Saturday, July 30, 2016

Musical theatre in Jerusalem - Maya Pennington and Guy Frati perform together in "Guy & Doll"

Maya Pennington,Guy Frati (photo:Elle Jones)

“An evening of tongue-in-cheek, double-entendre and just a touch of neurosis for good measure” is how Maya Pennington and Guy Frati describe “Guy & Doll”, their lively presentation of songs of Tom Lehrer through Sondheim and all the way to contemporary song numbers. This writer attended the event at the Harmony Centre for Cultures, Jerusalem, on July 11th 2016.

The artists took the audience back to the vivid and diverse world of show tunes of the second half of the 20th century and into the 21st century. Opening with three “laments”, the bittersweet “Diva’s Lament” (Du Prez, Idle, Innes) and “Alto’s Lament” (Heisler, Goldrich) conveyed the hardships of survival in show biz. There were numbers from the Broadway show “Guys and Dolls” (Frank Loesser, 1950) and several Tom Lehrer songs, the latter’s political- and social satire expressed in quick-witted texts of much hilarity. Of course, there were songs about love and its complications; take, for example, Stephen Sondheim’s despondent, psychotic patter song “Not Getting Married Today” (from the musical “Company”, 1970) and “The Boy from…”. Here the young lady is unaware of her crush’s homosexuality. On the song’s humorous side, there is the very lengthy fictional name of the boy’s Spanish hometown ending each verse. Pennington unhesitatingly tops it off with informing the audience he is moving to Wales, to a town called Llanfairwllgwyngyllgogerychwrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. And then there is Kristin Chenoweth’s autobiographic episode in “The Girl in 14G” (Tesori, Scanlan, 2001), telling of the non-stop music practice emanating from her neighbours’ apartments when she first moved to New York. In her animated presentation of the song, Pennington skilfully changed from imitating the ‘cellist, an opera singer and a jazz singer as she sang fragments of “Tristan und Isolde”, Mozart’s “Queen of the Night” aria and “Swan Lake”.

A “natural” on stage, her clean, flexible voice, polished performance and marvellous wit make Jerusalem-born singer/actress and composer Maya Pennington (a native English speaker) a first-class show-woman.  A graduate of Composition and Jazz Singing from the Inter-Disciplinary Faculty of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, she spent four years touring the world with the “Voca People” a-cappella ensemble. Her solo appearances include those with the Beer Sheva Sinfonietta, the 2006 Jerusalem Jazz Festival and the 2008 Red Sea Jazz Festival. She currently lives in Tel Aviv, where she sings, writes and teaches singing.

Early in 2014, Pennington approached Guy Frati with the suggestion that they create a show built on comical performance, with an emphasis on complexity and sophistication – lyrical, melodic and subject-wise. That was the genesis of “Guy & Doll”, which has to date had over 20 performances. One of the most memorable was one in the middle of Operation Protective Edge (2014), referred to by Pennington as a “very powerful experience”. With both artists being avid teachers, Pennington and Frati recently held a second intensive two-day summer program consisting of master classes and ensemble work for singers. The two have collaborated with other musician friends – Nir Cohen, Ziv Shalit and Anna Spitz – in a “sister show” on the subject of Jewish artists on Broadway.

A number in which Frati sang and accompanied himself was “Something’s Coming” (Bernstein, Sondheim) from Act 1 of “West Side Story”. In this song, Tony expresses his disillusionment in gang warfare and looks forward to a better future. Frati gives a fine interpretation of the piece - its excitement and anticipation, its different moods, personal expression and its word-painting as he appropriates the accompaniment into energizing the number with jazzy, offbeat rhythms. Pianist, arranger, composer, accompanist and vocal coach working in the forefront of Israeli performance schools, Guy Frati is vastly experienced in ensemble work, vocal instruction and music theory and has acted as arranger and pianist for several leading Israeli orchestras, also producing events at the President’s residence, the Prime Minister’s office and the Jerusalem Cinematheque. He is a conductor of the Ashkelon branch of the international “Hazamir” Choir and has served as director of the Ashkelon Conservatory.  “Guy & Doll” brings together two outstanding artists in high quality musical theatre performance that is stylistically accurate, dedicated, finely detailed and splendidly entertaining.     



Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Israel Chamber Orchestra, hosting the great Georgian pianist Eliso Virsaladze, closes its 2015-2016 concert season with "Feminine Strength"

Pianist Eliso Virsaladze (

The Israel Chamber Orchestra closed its 10th Classical Series with “Feminine Strength”, conducted by the ICO’s musical director Ariel Zuckermann; soloists were pianist Eliso Virsaladze and mezzo-soprano Avital Dery. This writer attended the concert in the Recanati Auditorium of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on July 20th, 2016.

