Thursday, October 29, 2020

The Willy Brandt Center (Jerusalem) marks International Artists Day 2020 with an on-line presentation

Nadav Cohen(Meirav Kadichecsk),Johanna Lonsky(Roberto Ferrantini),Hanno Loewy(Dietmar Walser)

Art has been an important part of the human experience for time extending beyond the reach of memory, record or tradition. The first records of the world are not written in books, rather, captured in paintings, sculptures and music that create a picture of a world lost to the past. International Artists Day was established by Chris MacClure, a Canadian artist who specializes in the style known as “Romantic Realism”.  He created this day, celebrated annually on October 25th, to bring recognition to the world of art and to celebrate all the ways that artists bring their own special view to life. It takes a special type of person to be an artist - a person who thinks outside of the box, someone who is naturally creative, often viewing things from a different perspective. The anguish and joy of the human soul are portrayed through the haunting tones of a melody, the violence and fury captured in a photograph or the serene gaze of a statue staring off into eternity.

To mark the 2020 International Artists Day, Jerusalem’s Willy Brandt Center was joined by the Austrian Cultural Forum, Tel Aviv (director: Arno Mitterdorfer). Also celebrating their joint project "Jerusalem & Europe - Visions for a World of Tomorrow", as inspired by Stefan Zweig's “The World of Yesterday”, an international on-line event was held on October 25th 2020. With the aim of highlighting the contribution culture makes to society in these challenging times, it was moderated by the WBC’s Jerusalem social art project coordinator Petra Klose. Her reading of the following passage from “The World of Yesterday” seemed especially poignant in light of today’s fraught reality: “But in the last resort, every shadow is also the child of light, and only those who have known the light and the dark, have seen war and peace, rise and fall, have truly lived their lives.”  "Jerusalem & Europe - Visions for a World of Tomorrow", a collection of essays and short stories by Israeli, Palestinian and European scholars and writers, is published under the auspices of the Willy Brandt Center and available in November, 2020. Ms. Klose explains that although originally written in four languages, the collection will, however, appear in English, its content to be read by actors. The Austrian Cultural Forum supported commissions for four Austrian authors (Tina Brauer, Anna Goldenberg, Doron Rabinwici and Julya Rabinowich). There are also contributions by Eliana Almog, Peter Münch, Viola Raheb, Nadine Sayegh and Hanno Loewy. 

Dr. Hanno Loewy - German scholar of literature and film, curator and writer, founding director of the Fritz Bauer Institute (Frankfurt am Main), today director of the Jewish Museum, (Hohenems Austria) - has been active in the project. Speaking from the South Tyrol, Italy, he read his contribution to the collection - ‘The Tale of the "Christian-Jewish Occident”’ - indeed, a profound, provocative and highly thought-provoking piece of writing. He also spoke of a recently-opened exhibition at the Jewish Museum, Hohenems - “The Last European” -  referred to by him as a “critical, pessimistic exhibition”. It looks at Jewish individuals who, in the face of the destruction of Europe and the attempted extermination of European Jews in the 20th century, crossed national and cultural borders, once again vehemently demanding the universal validity of human rights. Based on their commitment to a united and peaceful Europe, this exhibition also dares to explore the threats that are facing Europe anew. Dr. Loewy sees Hohenems, a city bordering Austria, Germany and Switzerland, a crossroads through which refugees have passed and via which people commute, as the ideal location for this exhibition.

Loewy’s presentation was followed by the premiere video recording of two movements from “Four Character Pieces” for bassoon solo (2010) by Israeli composer Sergiu Shapira (b.1931, Romania), performed by Israeli bassoonist Nadav Cohen. Prominent on the local contemporary music scene, Cohen is a founding member and producer of the Tel Aviv Wind Quintet and a member of the award-winning Meitar Ensemble, where he also functions as a faculty member of its "Tedarim" Program for Contemporary Music at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. Referring to the work as an “essay connecting two worlds”, Cohen gave expression to Shapira’s free style of writing and accessible personal musical language, music that flows naturally, unencumbered by any predetermined system of composition. Works for solo melodic instruments are generally highly individual by nature, this being no exception. In a reading that was totally engaging, stirring and personal, Cohen’s playing addressed the work’s abundance of minute details, at the same time, creating the general mood of each movement. 


