Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The 2019 Vocal Fantasy Festival opens with two chamber concerts at the Jerusalem International YMCA

Māris Kupčs (courtesy Latvian Academy of Music)
Under the auspices of the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra, and directed by the JBO’s musical director David Shemer, the second Vocal Fantasy Festival was a sparkling summer event, offering three  days of musical events taking place at the Jerusalem International YMCA from July 25th to 27th 2019. The Vocal Fantasy Festival gives centre stage to the human voice and to vocal music in general. This year’s program presented music from the 12th century to that of today. Guest artists hailed from Latvia, Lithuania and Switzerland. 


Two chamber concerts opened the festival. In “Schütz’ German Requiem” (Concert No.2), the Collegium Choro Musici Riga, under its chorus master Māris Kupčs (accompanying on organ), and joined by Israeli viola da gamba player Tal Arbel, gave festival-goers the rare opportunity of hearing sacred chamber works of Heinrich Schütz, seldom heard on these shores. Maestro Kupčs offered some interesting information on the works performed. Schütz published two volumes of “Kleine geistliche Konzerte” (Small Sacred Concertos) in the 1630s; the pieces  are mostly solos, duets and trios, the use of the word "concerto" here simply implies that the music is designed for a small group of vocal performers with only basso continuo accompaniment, thus drawing attention to the rhetoric of the texts and highlighting  Schütz’ fine setting of the German language. In the intimate scoring of these sacred works, sopranos Ilze Grevele-Skaraine and Tereze Gretere and tenor Ansis Betins displayed the fine interweaving of voices of these small gems. This was followed by another (little known) masterpiece - Schütz’ “Musikalische Exequien” (1636) - a Lutheran funeral Mass to German texts, written for the funeral of Prince Heinrich Posthumus Reuss, a member of the ruling family of the region in which Schütz was born. Considered to be the first German requiem, it was written for six to eight voices plus ripieno singers (a six-voice choir) with basso continuo accompaniment on the organ. Among the most inspired of all his works, Schütz himself thought highly enough of the Exequien. A complex work, it falls into three parts, its profound theological meaning based on scriptural passages alternating with hymn verses. With the choral sections firmly based on German choral tradition, the work offered a fine opportunity to hear several of the singers either solo or duetting, these moments often florid, written in the Italian manner. For the third section, Kupcs placed one group of singers at the end of the hall, this movement for double choir recalling Schütz’ studies in antiphonal writing with the earlier Venetian composers. The singers’ well-defined German enunciation indicated genuine understanding of the texts.


In the other chamber concert, “Nisi Dominus” (Concert No.1), Israeli artists Noam Schuss (violin), Orit Messer Jacobi (‘cello) and Aviad Stier (harpsichord) were joined by Lithuanian bass Nerijus Masevič a program of mostly European Baroque music. The instrumental section of the program gave the stage to each of the players, the one Renaissance work being William Byrd’s Fantasia in a-minor, played by Aviad Stier on a single-manual Italian harpsichord. Consisting of an unbroken continuum of small sections, its diversity demonstrating the unlimited scope of Byrd’s imagination, Stier negotiated the work’s intricate rhythms, surprise modulations and changing textures, employing impressive dexterous the dazzling finale. Relaxing the pace of the occasional section might have created more contrast of mood. Prior to her performance of ‘cello virtuoso Domenico Gabrielli’s Ricercar No.7 for ‘cello and keyboard; Orit Messer Jacobi spoke of the ‘cello, with its impressive range and wide variety of tonal colours, as supplanting the viol and coming into its own as a solo instrument in the 17th century. Messer Jacobi’s playing was finely chiselled, both forthright and personal, as she gave expression to the work's virtuosic demands, its rapid passagework and double-stopping, addressing the importance of its dissonances and the resonant qualities of the instrument. Moving on a generation, Noam Schuss and Aviad Stier illuminated the equal roles of J.S.Bach’s obbligato writing in Sonata for violin and harpsichord in E major BWV 1016,  the opening Adagio of this sonata da chiesa Italianate in the style of its ornamental melodic writing; this and the give-and-take of the third movement (a  passacaglia, untypical in its changing keys) were played with exquisite detail, to be  punctuated by movements of intense and vivid three-way conversation and imitation. 