The program opened with Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s Symphony in F-major Wq 183/3, one of the “Hamburg Sinfonias” probably composed in 1773. Here C.P.E.Bach, J.S.Bach’s second (surviving) son, has augmented the string section (and harpsichord - Ethan Schmeisser) with flutes, oboes, horns and bassoon, creating a kind of “sinfonia concertante”.  Zuckermann presented the work in all its idiosyncratic shifts of mood and dynamics, rhythmic twists and unexpected solos and duets, in keeping with the composer’s unconventional signature style and the language of the “Sturm und Drang” (the latter influenced by the fact that C.P.E.Bach preferred the company of literati and intellectuals to that of musicians). From the suspenseful first movement, to the mournful, counterpoint-laden Larghetto and ending with the jaunty rondo of the Presto with its comic horn interjections, the ICO gave a crisp, attentive performance of what constituted a fine aperitif to the evening’s musical program.

 We then heard Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A-minor opus 54 with soloist Eliso Virsaladse (b. 1942, Tbilisi, Georgia). With the first movement composed in 1841 as a Fantasie for his new wife Clara, Schumann added the other movements to form the A-minor Piano Concerto in 1845, his only work of that genre, again with Clara in mind. Delighted, Clara wrote in her diary that she was getting a “big bravura piece”. Schumann, however, insisted he was incapable of writing “for the virtuoso”; his writing, therefore, lays emphasis on structural unity and thematic connection. Clara Schumann would go on to premiere the work in Leipzig on New Year’s Day of 1846, with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra conducted by Ferdinand Hiller, to whom the work was dedicated. The work, however, does include some very challenging passagework, but, true to the composer’s intentions, Virsaladse, performing in Israel after a hiatus of 17 years, put the concerto’s virtuositic aspect to the service of its strategically-wrought symphonic structure. In the impulsive, dramatic opening Allegro affettuoso movement, her full-blooded, slightly flexed playing gave the music a spontaneous feel as she both soloed and blended with the orchestra, the wistful oboe theme dominating the movement, with the exchange between piano and clarinet so poignant. Virsaladze then showed the listener through the cadenza with its mix of counterpoint, feisty chords, conflict and Schumannesque musings. Following her poetic, unmannered reading of the lyrical Intermezzo: Andante grazioso, in which she engaged in eloquent dialogue with the orchestra, the Allegro vivace was a kaleidoscope of melodies and ideas, with never a note lost in the profile of each piano utterance. Eliso Virsaladze’s playing was intelligent and balanced, but also rich in inspiration, warmth, good taste and colour. One of today’s greatest pianists, Sviatoslav Richter has referred to Professor Virsaladze, who today teaches at the Moscow Conservatory and in Florence, as “an unforgettable Schumannist…Can one imagine a more beautiful Schumann?”

Josef Bardanashvili (b.1948, Balumi, Georgia) immigrated to Israel in 1995. The recipient of many prizes and awards, his oeuvre consists of more than 80 works, including four operas, music for dance, symphonies and concertos, vocal music, music for solo instruments, also music for 45 films and for 55 theatre pieces. “Yearning” for female voice and orchestra (1999), based on prayer texts and poetry, is typical of the composer’s candid, spiritual and vehement personal form of expression. It opens with a morning prayer taken from the first tractate of the Talmud:
‘My God-
The soul that You have given me is pure.
You created me. You formed it. You breathed it into me;
You keep my body and soul together.
One day You will take my soul from me…’
Mezzo-soprano Avital Dery lured the listener into the involved, conflicted and challenging world of devotional belief and conviction. In her profound enquiry into the work’s meaning and theatrical dimension, she played out the drama of the soul, addressing the various texts and gestures with dedication and articulacy, alternating their intensity with tenderness, eyeing- and and involving the audience. Dery was a fine choice for the role. Familiar to many concert-goers as a performer of early music, she is a versatile artist with impressive vocal- and expressive command. Bardanashvili’s soundscape is vibrant in timbral colour, offering beauty, imagination and interest, as his compositional style straddles the boundaries between the tonal and the atonal. The characteristic nostalgia of Eastern European Jewish music brings the work to a close. The composer was present at the concert.

