Wednesday, July 21, 2021

In works of Lavry, Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov, the Young Israel Philharmonic Orchestra performs under Maestro Yi-An Xu at the Jerusalem Theatre

Concertmaster Shani Levy (M.Shamir)

Sketch: Miri Shamir


A large audience gathered in the Henry Crown Auditorium of the Jerusalem Theatre on July 19th 2021 to attend a festive summer concert of the Young Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, conductor: Yi-An Xu (China/Israel). Comprising players from all over Israel, the Young Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Israel’s national youth orchestra, numbers over 100 players. As of 2006, it has operated under the auspices of the Jerusalem Music Centre. The orchestra offers highly talented players, most of whom are trained as soloists and in chamber music, the opportunity to gain experience in playing symphonic repertoire and performing in the country’s major concert venues.


Opening the event was Mr. Gadi Abadi, director of the Jerusalem Music Centre. He spoke of the importance of studying musical repertoire and the merits of excelling in performance. He also emphasized the fact that this orchestra is indeed a source of pride for the country. The July concert followed eight days of rehearsals for the young orchestra members, where they were coached by several of Israel’s most distinguished teachers and musicians and by Maestro Yi-An Xu, Gadi Abadi expressed his gratitude to the Jerusalem Foundation, Yad Hanadiv, the Goldman Family and other donors for their support of the YIPO.


The program opened with an Israeli work - “Emek” (Valley), Op.45, a symphonic poem written by Marc Lavry in 1937. On emigrating from Latvia to Israel in 1935, Lavry studied the local folklore, establishing his new quintessential sonority. His works, strongly influenced by his new surroundings, became associated with what then became labelled as the Israeli style of music. Premiered by the Palestine Symphony Orchestra, “Emek”, based on the first Hebrew song that Marc Lavry composed, to lyrics of Rafael Eliaz - a text celebrating the pioneering spirit of the land reclamation and agricultural settlement in the Jezreel Valley - was the first Israeli-composed work to be performed at a symphony concert. Yi-An Xu and the instrumentalists gave lush, orchestral colour and expression to each section of the piece - to the serene landscape described in the opening section, to the setting of “Shir HaEmek” (Song of the Valley) and to the high-spirited energy of the hora dance making up the piece's final moments. In this work, well suited to a large orchestra, the young musicians recreated the spirit of the music, described thus by the composer: “In my Emek I tried to express mostly the mood of the valley, the atmosphere, its lyricism, joy and optimism.”


Composed between 1875-76, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s iconic ballet “Swan Lake” was not an immediate success with audiences and critics. Although conjuring up the graceful movements of birds, the ballet’s storyline is less than idyllic. In a letter to his friend Pyotr Jurgenson, Tchaikovsky wrote that he “wanted very much to save this music from oblivion, since it contains some fine things.” The Suite from Swan Lake Op.20a is decidedly lighter in spirit than the ballet music, as it presents favourite moments from across the ballet, opening with the haunting oboe melody associated throughout the ballet with Odette and the swans, the grand waltz; the fluttering, prancing of the “Dance of the Swans”, as well as the Hungarian czardas. Xu led his players through a fresh, hearty and dynamic performance of the suite, its contrasted moments of drama, skipping lightness and charm, highlighting the appeal of Tchaikovsky’s vivid orchestration and skillfully shaped melodies. With this polished, buoyant performance, for many of us an association with the thrill of the classical ballet stage, the listener is reminded that Tchaikovsky was the composer who did indeed revolutionize the writing of ballet music. 


The concert concluded with N.A.Rimsky-Korsakov’s Symphonic Suite “Scheherazade”, Opus 35 (1887-8). Not wishing his listeners to be overly distracted by the work’s extra-musical detail, Rimsky-Korsakov never quite made up his mind about the balance between the work’s programmatic content (Arabian Nights) and its purely musical elements, with the former nevertheless present throughout. The orchestral suite of four movements, all closely knit by the connection of its themes and motifs, presents, as it were, a kaleidoscope of fairy-tale images and impressions of an Oriental character, a fanciful world to challenge and fire the imaginations of young budding musicians growing up in today’s harsh reality. As the work begins, we meet the Sultan and Sultana, the former, a brutal psychopath, with fairy-tale chords for soft woodwinds then leading to the seductive and flattering violin-voice of Scheherazade herself. What emerged at the Jerusalem concert was a rich canvas of gestures - vivid textures, touching, thoughtful moments and mellifluous melodic lines - all conveyed through Rimsky-Korsakov’s vivid use of instrumental textures - the strumming or plucking of strings, percussion timbres both delicate and forthright, brass fanfares, etc. The suite’s wealth of glorious solos gave the audience an opportunity to hear many of the YIPO’s young players engaging in exquisite playing.  A musician of outstanding ability, concertmaster Shani Levy performed the mammoth violin solo with competence, brilliance, poetic beauty and a sense of spontaneity.


Displaying outstanding precision, teamwork, artistic know-how and musicianship, the members of the Young Israel Philharmonic Orchestra showed profound understanding of each of the works. Born in Shanghai in 1979, Yi-An Xu is a senior lecturer at Tel Aviv University. He has also been a faculty member of the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music, Tel Aviv, teaching orchestral conducting, coaching vocal students and serving as pianist/conductor in the school’s opera productions.



Conductor Yi-An Xu (Courtesy IPO)

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Indeed, this was an amazing concert, enlightening experience!