calm, to embellish and reflect in crystalline sounds, the small agitato of the third subject whisking away the second movement's daydream in a moment of passion. In the Rondo:vivace third movement, its refrain suggesting a krakowiak (a fast, syncopated Polish dance from the region of Kraków) Zalmanov engaged in some bold, well-contrasted playing, as he dipped into his palette of timbres and raced across the keyboard to join Chaslin in expressing the movement’s liveliness and wit. Although only 17, Tom Zalmanov, a student of Lea Agmon and a participant in the prestigious Goldman Program for Young Musicians of the Jerusalem Music Centre, performs with competence and musical maturity. A winner of several competitions, he has performed in Europe and South East Asia. In February of this year, he gave a solo recital in Geneva, Switzerland.

The concert ended with Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No.5 in C-sharp minor. Joining the JSO to form a Mahler-proportioned orchestra were 15 players from the Mendi Rodan Symphony Orchestra of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. A mammoth undertaking, Chaslin and his players created the work’s broad soundscape, one sweeping from mourning to triumph and reflecting the composer’s personal life (the symphony, however, has no non-musical program). Opening with a lone trumpet call issuing in a funeral march, we were guided through the rich variety of timbres and emotions with which Mahler paints his somewhat sinister canvas – demonic scenes, struggle, frenzy, somber moments, lyrical moments, Romantic sentimentality (never to slip into parody), Austrian country dances and the fifth movement’s striking four-part double fugue. Then there is the bitter-sweet Adagietto, one of Mahler’s greatest “hits”, in which only strings and harp play, with the harp playing enigmatically in a hesitating, almost improvisatory mode. A much-loved movement sometimes performed as a piece on its own, it was used as movie music in Visconti’s 1971 “Death in Venice”; Chaslin’s reading of it was lyrical, calm and kindly. It was a joy to see and hear students of the Jerusalem Academy of Music performing confidently with their JSO counterparts in Mahler’s Symphony No.5, a daunting challenge and large-scale journey for any orchestral player.



Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Alexander Trio in a Holocaust Day concert at the Jerusalem Music Centre

The Alexander Trio – Nitai Zori-violin, Ella Toovey-‘cello and Michal Tal-piano - performed at a Holocaust Day concert at the Jerusalem Music Centre, Mishkenot Sha’ananim on May 5th 2016. Formed in 2013, the trio is named in memory of violinist Alexander Tal (1932-2005), father of Michal Tal. Alexander Tal was among the most prominent Israeli musicians in the 1960s and early ‘70s, a founder of the New Israeli Quartet and the Israeli Chamber Ensemble.  The Alexander Trio performs at festivals in Israel and overseas, in the Felicja Blumental Centre concert series and records for the Voice of Music, Israeli radio. In addition to the large piano trio repertoire, the Alexander Trio performs works written for it, also collaborating with other artists.

The Holocaust Memorial Day concert opened with “Suite in Memoriam” (1947) for piano trio by Yitzhak Edel (1896-1973). Born in Poland to a Hassidic family, Edel spent two years in Russia, where he became acquainted with the work of the Society for Jewish Folk Music. Back in Warsaw in 1922, he engaged in music education (for three years, he taught at the Janusz Korczak Orphanage) and established the Company for Jewish Music.  Edel immigrated to Palestine in 1929, settling in Tel Aviv, where he taught, conducted choirs and composed. The Alexander Trio’s playing of “Suite in Memoriam”, a work which is rich in Jewish melodies and sentiment, brought out the vibrancy of Edel’s scoring with its sad undertones, giving its moving solos and duets personal expression.  Referring to the work he dedicated to the Polish victims of the Holocaust, Edel wrote: “I did not attempt here to express the terrible tragedy which took place in the 20th century in the heart of Europe. I attempted only to preserve the sounds inseparably bound to the spiritual life of millions of men, women and children who were cruelly slaughtered, suffocated and burnt by barbaric murderers for their only one and only unforgivable crime – that of being Jews”.

Born in Moravia, pianist, composer, writer and educator Gideon Klein (1919-1945) was a person of prodigious skills, writing music in a number of styles, composing some 25 works and writing song arrangements. In 1941, he was deported to Terezin, where he remained for three years. There he taught, performed, served as pianist for several opera productions and composed. Gideon Klein perished in Auschwitz. Until 1990, it was thought that the works Klein wrote prior to his internment were lost until a suitcase was found containing all the works he had written before the war, revealing experimental works composed in the most contemporary styles of the time. The manuscript of the Duo for violin and ‘cello (1941) was one of the works preserved in the suitcase; Klein had not managed to complete it. Ella Toovey and Nitai Zori gave a committed reading of the work, displaying the opening Allegro con fuoco movement’s intense, atonal moments reinforced with its bowed ‘cello tremolos, double stopping and pizzicato, interesting rhythmic shifts and clashing harmonies, then minimal moments in which the violin plays a ghostly melody and the enigmatic final major chord. In the Lento movement the artists, each instrument playing its own agenda, recreate the profound, convincing and soul-searching mood piece. The music then suddenly cuts out, poignantly symbolizing the premature termination of the composer’s life. Gideon Klein’s legacy has been preserved by several musicians, but primarily by his sister pianist and music educator Eliška Kleinová (1912-1999).

We then heard the violin and piano setting of “Kaddish” (the Jewish prayer for the dead, sung in Aramaic) the first of two pieces from Maurice Ravel’s “Deux mélodies hébraïques” composed in 1941 originally for voice and piano.  Zori’s masterly and finely crafted evocation of the melismatic, cantorial style had the audience following every nuance of the melodic and emotional course as Tal gave sensitive expression to the spare, marvellously coruscant utterances of Ravel’s piano text.

Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No.2 in E-minor opus 67 was completed in the spring of 1944; its emotional agenda arises from both national- and personal tragedy. After several years of brutal war, Russia was emerging to realize the reality of the death camps and fate of the Jews. At this time, Shostakovich also lost his closest friend – music writer and linguist Ivan Sollertinsky. Bereft at the unexpected death at 42 of his “ideal friend”, “mentor” and “alter ego”, the composer dedicated the trio to his memory. Four days after Sollertinsky’s death, Shostakovich completed the first movement. The Alexander Trio gave a gripping and involved performance of the E-minor Trio, with attention to the fine detail of its unique motifs, to questions of balance and to the work’s almost unbroken intensity. From the bleak, ghostly and ever shocking opening of its main theme in muted ‘cello harmonics, to the pensive piano theme, to a sinister waltz, the artists showed the audience at the Music Centre through the work’s desolate soundscape. Following their frenetic playing of the brash, unrelenting, wild-natured and sarcastic second movement, the third movement opens with- and is dominated by fateful, crashing, fate-filled chords, the tragic, beautiful melodies played out by violin and ‘cello heartrending and moving. With its reference to former motifs and themes, we also hear new melodies in the fourth movement – Russian folk melodies and a Jewish tune -  with Zori’s strident violin comments set against powerful ‘cello utterances and expressive piano melodies.  And there is much to be expressed in the opus 67; the Alexander Trio’s playing of it was profound on all levels, perhaps not for the faint-hearted, but more than rewarding. Shostakovich’s interest in Jewish music goes back earlier than 1944. He wrote:” It seems I comprehend what distinguishes the Jewish melos. A cheerful melody is built…on sad intonations…” The characteristic combination of tragedy and cheer, of irony, beauty and despair of Jewish music is also present in Shostakovich’s music and nowhere more pointedly than in the E-minor Trio.