Saturday, October 30, 2021

"Songs of Praise" - the Carmel Quartet opens the 2021-2022 concert season with works of Ives, Haydn and Beethoven

Rachel Ringelstein,Yoel Greenberg,Tami Waterman,Tali Goldberg (courtesy Carmel Quartet)


What happens when the location, time or words of a national anthem are changed? What happens when songs of national character are quoted in classical works?  In "Songs of Praise", the opening event of the Carmel Quartet's 2021-2022 "Strings and More" series, Dr. Yoel Greenberg, presenter of the narrated series, addresses this question. Founded in 2000, today's members of the Carmel Quartet (Israel) are violinists Rachel Ringelstein and Tali Goldberg, violist Yoel Greenberg and 'cellist Tami Waterman. This writer attended the series' English language program at the Jerusalem Music Centre, Mishkenot Sha'ananim on October 27th 2021.


The concert began with the members performing a Stephen Foster song in the manner that might have represented the singing of American plantation workers, the song's lyrics today considered racist. American modernist composer Charles Ives grew up with Foster's songs, frequently quoting them in his works. What singularizes Ives' music is his experimenting with many of the new compositional techniques years before his European counterparts. This was obvious in the Carmel Quartet's performance of his Scherzo for String Quartet, a miniature work that presents the composer's whimsical side. It quotes from such sources as the hymn "Bringing in the Sheaves", Stephen Foster's "Massa's in de Cold Ground", "My Old Kentucky Home" and there is a canon on James Thornton's "hoochy-koochy" dance. The middle section incorporates a musical joke Ives called "Practice for String Q[uartet] In Holding Your Own". A barrage of frenetic cacophony "accompanies" the songs, many of which are played by the 'cello. Certainly a different chamber work to open the concert season, indeed, confrontational...and over in the wink of an eye! 


Greenberg discussed the fragile nature of hymns and anthems - official public works that tend to become offensive when misused, if the words are changed. One of the most extreme instances of this is the transformation undergone by "Gott erhalte Franz der Kaiser" (God save Emperor Francis), an anthem Joseph Haydn wrote to the greater glory of Emperor Francis II. It became the national anthem of Austria-Hungary, then the German national anthem, the Deutschlandlied, as it was referred to, eventually becoming a dire association with the Nazi era. (Protests existed, for example, Erwin Schulhoff's "Symphonia Germanica" for voice and piano, a raucous, distasteful parody of German patriotic music. Viktor Ullmann's one-act opera "Der Kaiser von Atlantis oder Die Tod-Verweigerung" (The Emperor of Atlantis or The Disobedience of Death) was written in the Terezin concentration camp. The Nazis, however, did not allow it to be performed there.) Haydn's Quartet No. 62 in C major Op. 76 No. 3, influenced by his London visits, where he had been exposed to the newly emerging genre of the national anthem, is referred to as the "Emperor" due to its set of variations on this anthem in the second movement. Greenberg asked the audience to put aside the painful associations of the melody, rather to listen to the work as an instance of Haydn's sublime music. Indeed, the Carmel players gave expression to the Haydnesque joy and freshness of the first movement, with its appearance of a folk-like drone, this followed by the variety and sheer beauty of the 2nd movement variations, then the charming Minuet with its more demure trio, the quartet ending with the more tempestuous, virtuosic but also lyrical Finale.


The commission for L.van Beethoven's three Op.59 quartets (1805-1806) was from Count Razumovsky, the Russian ambassador to Vienna of the time and a very able second violinist in his own quartet. (Its first violin was Ignaz Schuppanzigh, a friend and perhaps violin teacher to Beethoven.) The three very long and difficult "Razumovsky" string quartets left both their first performers and the public shocked and suspicious. Opening with two loud chords followed by a bar's silence, to be followed by a few bars of breathless, mysterious music and yet another charged silence, the Carmel Quartet players' reading of Op.59 No.2 was gripping and powerful. In contrast to the agitation of the first movement, they carried the unrushed, lengthy melodic phrases of the Molto Adagio, suffused with an austerely expressive hymn-like tune, through its dotted rhythm assertion, into a double dotted figure, to conclude in sublimely soaring triplets. The third movement (Allegretto) opened with jolly dancelike and playful utterances and with off-beat rhythms. Its Trio, conceding to Razumovsky's request, quotes a Russian theme, "Glory to the Sun", Beethoven’s light-hearted setting of it, however, totally lacking in Russian formality and ceremoniousness, the quartet drawing to an end with the ebullient Finale that returns to the symphonic ambience of the opening Allegro. 


