Monday, January 25, 2021

The Israel Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra commemorates the 2021 International Holocaust Remembrance Day in a unique setting

Photo: Nurit Mozes


On January 27th 1945, Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration- and death camp, was liberated by the Red Army. Today, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marking the tragedy of the Holocaust of the Second World War, resulting in the deaths of 6 million Jews and 11 million others at the hands of the Nazi regime and its collaborators, takes place annually on January 27th. In light of restrictions imposed on concert performance in Israel due to the current Covid-19 pandemic, the Israel Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra presented a unique and meaningful event to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day, 2021. One of the people behind the program, entrepreneur and site preservation expert Roni Dotan, spoke of the decision to carry out this year’s commemorative event in a very different manner - to perform a few representative works in an authentic German railway carriage built in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century and used by the Nazis to transport Jews to the extermination camps. The cattle carriage was brought to Netanya in January 2014. The car, known as "munchen12-246" was found in 2013 by Roni Dotan and Tatiana Ruge, Ms. Ruge specializing in commemoration of the Holocaust. It now stands in the precincts of Beit Yad Lebanim, Netanya. Dotan explains: "While researching my family history, I visited a museum in Berlin, where they provided me with documents about family members I had no idea had perished in the Holocaust. Working with Tatiana Ruge, we found all of the material documenting how they had met their untimely and heinous deaths. That was when I decided that, from this point on, my work would revolve around the spiritual satisfaction from this discovery. Thanks to Netanya Mayor Feirberg-Ikar, non-profit organizations and good people such as the Friedman family, who all rallied to support this project, we were able to bring the car to Netanya…”


The 2021 memorial concert was performed by four members of the NKO - concertmaster Gilad Hildesheim-violin, Svetlana Kaminsky-violin, Pavel Levin-viola and Irena Sokolov-’cello.  Works played included the theme song composed by John Williams for “Schindler’s List”, two Yiddish songs arranged by Pavel Levin and “Hatikvah” (the Israeli national anthem). Some eighty years ago, the sounds emanating from this carriage would have been those of pain and despair. Here, hearing these fine instrumentalists in playing that was inspired and thought-provoking, poetic and moving, provides the listener with the opportunity to remember and think back to those people deported to the camps in such carriages. Roni Dotan reminds us that music was played in the camps as prisoners left for a day’s hard labour and as they returned. Today, this music is played in memory of those who perished in the Holocaust and in honour of those who survived. The film also shows a number of Netanya artists busy working at their easels outside the carriage, drawing inspiration for their painting from the music played by the quartet inside the carriage. 


NKO CEO Hila Dagan adds that it is the moral human duty of all of us to pay tribute to the memory of the millions of victims who perished in the Holocaust and to honour those who survived. 



Photo: Nurit Mozes

Saturday, January 23, 2021

The Kanazawa-Admony Piano Duo presents a lecture-concert celebrating 250 years of Beethoven's birth

Tami Kanazawa,Yuval Admony (courtesy K-A Duo)


One of the many international events celebrating 250 years of  Ludwig van Beethoven's birth, “A Piano Duo's Perspective on Beethoven: From Grosse Fugue to Tailor's Patch”, was an event of the Webinar Mini Winter Series of the Tel Hai International Piano Master Classes (Israel). Taking place on January 10th 2021, the lecture-concert’s live-streaming production presented Beethoven’s four-hand setting of the Great Fugue, Saint-Saens’ Variations on a Theme by Beethoven and Two (of four) Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli Waltz, the latter composed and played by Yuval Admony. The first two works were performed by Tel Hai faculty members duo pianists Tami Kanazawa and Yuval Admony, with Admony’s talk sharing their experiences of playing the works, offering information on them and discussing each of the pieces from the perspective of duo pianists. Welcoming viewers, several being Tel Hai International Piano Master Classes alumni and introducing the event and artists was Tel Hai alumna and staff member Didel Bish. 


