Monday, March 29, 2021

"Reflection" - the Israel Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra welcomes its audience back to the concert hall at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art

Maestro Doron Salomon, Hagai Shaham (Y. Hirata)


The Israel Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra and its audience had every reason to celebrate the event in the Tel Aviv Museum of Art’s Recanati Auditorium on March 25th 2021. “Reflection” was the first live concert event to take place in over a year, after public venues had been        closed down due to Israeli Covid-19 restrictions. Established in 1970, the NKO was performing the concert in honour of 50 years of its existence. Today, the orchestra functions under two conductors - resident artistic director Shmuel Elbaz and Christian Lindberg (Sweden), the orchestra’s musical director. Conducting this concert, however, was former NKO musical director Doron Salomon. In his words of welcome, Salomon spoke of the orchestra's warmth and energy. Violinist Hagai Shaham was the evening’s soloist.


The event opened with Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No.49 in F minor “La Passione” (not Haydn’s title).  Dating from 1768, its minor mode (pervading all movements!) stems from Haydn’s Sturm und Drang period, the trend influencing music, literature, painting and theatre, in which artists were exploring emotional extremes and distress. Setting the scene, the Adagio movement, cantabile and thought-provoking, gave way to the sudden dynamic contrasts, nervous syncopations and wild leaps of the Allegro di molto movement, wrought in contrasting colours and textures, offering hearty tutti as against delicate, pared-down utterances. Following the Minuet, with its charming small comments and transitions (the Trio providing temporary major tonality respite from the key of F minor) the Presto burst forth with exhilarating freshness and featuring some fine wind playing. For Haydn who, at this time, was expected to perform his works solely to the Prince and a limited audience at the Esterháza residence, Eisenstadt Castle, there would normally be 12 to 16 players available for any one performance. The NKO set-up suited this concept splendidly, the instrumentalists addressing the fine details of Haydn’s Classical layering with articulacy. 


Extra players joined those already on stage for the performance of Max Bruch’s Concerto No.1 in G minor for violin and orchestra, Op.26. Unfortunately, this work has suffered much at the hands of musicians “playing in a way that sounds cheap or schmaltzy” in the words of American violinist Joshua Bell. However, the NKO’s inspired rendition of it, consolidated by much eye contact between soloist Hagai Shaham and Maestro Salomon, emerged as a rewarding and exciting listening experience. Salomon gave expression to the work’s lush, passionate orchestral writing as Shaham played the solo role splendidly, handling its gamut of violin techniques and devilishly difficult passages with authority and profound feeling. He and Salomon took the listener through the work’s roller-coaster ride of mood changes, the soaring, lyrical beauty of soulful melodies and its uncompromising emotional outbursts, wrapping up with the rousing energy and drama of the gypsy-driven Finale. For his encore, Shaham gave a reflective reading of the Andante from J.S.Bach’s Sonata No. 2 in A Minor, BWV 1003. 


The program concluded with Zoltán Kodály’s “Dances of Galánta”. Kodály composed the work in 1933 for the 80th anniversary of the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra. Galánta is a small, Hungarian market town between Vienna and Budapest, where the composer spent seven years of his childhood. It was there that a famous gypsy band gave the young Kodály his first taste of  “orchestral” sounds. Kodály’s work takes folk material from a collection of Hungarian dances published in Vienna a century earlier, these dances actually including one by gypsies from Galánta. The work is an expanded “verbunkos”, (an 18th-19th century Hungary dance show performed by a recruiting sergeant and his hussars for potential army enlistees.) Salomon and the players presented the audience with Kodály’s colourful flow of dances - some rousing, some feisty, some earthy, others lilting, whimsical, even reticent or plangent - a head-spinning succession of small, vibrant scenes. Fine, soul-stirring orchestral fare, the many pleasing solos and small group ensembles displayed the high quality of individual- and orchestral playing constantly upheld by this orchestra.

Hagai Shaham (Miri Shamir)
 Doron Salomon (Miri Shamir)

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

"Back to Bach" - The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra welcomes audiences back to the concert hall with works of J.S.Bach and Arcangelo Corelli

Idit Shemer (Yoel Levy)

 In this past year, as of March 2020, with the outbreak of the Covid--19 virus in Israel, the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra has certainly not been somewhere “below the radar”. JBO audiences have enjoyed a number of on-line concerts live-streamed from various attractive venues. But, when the orchestra members took to the stage of the Jerusalem YMCA auditorium on March 17th 2021, the many people attending the JBO’s return to live performance could not contain their excitement, welcoming David Shemer and his ensemble with a barrage of clapping, shouts and whistles. Prof. Shemer, JBO founder and music director, welcomed the audience to the event. Jerusalem mayor Moshe Lion spoke briefly, expressing his praise for the orchestra and mentioning plans the Jerusalem Municipality has for permanent home quarters for the ensemble.