Nerijus Masevičius and the instrumentalists performed an aria from “Ich will den Kreuzweg gerne gehen” (I wish to follow in the way of the cross) a Passion cantata from one of G.P.Telemann’s more than 1400 surviving cantatas (text: Erdmann Neumeister). Masevičius’ rich, stable timbre, the violin’s substantial part in the conveying of the text, also some fine solo moments for ‘cello, made for rewarding listening. Masevičius singing of Heinrich Biber’s “Nisi Dominus” (Psalm 127) was warm, judiciously nuanced, definite in gestures and alive with word-painting, with Schuss’ playing heightening the meaning of the text. J.S.Bach’s “So oft ich meine Tobackspfeife” (Enlightening Thoughts of a Tobacco Smoker) in D minor, BWV 515 for bass voice, violin and basso continuo, a song discussing the metaphysics of pipe-smoking, draws our attention to the frequent, lively musical get-togethers at the Bach home. The aria, whose verbal text was probably written by Bach himself, appears in the Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach (1725). Eyeing the audience, Masevičius entertained us with the song’s good cheer, whimsy and its dancelike rhythm; the lyrics also have an austere side to them, comparing man's transitory existence to that of a clay pipe

“Each time I take my pipe ’n tobacco 
With goodly wad filled to the brim 
For fun and passing time with pleasure, 
It brings to me a thought so grim 
And adds as well this doctrine fair: 
That I’m to it quite similar…”    English Translation © Z. Philip Ambrose
Nerijus Masevičius (courtesy Canto Fiorito)

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Handel's "Acis and Galatea", one of the events of the 2019 Summer International Opera Workshop (Tel Aviv)

Nils Nilsen, Mayan Goldenfeld (photo: Maxim Reider)
Under the auspices of the Israel Vocal Arts Institute, the 33rd Summer International Opera Workshop (SIOW), taking place at the Israel Conservatory of Music, Tel Aviv from July 8th to 27th, 2019, was a veritable beehive of activity. The Israel Vocal Arts Institute was founded in 1987 by former Tel Aviv mayor Shlomo Lahat and Joan Dornemann of the Metropolitan Opera, New York. This year’s faculty included renowned vocal experts Kevin Murphy, Dan Ettinger, Chen Reiss and Michael Schade. In addition to performances of  “Acis and Galatea” (Handel), “Don Giovanni” (Mozart) and two one-act pieces by Puccini - “Suor Angelica” and “Gianni Schicchi” - there was a gala concert at the Tel Aviv Museum, one of  Broadway favourites and an “It’s Your Choice” concert, as well as five programs for children at the Tel Aviv Port. 


This writer attended the performance of G.F.Handel’s “Acis and Galatea”, played to a full auditorium at the Israel Conservatory of Music on July 24th. Directed by Michael Shell (USA) and conducted by Chris Crans (USA), Tania Lohkina (USA) played a piano reduction of the orchestral score. Appropriately referred to by the composer as “A Serenata; or Pastoral Entertainment”, “Acis and Galatea”, Handel’s first dramatic work in the English language, was commissioned in 1718 by James Brydges, Earl of Carnarvon, at whose stately home in Middlesex the earl kept a group of musicians for his chapel and entertainments. The libretto, based on Dryden’s translation of an episode from Ovid's Metamorphoses, was written by John Gay, John Arbuthnot, John Hughes and Alexander Pope and  tells of the love between the mortal Acis and the Nereid (sea-nymph) Galatea; when the jealous cyclops Polyphemus kills Acis, Galatea transforms her lover into an immortal river spirit, as she performs one of the most gorgeous arias in the music of Handel - “Heart, the seat of soft delight”. 


Opening the pastoral opera with a colourfully dramatic recitative, Italian-Israeli soprano Mayan Goldenfeld, in the mammoth role of Galatea, gave a competent, polished performance, her richly-coloured soprano range and theatrical know-how portraying the nymph as both sweet and charmed by innocent, idyllic love but also as strong and clear in intent. Young Norwegian singer Nils Nilsen gave credence to the character of the naive and starry-eyed shepherd boy Acis, his large, reliable tenor voice fresh, lyrical and intense. With his towering physique and fine authoritative vocal presence, Israeli baritone Eitan Mechtinger was well cast as the one-eyed cyclops Polyphemus, the “thund’ring Gyant” consumed with seeking the love of Galatea, dealing well with the role’s technical challenges. (His English pronunciation still needs some work.) And then there is the philosophic Damon, offering words of wisdom to both Acis and Polyphemus, to be ignored by both, played by tenor Anton Trotoush Elrom, a student at the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music, Tel Aviv; he gave a sympathetic, convincing and musical depiction  of the well-meaning shepherd. Solos by other members of the cast were indeed commendable; the excellent ensemble singing, highlighting the rich timbres and musicality of excellent voices, also provided much pleasure. 