Ringelstein, Goldberg, Greenberg and Waterman are among Israel's very finest string players, but it is the focus, conviction and total immersion of the Carmel Quartet members that never fail to draw audiences into the many levels making up the fabric of each work. Yoel Greenberg's talks are informative and articulate, always with touches of humour. Also adding interest to "Songs of Praise" event were several rare film clips and pictures.  


Wednesday, October 27, 2021

2 Pianos - 40 Fingers - The Israel Camerata Jerusalem opens the 2021-2022 season with the MultiPiano Ensemble. Conductor: Roï Azoulay

Maestro Roi Azoulay (courtesy R. Azoulay)


The MultiPiano Ensemble (Michael Pavia)

Coming up to 20:30 on the evening of October 23rd 2021, the Recanati Auditorium of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art was an epicentre of curiosity in anticipation of "2 Pianos - 40 Fingers". Under the baton of Roï Azoulay, the Israel Camerata Jerusalem was about to host the MultiPiano Ensemble for the opening concert of the La Tempesta dei Solisti series. MultiPiano is
a modular piano ensemble dedicated to performing works for keyboard ensembles, from one piano with four hands to several pianos in a variety of multi-hand combinations. Established in 2011 under the umbrella of the Buchmann–Mehta School of Music (Tel Aviv University) and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, this unique ensemble, attracting interest worldwide, features some of Israel’s finest young pianists together with their mentor, Prof. Tomer Lev.

Dating from the time W.A.Mozart moved to Vienna from Salzburg in order to further his reputation as a composer, performer and teacher, there exists an enigmatic incomplete manuscript titled "Larghetto and Allegro'' (c.1871). It was discovered in 1966 in a remote palace in Moravia. From the way the work is set out, it was most probably intended to be for two pianos, perhaps to be performed by the composer himself and his brilliant student Josepha von Auernhammer. Not the first to write a completion of this piece, Tomer Lev has taken it a step further: prompted by the work's key and communicative dialogue, he has added an orchestral dimension to it. With Lev and Nimrod Meiry-Haftel undertaking the piano parts, they were joined by Azoulay and the Camerata players for a performance alive with Mozart's signature sense of well-being, his operatic melodiousness, effervescence and debonair pianistic demands. Tomer Lev's streamlined, unambiguous score would put listeners hard to it to define where Mozart's writing trailed off and where it was taken up by Lev, the latter's buoyant orchestration including some lovely writing for woodwinds.


 A slightly earlier work, Mozart's Concerto for Two Pianos K.365 was written in Salzburg at a time when the composer chose to focus on the double concerto form, essentially replacing interplay between one solo player and orchestra with dialogue between the two soloists. This meant paring down orchestral forces both in texture and dominance. At the Tel Aviv concert, the piano roles were played by Tomer Lev and Berenika Glixman, whose concept, teamwork and clean enunciation countered one another in such a way that it was difficult to tell where one ended a gesture and the other took it up. Their playing gave expression to the work's joy, delight and moments of whimsy (punctuated by the occasional passing dark cloud) with the concerto's energetic and musical narrative emanating through its virtuosic lines. Azoulay maintained a solid orchestral sound throughout, pointing out Mozart's occasional tonal shifts and touches of dissonance, as in the Andante movement, which was so beautifully and plangently issued in by the oboe. The final movement (Rondo), both exuberant and bombastic, drew to a close with a brilliant cadenza, signing out with a brief, flamboyant orchestral flourish. To this day, Mozart's musical language remains universal!

