Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Meitar Ensemble performs works from Mozart to Erel Paz at the Israel Conservatory, Tel Aviv

Photo: Janna Menhel

The Meitar Ensemble’s recent concert at the Chamber Music Centre (direction and production: Dr. Raz Binyamini) of the Israel Conservatory Tel Aviv on April 13th 2019 was proof yet again that no two concerts of this group are alike or predictable.  Established in 2004 by pianist Amit Dolberg and based in Tel Aviv, the Meitar Ensemble consists of a group of virtuosic young Israeli musicians specializing in contemporary music; it has commissioned and premiered over 200 new works to date. Appearing at some of the most prestigious venues and festivals worldwide, the group is also the ensemble-in-residence of the Israel Conservatory of Music, Tel Aviv. Acclaimed for its significant contribution to the development of Israeli culture and music, the ensemble has initiated a number of major educational projects.


The program spanned a number of genres - ballet, opera, stage music, radio and video art - including such elements as jazz, folk music and children’s songs. Two of the works were accompanied by video films produced by students of the Sapir College’s School Department of Media and Communication. Off to a surprisingly Classical start, the concert opened with ‘cellist Yoni Gotlibovich’s arrangement of the Overture to W.A.Mozart’s “Magic Flute”, a lush, well-grounded and festive offering.


A substantial part of the program focused on European works of the first half of the 20th century, its times and influences, repertoire often neglected into today’s programming. Maurice Ravel’s “Mother Goose” Suite, five tableaus inspired by ancient French fairy tales, originally written for piano duet (1910) and orchestrated by the composer In 1911, was heard here in the Meitar Ensemble’s own arrangement, based on that of David Walter. The players’ detailed and delicate shaping of phrases and exquisite mix of timbres gave vivid musical elucidation to each tableau - the Pavan danced around a sleeping princess, Tom Thumb’s disheartening wanderings through the woods depicted by seemingly endless phrases and meter changes, to the exotic colours depicting the Empress of the Pagodas in turn-of-the-century orientalism styled by pentatonic scales, to their articulate depiction of the characters and touching dialogues in “Beauty and the Beast” with their poignant solos and with their sense of mystery, magic and fantasy, to conclude with serene, almost beatific, calm and delicate sonority celebrating all that  is good and beautiful in “The Enchanted Garden”. The student video film shown simultaneously, depicting a young woman meeting a friend, dancing, then covering her clothes and herself from head to toe in thick paint, “providing new realistic levels connecting Ravel’s work to a contemporary, locational experience” (program notes) seemed a poor, uninformed and irrelevant interpretation of the beguiling innocence and imagination of Ravel’s “cinq pièces enfantines,” as he himself called these magical vignettes.


With his use of music constituting a didactic synthesis of the tumultuous times and the very contradictions in which he lived and worked, composer Hanns Eisler’s Septet No.1 Op.92a ("Variations on American Children's Songs") (1941) for flute, clarinet, bassoon, and string quartet, represents the composer’s search for a new simplicity with new resources. Septet No.1 is a fine vehicle for the Meitar players: its canvas rich in sophisticated scoring is largely atonal, with the charming (tonal) children’s songs threaded into the weave one by one. Articulate and transparent, the members’ performance bristled with humour, vibrancy and nostalgia, their solos and duets played with fastidious, delicate shaping and expression, forming an auspicious meeting-point of compositional savoir faire and the wide-eyed world of children’s song.


With the 1920s being radio days, Paul Hindemith believed in a strong link between music and social needs, regarding the composer as a craftsman, as someone who could provide for those needs. Thus, he composed several pieces for the emergent radio, his style of writing adhering to the confines of recording restrictions of the time. “Drei Anekdoten für Radio” (1925), scored for violin, double bass, piano, trumpet and clarinet, bears the stamp of his unconventional and eclectic chamber music, tonal but not devoid of dissonances. The artists gave succinct and characterful expression to each of the three miniatures: the whimsical Scherzando with its jazzy tonings, followed by “Langsame Achtel’ (slow eighth-notes) its melancholic scene set by the violin (Moshe Aharonov) with clarinet (Gilad Harel), a muted trumpet (Yuval Shapiro) and a sizable piano section (Amit Dolberg), to burgeon into a stylish mood piece of many strands, with  the playful, forthright canvas of “Lebhafte Halbe” (Lively half-notes) forming the last movement..


Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů’s 1927 jazz ballet “La Revue de Cuisine” (Kitchen Review), consists of ten movements for violin, cello, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet and piano, in which the composer demonstrates the possibilities of jazz in a chamber setting without percussion. With jazz all the rage in Paris at the time, the war and its aftermath brought American dance bands to Europe. Incorporating such popular dances as the Charleston, tango and the foxtrot dances into the unlikely tale of a kitchen utensil love-triangle, Martinů’s work was premiered in Paris in 1930. The Meitar artists’ vivid reading of it breezed through its very complicated time schemes with ease, displaying the whimsy and temperament of Martinů’s writing as heard in the soloistic banter (such as coquettish bassoon utterances - Nadav Cohen) between instruments and highlighting the jazz influence through such features as the Dixie-style clarinet writing, the shifting meters of the piano’s rhythmic role and the jazz band timbre of the muted trumpet.


Israeli composer Erel Paz (b.1974) composed “A Happy Song?” in 2006 for the Meitar Ensemble. Based on an Eastern European children’s song (originally sung in Yiddish) the composer remembers its “Israeli form” from his childhood.  In the program notes, the composer writes that the song text is both jolly and cheeky, its minor tonality, however, making reference to some underlying sadness, hence the question mark in the title. Paz also explains that his piece is made up of elements broken down from the song melody, meaning that there is no longer any possibility of recognizing the song itself. Conducted by flautist Hagar Shahal at the Tel Aviv concert, the listener became aware of recurring elements such as a drone or descending glissandos and also of rapid movement as opposed to time more static. Complementing the musical work, Noa Dolberg and Tamar Tal’s video film, with its relentless black-and-white erratic, hurtling flight through skies and forests contrasted by serene scenes, such as the face of a sleeping woman, reflected both the music’s duality and its somewhat disquieting essence, both music and visuals to conclude with the tranquillity of a pine forest scene.


An evening of the fine performance quality that comes of profound scrutiny of works and styles and sensitive collaboration. Taking part were: Hagar Shahal-flute, Gilad Harel-clarinet, Nadav Cohen-bassoon, Yuval Shapiro-trumpet, Moshe Aharonov, Noam Lilior Gal-violins, Lotem Beider Ben Aharon-viola, Yoni Gotlibovich-’cello, Eran Borovich-double bass, Amit Dolberg-piano



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