With the participants’ singing, acting and emotional involvement of prime importance, the production’s staging and costumes were minimal, but the young artists, light of foot, flitting up and down the aisles of the auditorium, created the atmosphere of an  idyllic pastoral setting inhabited by carefree shepherds and nymphs celebrating the perpetual joys of nature as the opera began, its first half including a few humorous touches. Then, with the safety of the rural landscape destroyed in the opening of Act 2, the ground trembles under the cyclops’ footsteps, and the semiquavers which previously represented soft water now become earthquakes and avalanches.  Actor Joshua Sutton, also fleet of foot, gave charm and whimsy to the character of Cupid. Kudos to Tania Lohkina, whose articulate, sensitive and stylistically informed accompaniment substituted splendidly for Handel’s outstanding instrumental score, no mean feat, and to Maestro Chris Crans for drawing the musical threads together in tasteful, carefully balanced musical eloquence. 


“Acis and Galatea” is indeed a perfect work; it has been performed continually since its first publication and its popularity is amply deserved. The masque displays Handel’s music at its finest, with his rich palette of effects, affects and word-painting; the Tel Aviv audience might have benefited more from the latter if supplied with the verbal text. Still, the young artists’ dedicated performance kept the audience both well entertained and involved; as Acis’ death scene concludes with the chorus singing “Mourn all ye muses”, in the form of a solemn saraband, we are once again reminded that Handel’s “Acis and Galatea”, however entertaining, also deals in human emotions and psychology.
“Mourn, all ye muses! Weep, all ye swains!
Tune, tune your reeds to doleful strains!
Groans, cries and howlings fill the neighb'ring shore:
Ah, the gentle Acis is no more!”

Eitan Mechtinger (photo: Maxim Reider)

Sunday, July 21, 2019

"In memoriam: Commemoration Motets of the Renaissance" recorded by The Lacock Scholars (UK), director: Greg Skidmore

“In memoriam: Commemoration Motets of the Renaissance” is the second disc of The Lacock Scholars, a London-based consort of young singers (originally from Andrew van der Beek’s Lacock courses) who are dedicated to small-ensemble a-cappella singing of Renaissance music and plainsong. Greg Skidmore is the ensemble’s music director. Forming the connecting thread throughout this recording is the fact that each of the motets was written by one composer in memory of another.


The text of Johannes Ockeghem’s motet-chanson “Mort tu as navré”, a lamentation probably written in 1460 on the death of Burgundian chanson composer Gilles Binchois, suggests Ockeghem’s personal acquaintance with Binchois. Whether or not Binchois had been his teacher is not known: Ockeghem’s motet, however, supplies some biographical detail on Binchois - that he had been a soldier, later choosing to serve the church. In this heartfelt tribute, its sophisticated writing offering the upper voice in French with the tenor singing a sequence from the Missa pro defunctis in Latin, the piece’s musical language bears reference to Binchois’ own chanson style. The Lacock Scholars create the appropriate mood, with each refrain emerging increasingly more moving in its message as the tenor sings "Pie Jesu, Domine, dona ei requiem." ("Blessed Lord Jesus, grant him peace.") Josquin des Prez, who probably studied with Ockeghem in his youth, mourns the master in “Nymphes des bois / La déploration sur la mort de Johannes Ockeghem” to a text by Jean Molinet; it alludes to Ockeghem in puns, assonance, and alliteration, infusing some of the stylistic hallmarks of his teacher’s style (as did Ockeghem in his memorial piece to Binchois) and even listing some mourners by name. The singers give expression to the work’s Phrygian mode colouring, weaving melodic lines unadulterated by vibrato into the piece’s reverence and tension. Completing this thread is the six-voice motet “Musae Jovis” composed by Nicolas Gombert in memory of Josquin des Prez, with whom he had probably studied. Gombert’s mention of the divine muses as the source of artistic inspiration leads him to write a unique, otherworldly piece, its seamless course enlisting daring dissonances as an expressive effect. The Lacock Scholars master the work’s unusual texture, the soprano voice floating symbolically in silvery weightlessness way above the other voices which are engaged in dark-hued contrapuntal writing, all this making for beguiling listening and a poignant expression of grief. Remaining in the Low Countries, we hear “Continuo lacrimas” a six-voice motet by Jacobus Vaet, written in memory of Jacobus Clemens non Papa, the latter having been one of the most famous representatives of the Franco-Flemish school; he died in 1555 or 1556. The singers handle the complexities of this veritable jewel with crystalline articulacy, their intonation and brightness of timbre indeed creating an effect of fluid, magical simplicity. 