Despite its high opus number, Frédéric Chopin's Rondo in C Major for Two Pianos, Op. posth.73 (1828) was written when he was a student at the Warsaw Conservatory. He initially conceived the piece as one for solo piano but later arranged it for two pianos. Not publishing either version in his lifetime, he was known to have referred to the radiant salon piece as “that orphan child.”  However, due to the work's solo-and-tutti connotations and concerto-like potential, Tomer Lev and composer Arie Levanon decided to make a setting of it for two pianos and orchestra. Lev and Glixman took on board the rhapsodic style, charming Romantic lyricism, harmonic flights and cascading figures of this veritable Konzertstück, welcoming back the light, sparkling, bravura-type rondo theme (of the kind that would have been popular with Romantic audiences) as it recurred between the otherwise flamboyant display of the two pianos and orchestra. Missing were only the glistening chandeliers, loges occupied by the aristocracy and the plush decor of European concert halls.

It was time for a breather from the pizzazz of the 19th century concert hall. Edvard Grieg's Suite in the Olden Style (Holberg Suite) could not have been more apt. This orchestral work was also a transcription: originally composed for piano, it was later turned into an orchestral suite by Grieg himself. It was composed to mark the 200th anniversary of playwright Ludvig Holberg's birth. Holberg was roughly a contemporary of J.S. Bach, prompting Grieg to use Baroque dance forms for the suite. From the sprightly Praeludium, to the noble Sarabande, the Gavotte, light-of-foot bookending a traditional Musette, to the stately cantabile Air, the suite is rounded off with two Rigaudons - one sparkling, one tranquil. Here was an opportunity to enjoy the high-quality performance of the Camerata's string section and Roï Azulay's reading of the work, which was finely detailed, articulate, contrasted and elegant. Raised in Dimona, Israel, international conductor, Grammy- and Juno award winner, Maestro Azoulay is known for his captivating interpretation of Classical-, Romantic- and contemporary music. 

In the autumn of 1824 pianist and composer Ignaz Moscheles was in Berlin. There, he became acquainted with the family of 15-year-old Felix Mendelssohn, eventually agreeing to take on young Felix as a piano student, "never forgetting for a moment that I was sitting next to a master and not a student", in Moscheles' own words. What transpired was a lifelong friendship. The Fantasie Brillante and Variations for two pianos and orchestra (1833), a joint composition of Mendelssohn and Moscheles, based on the Gypsy March from Weber's "Preziosa", began as an improvised concert piece. Its development and history have been quite a roller-coaster ride, with the manuscript finally found in 2009 in Anton Rubinstein's private archive in Russia. We heard Tomer Lev and Alon Kariv in the piano parts at the Tel Aviv concert. Following the grand entrance of the pianos, they gave expression to the piece's vivacity, to its emphasis on its pianistic brilliance, its geniality and moments of humour. Pianists and orchestra gave attention to the individual characters and style of each variation. 

An exhilarating concert and one brimming with interest! The Israel Camerata Jerusalem (music director: Avner Biron) is known for its enterprising programming. This was no exception and the audience took to it wholeheartedly!

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Te Deum - The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra hosts Ensemble Caprice, music director: Matthias Maute (Montreal, Canada), at the opening concert of the JBO's 33rd season


Noam Schuss (violin),David Shemer(harpsichord) (Yinon Fuchs)

Maestro Matthias Maute (Yoel Levy

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra's 2021-2022 season opened with a flourish!  The plan to perform "Te Deum" together with Ensemble Caprice (Canada) had finally become a reality, having twice been shelved due to Covid-19 restrictions. The auditorium of the Jerusalem International YMCA was alive with excitement and anticipation on October 14th 2021, with members of both ensembles seated together on the stage. Joining them for two of the works was the Shahar Choir (music director Gila Brill). Soloists were sopranos Daniela Skorka and Tal Ganor, mezzo-soprano Maya Amir, tenor Yonatan Suissa, bass Yair Polishook, Noam Schuss-violin, Andrea Stewart-'cello and Alexis Basque (trumpet). Maestros Matthias Maute (Caprice) and David Shemer (JBO) each conducted works. 