For “Back to Bach”, the ensemble consisting of bowed instruments, harpsichord and theorbo, Johann Sebastian shared the stage with Arcangelo Corelli. Bach had studied Corelli's music, making his own arrangements of it. He also had access to Corelli's music at the Leipzig library, from which he conducted performances. As far as we know, Corelli did not write vocal music; the closest connection he would make with the genre might possibly have been the Sinfonia he wrote to “Santa Beatrice d’Este” an oratorio composed by Giovanni Lorenzo Lulier (c.1662-1700), who was a colleague of Corelli. The oratorio premiered in 1689 at the palace of Cardinal Benedetto Pamphili, who had written the libretto. Directed by David Shemer, the JBO concert opened with this seldom-performed piece. Soloists were Noam Schuss-violin 1, Lilia Slavny-violin 2 and ‘cellist Orit Messer-Jacobi. Plumbing the depths of the splendid D minor work, the players presented its tragic, searching dissonances, its noble character and buoyant dance associations with subtlety, elegance and balance. The same three artists made up the concertino for Corelli’s Concerto Grosso Op. 6 No.4, another work in the da chiesa form, this,  however, in D major. From the short majestic, festive introduction, the players kept audience members captivated following the work’s changes of mood and emotion, as well as some exciting virtuosic exchange between Schuss and Slavny. 


In its 32 years of existence, the JBO has performed many of J.S.Bach’s larger and smaller sacred vocal works. In this program, however, the audience was presented with two of Bach’s secular vocal works, the first being Cantata BWV 209 “Non sa che sia dolore” (One knows not what sorrow is), one of the only two cantatas the composer had written to Italian texts. Although its date, purpose, the text author or even the identity of the dear friend departing on the sea journey described remain unclear (some have even questioned whether Bach was the composer), what is certain is that, from the very first notes of the fetching da capo instrumental Sinfonia, one realizes that this work is indeed a jewel. Written for solo soprano (Daniela Skorka) with orchestral accompaniment, it strongly features obbligato flute (Idit Shemer, traverso), giving ample opportunity for both vocal- and instrumental soloists to shine. From the Sinfonia (could it be a movement from a lost flute concerto?) Idit Shemer creates a mood which balances serenity with slight sadness, taking the listener through three of the cantata’s five movements with suave, expressive playing and technical mastery. Skorka’s fresh, natural, unforced singing addresses the text, its nuances and its moods, her clarity of diction and precise phrasing adding to the warmth, depth and uplifting spirit of the music.


If the year of Covid-19 anxiety has left JBO audiences in need of a morale boost and a good chuckle, J.S.Bach’s Coffee Cantata “Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht” (Be quiet, chatter not) BWV 211 (libretto: Picander) absolutely filled the bill. With coffee having become the fashionable drink in European cities at Bach's time (apparently, Bach himself was a coffee enthusiast) this cantata, written around 1735, was performed by the Collegium Musicum at Zimmerman’s coffee house, a local social centre for gentlemen in Leipzig. Essentially a miniature comic opera, it tells of Lieschen (Daniela Skorka), a young vivacious woman, who is addicted to coffee, and her disgruntled father Schlendrian (literally: Stick in the Mud), played by baritone Yair Polishook, who threatens- and argues with his caffeine-obsessed daughter about her habit.  Schlendrian unsuccessfully tries to bribe her into renouncing caffeine in favour of settling down with a husband, while Lieschen evades his commandments with clever manoeuvres and outright disobedience. The smaller role of the narrator was played heartily by young tenor Itamar Hildesheim. Idit Shemer played the obbligato flute role. The only props on the YMCA stage were an antique chair and a table with a coffee pot, cups and coffee grinder. Moving around the entire stage, Skorka (now dressed casually in the style of today’s teenage girls, cell ‘phone in hand) and Polishook delivered free, impressive and animated characterizations of daughter and father, engaging in the text’s banter in keeping with the often-humorous burlesque nature of the style. Their combination of polished vocal performance and mirthful tomfoolery made for rewarding theatrical performance. Signing out with the wink of an eye, the three vocalists sent the audience home with a smile and a few home truths, as expressed in the rollicking terzetto:

'The cat does not leave the mouse.