Then, to great English composers of the Renaissance, the recording includes “Ye sacred muses”, William Byrd’s haunting lament on the death of his mentor, colleague (and business partner) Thomas Tallis. Not a motet but a secular consort song, the singers re-create its poignant solemnity and growing anguish, its rich, madrigalian harmonies and passing dissonances, with smooth melodiousness and exquisitely vibrant timbres, culminating in the extended repetition of the final phrase: “Tallis is dead and music dies.” Thomas Weelkes composed “Death hath deprived me” in 1608 in memory of his friend and colleague Thomas Morley, who died in 1602. A striking example of Weelkes’ weightier, more Italianate style, his daring use of harmony and strongly-depicted words and phrases, for me, the performance of this piece is a highlight of the disc, presenting the Lacock Scholars’ superb teamwork, sense of drama and glowing intensity of sound.


The disc’s central work is by Duarte Lôbo (c.1565-1646), one of the leading exponents of the Portuguese polyphonic style. His six-voice “Missa pro defunctis” (1639) takes Victoria's famous six-voice Requiem as a model, setting the traditional chant melodies in long notes in one of the soprano parts, accompanied by richly-hued chords rather than imitative counterpoint. One of the composer’s later works, its writing nevertheless harks back to the sonorous and contrapuntal idiom of his earlier years. The Requiem abounds in soft modal colours, its tender colouring (influenced by the choice of C(S)AATTB voices) producing funeral music that is reflective but certainly not dour. The Lacock Scholars’ performance of it takes the listener into the verbal- and musical texts with superbly shaped melodic lines soaring high and melting away, into the beauty of a single melodic line, the lushness of its harmonies and the meaning of its dissonances, all brought together with superbly clean intonation and strategic pacing. With the timeless effect of the pared-down four-voice Responsory Memento mei, the singers present a carefully-paced conclusion to the work, the church’s acoustic endorsing its devout message. On this recording, the movements of Lobo's piece are punctuated by the other above-mentioned single-movement memorial works. 


When it comes to creativity and musings, nothing has been more inspiring than death, promoting some of the most beautiful and personal human artistic expression. Performed by this outstanding ensemble of young, hand-picked singers, “In memoriam: Commemoration Motets of the Renaissance” is no exception. Recorded in January 2018 at All Hallows’ Gospel Oak, London, UK (producer: William Whitehead, engineer: David Hinitt), the disc’s sound quality is lively and pristine. Canadian-born baritone Greg Skidmore, one of the UK's leading consort singers, is regularly heard with such groups as The Tallis Scholars, I Fagiolini, The Gabrieli Consort and Alamire. Having studied for a DPhil at Oxford before pursuing full-time professional singing and conducting work in London, his interest in the history and complexity of Christian liturgy has been enriched by his own singing with the choir of The London Oratory. Greg Skidmore has held workshops on Renaissance polyphonic repertoire in the UK, France, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Maestro Greg Skidmore (photo: Jamie Wright)

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Maestro Christian Lindberg conducts the Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra's final concert of the 2018-2019 season. Guest artists: members of the Israeli Opera's Meitar Opera Studio

Photo: Avi Koren
In recent years, the Israel Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra has been winding up its annual concert season with the audience having its say, “When the Public Decides”. The 48th season was no exception. Under the direction of Christian Lindberg (Sweden), the NKO’s principal conductor ( house conductor: Shmuel Elbaz) subscribers were invited to vote for one out of four symphonies to be performed at the final concert; the majority of votes went to Schubert’s Symphony No.5. The rest of the program took listeners into the unbounded world of opera, with young singers of the Israeli Opera’s Meitar Opera Studio joining the orchestra to present opera numbers by Mozart and Rossini. This writer attended the concert at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on July 13th, 2019.