No less festive was the line-up of works on the program. As in most concerts of works by great Baroque composers, Georg Philipp.Telemann was well represented here. First up was Telemann's prestigious Latin setting of Psalm 72 "Deus judicium tuum" TWV 7:7 (Give your judgement, O God, to the king) a work associated with the composer's sojourn in Paris in 1737, during which time he celebrated musical triumphs in the French metropolis. Among the finest vocal works in Telemann’s oeuvre, the motet is written in a French-influenced style (hence the text here sung in the French pronunciation of Latin) with a highly varied mixture of full instrumental accompaniments and graceful smaller instrumental complements, the latter catering to the vocal solos. Conducted by Maute, the three resplendent choral movements frame a richly-coloured succession of demanding solo movements, the latter performed with insight, fine detail and distinctive expression by Skorka, Ganor, Suissa and Polishook, the Shahar Choir's mellow signature sound and blend subtle and agreeable. A rarely-performed work, possibly never performed before on these shores, is Telemann's Concerto for trumpet, violin, 'cello and strings TWV 53:D5. Strange bedfellows? Indeed, Telemann does not claim that the solos in a triple concerto are necessarily equal in timbre or volume, let alone similar in character. Some authorities today regard the work, probably composed before 1715, as really a violin concerto, with trumpet and 'cello obligato parts. In fact, the 'cello (Andrea Stewart) has only two solo passages. In keeping with the fact that the valve trumpet was only invented in 1813, it was a real treat hearing and seeing Basque performing the role on a natural trumpet with ease and good intonation, indeed, creating the illusion that playing this instrument is a breeze!  As to the highly challenging violin part, abounding in double stops, high-passage-work and fast, long passages, JBO leader Noam Schuss handled it with good judgement and aplomb, its unrelenting virtuosity stemming from the fact that much of the work was strongly influenced (or perhaps written!) by Johann Georg Pisendel, the leading German violinist of his day and concertmaster of the Dresden Hofkapelle.


With David Shemer conducting from the harpsichord, the Caprice-JBO instrumentalists performed the Chaconne for orchestra which concludes Jean Philippe Rameau's opera "Les Indes galantes" (The Amorous Indies). Festive, varied and grand, the piece showcased the rich timbres of the ensemble, including its fine assembly of winds, as Maestro Shemer's direction called attention to the fact that Rameau was a revolutionary in dance, not just  in music.


This concert was also the setting for a unique world premiere - three songs from Jaap Nico Hamburger's "Songs in Times of Honour" to poems of Else Lasker-Schüler. In the past, Hamburger has written works for Caprice, but for this commission, he was requested to compose the work to a Jewish text. Having perused many texts, from ancient to modern, Hamburger chose those of German-Jewish poet Lasker-Schüler.  Lasker-Schüler moved to Jerusalem in 1940, where she became a prominent figure on the local cultural scene. The three songs we heard are scored for soprano and Baroque instruments. (Some of the remaining four of the cycle call for symphony orchestra.)  Soprano Daniela Skorka and the instrumentalists displayed close teamwork in presenting these three thought-provoking-, indeed, disquieting mood pieces. Opening with the eerie sounds of violin and percussion, "Meine Mutter" (My Mother) reflects the poet's pain and longing for her mother, "the great angel who walked at my side". In "Abschied" (Leave-taking), a woman awaits her lover, her anguish intertwining with the rhythms of a dance that will not be danced, an effective and sinister collage of sound, with Skorka adding a few touches of tambourine sound to the effect. "Ich Weiss" (I Know), coloured in tranquil, veiled dissonances, shows Lasker-Schüler ruminating on her own death, the death of a poet. She died in Jerusalem in 1940.

"Pale and paler my dreams grow

 In the volumes of my rhymes" (English translation: Robert P. Newton).