Johanna Lonsky, an Austrian actress working for the BBC and ORF, in cinema as well as theatre, has appeared at the Salzburg Festival, the Josefstadt Theatre, the Vienna Volkstheater and the Berlin Freie Volksbühne, as well as in such international productions as "To the Green Fields Beyond" (director: Sam Mendes.) From the living room of home in her native Vienna, Lonsky gave a vivid and enthralling reading of “Almost Staying”, a story by Austrian author, playwright, painter and translator Julya Rabinowich (b.1970, Leningrad). The story, dealing with one woman’s trip to Jerusalem and the subject of identity, appears in the “Jerusalem and Europe - Visions for a World of Tomorrow” collection. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the performing arts, mirroring its impact across all sectors of the arts. Due to physical distancing requirements and the closure of arts venues, curtailing not only public performances but also rehearsals, many performing arts institutions are offering new (or newly-expanded) digital services. For example, the opening of “The Last European” is available for viewing on YouTube. However, Dr. Loewy also points out the importance of the museum as a living, social space, where visitors communicate with each other as they view exhibits. Nadav Cohen commented that, although you can never replace the audience in a live music situation, one needs to be creative for the sake of both artists and concert-goers, such as on-line concerts, but also outdoor performances, playing at retirement homes and as for artists to take time to prepare new and different program material. Johanna Lonsky, utilizing this problematic time to “become the best version” of herself, speaks of one of the functions of the arts as giving comfort. She reminds us that COVID-19 has plunged us all into the same situation and of how important it is for people to connect with each other. Viewing the Willy Brandt Center's event, one was reassured that the creative spirit is not easily repressed!  Petra Klose invited those of us viewing the International Artists Day meeting to join her in raising a glass to celebrate the many artists who enrich our lives.

Petra Klose (courtesy Willy Brandt Center)

Friday, October 23, 2020

"Coffee with Mozart" - Gidi Meir discusses Mozart piano music and more in a weekly on-line series

                             Photo: students of Meishar Art School

For harpsichordist, organist and teacher Gideon (Gidi) Meir, the piano, his first instrument, has been beckoning him back over recent years, resulting in several recitals, in which the artist offers interesting information and explanations on the works he performs. When the coronavirus moved in to change our lives, Meir established a weekly on-line workshop focusing mostly on slow movements from Mozart piano sonatas. Under the auspices of the Piano Club (Moadon Hapsanter, a FB site administered by Din Zohar) Meir has dedicated the workshops to the memory of his piano teacher Malka Mevorach. The Tuesday “Coffee with Mozart” series, in live streaming from Gidi Meir’s Tel Aviv home, has taken the form of master classes, hosting other pianists or, alternatively, of Meir himself playing the selected movement, discussing and analysing it. A natural teacher and gifted lecturer, he provides the viewer with background information as to where Mozart was at the time he wrote the work, the social- and musical climate of the town, with whom the composer was in contact, his students there (mostly young aristocratic women) and to whom the specific work was dedicated. Then comes a discussion of how the piece might be understood and played, of how the text inspires the pianist to interpret it and make it his own. I was instructed in the importance of the accurate reading of a musical work, but Meir reminds us that these pieces also invite the pianist to be spontaneous and creative when it comes to tempo, dynamics, even to the use of the sustaining pedal and, no less importantly, to engage in the art of informed ornamentation. The workshop began with the study of slow movements – Meir believes that they are an essential key to understanding the style and elements of Mozart’s piano sonatas; he then progressed to addressing complete sonatas. Pieces discussed so far have been the Adagio from KV280, Andante amoroso from KV281, Andante from KV283, Adagio from 332, Adagio from 457, Sonata 309 (complete) and Sonata 545 (complete).