Franz Schubert’s Symphony No.5, written at age 19, the finest of his early symphonies, radiates youthful optimism. Scored for chamber orchestra, it shows the influence of Mozart, for whose music Schubert seemed to have felt a special affinity  A few months before completing Symphony No.5, on October 3, 1816, Schubert wrote in his diary that “the magic notes of Mozart’s music still gently haunt me...which no time, no circumstances can efface, and they lighten our existence…”  After its premiere - one private performance soon after its completion – the symphony was subsequently forgotten for 50 years. Lindberg’s own love of the work was reflected in his exuberant reading of it - in his performance of the brisk, sunny opening movement, the lyrical, songful yet gently reflective Andante con moto movement with just the occasional touch of unease, a somewhat forthright presentation of the Minuet, contrasted by the sweet freshness of its trio, then to move on to the carefree caper of the finale. This is delightful concert fare, its beauty enhanced by the NKO’s consistent and fine woodwind playing.


Gioachino Rossini reused the overture from his opera “Aurelia in Palmyra” for “The Barber of Seville” (or “The Useless Precaution”), which actually did not matter, since Rossini did not use themes from the relevant opera in any of his overtures. The NKO’s rendition of the overture, to what Rossini (in all modesty!) referred to as ”the most beautiful opera buffa there is”, bristled with gorgeous melodies, some exciting tutti and several lovely solos. Performing a scene from Rossini’s opera “La Cenerentola”, sopranos Veronika Brook and Efrat Hacohen-Bram, mezzo-soprano Maya Bakstansky and bass Pnini Leon Grubner displayed fine bel canto technique and playful Italian theatricality, setting the scene for what is, in fact, the story of Cinderella. The singers, all graduates of music academies presently receiving intensive opera training at the Meitar Opera Studio (director: David Sebba) before joining opera companies as soloists in Israel and overseas, had audience (and conductor) well entertained with their communicative, dedicated singing of pieces selected from Mozart operas, some humorous, some dramatic and even the Magic Flute’s “Queen of the Night” aria  (Veronika Brook).


Maestro Christian Lindberg is a renowned trombonist and composer. When he conducts NKO concerts, he talks to the audience in an informal, friendly way, providing information on the works performed and making for a sense of community.



Sunday, July 14, 2019

Stephen Storace's comic opera "The Pirates", a joint project of the Meitar Opera Studio of the Israeli Opera and Ensemble PHOENIX

Photo: Eliahu Feldman

British composer Stephen Storace (1762-1796) lived and wrote at a time when Londoners loved their entertainment. His comic operas were highly popular in 18th-century England. The son of an Italian double-bass player/composer and an English mother, the composer's youth was spent entirely in the company of musicians, since his father was musical director of Vauxhall Gardens, one of the leading venues for public entertainment in London from the mid-17th century to the mid-19th century. The Gardens drew enormous crowds, with its romantic paths, tightrope walkers, hot-air balloon ascents, concerts and fireworks; the Rococo "Turkish tent" became one of the Gardens' structures, the interior of the Rotunda became one of Vauxhall's most viewed attractions, and the “chinoiserie” style was a feature of several buildings. This was the climate from which Storace’s comic opera “The Pirates” emerged.  Premiered on November 21, 1792 at Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London, the opera created quite a stir, being performed 23 times in the 1792-93 season and mounted for King George III in 1794.


As to the young Storace’s musical education, in around 1776, he went to Naples in order to study the violin and, after some years back in London, he then went to Vienna in 1784, where, it is believed, he studied with Mozart, whom he had met through his sister. Returning to London, he spent the rest of his life writing comic operas for Drury Lane. Storace also published chamber music, songs, and an anthology - “Storace’s Collection of Original Harpsichord Music” (1787–89) - which included music he brought back from Vienna. His operas show the influence of the Italianate style as well as that of Mozart. His sister, Anna Selina (Nancy) Storace (1765–1817), was a noted soprano who sang her first leading role in Florence at age 15. She also created the role of Susanna in Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” (1786) after singing the role of Rosina in the Viennese production of Giovanni Paisiello's “Barber of Seville” in 1783.


The Israeli premiere of “The Pirates” (libretto: James Cobb) was a collaboration between Ensemble PHOENIX (music director: Myrna Herzog) and the Israeli Opera’s Meitar Opera Studio (music director: David Sebba), with support from the Felicja Blumental Music Centre and the Israeli Ministry of Culture. Stage director was Shirit Lee Weiss. The singers, guided in the appropriate Classical style of sound production and tuning by Herzog herself, were all young music academy graduates, their Meitar Studio training preparing them for future opera careers in Israel and abroad. Dr. Myrna Herzog conducted the PHOENIX musicians playing on Classical period instruments. This writer attended the performance at the Jerusalem International YMCA on July 11th 2019. In her program notes, Herzog explains that “The Pirates” and Storace’s other London operas were no longer performed after 1809, when a fire at Drury Lane Theatre destroyed the orchestral scores. What remained of “The Pirates” score was a vocal score, with a rough piano reduction of the orchestral score. David Sebba stepped in to reconstruct the orchestral score. 