In this third haunting and powerful piece, Hamburger gives its final say to a solo viola. A fine choice of texts, Lasker-Schüler's poems speak in a direct and articulate voice. No less articulate, Hamburger's music, modal in language, is not overloaded, not opaque, as he paints with delicate brush strokes. Skorka addresses each notion with finely-shaped gestures and sensitivity, her outstanding performance reflecting deep enquiry into each of the poems. Born in Holland, Jaap Nico Hamburger today lives in Canada. After spending many years working as a cardiologist, he now devotes his time to writing music. In attendance at the premiere, the composer, it seems, still addresses matters of the heart.


Concluding the event was Marc-Antoine Charpentier's "Te Deum" in D major H146, c.1692. The "Te Deum" (We praise thee, O God) text was usually enlisted for works written to celebrate some military victory. In fact, Charpentier set the text six times. The H146 “Te Deum” is unquestionably Charpentier's best known work, especially since its “Prélude en rondeau” was made the Eurovision signature tune. The grand motet proved highly suitable for the combined forces offered by the Caprice-JBO ensemble: Charpentier here uses a much larger instrumental band than had any previous French composer of church music, this being his only setting employing a “military band”, i.e trumpets and kettledrums. Maestro Maute took fullest advantage of the work's contrasting of ceremonial brilliance of full orchestral and choral forces with the pleasing blend of the solo voices accompanied by just a few instruments, integrating the work's daring harmonies and conflicting dramatic elements with its devotional dimension. The audience delighted in the performance's moments of delicately restrained lyricism, both in vocal sections and in instrumental duetting. It also delighted in the joyous extravaganza of first-class brass playing. 


Born in Ebingen, Germany, Matthias Maute has carved out an impressive international reputation  only as one of the great recorder and baroque flute virtuosos of his generation but also as a composer and conductor.

Jaap Nico Hamburger (Brent Calis)

Saturday, October 16, 2021

The Israel Rishon LeZion Orchestra opens the 2021-2022 concert season with works of Mozart and Dvořák. Conductor/pianist - David Greilsammer

Maestro David Greilsammer (Miri Shamir)


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was never well-behaved enough to please the church – the Archbishop of Salzburg’s steward once kicked Mozart down the stairs. Yet, Mozart "still leads all the charts. Over 12,000 books have been devoted to his life and his music…he makes plants grow better, cures epilepsy and manic-depression, and even makes your baby smarter", writes Hermione Lai (Interlude, September 6th, 2021). One of the Mozart buffs of the current international music scene is pianist/conductor David Greilsammer, who both soloed and conducted at the Israel Rishon LeZion Orchestra's opening concert of the 2021-2022 season. This writer attended the event at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center on October 10th, 2021.


The program opened with the brief Overture to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera "Cosi fan tutte". The beginning Andante section, juxtaposing full orchestral chords with a lyrical oboe melody, also splicing in a brief allusion to a phrase Don Alfonso sings near the end of the opera, is followed by fleet and vibrant woodwind exchanges in the Presto section, creating an air of electric expectancy and providing a delectable start to an evening of music.  


In 1784, Mozart wrote six magnificent, ground-breaking concertos, most of which were intended for performances before Viennese subscription audiences, who clearly enjoyed the concerts. The Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No.17 in G major K.453 is one of the few not originally composed for Mozart himself to premiere. It was intended for one of his pupils, Barbara von Ployer, whose father, Gottfried Ignaz von Ployer, a Viennese agent of the Salzburg court, hired an orchestra for the first performance. Sometimes dismissed as not being very grand, due to its light orchestration, employing neither trumpets, drums nor clarinets, it is, nevertheless, clear that Mozart's orchestration has transcended his time! And it is the very transparency of Mozart's writing here that emerged so delightfully articulate in the hands of the Rishon LeZion Orchestra players, with Greilsammer weaving cascades of arpeggios through the orchestral weave of the serene opening Allegro movement. Following lovely oboe and flute utterances issuing in the tranquil second movement (Andante), Greilsammer sculpts the essence and meaning of each of its sections with both strength and humility, his deft dexterity masterfully illuminating the sensitive and personal hallmark of the movement. For the Allegretto movement's glittering rococo set of variations, Greilsammer's rich palette of colours gave rise to Mozartian elegance, joy and whimsy. As to the cadenzas, here was Greilsammer at his most original, skilfully dovetailing motifs of the concerto with inspiration of the moment - a series of clusters, slivers of an Israeli song, etc.- a veritable stream of consciousness and presented to the audience with the wink of an eye. I think Mozart, known for his humour, his spontaneity and, indeed, his ability to improvise, would have enjoyed those moments, being well entertained by them, as was the audience at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center.