It was in mid-August of 2020 that Meir posted his playing of a molto adagio movement from a Mozart piano sonata on the Piano Club Facebook page, with the aim of holding a live workshop on it with a group of pianists. Din Zohar came up with a different idea - that the workshop should take place on line. That was how the project began. Meir refers to it as a “work in progress”, an experimental approach for him to “encourage players to communicate through music and focus on the various aspects and problems of performing Mozart piano sonatas.” He is convinced that the more background knowledge we gather on a work - cultural associations, biographical facts and an understanding of the piece's very musical elements - the more we feed into our imagination to make the music speak. Indeed, to understand the textures of Mozart’s piano music, Gidi Meir proposes examining the composer’s (non-piano) instrumentation and settings and to then find associations of a piano movement with orchestral- or chamber music - to think about whether a certain bass line might be played by a bassoon or a ‘cello, whether the work suggests a singer with obligato flute and whether it might have been played in a private salon or a larger concert hall. He draws our attention to Mozart’s opera librettos, to how they flesh out the characters in a multi-layered- and psychological manner. “In playing Mozart piano works, we must look at all these layers”, he adds. Indeed, Meir is shocked at how few pianists choose to play Mozart works, professional performers included! As to ornamentation, he claims so many players simply imitate that of an artist on their favourite recording, rather than experimenting and making their own decisions.


After a brief hiatus, “Coffee with Mozart” will be back on line at 18:00 on Tuesdays and not only for the discussion of Mozart works. Meir will present Mozart’s C-minor Fantasia alongside C.P.E.Bach’s C-major Fantasia, focusing on Carl Philipp’s ornamentation; Johann Sebastian’s most audacious son’s extreme ideas are sure to widen the pianist’s musical palette!  Also on the agenda is music of Couperin with its reference to protest (relevant to today) and the study of one of Mendelssohn’s “Songs Without Words” as modelled on a presto movement from a Mozart sonata. And why not discuss a Haydn piano sonata? I found myself playing through the chosen movement in preparation for each session and revisiting it afterwards. Indeed, Gidi Meir sums up his goal as being “happy if these workshops encourage people to take time to return to the piano and engage in discussion with themselves.”


                                         Photo: Gideon Meir


Saturday, October 17, 2020

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra's 2020 Vocal Fantasy Festival, October 27-31, to be presented online


Undaunted by the restrictions of the current corona virus situation, the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra is opening its 2020-2021 concert season with yet another Vocal Fantasy Festival. Traditionally a summer event, this year’s festival will be taking place in the Autumn and will be presented online. Taking place from October 27th to 31st, the festival, directed by JBO founder, harpsichordist and conductor David Shemer, will offer five days of concerts, master classes and talks that will be transmitted live from various Jerusalem locations. All the programs will have the human voice as their main focus. 


The central work of the festival will be the Israeli premiere of one of Handel’s early works (composed before the composer was 20) - the St. John Passion, in a performance directed by David Shemer, with singers Yeela Avital, Liron Givoni, Alon Harari, Hillel Sherman, Doron Florentin and Noam Levenstein. In another program - “Handel’s Divas” - Meitar Opera Studio singers Inbal Brill and Karina Radzion will be joined by actor Itzik Cohen-Patilon to deliver the amusing story of the rivalry between Handel and Giovanni Bononcini, as well as that of two Italian prima donnas performing in London in opera productions of both composers.


In “From Johann to Hans”, we will hear soprano Yeela Avital, recorder-player Inbar Solomon and other musicians performing chorales and other works of Bach in the unique arrangements by the Jewish-Peruvian composer Hans Lewitus, in addition to works of the Spanish Renaissance and music from South America. The Guy Ben Hinom Choir will join JBO players in “Collection”, a program of original music led by JBO 1st ‘cellist Orit Messer-Jacobi. This concert will also include instrumental works of the Italian Renaissance. The 2020 Choral Fantasy Festival will sign out with a concert of music of late French Baroque works, in which JBO 1st violinist Noam Schuss will lead her fellow musicians and soprano Daniela Skorka in instrumental- and vocal works of the sophisticated musical repertoire performed at the court of Louis XIV, here represented by François Couperin and Louis-Nicolas Clérambault..