Together with his servant, Blazio, Don Altador  sets out to rescue his love Donna Aurora from her guardian, the wicked Don Gaspero, who wants her to marry his nephew, Guillermo. The daring duo try all they can to rescue Donna Aurora, but with Don Gaspero always one step ahead of the game, things do not go to plan. Shirit Lee Weiss’s production consisted of a play within a play. Costumes and props were all on stage, with singers donning clothing items and effects over black clothes. Translation of the text into Hebrew appeared on screens. That, however, was where any correlation between the libretto and what was happening on stage ended, even for Hebrew speakers, it seems. With none of the original saucy text to follow, we English-speakers missed out big time. The constant action on stage amounted to slapstick hi-jinx unrelated to Cobb’s libretto or to any form of authentic British drollery, sophistication or stage magic as would have been experienced at the sumptuously decorated Theatre Royal, a venue featuring the latest stage- and scenic technology and boasting pitch-perfect acoustics, a place to see and be seen, no matter what your social class! But all was not lost: the Jerusalem audience delighted in dedicated, polished performance on the part of the Meitar Studio members - Efrat HaCohen Bram, Liat Lidor, Veronika Brook, Pnini Leon Grubner, Shaked Stroll, Tom Ben Ishai, Yuli Rorman - their splendid voices and natural musicality reflecting understanding of 18th century voice production and offering much to enjoy from the arias, duets and choruses. Neither did the PHOENIX Ensemble players (concertmaster: Yaakov Rubinstein), conducted on stage by Herzog, disappoint the audience, as they presented us with suave, informed and carefully balanced ensemble playing of genuine beauty and lushness. So, the hero of the evening was indeed Storace’s music - graceful and melodious - inviting the listener to indulge in its refinement and allure.





Friday, July 5, 2019

Tim Brown conducts the Israel Camerata Jerusalem in a program of cantatas and a work of John Ireland. Guest tenor soloist Marcel Beekman (Holland)

Maestro Timothy Brown (photo: Benjamin Harte)

Conducting the Israel Camerata Jerusalem’s recent concert “Cantata for Saturday and Sunday” was not the orchestra's music director Avner Biron but Tim Brown (UK), no new face to the Israeli music scene. Also taking part were the Moran Singers Ensemble (director: Naomi Faran), tenor Marcel Beekman (Netherlands) and Israeli soloists Hadas Faran-Asia-soprano, Alon Harari-countertenor and Guy Pelc-baritone. This writer attended the concert in the Recanati Auditorium of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on June 30th 2019. 


The program opened with J.S.Bach’s Cantata BWV 55, “Ich armer Mensch, ich Sündenknecht” (I pitiful man, I slave of sin), one of a series of solo cantatas (the only one for tenor); it was first performed in 1726. A short work, its chamber qualities and personal expression are reflected in Bach’s use of a small ensemble - one flute, one oboe, strings and continuo - its intense text built around a confession of sin amounting almost to spiritual self-torture. Marcel Beekman’s performance of the work was poised, exquisitely shaped, his every word articulate, as he narrated and emoted with freshness and spontaneity. Here was a fine opportunity to bask in the burnished stable richness of his voice.  Flute (Esti Rofé) and oboe (Muki Zohar), often in close combination contrasting with the string orchestra, added much timbral beauty.  Esti Rofé’s treatment of the obbligato part in the second aria abounded in lavish ornamentation. The cantata concluded with eight members of the Moran Singers Ensemble in an attentive and carefully shaped reading of the chorale. 