So much has been written about the genesis of Antonín Dvořák's Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95 “From the New World” (1893), written when the composer was director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City, at this time taking a great interest in Negro and Indian music. Basically, all the melodies in the symphony are Dvořák's own. In fact, European audiences found the symphony to be as Bohemian as anything Dvořák had ever written, with Kurt Masur referring to it as "a great tragic symphony written on the theme of homesickness". Addressing the work's finest details, Maestro Greilsammer brought out its gorgeous melodiousness and vivid orchestral colour, its emotional span running from tender lyricism to towering intensity, with Dvořák's imposing tutti and marvellously poignant solos drawn together in a performance that breathed freshness and the joy of music-making. For me, one of the work's most moving elements of the "New World" is the Largo movement’s cor anglais theme accompanied by muted strings, here played in all its nostalgia and mystery by Michael Dressler.


David Greilsammer's energy, ingenuity and joie de vivre flowed freely throughout the evening's program. The Jerusalem-born artist resides in Geneva, where he serves as musical/artistic director of the Geneva Camerata, one of today's most daring and innovative orchestras.



David Greilsammer,Doron Toister (Miri Shamir)

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The Tel Aviv Wind Quintet with guest pianist Aviram Reichert at the Eden-Tamir Music Center, Ein Kerem, Jerusalem

Aviram Reichert (Kang, Taeuk)


October 9th 2021 was a day of brilliant Autumn sunshine, bringing crowds of people to the verdant and buzzing village of Ein Kerem (Jerusalem). The hall of the Eden-Tamir Music Center was packed to capacity for the weekly Saturday morning concert, this event featuring the Tel Aviv Wind Quintet - Roy Amotz-flute, Dmitry Malkin-guest oboist, Danny Erdman-clarinet, Itamar Leshem-horn and Nadav Cohen-bassoon - with guest pianist Aviram Reichert. Welcoming the audience was Dr. Dror Semmel, the center's director. 


If the object of the divertimento was to entertain, the Tlvwq's playing of Harold Perry's wind quintet arrangement of Joseph Haydn's (1782) Divertimento in B flat Major Hob II:46 absolutely fit the bill. The performance abounded in energy, dynamic variety and touches of Haydnesque humour, its sense of well-being gift-wrapped in the ensemble's signature richness of timbre. Their playing of the "Chorale St. Antoni" (2nd movement) possibly written by Haydn's pupil Ignaz Pleyel (19th century publishers were known for attributing works to famous composers in order to increase sales) emerged noble and stately. 


Aviram Reichert joined Malkin, Erdman, Leshem and Cohen to perform L.v.Beethoven's Quintet for piano and winds in E flat major Op.16, a work composed by the composer in his 20s and clearly modelled after a quintet in the same key and scoring as that of Mozart (K. 452). From the extended slow Grave leading into the opening movement, one that happens to be as long as the two following movements combined, there was a solid sense of teamwork throughout - playing that was both effervescent and offering lyrical, appealing wind solos in the Andante (second) movement, (no Minuet and Trio) and culminating in the rondo of the Allegro movement. The latter's "hunting" theme, lively pace and cheerful, sunny disposition were punctuated by occasional reflective moments, but also filled with rollicking good humour. Sounding the most like an actual piano concerto, the Allegro ma non troppo movement makes for a sparkling and witty conclusion. The wind players' detail and large palette of textures and timbres made for interesting listening. Reichert's performance met the challenges of the quintet's marvellous piano role with involvement, expressiveness, buoyant- and exciting playing.