Young ladies remain coffee addicts.

The mother loves her cup of coffee.

The grandmother also drank it.

Who can blame the daughters?'

Itamar Hildesheim,Daniela Skorka,Yair Polishook (Maya Sapiro-Taien)

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

"Fiamme e Lagrime" - early 17th Italian music probed and performed by Liron Givoni and Guy Pardo in an on-line concert from Jerusalem

Liron Givoni (U.Elkayam)
Guy Pardo (courtesy GP)


“Fiamme e Lagrime” (Flames and Tears) could refer to almost any Italian piece of music. In this case, it was the title of a concert on March 2nd, 2021, focusing on vocal and instrumental music from early 17th century Italy. Performed by Liron Givoni-soprano and Guy Pardo-harpsichord, the event,  under the auspices of the Istituto Italiano di Cultura (Italian Cultural Institute), Israel, was live-streamed from the Uberto Nahon Museum of Italian Jewish Art, Jerusalem. Introducing and closing the event was Ms. Paola Dal Lago of the Haifa Istituto Italiano di Cultura. Speaking in Italian, Dr. Fabio Ruggirello, director of the Tel Aviv IIC and acting director of the IIC in Haifa, welcomed viewers and gave information on the program and artists. Both artists also gave an overview of the style of the works.


In 1615, Girolamo Frescobaldi referred to madrigals being written at this time as “modern”. This concept might sound incongruous to today’s listeners, but Pardo explained that the new style referred to, “used most prominently by Claudio Monteverdi and frowned upon by many others”, being monodic rather than polyphonic, gave rise to more rhythmic freedom, to speech-like expression and daring dissonances. These devices reinforced the style’s rhetorical and emotional elements as inspired by the verbal texts being set to music. Indeed, in his preface to “Toccate e partite d'intavolatura di cimbalo et organo”, Frescobaldi compares the manner of performing his keyboard works to the delivery of the "modern madrigals”! It was this standpoint that prompted Givoni and Pardo to put together this concert program, one juxtaposing a selection of Frescobaldi’s harpsichord pieces with a number of  madrigals by Caccini, D’India, Rovetta, Frescobaldi and Monteverdi. 


Enhanced attentively and imaginatively by Pardo’s playing, Givoni’s performance of the madrigals bristled with fast-flowing dramatic twists and turns, these ranging from expressions of anger, despair, heartbreak and mystery to ardent and tender feelings. Her fine command of Italian and her fresh, richly-coloured and well-anchored soprano voice, her use of ornamentation and easeful interweaving of melismatic passages, made for genuine and convincing reading of each word and gesture, as she took the listener with her on the rollercoaster rides of powerful Italian emotions. 


So, how were the capricious, erratic mood changes of the madrigals to be translated into Frescobaldi’s keyboard pieces? The spoken content would, of course, be absent. However, performing the pieces on a G.Klop harpsichord, Pardo highlighted the personal aspect of this music, bringing out the affects, as noted in Frescobaldi’s treatise, the artist’s approach melding these with embellishments, freedom of tempo and rhythmic freedom. Engaging in this unique music’s expressive figuration and audacious progressions, he convincingly met the challenge of using vocal music as the model for emulation. The pieces all use the typically Italian construction of small contrasting segments. Under Pardo’s fingers, each fleeting scenario seemed to arise from- or react to the former. Pardo’s artistry, his sense of perspective and virtuosity infused each work with an air of musical adventure, with the listener perched at the edge of his seat eager to meet each new and unpredictable contexture.


The lavish decor of the Uberto. Nahon Museum of Italian Jewish Art was a fitting setting for this high-quality and inspirational recital.


Born in Tel Aviv to a family of musicians, Liron Givoni is a graduate of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. With a wide range of repertoire, from Baroque- to contemporary music, she has performed in opera, also as a soloist and ensemble member both in Israel and Germany.  In 2019, she soloed in the “Clown-X” production at the Acre Theatre Festival and took part in the Jerusalem Opera’s production of “Così fan tutte”. She is a founding member of the Nari Baroque Ensemble.

A graduate of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Guy Pardo holds degrees in harpsichord, physics and musicology. As a pianist, he has soloed with orchestras and engaged in chamber music. As a harpsichordist, he plays continuo and accompanies students at the Jerusalem Academy of Music. A founding member of the Nari Baroque Ensemble, he is currently pursuing master’s degrees in harpsichord and physics.