Then to the Sabbath Cantata by Russian-born Israeli composer Mordecai Seter (1916-1994).. Written for soloists, mixed choir and string orchestra, the Sabbath Cantata (1940) is set to texts from  the Old Testament, Song of Songs, Psalms and the liturgy; the work’s style is inspired by Middle Eastern Jewish musical traditions  making for a basis of  Seter’s own new modes and endorsed by the composer’s fine understanding of the Hebrew language. In its gentle pastel dissonances, scintillating climaxes and forthright dance rhythms, Brown brought out the score’s contrasts of mood and texture in a moving and tasteful performance articulating the 24-year-old composer’s already sophisticated style of writing, with the vocal soloists fusing melodic lines into the weave of the work or singing as a quartet. One outstanding moment was the delicate fourth movement (Peace be unto you, ye ministering angels) with its viola solo (Michael Plaskov) juxtaposed with countertenor Alon Harari’s focused and convincing singing of the text. In the work’s concluding section, taken from the Kaddish (mourner’s prayer), each syllable was enounced in an eerie detached manner. The Moran Ensemble’s singing excelled in transparency and refinement. 


Prior to the Camerata’s performance of John Ireland’s “A Downland Suite”, visiting British conductor David Wordsworth, director of the John Ireland Charitable Trust, gave some background information on the composer, emphasizing that Ireland, coming from the German musical tradition, was not interested in English folksong. “A Downland Suite” (1932) was originally written for the 1932 National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain and would have been played by competent amateur wind players. Nine years after writing the suite, Ireland arranged the Elegy and third-movement Minuet for string orchestra; and, in 1978, the composer’s pupil Geoffrey Bush completed an arrangement of all four movements.  Pastoral in nature, the suite was inspired by the Sussex countryside. Tim Brown’s reading of the work, flavoured with freshness, lift and understatement, brought out the natural flow of Ireland’s music, its pensive moments (especially in the magical Elegy), its joy, lyricism, introspection and its decidedly British flavour. The Camerata members’ eloquent playing of the work was surely more expressive than that of a brass band.


With its self-assured style and warm and joyous mood, J.S.Bach’s chorale Cantata No.140 “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme” (Sleepers Awake) bears a much more positive message than the solo cantata performed at the beginning of the program. First performed in 1731 and based on the late 16th-century hymn, "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme," by German pastor Philipp Nicolai (who wrote it in 1599 after surviving a deadly plague in his town) it is one of Bach’s most famous and best-loved works. Never lagging, the Tel Aviv performance expounded the work’s joy and richness, its great variety and moments of  orchestral virtuosity. Celebrating Bach at his most melodic, solo singers - Marcel Beekman, Hadas Faran-Asia and Guy Pelc - offered performance that was lively, engaging and stylish, with the addition of beautifully polished instrumental obbligatos on the part of violinist Natasha Sher and Muki Zohar (oboe). Once again, the Camerata's programming and performance were a highlight of the 2018-2019 concert season.



Monday, July 1, 2019

Closing the 2018-2019 concert season, the Meitar Ensemble, joined by students of the Tedarim Project, performs new works at the Tel Aviv Conservatory

Moshe Aharonov,Amit Dolberg,Yoni Gotlibovich (Culiner Creative Circle)
“Fresh off the drawing board” might be the best way to describe most of the instrumental chamber works performed at the Meitar Ensemble’s closing concert for the 2018-2019 season, which took place on June 26th 2019 in the Ran Baron Hall of the Israel Conservatory of Music, Tel Aviv. Performing alongside members of the Meitar Ensemble were students of the Tedarim Project, a two-year master’s degree program in contemporary music initiated by the Meitar Ensemble at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance and attended by ten students from Israel and abroad. Founded in 2004 by artistic director Amit Dolberg and based in Tel Aviv, the Meitar Ensemble, featuring a prominent selection of virtuoso musicians, has commissioned over 200 works and performs at prestigious international venues. It has been acclaimed for its significant contribution to the development of Israeli culture and music


The Tel Aviv event opened with the three works of the final stage of the 2019 Matan Givol Competition for Composers. In memory of violinist Matan Givol, the competition, now in its fourth year and under the auspices of the Meitar Ensemble, is open to composers of all ages and from all countries. This year, over 50 scores were submitted to the competition, coming from Spain, Taiwan, Italy, Australia, China, South Korea, Romania, USA, Turkey, Austria, Hungary, Poland, England, Russia, Cyprus, Switzerland, Bosnia, Slovenia, Albania, Israel, Finland, Thailand, Japan, Chile, Mexico, Canada, Greece and Ireland. The jury, present at the Tel Aviv concert, consisted of Ayal Adler, Guy Feder, Pascal Gallois and members of the Meitar Ensemble. Taking 2nd prize, “Cinq pièges brefs” (Five Brief Snares) for piano trio by Spanish composer Mikel Urquiza (b.1988) was performed by Amit Dolberg (prepared) piano, Moshe Aharonov-violin and Yoni Gotlibovich-’cello. The players presented a finely-detailed performance of the piece’s many small individual gestures, presenting its humorous- and dancelike moments and the underlying process of the five miniatures. In South Korean composer Siho Kim’s “Sussurro” (Whispers), winning 3rd prize, the vivid, confrontational opening takes the listener into a vibrant soundscape rich in repeated gestures, weeping glissandi and homophonic moments, to conclude on a curious, whispered major chord. Silhouette” by Piyawat Louilarpprasert (Thailand), won 1st prize, its dramatic agenda bristling with textural- and emotional contrasts, with Moshe Aharonov expounding its sizable solo with deep connectedness. The performance kept audience members at the edge of their seats.