Israeli bassoonist Mordechai Rechtman (B.1926, Germany) is well known for his more-than 200 transcriptions and arrangements for wind quintet, wind instruments and large wind ensembles, several of them performed around the world under his own direction. The Tlvwq played his arrangement of the Allegro from Giuseppe Verdi's String Quartet in E minor (1873), the first movement of Verdi's only surviving chamber work and one that might not have been written at all were it not for the fact that the Naples production of "Aida" in early March of 1873 had to be delayed due to the sudden illness of the leading soprano. The Tlvwq players give expression and colour to Verdi's wonderful melodic ideas (occasional hints as to one or another of his operas), juxtaposing virtuosic sections with light textures and cantabile playing. Rechtman's setting gets pleasing results in the hands of first-rate players. The program also included three of J.S.Bach's Chorale Preludes as arranged by Dr. Uri Rom (Buchmann-Mehta School of Music, Tel Aviv). Introducing the arrangements, two of which were premieres, Rom informed the audience that he has added counterpoint to them (as did Bach in his own new settings of works), with the wind quintet contexture offering more possibilities of interpolating counterpoint than the pipe organ. In "Jesu Leiden, Pein und Tod", the sections of chorale melody were allotted to the flute (Amotz), reflecting Bach's chorale variation style. Listening to Rom's arrangement of "Wachet auf", the subject this time introduced by the horn (Leshem), I found myself wondering how propitious such copious counterpoint and ornamentation was to this much-loved work. 


The concert concluded with Austrian clarinettist/composer/arranger Reinhard Gutschy's arrangement for piano and winds of George Gershwin's 1924 "Rhapsody in Blue", the work bringing Gershwin fame as “the man who had brought jazz into the concert hall". This was an exciting work to end the Ein Kerem concert, indeed experiential for both the players and audience, as it opened with the clarinet (Erdman) in the ever-thrilling upward-sweeping ribbon of uninterrupted pitches (the glissando that became an iconic sound of American music), unleashing a floodgate of vivid ideas blending seamlessly into one another. The pulsing syncopated rhythms and showy music give way to a warm, expansive melody, the lush Andantino moderato section, with Gershwin at his most lyrical and catchy. Currently Associate Professor of Piano at Seoul National University, College of Music, this was Aviram Reichert's second rendition of the piece with the Tel Aviv Wind Quintet. Engaging his brilliant technique, sense of colour, rhythmic flexibility and feel for sweet sentimentality to the cause, his playing created the impression of spontaneous improvisation the composer had intended. (Actually, much of the solo part at the premiere was improvised by Gershwin, one page of the score simply directing bandleader Paul Whiteman to wait for a nod to continue.) The Tlvwq players gave expression to the work's full-on energy, its whimsy, its jazzy slick and charm. 

Monday, October 11, 2021

"Thus Fate Knocks at the Door" - The Israel Chamber Orchestra opens the 2021-2022 concert season with works of Ives, Mendelssohn and Beethoven. Conductor: Ariel Zuckermann. Soloist: Amir Katz

Pianist Amir Katz (Robert Recker)


