Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Israel Chamber Orchestra hosts Dutch violinist Rosanne Philippens and Israeli jazz pianist Guy Mintus. World premiere of Guy Mintus' piano concerto "On Eagles' Wings"

Rosanne Philippens (photo: Merlijn Doomernik)

Directed by house conductor Ariel Zuckermann, the third concert of the Israel Chamber Orchestra’s 2018-2019 season, “Mendelssohn - Concerto”, included two familiar works of orchestral repertoire and the premiering of a work written for the ICO. Soloists were violinist Rosanne Philippens (Netherlands/Germany) and Israeli jazz pianist Guy Muntus, who soloed in the performance of his piano concerto.


The program opened with Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No.2 in D-major op.36 (1802), a work dedicated to Prince Lichnowsky, one of the composer’s leading patrons. A turning point in Beethoven’s output, marking the transition between the first and second epochs of his compositional style, we hear him here intimating his ambitious plans for a new symphonic canvas. The writing of this symphony also coincided with Beethoven’s final acceptance of the fact that his increasing deafness was incurable. It was at this time that he wrote the Heiligenstadt Testament (actually, a kind of will), in which he described his grief and despair and increasing isolation from society. But, enigmatically, Beethoven’s Symphony No.2 is a work full of drive, energy and exhilarating good humour. Issued in by the composer’s slow, majestic introduction, Zuckermann guides the listener through the symphony’s vivacity, its passages of dialogue between instruments and its characteristic, subtle harmonic shifts, its drama, moments of delightful lightness and sturdy tutti. The players’ precision and freshness of sound invite the audience to take a new look at music so familiar to concert-goers and to be constantly involved in its process. In the radiantly beautiful Larghetto, devoid of trumpet and timpani, the ICO’s fine woodwinds add elaborate detail to its lyricism and warm melodiousness, to be followed by the Scherzo, with its sudden, volatile dramatic shifts, punctuated by a mellifluous Trio. No less quirky or capricious is the Finale, its humour and vitality endorsed by some fine playing by the wind sections.


In 1838, Felix Mendelssohn wrote to his childhood friend, violinist Ferdinand David, concertmaster of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra: “I would like to compose a violin concerto for you next winter; one in E-minor sticks in my head, the beginning of which will not leave me in peace.” The work would not give him peace for another six years, till he at last found time, the nerve and inspiration amidst his busy concert schedule to complete it. David became involved in every aspect of the concerto’s composition and served as its technical advisor. The work premiered in 1845 with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra with David as soloist and Niels Gade conducting. Mendelssohn was thirty-five years old when this composition was completed and was destined to live only another three years. As his last work for large orchestra, the Violin Concerto represents Mendelssohn's most mature orchestral style.  It is also one of his most painstakingly written works. Here, the composer introduced his own innovations into the concerto form: the three movements are ingeniously and seamlessly connected by a single bassoon note and the composer has done away with the convention of having the orchestra introduce all the melodic material in the first movement before the soloist enters. At the ICO concert, from the moment Rosanne Philippens (b.1986) opened with the first subject, her playing elegiac, impassioned and rhapsodic, the audience moved to the edge of their seats for a performance of uncommon personal expression. Playing by heart enabled the artist the freedom of eyeing conductor, orchestra or audience at strategic moments, of initiating, of shaping melodic lines and flexing rhythms and of spontaneity, as she delved into her large personal range of dynamics, soaring from robust volumes down to the most exquisite, gossamer pianissimi. In the (unconventionally placed) cadenza (first movement) she had the audience in the palm of her hand, focusing on its motifs ornamented with sparkling bariolage (repeated string crossings), spiccato (off-the-string bow stroke), and chords across all four strings. The Andante movement, emerging tranquil, cantabile and lyrical, gave way to the final Allegro, wistful at first, then bursting into effervescence (with a fleeting reference to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.) Ms. Philippens’ playing strikes a fine balance between virtuosity, deep musical enquiry and a sense of the personal in music.


Today, Israeli-born jazz pianist, teacher and composer Guy Mintus lives in New York but he spends much time on the go. The 27-year-old artist is as comfortable sharing the stage with jazz greats, composing for classical orchestras and collaborating with masters of traditional music as he is working with children. His solo- and ensemble performances have taken him all over the world - to Brazil, India, Turkey, Israel, throughout Europe, the USA and Canada. “On Eagles’ Wings”, a concerto for orchestra and improvising pianist, was written August-October 2018, but the concept of it has been processing in Mintus’ mind for the last year. It is his first concerto and it has programmatic content. The three movements follow the physical- and emotional process of a person uprooted from one culture and moving to another (familiar to him from his Iraqi-, Moroccan- and Polish background):  Al Tariqa - The Road, Intermezzo - Assimilation, Zikhrayat - Remnants of a Memory and Tikkun.  “Tikkun is an important term in the Jewish world, coming from Kabala. It covers many aspects but, most literally, it means fixing something. Within the context of the piece it's about coming the full circle, finding a home between identities, finding peace with one's own complexities”, in the composer’s words. In the work, the piano represents the individual. As to the title, “On Eagles’ Wings”, it was taken from that of the operation (1949-1950) that brought some 50,000 Yemenite Jews to Israel. An interesting aspect of the pianist’s role is that some piano sections are written out in full, some provide harmonic-, character- or other guidelines, whereas other sections are left entirely to the performer. Guy Mintus’ soundscape is vibrant, rich in rhythmic ideas, fresh and palpable, displaying some very fine orchestral writing. Its styles vary from jazz to western tonal/harmonic writing, to oriental monodic sections. Mintus’ handling of the piano sections, some solo, others integrating with just a few instruments or with the whole orchestra, was confident and virtuosic; he also made use of some plucking-, percussive- and other effects produced inside the piano, at one moment, doubling an oriental melody with his own singing. And then there were those special “Guy Mintus moments” - personal, touching, sensitive...fragile. Addressing the audience before the concert began, Maestro Zuckermann spoke of the ICO’s interest in promoting Israeli composers. The performance was wholehearted proof of this.

Guy Mintus (photo: Lena Gansman)

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