If C.P.E.Bach’s F-major Symphony was the evening’s aperitif, Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No.4 in A-minor opus 90 “Italian” was certainly a zesty “chaser”, its freshness and self-assertiveness, inspired by the Italian people, their landscape and visual arts, making it one of the composer’s most popular works. How curious it is that it was performed only twice in Mendelssohn’s lifetime and not published until 1851, four years after his death. Zuckermann and his players conveyed the energy and exhilaration Mendelssohn had found in the southern climate of Italy with a performance that was forthright, joyful and buoyant. The Andante con moto, prompted by the sight of a procession of monks in Rome, “their pious, meditative gait and pious aspect”, in Mendelssohn’s words, was a soupçon of hints, musings and gentle solemnity.   We were entertained by the symphony’s dance-suggestive themes and its clear-cut dances – an old-fashioned minuet, a saltarello –  but no less by the contrapuntal play of the final movement, a reminder of how visual orchestral music is! The Italian Symphony is a celebration of  wind instruments and the ICO did not disappoint. The Israel Chamber Orchestra signed out of its 2015-2016 season with vitality and a sense of well-being.

Israeli conductor Ariel Zuckermann (b.1973, Tel Aviv) made his name as a flautist before moving to the conductor’s podium. He studied flute in Munich with Paul Meisen and András Adorján, later with Alain Marion and Aurèle Nicolet and conducting with Jorma Panula (Royal Music Academy, Stokholm) and Bruno Weil (Musikhochschule, Munich).  Completing the Georgian thread running throughout this concert, Maestro Zuckermann was appointed music director of the renowned Georgian Chamber Orchestra in 2007. One of the most sought-after conductors of the younger generation,  he has a busy, international career in conducting. He also tours with his own ensemble “Kolsimcha”-The World Quintet,  an ensemble focusing mainly on Klezmer music. Maestro Zuckermann took over direction of the Israel Chamber Orchestra in 2015.


Sunday, July 17, 2016

Maestro Shalev Ad-El bids farewell to the Israel Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra with a reconstruction concert - Vienna 8.12.1813

Maestro Shalev Ad-El (

The Israel Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra closed the 2015-2016 concert season with “Vienna –
8.12.1813”. The concert was directed by Shalev Ad-El, who has been the orchestra’s musical director and principal conductor since 2013. This writer attended the event on July 13th 2016 in the Recanati Auditorium of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

 It was Maestro Ad-El’s idea to reconstruct the concert that took place to an audience of some 400 people at noon on that freezing December day in 1813, in which Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No.7 was premiered. Of an unusually short duration (most concerts were four hours long!) with Beethoven conducting with a baton (he was one of the first to do so) the gala concert was hailed as a great success, but not just owing to Symphony No.7; it was repeated twice in the following weeks, with the Allegretto of the 7th Symphony encored at each performance. The event was held as a benefit affair for wounded Austrian and Bavarian soldiers, its celebratory mood boosted by the fact that Napoleon’s conquest of Europe had run aground. In his lively account of the event, Shalev Ad-El mentioned some of the musical who’s who of Vienna joining the 125 players of the orchestra, those including Hummel (violin), Spohr (violin), Meyerbeer (bass drum) and Moscheles, (drum). Beethoven’s teacher Salieri served as a kind-of assistant conductor. Coming from further afield were two Italians - the double bass virtuoso Domenico Dragonetti and the great guitarist Mauro Giuliani (Giuliani played the ‘cello in the performance). The orchestra was led by Beethoven’s friend and teacher Ignaz Schuppanzigh. At the Tel Aviv concert, the players were seated as they would have been in Beethoven’s time, with the violin sections seated at the front of the stage on either side and facing each other in order to engage in dialogue. Opening the concert with a symphony was also typical of programming at Beethoven’s time.

Conducting without the score, Shalev Ad-El gave an invigorating reading of Beethoven’s Symphony No.7 in A-major opus 92, from the majestic opening movement, also highlighting delicate moments and Viennese melodiousness. The solemn beauty of the Allegretto variations, with their dirge-like theme and haunting insistent rhythm, were followed by buoyant playing of the Presto movement, its dynamic contrasts, echo- and pastoral effects well furnished with Beethovenian surprises and scoring jokes.  In all the exuberance and suspense of the final Allegro con brio, Ad-El and his team addressed each musical gesture. Much fine wind-playing throughout added to the pleasure of a performance that, in the work’s gusto, never surrendered to thick, inarticulate orchestral textures.

 In the intermission, the Tel Aviv Museum’s cafeteria was temporarily transformed into a Viennese “Kaffeehaus”, with concert-goers enjoying cakes baked to the original Viennese recipes of 200 years ago. No Viennese café would be complete without a jolly medley of light, sentimental classical pieces played live; these were provided by two of the NKO’s violinists, with Ad-El on the accordion!