Ticket reservations: 


Sunday, October 11, 2020

The Terra Sancta Organ Festival on line - Sr.Cecilia Pia Manelli and Lucia D'Anna perform works of Italian Baroque composers


“Concerto Italiano”, an event of the Terra Sancta Organ Festival, held in collaboration with the Italian Cultural Institute, the Fondazione Terra Santa of Milan, the Christian Media Center and filmed at the Church of St. Peter, Jaffa, Israel, was presented on-line on October 8th, 2020. Both performing artists - organist Sr. Cecilia Pia Manelli and ‘cellist Lucia D’Anna - are Italians residing in Jerusalem. The unique feature of the Terra Sancta Organ Festival is that it takes place in churches and shrines of the Holy Land and in other locations where the Franciscan Friars of the Custody of the Holy Land have been active for centuries. With organ music perceived as specifically Christian, the pipe organ being present almost exclusively in churches, the festival is also an opportunity to promote the maintenance of organs and the study of the instrument, necessary for the liturgy.

Dating from 1847, the small organ of St. Peter’s Church was constructed by the Agati Nicomede e Fratelli de Pistoïa workshop (Italy) and has since been completely rebuilt by D. Taboada, head of the organ workshop at the Holy Saviour Franciscan Monastery in Jerusalem. Built of grey-painted wood with gold stripes, the facade of the organ case is open and exposes the Principal stop.

For the all-Italian program, the artists performed a representative selection of Baroque da chiesa sonatas written by major composers - Domenico Gabrielli (one of the earliest known virtuoso ‘cellists), Francesco Geminiani, Benedetto Marcello and Antonio Vivaldi, as well as a virtuosic work by the somewhat lesser-known Giuseppe Jacchini, himself a ‘cellist and a pupil of Gabrielli. Listeners enjoyed ensemble playing that was attentive, finely balanced, unmannered and well contrasted, with both players taking into account the expressive potential and differences of the two instruments. As to the solo pieces, Sr. Cecilia Pia Manelli performed a Capriccio by Tarquinio Merula, Domenico Scarlatti’s Sonata K380 (frequently heard played on the harpsichord but sounding lively and playful on the organ), the Bergamasca from Girolamo Frescobaldi’s “Fiori musicali”, with the artist displaying the composer’s emphasis on expression, ornamentation, flexibility of pulse and metre, and a Toccata by Francesco Feroci, in which Manelli engaged a variety of registers to highlight the contrasting character of the work’s different sections. As a composer, Domenico Gabrielli was influential in liberating the violoncello from its role as an undifferentiated bass instrument, allowing its individual characteristics to shape the music written for it as it came to replace the viola da gamba in Italy by the end of the 17th century and in the course of the 18th century. Probably composed for Gabrielli's own use, the 7 Ricercare, composed in Bologna in the 1660s, bear the character of etudes and are technically very demanding. D’Anna’s scrupulous and personal playing of Ricercar No.7 took the listener with her on the work’s musical journey, giving spontaneous expression to its varied agenda, melodic content, florid passages and its double- and triple stopping.

With degrees in Performance (piano, organ) and Composition, Sr. Cecilia Pia Manelli, of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate, holds a doctorate in Gregorian Chant. A renowned teacher and choir director, she serves as organist of the Holy Sepulchre Church in Jerusalem.  Lucia D’Anna  graduated  from the Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiana with a Bachelor's degree in Performance and Masters in Music Pedagogy. A former member of the Verdi Symphony Orchestra of Milan, she presently teaches ‘cello at the Magnificat Institute, Jerusalem and plays the viola da gamba.