Maestro Ariel Zuckermann (courtesy ICO)
Ushering in the Israel Chamber Orchestra's 2021-2022 concert season at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on October 6th 2021, Moshe Neeman (chairman, ICO board) and Raz Frohlich (Israel Ministry of Culture and Sport) referred to "Thus Fate Knocks at the Door", the opening event, as a milestone following so many months of Covid-19 restrictions and unanswered questions. The Recanati Auditorium was then plunged into darkness. When the lights came on, what was visible at the front of the stage was a wind quartet and the ICO's musical director Ariel Zuckermann. However, behind the black curtain was the orchestra's string section and at the back of the hall, a sole trumpeter, all these elements creating the three-layered collage for Charles Ives' "The Unanswered Question''. For the duration of this short but disturbing mood piece, the strings play tranquil chords of almost no perceptible beat or meter, totally detached from the interaction beyond the curtain. The trumpet repeatedly poses the five-note motif Ives referred to as the "perennial question of existence,'' while the woodwind quartet responds in a frenetic and ultimately empty search for answers, playing with increasing rhythmic density, decreasing unity and escalating, intense dissonances. When the trumpet asks the question one last time, there is only one answer - silence. The work, written in 1908 when Ives was in his twenties (then revised 1930–1935), shows the brilliant, eccentric, and little-understood anomaly of American music to have been experimenting with many of the new compositional techniques years before his European counterparts. Ariel Zuckermann led his players through the challenging and thought-provoking work with precision and commitment, its musical language, tension and message affecting the audience no less deeply now, over a century from when it was written.


Israeli-born pianist, Amir Katz, today residing in Germany, joined the ICO for Felix Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto No.1 in G minor Op.25.  A work unusual in a number of ways, it is as if the 21-year-old composer had no patience for the first movement's customary orchestral exposition; he gives the orchestra a mere seven bars of introduction before the brilliant, almost defiant intervention of the soloist, then deviating once more to bring the separate movements together in a seamless whole. The work celebrates the technical advances now making the piano a bigger, heavier, louder instrument (also boasting a glittering new upper register), capable of filling a concert hall with sound and able to meet the modern orchestra on equal terms. Mendelssohn, himself a brilliant pianist, gave the work its first performance and several more after that. Zuckermann's reading of the concerto highlighted its youthful, compelling energy as well as its Sturm und Drang puissance. Katz complements the latter with strength, brilliant passage-work, his signature articulacy and fleet-of-finger playing in the outer movements, turning inwards in the E major slow movement, an intimate duet between piano and strings, to engage in what might be seen as an orchestrated "Song without Words". The pianist takes time to form, to examine and spell out the filigree details that give personal expression to cadenza- and solo moments. As with chamber musicians, Zuckermann and Katz engage in eye contact and close teamwork as melodies and accompanying figures pass back and forth, at one moment standing back, then to re-emerge, as they intertwine to form Mendelssohn's rich instrumental weave and create a delicate sense of balance. The ICO's brass section added to the vigour and lustre of the performance.


For an encore, Amir Katz chose the Intermezzo from Robert Schumann's "Faschingsschwank aus Wien" (Carnival of Vienna) Op. 26. Creating the piece's flowing sound via the steady stream of right-hand background notes interspersed with melody notes, Katz' playing, quick-witted in its rhythmic shaping, was warm in tone, his deft handling of the piece's stormy aspect never coarse, never taking precedence over the Schumanesque subcurrent of reflection and longing. 


Tying in with the theme of the concert, the final work on the program was Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in C minor Op.67 (1808), a work that has gone down in music history as the "Symphony of Fate".  When Beethoven's secretary/biographer Anton Schindler questioned the composer about the work's opening motif (sometimes referred to as the most famous four notes in musical history) Beethoven is said to have replied: "This is the sound of fate knocking at the door." Musicologist Michael Stuck-Schloen suspects that Beethoven, even if the quote is authentic, may have responded thus if only to get rid of the intrusive Schindler. Does the work's spirit perhaps arise from new philosophical aspects of the French Revolution or is it, indeed, a "chant de victoire", as it was received in France? The composer himself insisted that he was not writing program music. Maestro Zuckermann, conducting with neither baton nor score, made clear the rewards of revisiting this monumental and somewhat enigmatic work, engaging with the fine ICO instrumentalists to present its unprecedented intensity, its lyricism, the myriad of instrumental colours, its suspense and its mysteries. The symphony's impact was transmitted to the audience in the Recanati Auditorium. Conductor Christoph Eschenbach has summed up Beethoven's 5th Symphony thus: "It has no predecessor. No successor in composition."