Back in the auditorium, we heard the Overture to Giacomo Meyerbeer’s “Alimelek” oder “Die Beiden Kalifen” (Elimelech” or “The Two Caliphs”), also known as “Wirth und Gast” (Host and Guest) a Lustspiel mit Gesang (comedy with singing) based on an episode from the “Thousand and One Nights”, the work's storyline that of a rich young merchant who becomes the caliph of Baghdad for a day. The overture to the composer’s second opera (written in the so-called “oriental” or “Turkish” style popular in Germany at the time), it makes for a fine concert piece, combining the 21-year-old Meyerbeer’s contrapuntal skills, his taste in Italienate colouring and sense of drama. Abundantly scored with doubled woodwind- and tripled percussion sections, Ad-El and his players gave the piece a richly melodious and hearty rendering.

 Then to Beethoven’s “tenth symphony” – “Wellington’s Victory” or “The Battle at Vittoria”, opus 91, a work of doubtful quality, whose composition was encouraged by Beethoven’s friend Johann Nepomuk Maelzel, a musician and inventor, mostly known today for patenting the metronome in 1817. Other of Maelzel’s inventions were the hearing trumpet used by Beethoven, the “mechanical trumpeter” and the “panharmonicon”. (Maelzel was also a faker. His “Great Chess Automaton”, discovered to have been operated by a man, was a total hoax.) The panharmonicon was a mechanical organ that combined all instruments of a military band of the time. Each work was on a separate revolving cylinder. Maelzel was keen to add a Beethoven work to its repertoire of battle music. It seems that the news of the Duke of Wellington’s victory at Vittoria in Spain on June 21st 1813 had inspired Maelzel to approach Beethoven to write the work to cater to English taste. Beethoven, however, ended up scoring the work for so many instruments that Maelzel could not build a contraption large enough to perform it and the panharmonicon, merely a curiosity, sank into oblivion. Maelzel and Beethoven had a falling-out over ownership rights to the work, with which their financial collaborations went sour; but, for Beethoven, who probably considered the work an entertainment piece for the Viennese, it had turned out lucrative all the same. It was published in several versions, including one for two pianos and offstage cannons!  “Wellington’s Victory” calls for the usual string section, two flutes, piccolo, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, six trumpets, three trombones, timpani and a large percussion section (including muskets and other artillery effects). Instruments located on either side of the stage represented the British on the left and the French, on the right.

 Although a critique in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung referred to “Wellington’s Victory” as “ingenious”, insisting that there was “no work equal to it in the whole realm of tone-painting” and  the Wiener Zeitung saw Beethoven’s Symphony No.7 merely as a “companion piece” to “Wellington’s Victory” (at which Beethoven was most annoyed), this is perhaps the most universally mocked piece of the Beethoven oeuvre (and of the whole 19th century), having been spoken of as “of a calculated popular appeal,” “noisy,” and a “piece of orchestral claptrap”.  What is clear, though, is that it was the product of a commission, written in unabashed appeal to popularity and that it came of a business deal – a crowd-pleaser and not written for posterity.  I think many of us in the audience were curious to hear it.  With the Recanati Auditorium stage accommodating a large orchestra, including extra percussionists enlisted from the Tremolo Ensemble, the conflict of Beethoven’s only “battaglia” piece was played out to the full, its flamboyant use of brass and percussion evoking the work’s martial program. True to Beethoven’s instructions, the percussionists on the bass drums simulating cannon-fire (and possibly thunder) played with spontaneous independence of the music. As to concert-goers around me humming to the strains of “Rule Britannia”, “God Save the King”, the latter becoming a fugue subject (representing England) and “Malbrouk s’en va-t-en guerre” (sounding to us like “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” but representing the French) it was all part of the fun! If hearing Beethoven’s “Wellington’s Victory” is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, this was the way to do it – in a live performance. There was much to see as the NKO’s playing of it brought out the piece’s temperament and contrasts, making for fine entertainment. Maestro Ad-El’s final concert as the Israel Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra’s house conductor was an event to remember.


Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Israel Contemporary Players, conducted by Fabian Panisello, sign out of the 2015-2016 season at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art

Fabian Panisello (
The event concluding the Israel Contemporary Players’ 25th Discoveries concert season presented four works of composers from four different countries. Argentinian composer Fabián Panisello conducted the concert. Soloists were Yael Barolsky (violin) and Gan Lev (saxophone). This writer attended the concert on July 2nd 2016 in the auditorium of the Herta and Paul Amir building of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

The concert opened with “Release” for twelve instruments by Tel Aviv-born composer and conductor Nizan Leibovich (b. 1969). The title refers to the piece’s theme of release from a state of extreme physical or mental tension. The original version of the work was written for the New York-based NOW Ensemble, which premiered it in 2013. The second version, fuller in instrumentation and lengthier, was premiered at the 2015 Boston Composers Conference. The latter version was what was played in the Tel Aviv concert. The basic idea of the piece’s scoring was the grouping and regrouping of instruments throughout the work, which in the composer’s words “enables the development of specific musical parameters, mainly the sound quality”. Beginning minimally with the motif of the half tone, melodic ideas appear and the listener finds himself absorbed in the delicate sound-world Leibovich is creating, as it escalates, offering jazzy chords on piano joined by double bass, then by brass. With the build-up of texture, there is much individual utterance of instruments, small gestures joining- or set against constant rhythms or breaking down into joint homophonic gestures. Leibovich’s canvas bustles with colours and a myriad of ideas, all drawn together in elegant sensibility. Nizan Leibovich is currently musical director of the Pittsburgh Philharmonia Orchestra and artistic director of the Israeli Music Festival in Jerusalem.

No new face to the Israel Contemporary Players or to Israeli audiences, Argentinean composer, conductor and educator Fabián Panisello (b. 1963) was back to conduct and present a new work “Le Malentendu” (The Misunderstanding) (2016). An opera to a libretto of Juan Lucas, it is based on Albert Camus’ 1943 play “Le Malentendu”, a sinister story of destruction and horror. In his opera, Panisello uses instrumental interludes scored for ensemble and electronics to connect scene to scene, with the interludes also painting a portrait of each of the five characters in the story in sounds. We were presented with the vivid and contrasted set of pieces, their moods ranging from the frenetic to the exotic, a kaleidoscope of colour and fine solos – the electronics were also given a decent solo. Complex and sophisticated as it is, the music is intelligible, gregarious and intelligent, appealing directly to the senses. Panisello’s feel for the aesthetics of the instrumental ensemble makes for active, adventurous listening. Fabián Panisello is the founder and director of PluralEnsemble (Spain).

Born in Japan in 1977, Dai Fujikura moved to the UK at age 15. Receiving many commissions, he is one of Europe’s most significant voices today, with his works performed in his native Japan and worldwide. Cooperating with artists of other disciplines, he is known to be a fine improviser, collaborating in the experimental pop/jazz field. In “Fluid Calligraphy” for violin and optional video (2010), the art of calligraphy meets the sound world of the solo violin (Yael Barolsky). Watching the mesmerizing play of twisting fibres on the screen above the stage, one becomes aware of the fact that the musical agenda and moving fibres are not synchronized. Barolsky’s playing was personal, sensitive and engrossing as she set the scene with the score’s myriad of high notes, harmonics, harmonics and glissandi etc. to create an uneasy, otherworldly and austere soundscape. I found my eyes leaving the screen in order to savour every small gesture of Barolsky’s very moving performance.

The program and the Israel Contemporary Players’ 2015-2016 concert season concluded with a work by Italian composer Franco Donatoni (1927-2000). Donatoni composed using the aesthetic of transformation. From the late 1970s, he had expanded the technique to that of mapping entire pieces onto each other to create new works. “Hot” for saxophone solo and six players (1989) had its origins in “Alamari” for ‘cello, bass and piano (1983). The work was commissioned by the French Association of Saxophonists and dedicated to saxophonist Daniel Kientzy, who also premiered it. The composer described the piece as some kind of “imaginary jazz” and, in fact, it begins with the rhythm section – piano bass and percussion – in lightweight textures making for an agreeable, jazzy feel. Its rolling bass line punctuated by ghostly block chords on the piano (Maria Nikitin) emerges pleasingly. The brass enters (muted trumpet and trombone) dueting in parallel seconds. When the saxophone (Gan Lev) enters, it is paired with the clarinet. Moving from tenor to sopranino saxophone Lev carried his role off with pizzazz. This piece suits Lev’s musical personality and upbeat, easeful technique. However, other players contributed moments of brilliance - those including Tibi Zeiger (clarinet), Nadav Meisel (bass) as well as some excellent percussion.

Maestro Panisello directed with articulate elegance. The ICP’s fine line-up of players and high standard of ensemble-playing never disappoint and this concert was no exception.

Violinist Yael Barolsky (