Fabien Lévy is an international composer both in lifestyle and in his compositional œuvre. Born in Paris in 1968, he has lived in several countries, being involved in their various local music scenes. His delicate music brings together spectralism, musique concrète instrumentale and minimalism, even the music of Central Africa and of Japan. In “À propos” (2008) for flute, clarinet, violin, ‘cello and piano, each of the four movements is dedicated to one visual artist - Jeff Wall, Giuseppe Penone, Alberto Burri, and Tim Hawkinson - and has been referred to by the composer as his “little imaginary museum”. Comprising both individual- and joint utterances, moments at times pensive, haunting and static, at others, defiant, feisty, often strident, the work represents Lévy’s musical world, one ruled by rhythmical delicacy, sonic colour, sensitivity and his liking for surprise, the latter emerging as some whistled utterances. Pascal Gallois, who conducted the three larger ensemble works, held the work’s tension throughout, showing the importance of the text’s many rests.


The concert included two premieres, the first being what was titled as “New Piece for Ensemble (piano, violin, flute, ‘cello, clarinet) and Electronics” by Israeli composer Erel Paz (b.1974). Paz himself was on stage to activate the live electronics. Germinating from a pulsating octave, the piece’s sound world became gripping, its dark, bleak gestures unrelenting, with anxious utterances from the violin (Cecilia Bercovich), followed by a perplexing, somewhat otherworldly fragmented tritone-based duet between violin and looped electronics. An intense piano section gave rise to a moving flute solo, with the violin answered by the ‘cello. The piece’s second movement opened with intense, dark timbres, weighted down by bassy piano chords, relieved by a brighter, more positive piano solo, only to swing back to undulating waves of intensity, with dull, thunderous effects and punctuated by what sounded like gunshots. A sombre, powerful piece beautifully crafted, sensitive and accessible.


Israeli Omer Barash (b.1995) is the first composer to graduate from the Tedarim program, with M.Mus studies in composition under Prof. Ari Ben-Shabetai, and his B.Mus in piano under Prof. Eitan Globerson. Much of his oeuvre to date consists of chamber compositions. Completed in April 2019, “Jeux Jerusalemiens” (Jerusalem Games), its title a reference to Polish composer Lutosławski’s “Venetian Games” and written in a similar spirit, is both the final work for Barash’s studies at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance and his personal farewell to Jerusalem. For his tribute to the city, Barash did not wish the piece to be sentimental or romantic. Yet, what he refers to as a “non-serious” piece expresses chaos, the “dissolving” of each utterance being his expression for how physically neglected parts of Jerusalem are, with the capital “crumbling culturally and in religious matters”, in the composer’s words. But, opening with a vibrant screen of sounds, the music itself is certainly upbeat, coloured with a florid ‘cello solo, with just a few tranquil sections but mostly consisting of staticity and strident sonorities. The work ends with the sound of the siren that signals the beginning of the sabbath in Jerusalem. As of September 2019, Omer Barash will study with Prof. Philippe Leroux at the Schulich School of Music of McGill University, Montreal.


Born in 1960, French conductor Pascal Gallois, an internationally-renowned bassoonist,  has been a member of Ensemble Intercontemporain, serves as director of the Mozart Conservatory (Paris) and he also hosts the Musicales of Quiberon Festival, a festival combining classical repertoire with contemporary music. He is the author of “The Techniques of Bassoon Playing”. On his first professional visit to Israel, this concert was his debut with the Meitar Ensemble. His precise, eloquent conducting made for high-quality performance and much enjoyment for all in collaboration with the outstanding and dedicated instrumentalists of the Meitar Ensemble and the Tedarim project.  

Maestro Pascal Gallois (Thierry Vagne)