Talking of Beethoven’s Great Fugue, a work dating from the final months of the composer’s life, Yuval Admony spoke of the piano score, missing for over a century and important in its inclusion of Beethoven’s editing markings, as having been rediscovered in a Philadelphia archive. Sold for one million English pounds at Sotheby's auction house in New York, the purchaser then generously donated the hand-written score to the Juilliard School of Music. Originally composed for string quartet (Op.130), the Great Fugue was so dissonant and advanced in its innovations that critics of the time found it unfathomable; indeed, it was only in the 20th century that critics began to read into its meaning, recognizing it as one of the composer’s greatest achievements. Admony finds it incredible to think that Beethoven, by then totally deaf, was able to hear all the fugue’s sounds in his head, to look far ahead into the future and compose music that he himself would never have heard. Referring to Beethoven’s 4-hand piano setting (Op.134), Admony feels that this version “might have a thing or two to add to the original quartet setting”, bringing out its percussive effects and in its many roles, themes and voices colliding and mixing in a bubbling mix. Visually, he feels it might be easier for listeners to focus on two performers playing on one instrument rather than following four players, with the “shocking” effect of pouring all the material into one blend being more condensed in the former. Admony adds that the work presents a challenge to both players and the listeners. He proceeds by giving an analysis of the work, after which we view a performance of the Grosse Fuge by the Kanazawa-Admony Piano Duo, filmed in 2009 at St. James Piccadilly Church, London for the Beethoven Piano Society of Europe. Charged and impactful, yet controlled, articulate and intelligent, the artists’ reading of the Grosse Fuge presents the work’s complexity and multi-layering, its multifaceted canvas of stark-, at times dancelike-, at others, frenetic moments, its flashes of optimism, also moments of silken tranquillity, the latter giving the impression of an eternity. Kanazawa and Admony‘s playing also brings out how naturally pianistic Op.134 is, with its many sweeping, billowing trills, for example. They unveil the psychological, physical, and spiritual states inherent in the piece, endorsing Stravinsky’s referral to it in the 1960s as “an absolutely contemporary piece of music that will be contemporary forever”.


Yuval Admony continued with discussion of how composers approach the writing of variations to subjects borrowed from other composers, referring to this practice as a warm appreciation of the composer quoted. Camille Saint-Saëns’ Variations on a Theme of Beethoven Opus 35 (1874) takes its subject from the trio of the third movement of Beethoven's Piano Sonata in E-flat, Op. 31, No. 3. We listened to Daniel Barenboim playing the theme from the sonata; marked “moderato grazioso”, Barenboim’s rendition was reflective, despite the trio’s minor outbursts. Admony comments that Saint-Saëns, on the other hand, identifies with the theme’s potential playfulness and that he creates a piece both light in touch, of carefree character, also with touches of humour, its funeral march indeed emerging winsome rather than bleak. At one stage, Saint-Saëns resorts to turning the theme upside down. The fugue, Admony adds, can also be regarded as a tribute to Beethoven by Saint-Saëns. Viewing Kanazawa and Admony’s performance of the variations, filmed at the Casals Hall, Tokyo in 2000, one becomes acutely aware of the artists’ highly streamlined teamwork, as they pass gestures back and forth in an entertaining play of delicacy, lushness and delight, colouring their playing with the piano’s rich palette of colours and textures. Engaging in subtlety of touch and timing, the work’s lively and technically demanding course emerges with precision, as in the rapid alternating chords between the two pianos. The duo's playing is as exciting and experiential to watch as it is to hear. 


In 1994, concluding his master’s thesis on Beethoven’s “33 Variations on a Waltz by A. Diabelli”, Yuval Admony thought it might be an interesting idea to write some variations of his own. The fact that Beethoven had dismissed Diabelli’s theme as a “tailor's patch” (Schusterflecken) raises the question of the criteria for writing a theme suited to variations. Admony summarizes the ideal kind of theme as having a clear shape, usable, identifiable motifs, both harmonically and melodically, and easily followable harmonic progressions, continuing that Diabelli’s theme ticks all the boxes, the proof of which being that 50 composers have used Diabelli’s theme on which to write variations. We heard  tastes from those of Liszt, Schubert, Czerny and Hummel. Using this theme, Admony himself has composed four variations for piano (two hands), two of which we heard, performed by him with consummate artistry - “Diabelli’s Lament” (Variation II) melancholy in its chromaticism, pensive and imaginative in character and “Last Dance” (Variation IV) a tone poem floating on delectable, featherweight textures. Both pieces are Romantic in approach. I was left curious to hear the other two variations, referred to by Admony as “more technical and pianistic”.


Yuval Admony is the author of a recently-published book - "Musical Fun - Thoroughly Done", 4-hands teacher-pupil pieces, all addressing basic aspects of music theory and including fables and illustrations.  


The Webinar Mini Winter Series event concluded with Tami Kanazawa and Yuval Admony responding to questions and comments of viewers.