Friday, December 28, 2018

Ensemble Wiener Collage (Austria) performs modern and very contemporary Christmas and Hanukkah music at the Willy Brandt Center (Jerusalem)

Photo: Sarah George

Octaves of Light, a concert for the Hanukkah and Christmas festivals, was a unique event performed by Ensemble Wiener Collage (Austria) at the Willy Brandt Center, Jerusalem on December 17th 2018. Established in 2005, Ensemble Wiener Collage offers an alternative to classical Christmas music concerts. With their various programs produced by a several different conductors, the group’s concerts weave together a unique combination of lyrics, sound, visuals, performance and music. An ensemble encouraging young, ambitious artists to hone their skills, it has premiered 57 works over the last couple of years; some of these new works were heard at the Jerusalem concert. At the event, seven instrumentalists, joined by mezzo-soprano Patricia Nolz, were conducted by René Staar; scenic direction and spoken texts were in the hands of Tania Golden, with Micaela Hurdes-Galli as video editor. Ensemble Wiener Collage’s Hanukkah-Christmas program presented the journey taken by light from darkness to joy. Highlighting the many similarities between Christmas and Hanukkah, the event, pondering darkness, doubt, wonder and enlightenment, also included an exploration of various aspects of Jewish history. The project was supported by the Cultural Forum of the Austrian Embassy (Director Maria Gierlinger-Landa was present). Petra Klose, Social Art project coordinator of the Willy Brandt Center, welcomed guests, stressing the suitability of this concert to the Willy Brandt Centre, a space hosting encounters of people from Israel, Palestine, Europe and the entire world, people encouraging cross-cultural exchange beyond borders. 


The program was an assemblage of instrumental- and vocal pieces interspersed with readings in German on such subjects as the history of Hanukkah, thoughts on prayer and the mysterious figure of God. Several works took the listener into the world of Klezmer music and Yiddish song coming from the traditional Jewish shtetl (town): Leon Pollak, violinist and provider of vocals and narration in Ensemble Klesmer Wien, the group he founded and leads, has incorporated the exhilarating, delicate or melancholy elements of Klezmer melodies into his arrangements; these were sensitively and authentically performed by violinist Robert Nzekwu. Young mezzo-soprano Patricia Nolz gave an emotional performance of “Two Songs based on “Halbtener”, settings by Israeli composer Ella Milch-Sheriff (b.1954), Nolz’ anchored, well-rounded voice and intense approach bringing out both the melancholic-and joyful messages of this music, with splendid playing on accordion (Alfred Melichar) and clarinet (Theresa Sinkhauser) providing strong associations of the genre. Based in Vienna, singer, bassist and composer Benjamin Fox-Rosen (b.1984, USA). conducts the Vienna Stadttempel Choir, his interests lying in the meeting of folk traditions with the avant-garde. Composed in 2018, “Nitl iz a beyzer layd” (Christmas is a wicked burden) is a daring, provocative song. Nolz’ singing of the Yiddish/English text, its melodic line bristling with unconventional leaps, worked well with Fox-Rosen’s up-front, colourful and feisty instrumental score. Works composed in 2018 by members of Ensemble Wiener Collage included the busy, atonal “Desire for Light - Schamasch” (2018) by Mexican-born Jaime Wolfson (b.1974) and Alexander Stankovski’s (b.1968) thought-provoking Linien V (Chanukka) (2018). Another work from 2018 was “Aufruf zur höchsten Schau“ by versatile opera/film/theatre composer Alexander Kukelka (b.1963), a powerful, reflective and intense piece given a gripping reading by singer and players.


Chamber Music No.12 (2011-2012) by Austrian composer Dietmar Hellmich (b.1976), one of Ensemble Wiener Collage’s recent directors, is an atonal instrumental piece constructed from many small gestures; its fresh, inspired course was performed by the instrumentalists with much articulacy, attention to the detail and the expressivity inherent in each motif.


Arnold Schönberg (1874-1951) was brought up in the Jewish faith but in 1898 converted to Protestantism and was baptised in the Viennese Dorothee Parish. With his re-conversion to Judaism in Paris in 1933 he made both a religious and national-political statement. Works by Schoenberg figured largely in the program. His “Christmas Music” (1921), a serene work for two violins, ‘cello, harmonium, and piano, is a fantasia on two well-known Christmas carols - “Est is Eine Ros’ Entsprungen” and “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht”. Although Schoenberg made public his twelve-tone system in 1921, this work refers back to the composer's compositional mastery of the tonal realm. The Wiener Collage players gave it a richly timbred, festive performance, with the piano adding jubilant Christmas-season  brightness. Another Christmas work was that of American pianist and composer Karl Kohn (b.1926, Austria). In his chamber piece “Ambiance de Noël” (2009), we heard familiar Christmas melodies emerging from atonal screens of sound made up of very individual roles, the songs then to disappear and reappear in fragmented forms. A fascinating work!


Thought-provoking and different, “Octaves of Light” was a fine vehicle for Ensemble Wiener Collage’s impressive instrumentalists (and some of its house composers). Versatile and accomplished young Austrian mezzo-soprano Patricia Nolz (b.1995) gave profound meaning to the sung texts. Maestro René Staar, himself a composer, drew all the program’s threads together with profound musicality and dedication.



No comments: