Friday, December 31, 2021

Some of the vocal events at the 2021 Isrotel ClassiCameri Festival (Eilat, Israel) and an event linking the culinary world to musical taste

Mert Süngü,Keren Kagarlitsky,the Raanana Symphonette Orchestra (Yehuda Ben Itach)

Taking a break from the reality of these turbulent and uncertain times, music-lovers from all over Israel met in Eilat to attend the 23rd Isrotel ClassiCameri Festival (December 16th-19th 2021), a festival offering three days of fine music and carefree enjoyment in Israel's sunny, southernmost town. The festival is a collaborative project between the Raanana Symphonette Orchestra and the Eilat Isrotel hotels. Apart from two events, all the concerts took place in the convention hall of the gracious and hospitable Royal Beach Hotel. This writer stayed at the Isrotel Lagoona Hotel close by, enjoying the hotel's caring, quality service, superb cuisine and high standards.

In this article, I wish to make mention of some of the vocal events of the 2021 Isrotel ClassiCameri Festival. Versatile international opera singer, tenor Mert Süngü (b.Istanbul, 1986) performs a vast repertoire, his main focus at present being bel canto style works and the music of Mozart. Attending "A te, o cara", (Raanana Symphonette, conductor: Keren Kagarlitsky), festival-goers delighted in his technical ease and dramatic presence in opera arias of Mozart, Rossini and Delibes. Later, that same evening, the musical environment moved eastwards. Süngü was joined by other artists in "Across the Bosporus" (Raanana Symphonette Orchestra, conductor: David Sebba). Mandolin artist Jacob Reuven set the scene with his zesty playing (with orchestra) of a "longa" - a Turkish/Eastern European dance, a form later introduced into Arabic music. Maestro David Sebba spoke of Turkey as a country bridging many countries and cultures. The audience then delighted in Mert Süngü's moving performance of some Turkish songs, also accompanying himself on the guitar. In one Turkish song, he incorporated part of a Monteverdi aria as a middle section; it seems that disappointed love can be portrayed in all languages! In another effective number, Symphonette 1st violinist Nitai Zori joined Süngü in a song from Azerbaijan. Multifaceted soprano Keren Hadar added to the event's cultural intermixture with the bold, folk-like singing of a Yemenite song, followed by the caressing melodiousness of some much-loved songs from the Sephardic diaspora, these sung in Ladino. David Sebba's artistic and imaginative arrangements gave the event a touch of magic! 

"Tel Aviv-Berlin" also featured Keren Hadar, the Symphonette and Maestro Sebba at the helm. In their performance of Weill,  Brecht and Ira Gershwin songs (several orchestrated by Benny Nagari), some sung in English, others in Hebrew, Hadar transports the audience to the sultry, dark, intense cabarets of Berlin, as they evoke the harsh reality of Europe between the two world wars. Engaging her large palette of vocal timbres and theatrical skills, Hadar calls attention to the elements of love, fear, regrets, wistfulness, loneliness, tragedy and charm woven into these songs. With a few stories about former times in Israel adding spice to the performance, Hadar and her fellow musicians went on to perform some of the timeless Israeli songs of the 1940s and 1950s, their gentle nostalgia reflected in Sebba's transparent and poetic settings. 

Moroccan-born Anne-Marie David, a French singer, is a performer who appeared twice in the Eurovision Contest for two different countries, coming into the top three on both occasions. She represented Luxembourg in the 1973 Eurovision Song Contest, winning 1st prize with  “Tu te reconnaîtras”, returning in 1979 to sing for France, her home country, this time, taking 3rd place. In "Paris à moi", she joined Maestro Sebba and the Raanana Symphonette Orchestra for a late evening concert of French music, opening with the power, emotion and nostalgia of some much-loved Edith Piaf songs, those of Michel LeGrand and of others and, of course, “Tu te reconnaîtras”, possibly the best ever Eurovision song. Anne-Marie David's voice remains fresh, its stable, natural and somewhat mellower timbre and her relaxed stage presence continuing to captivate audiences. Her chanteuse-styled singing of the 20th century chanson française, a genre integrated so perfectly with the rhythm of French speech, comes across as unconstrained and convivial. Once again, David Sebba, the Raanana Symphonette Orchestra's conductor-in-residence, did a sterling job of the evening's arrangements and conducting, his finespun, subtle touch on the piano compatible with the unique flavour of the French chanson. 

The  Kolan Ensemble was formed in 1982 by immigrant musicians from Georgia. Consisting of  four male singers and  a keyboard player, Kolan initially became renowned for its performances of Georgian folk music, but has since broadened its repertoire. A morning festival event taking place in a shopping mall, for the benefit of the general public, "From Tbilisi to Napoli", presented a selection of songs from Georgia, Italy and Russia, also including Hebrew and Yiddish songs, offering listeners the opportunity to delight in the singers' polished performance,  the richly-coloured timbres of their voices and their fine blend. 

Every festival should leave its mark with an event that is "different". This happened on the final morning of the Isrotel ClassiCameri Festival, with the day's proceedings opening with "Musical Gourmet - When the Chef Met the Orchestra", a presentation/concert drawing parallels between the aromas and flavours of the culinary world and the senses that engage with beautiful sounds. Hosted by David Sebba and conducted by Keren Kagarlitsky, photographer and chef Dan Lev produced a most artistic film in which he meets with several Israeli chefs in their creative kitchen environments, hearing each talk about the music that inspires him/her. Each of the works was then played in full by the orchestra - the sweeping melodiousness of  "Fingal's Cave" (Mendelssohn), the oriental sensuousness of "Scheherazade" (Rimsky-Korsakov), the plangent flute and harp duet from "Orfeo" (Gluck), the Arabian Dance from Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker" Suite, the lush sounds of Leroy Anderson's "Trumpeter's Lullaby" and more. Another highlight of the event was hearing solos performed by several of the Symphonette's fine players - flautist Rotem Nir, 1st cellist Gregory Yanovsky, oboist Ilay Mishor, 1st violinist Nitai Zori and trumpeter Naum Birman, to mention just a few. Royal Beach Hotel chef Nissim Lev also offered a few words on stage. Following the event, concert-goers were served Lev's signature dessert - pavlova, the meringue-based dessert named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova. 

Keren Hadar, Maestro David Sebba (Moshe Barak)

Monday, December 27, 2021

Of the many artists performing at the 2021 Isrotel ClassiCameri Festival (Eilat, Israel) audiences delighted in hearing some outstanding young artists.

Pianist Daniel Ciobanu, 1st violinist Nitai Zori (Avi Muskal)

or some "time out" from the reality of these turbulent and uncertain times, music-lovers from all over Israel met in Eilat to attend the 23rd Isrotel Classicameri Festival (December 16th to 19th 2021) a festival offering three days of fine music and carefree enjoyment in Israel's sunny, southernmost town. The festival is a collaborative project between the Raanana Symphonette Orchestra and the Eilat Isrotel hotels. Apart from two events, all the concerts took place in the convention hall of the gracious and hospitable Royal Beach Hotel. This writer stayed at the Isrotel Lagoona Hotel closeby, enjoying the hotel's caring, quality service, superb cuisine and high standards.

The Isrotel Festival gives the stage to local and foreign artists. It also features some exceptional young musicians, some of whom will be mentioned in this article. Pianist Daniel Ciobanu (b.1991, Romania), today living in Berlin, first attracted international acclaim at the 2017 Arthur Rubinstein Competition (Tel Aviv), where he won both the silver medal and the audience prize. Opening the 2021 Classicameri Festival, he referred to his solo recital (enigmatically titled "Decomposing")  as "one of extremes, of different galaxies''. Ciobanu had listeners at the edge of their seats with his animated playing of pieces by two Romanian composers -  20th century composer Constantin Nicoloe Silvestri's unrelentingly concentrated, atonal "Bacchanale" (Suite No.3, Op.6 No.1) and Dan Dediu's (b.1967) "Winds of Transylvania'', a piece of flamboyant rhythms, vivid pianistic textures and the occasional visit to the realm of tonality. A very different choice was vocal music of Carlo Gesualdo (1566-1613) played on the piano. Ciobanu played his own arrangement of three of the infamous Italian composer's madrigals, their daredevil harmonic forays still raising eyebrows 400 years later, Gesualdo's unconventional writing emerging more tempered on the piano than it does in the colliding of human voices. As to Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No.12 in C sharp minor, Ciobanu produces its kaleidoscope of contrasts, from noble utterances, Romantic melodiousness, charming, fragile descant niceties, to intense, indeed, wild passages. The centrepiece of the recital was Robert Schumann's "Kreisleriana", Op.16, "one of the sincerest pieces I have encountered, presenting the two extremes that make our lives beautiful", in the pianist's own words. With spontaneity, precision and virtuosity, addressing the work's colour and subtle inner voices, Ciobanu invites the musical score to take him and the listener into the complex workings of Shumann's mind, into the composer's opposing sides (those represented by two literary characters - the impulsive Florestan and dreamy Eusebius) also, his vulnerability, energy and childlike wonder at the world. It was an experiential and beautiful performance.

At another festival concert (Raanana Symphonette Orchestra, Keren Kagarlitsky-conductor) Daniel Ciobanu soloed in Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No.2, Op.18. From the piano's lone, foreboding voice issuing in the concerto, Ciobanu engaged in the work's brooding depressive moments as well as the ardent, lush Romantic gestures and songfulness woven throughout the concerto, giving the lyrical passages personal expression. The Raanana Orchestra's mellow, dark sound and fine wind playing created the appropriate setting for the Rachmaninoff concerto. For his encore, Daniel Ciobanu's whimsical, featherweight playing of Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona's "Mazurka Glissando" wrapped up the performance with the wink of an eye.

The youngest artist performing at the ClassiCameri Festival was cellist Nahar Eliaz (b.2006), a student of Prof. Hillel Zori and the winner of several international prizes. In addition to performing in Israel, Nahar has played at such venues as the Lincoln Center, the Barcelona Arts Center and Carnegie Hall. "December", the recital she performed with pianist Tal-Haim Samnon, opened with a sensitive reading of the Adagio from J.S.Bach's Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C major BWV 564, moving on to Grieg's Sonata in A minor for 'cello and piano Op.36, its abundant range of moods and dynamics addressed and enhanced by the splendid teamwork of both artists. And how beautifully they took the listener into the singing, sweeping melodiousness, delicacy and urgency, the introspective and euphoric moments of the 'cello and piano version of Schumann's "Fantasiestücke". They also performed Czech composer and cellist David Popper's Hungarian Rhapsody for cello and orchestra, a true  Konzertstück, with virtuosity, breadth of inflection and a sense of discovery. "December", Hillel Zori's arrangement of  Alterman/Vilensky's reflective Israeli chanson was appealing, with Samnon artistically flexing the music with touching sentimentality, interwoven by Eliaz' spontaneous, cantabile shaping of the nostalgic melody. A versatile musician, Tal-Haim Samnon (b.1986) composes, produces programs, solos, accompanies, plays chamber music and writes about music. 

Another aspiring and inspiring young artist at the Isrotel Festival was conductor/bassoonist Rotem Nir (b.1998), today, assistant conductor of the Israel Chamber Orchestra. His conducting of "Inception", a symphonic concert of works of Beethoven and Saint-Saëns, was animated and bold, resonant of his concept of each of the works. The final work in that concert was Camille Saint-Saëns' 'Cello Concerto No.1 in A minor Op.33, with Nahar Eliaz as soloist. Nir's direction highlighted the fact that the orchestra plays a major role, giving the work its specifically symphonic character, as its three relatively short movements run together (attacca). Watching Nir intently, Eliaz engaged the cello's capacity for both dignified and impassioned utterance in a performance that was detailed, richly melodic, both dramatic and lyrical, her playing commanding curiosity right through to the concerto's final measures.

In "The Best of Classics", violinist Asi Matathias (b.1992) and pianist Victor Stanislavsky (b.1982, Ukraine) performed works of Mendelssohn and Saint-Saëns. Felix Mendelssohn did not publish his Violin Sonata in F major during his lifetime. In fact, it was Yehudi Menuhin who revived the work, publishing it in 1953. An extremely ambitious work, Mendelssohn's writing is concerto-like for both instruments. Addressing its forthright, occasionally dramatic sections as well as its tranquil moments, cushioned in Mendelssohn's signature sense of well-being, both artists took the music into the realm of human expression, responding to each other's gestures, rendering the final Allegro vivace with young energy, technical know-how and joie-de-vivre. Then to Saint-Saëns' Violin Sonata No.1 in D minor Op. 75 (1885), a work whose first performances were more than disillusioning for the composer, as violinists came to grief with its virtuosic demands, in particular those of the finale. (The composer felt compelled to inform his publisher that it would be called the "Hippogriffsonata”, implying that the violin part could only be played by a mystical figure!) Indeed, no casual undertaking, Matathias and Stanislavsky launched into the unsettled first movement, evoking the ethereal quality and shimmering harmonies of the Adagio with its more robust middle section, their playing of the Allegretto moderate skipping along joyfully, its enigmatic chorale-like passage leading into the virtuosic and gripping final movement, one of uninterrupted frenetic scales and rapid arpeggios, culminating in sparring octaves in the piano with fiery violin outbursts. Concluding this program of virtuosic works was Saint-Saëns' "Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso" in A minor Op.28, a concertante work for violin with orchestral accompaniment, in which the composer pays tribute to his friend, Spanish violinist Pablo Sarasate. The first version of the work, published in 1870, was the violin and piano reduction prepared by Georges Bizet at Saint-Saëns’s request. In the bipartite work, its mood coloured by Hispanic influences, the artists collegially conveyed its sentimental, lyrical and meditative moods as contrasted by highly virtuosic sections. Asi Matathias and Victor Stanislavsky took leave of the audience with the soothing sounds of Jascha Hesifetz' arrangement of Brahms' "Contemplation".

Another up-and-coming young artist performing at the festival was mandolin artist/conductor Dor Amram  (b.1999), a soloist and chamber musician, whose repertoire ranges from early music to jazz, to contemporary music and Israeli songs. In "Italian Breeze" (Raanana Symphonette Orchestra, conductor: Keren Kagarlitsky), he was joined by his teacher Jacob Reuven to perform Concerto in G major for two mandolins RV 532. A small jewel of a piece, only rediscovered in a Turin library in 1926, this is one of Vivaldi's most exuberant and entertaining concertos. In the two outer Allegro movements, the artists engaged in joyful banter, their ornamentation suavely fashioned and beautifully synchronised. With the string orchestra taking a step back for the Andante movement, Amram and Reuven's gossamer-fine and sensitively shaped duetting delighted listeners as its graceful melodic lines overlapped, echoed and came together, only to intensify at certain points through the meetings of harmonies. Jacob Reuven (b.1976) renowned internationally for his technical mastery and brilliance and is a highly regarded mandolin pedagogue

At another concert - "Musical Gourmet - When the Chef Meets the Orchestra"

- Dor Amram gave a skilled and vivid performance of Albéniz' "Asturias" (subtitled "Leyenda" - legend), his playing evoking the  beautiful Asturias region of Spain, the work's slower central section imitating the improvisatory style of flamenco singing recalling Gypsy, Indian, and Arabic influences.

A graduate of the Jerusalem Academy of Dance and Music, Keren Kagarlitsky (b.1991) is a young Israeli conductor with her own uniquely expressive style of conveying the nuances of music to her players. An artist whose international career is on the up-and-up, she today resides in Berlin and is conductor designate of the Wiener Volksoper (2022-2023). At the Isrotel ClassiCameri Festival, where she conducted the Raanana Symphonette Orchestra in several of the concerts, her competence, charisma and her acquaintance with a wide range of repertoire and styles were more than impressive. Kudos to the dedicated and polished players of the Raanana Symphonette Orchestra (music director: Omer W. Welber). A unique voice on the classical music scene, the Symphonette is committed to music education, to promoting music of Jewish composers and to the belief that high quality music should be accessible to as wide an audience as possible

Cellist Nahar Eliaz, pianist Tal-Haim Samnon (Yehuda Ben Itach)

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

"Kadosh, Kadosh and Cursed" - the Israel Contemporary Players, conductor: Zsolt Nagy, perform new, prize-winning works of Yitzhak Yedid, Keiko Devaux and Yotam Haber


"Kadosh, Kadosh and Cursed", the Israel Contemporary Players' concert on December 12th 2021 at the Jerusalem Music Centre, was a festive event, presenting the Israeli premieres of  works of the 2020 Azrieli Music Prize laureates - Yitzhak Yedid (Azrieli Prize for Jewish Music), Yotam Haber (Azrieli Commission for Jewish Music) and Keiko Devaux (Azrieli Commission for Canadian Music).  All three composers were in attendance. Conducting the Israel Contemporary Players was Zsolt Nagy, the ensemble's principal conductor and artistic advisor as of 1999. Soloist was contralto Noa Frenkel. The world premieres of all three works took place at the Salle Bourgie of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 2020, with Lorraine Vaillancourt conducting Le Nouvel Ensemble Moderne.  The Azrieli Foundation was established by David Azrieli in 1989 as a philanthropic effort based in both Canada and Israel. Established in 2014, at the initiative of the Azrieli Foundation, the prize aims to discover and promote new music, encouraging ensembles to perform and celebrate current composers.


Born in Jerusalem in 1971, pianist-composer Yitzhak Yedid today makes his home in Perth Australia, teaching at Griffith University, but retains a strong emotional connection to Jerusalem. "Kadosh, Kadosh and Cursed" (2020) speaks of Jerusalem of today, the work "inspired by the Temple Mount in Jerusalem – that holy yet explosive place, sacred to Muslims and Jews alike… a documentary of sorts, about a blessed place (Kadosh Kadosh), which is also a locus of curses, of intra-religious violence. Kadosh, Kadosh and Cursed is therefore a conflicting homage to my hometown, Jerusalem." From its confrontational clamorous opening sounds, the bi-partite piece draws the listener into the multi-dimensional and highly charged tableau, one rich in associations with Arabic music and in music of both Sephardic and Western Jewish communities, an almost visual collage of peoples and cultures, wrought of massive tutti, heavy piano clusters, screeching glissandi, at times, dancelike rhythms, also gentler, homophonic utterances, beguiling solos and soothing, even otherworldly effects. As with many of the composer's other works, its style is both modern and multi-ethnic. The underlying element running throughout this work, however, spells tension and that is Yedid's message as he creates the 14-strong instrumental medium with masterful panache and ingenuity. "Kadosh, Kadosh and Cursed" is experiential, moving and real.


In 2019, the AMP created a new prize - the Azrieli Commission for Canadian Music. The inaugural winner of this award was Keiko Devaux with the work she calls "Arras". Here, Devaux (b.1982, British Columbia), a Montreal-based composer currently pursuing a doctorate in music composition and creation at the Université de Montréal, takes a new approach in her writing: "Arras" is the first piece in which she actively explores her Japanese-Canadian heritage. In an interview with Camille Kiku Belair, the composer explains: “I feared, being a woman composer of half Japanese Canadian heritage, that my profile as a composer would be more focused on my identity rather than my explorations and voice as a composer". "Arras" (the term for an elaborate French tapestry or wall hanging) scored for a 14-instrument ensemble, presents a timbral weave of various textures, creating a work in which a noble, modal, lengthy-phrased melody is surrounded by constantly shifting textures, some strident, others cushioned in lyrical dissonance. A piece mesmerizing in its sonic layering, delicacy and sense of infinitude, "Arras" is a positive work crossing cultural borders, inviting the listener to probe the many timbres created of Devaux' alluring world of instrumental colour and evoked by the mixing of different sections of the chamber orchestra. 


Born in Holland in 1976, Yotam Haber grew up in Israel, Nigeria and the USA. Today, based in Kansas City, Haber is associate professor of Composition at UMKC Conservatory and artistic director emeritus of MATA, the non-profit organization founded by Philip Glass dedicated to commissioning and presenting new works by young composers worldwide. The work designating him as a 2020 laureate of the Azrieli Commission for Jewish Music is "Estro Poetico-Armonico III" for mezzo-soprano, 15 musicians and playback, the of a series of song cycles Haber began in 2012. The work's title derives from Benedetto Marcello’s Psalm settings, a collection composed after the Italian Baroque composer had attended and transcribed liturgical chant melodies of the Venice synagogue. Haber, who has made a study of ethnomusicologist Leo Levi's recordings of the music of Jewish communities in Italy, takes inspiration from the hope that such an ancient oral tradition can withstand time and change. In Haber's words: “Like the Telephone Game {Chinese whispers}, where children whisper messages from one ear to the next, a purely oral tradition will mutate. My own Estro is a sort of Telephone Game, with my own re-hearings and re-casting of the past." To each of the five movements, Haber has paired one of Leo Levi's recordings with an Israeli poem, thus evoking the reality of modern life in Israel in a kind of representation of the country's history, at the same time, shedding light on traditions of Italian Jewish liturgical singing. The result is an emotional three-dimensional fabric consisting of recorded Italian singers, the instrumental ensemble with audio playback and mezzo-soprano Noa Frenkel's singing of the five songs. A versatile artist with an affinity for many musical styles, Frenkel's performance was both powerful, convincing and moving as she traversed vocal registers with ease, colouring gestures with her accessible range of dynamics and emotions, fine diction and clean intonation. The ICP instrumentalists gave vivid expression to Haber's score. Here, as in the two former works, Maestro Zsolt Nagy addressed each filigree musical thread and gesture with the painstaking detail, attention, depth of understanding and dedication for which he is known. 

Yotam Haber,Noa Frenkel,Keiko Devaux,Maestro Zsolt Nagy,Yitzhak Yedid (Yair Yedid) 

Saturday, December 11, 2021

The Glory of Venice: Caldara, Lotti, Vivaldi - Ensemble PHOENIX (director Myrna Herzog) hosts The Madrigal Singers and soloists in a program of sacred and secular Italian Baroque music

Photo: Yoel Levy


When music-lovers speak of the splendour of the Baroque, Venice is quick to come to mind, in particular, the musical establishment of the Basilica of San Marco and Claudio Monteverdi, who produced the two surviving operas of his maturity there. It was in Venice that the first public opera house opened in 1637. The city’s plazas were alive with the sounds of religious processions and carnival celebrations, prosperous merchants and aristocrats hosted private musical soirées in their palazzos and the "ospedali" (charitable religious institutions caring for orphans and other wards of the state), where Vivaldi was employed, gave their charges such exclusive musical education that many went on to become impressive performers. In a recent concert "The Glory of Venice: Caldara, Lotti, Vivaldi", Ensemble PHOENIX offered audiences a glimpse into the magnificence of the music of Baroque Venice, music both sacred and secular. Conducted by PHOENIX founder and artistic director Myrna Herzog, a small instrumental ensemble on period instruments was joined by The Madrigal Singers (director: Itay Berkovich) and soloists Tal Ganor, Monica Schwartz (sopranos), Rona Shrira (alto), Yonathan Suissa (tenor), Hagai Berenson (baritone), Noam Schuss (violin) and two soloists from the Madrigal Singers - Omri Aizenbud (tenor) and Matan Gendelman (bass). This writer attended the concert on December 9th 2021 in the chapel of the Monastery of St. Vincent de Paul (Jerusalem), an impressive 19th century ecclesiastical structure.


Israeli audiences may not be aware of the importance of the influence the compositional styles of Antonio Lotti and Antonio Caldara had on such composers as Bach, Handel and Mozart. In fact, some view Lotti's Requiem as the most important Requiem before Mozart’s. Opening the concert was Lotti's Requiem Mass in F major, a work written essentially in the late Baroque idiom, but occasionally recalling certain of Vivaldi’s larger sacred vocal pieces. Characterising the PHOENIX performance were the many contrasts of mood from movement to movement, from a sense of urgency and fate, to plangent moments, to triumphant utterances, indeed, a musical canvas of theatrical gestures, complex polyphony, warmly captivating, up-to-date harmonic progressions and fluid melodies. The soloists, in various groups or solo, either configured against the choir or not, moved in and out of the weave. They gave personal expression to the texts - Jonathan Suissa's musical- and emotional involvement, Tal Ganor's sensitive, carefully sculpted melodic lines in the Mors Stupebit, Monica Schwartz and Rona Shrira's duetting in the tragic Lacrimosa and the interaction between Ganor with Noam Schuss (violin obligato) in the heart-rending Qui Mariam, to mention a few. Dr. Herzog chose to replace the trumpet with the rounded, warm, yet forthright cornetto (Alma Mayer); carrying the wind section splendidly, Mayer and oboist Amir Bakman heralded compelling statements, also folding in agreeably with the timbres of the small string ensemble. In fact, the Requiem's instrumentalization is beguiling, with rapturous solos here and there adding concertante and ripieno effects, striking harmonic effects and dramatic moments. Joining 1st violinist Schuss, Noam Gal's playing was well shaped and communicative. The Madrigal Choir's singing was mellifluous and coherent, its dramatic utterances never forced, its members' diction articulate. A demanding work, with not a weak moment.


Today, Antonio Caldara is not a name many would recognise, let alone regard as one of the Italian Baroque's celebrated composers; yet, during his own lifetime and long after his death, he was held in high esteem by composers and theoreticians alike. In fact, history has paid him a double-edged compliment in that his Magnificat setting in C became known by Bach, who re-arranged its Suscepit Israel movement in the early 1740s, thereby giving it a place in the catalogue of his works (BWV1082). At the PHOENIX concert, the Caldara Magnificat was performed as the composer had penned it. Although Caldara's score calls for a sumptuous orchestral force, the small ensemble at the PHOENIX concert, now including timpani: Evgeny Karasik, gave formidable expression to Caldara's compositional manner in a work typical of his mix of conservative and more modern writing. Among noteworthy moments were bass Hagai Berenson's fresh, rich singing and the Deposuit, in which Hila Heller wove a beautiful viola obligato around Rona Shrira's singing of the aria, and with a subtle touch of ornamentation. The choir's engagement in the two sacred works was both musical and profound. Under the attentive direction of Itay Berkovich, we are witnessing the Madrigal Singers becoming one of Israel's top-ranking vocal ensembles.  


If spring has traditionally been a time of light-headed revelling, Antonio Vivaldi begs to differ. The scene of the Allegro from "Autumn" (Four Seasons) opens on a country dance at a harvest festival. The music is crisp and uninhibited, the celebration and dancing fuelled by some good Italian wine. You can even hear the carousers falling asleep before re-joining the dance. Not taken at breakneck speed by Herzog (too often the case), she and Schuss transport the listener into the theatrical scene. Schuss peoples it with various rustic characters, delighting us with dramatic rubati, with her fantasy and the wink of an eye, also with her virtuosity and precision. And how supportive an imaginative continuo section can be (Guy Pardo-organ, Katharine van der Beek-Baroque 'cello and Evie Bloom-violone, making her PHOENIX debut) when presenting such a scene!


Here's a question: What is a bourgeois German opera composer like Johann Adolf Hasse doing on the secular Venetian scene?  It transpires that Hasse and his wife, opera singer Faustina Bordoni, found employment at the Dresden court in Venice, then in 1773 deciding to retire there to lead a quiet life with the composer, teaching and composing cantatas and religious music. The PHOENIX concert concluded with Hasse's setting of a Venetian gondola song "Mia cara Anzoletta (a far cry from his cantatas and religious music.) The Venetian Canzoni da battello or "boat songs" are quite a unique phenomenon in the musical panorama of the 18th century. These songs, sung in dialect and composed strictly anonymously, were quickly made popular throughout Europe, thanks to an edition by John Walsh who published a collection of them in London in 1742, attributing some to none other than Johann Adolf Hasse! "Mia cara Anzoletta", offering a glimpse into a risqué conversation between two women, was given a joyful, rollicking performance, the PHOENIX dancelike arrangement including all on stage, with Herzog on tambourine and verses portioned off to soloists, ensembles and choir.  

In "The Glory of Venice", Dr. Myrna Herzog and the musicians joining her in this concert paid homage to the golden age of Venice, shedding light on its wealth of sacred and popular music, in performance that was enlightened, exciting and masterful. 

Myrna Herzog (Yoel Levy)

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Beethoven's Triple - the Israel Camerata Jerusalem performs at the Jerusalem International YMCA, its new home venue. Conductor Dmitry Yablonsky; soloists Hagai Shaham, Hillel Zori, Arnon Erez

Maestro Avner Biron presents a baton to Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon (Yael Ilan)

The Israel Camerata Jerusalem's concert on December 2nd 2021 was a festive affair.The second concert of the current La Tempesta dei Solisti series celebrated the Camerata's move to the Jerusalem International YMCA's auditorium, the Mary Nathanial Hall of Friendship. Words of greetings were given by Ms. Rana Fahoum, the Jerusalem YMCA's chief executive officer, by Adv. Yair Green, chairman of the Camerata board of directors, Maestro Avner Biron, the Camerata's music director, and by Jerusalem mayor Moshe Leon, all of whom talked of the Jerusalem YMCA as a centre of co-existence in the capital. Indeed, the hall itself is
rich in historical, religious and artistic features, those of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Mayor Moshe Leon lit the Hanukkah candles, his fine singing voice resounding through the hall, after which Maestro Biron presented him with a conductor's baton, drawing parallels between the post of mayor and that of the orchestral conductor. "Beethoven's Triple" featured Moscow-born conductor Dmitry Yablonsky and soloists Hagai Shaham-violin, Hillel Zori-'cello and Arnon Erez-piano. 

Felix Mendelssohn wrote his twelve String Symphonies between 1821 and 1823, then adding a final 13th, the "Sinfoniesatz". The string symphonies were written when Mendelssohn was a pupil of Zelter. They reflect the conservative leanings of the teacher and Mendelssohn's own clear debt to earlier classical models. The opening work at the Jerusalem concert was Mendelssohn's String Symphony No. 10 in B minor. Rediscovered only after  World War II, among twelve similar opuses, it was written by the gifted 14-year-old as a composition exercise to be played at one of his family’s reunions. Whether the single surviving movement was followed by two others is not known. Following its first somewhat Haydnesque slow B minor introduction, the dramatic dash that follows is, indeed, pure Mendelssohn, showcasing the passion and sophistication of the young composer. Yablonsky's reading of the work gave expression to its contrasting moods, sparkling melodies, innovative orchestration and vibrant dynamics. Too seldom heard in Israeli concert halls, Mendelssohn's String Symphonies make for appealing, accessible concert fare.

Here's a strange fact: despite its special qualities, Beethoven's Concerto for violin, 'cello and piano in C major Op.56, "Triple", has never enjoyed the success of the composer's other mature concertos. Early critiques were unfavourable, the work being referred to as a "piano trio with orchestra". Well, this is not entirely incorrect, since there is not the dialogue between the orchestra and the soloists to the extent that there is in other concertos, and the three soloists carry virtually all of the musical argument themselves. But how brilliant it is that the trio itself becomes the soloist in a concerto, a role in which has not been cast by any other great composer before, nor has it been since, and the concerto is probably performed less frequently due to the extraordinary requirements for three virtuosi. The reason Beethoven took on the daring venture is said to have been to provide Archduke Rudolph, then a 16-year-old student of the composer, with a setting that would "not be as demanding as a solo concerto"... but whether the duke ever managed to play the ambitious role is unclear. Much of the success of performing this work depends on the soloists. This was clear when hearing it in the hands of Hagai Shaham, Hillel Zori and Arnon Erez, all soloists and chamber musicians (Shaham and Erez perform as a duo), all musicians of the same generation and all professors at the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music, Tel Aviv (as is Dmitry Yablonsky). Each gave individual, personal expression to the fine details and gestures of Beethoven's writing, not just because of the different nature of each instrument, the latter, however, also being an interesting aspect of the work. The soloists took on the extraordinary bravura and grandeur of the outer movements with pizzazz, but also with refinement and good taste, as they attentively tuned in to each other, avoiding the excesses sometimes heard in performances of the Triple Concerto; their playing wove delicacy, lyrical beauty and affecting expressiveness through the brief slow movement. With these unconventional forces, Yablonsky maintained a poised balance between orchestra and soloists. Completed in 1803, the Triple Concerto, a work radiant with joy, is a concerto to hear, to observe and to experience together with the musicians performing it.

For an encore, the soloists performed the second movement of Anton Arensky's Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor Op. 32 (1894), a peppy, light-headed, whimsical Scherzo, its sparse string textures played against a running piano part, with a warmly affectionate Slavonic-type waltz as a Trio. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

The Jerusalem Opera presents a concert performance of Giuseppe Verdi's "La Traviata"; conductor: Omer Arieli

Aaron Blake,Olga Senderskaya,Maestro Omer Arieli (Elad Zagman)


From its inception in 2011, audiences have delighted in the Jerusalem Opera's productions, the high performance standards the company maintains and in the fact that Jerusalem has an opera company moving from strength to strength. For the Jerusalem Opera's recent concert production of Verdi's "La Traviata" (producer: Slava Kozodoi), musical director/conductor Omer Arieli was joined by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, the Jerusalem Opera Singers (director: Inbal Brill) and overseas and local soloists. This writer attended the performance on November 27th 2021 in the Henry Crown Auditorium of the Jerusalem Theatre


Revealing self-confidence and compositional maturity in his 40th year, Giuseppe Verdi takes a break from biblical stories and historical dramas to present audiences with an opera dealing with some of the great moral and social dilemmas of the 19th-century world - prostitution, disease and human passion. Violetta’s life of pleasure, Alfredo’s declaration of love, her escape with him to the country, her sacrifice of this new life due to the social outrage of Alfredo’s father and her death from tuberculosis come together to the sounds of the waltzes and polkas that had taken Europe by storm, evoking the pleasures of drink and sensuality. “A whore must always be a whore” was Verdi's furious response to the censors in Rome who had requested he modify the story of the Parisian courtesan Violetta to be more acceptable to the tastes of a conservative public. Indeed, "La Traviata" tells the story of a woman exploited by a male-dominated society and then cast aside when she becomes a threat to a bourgeois family’s status. Literally translated as "The Fallen Woman", "La Traviata" is the tragic tale of Violetta, who attempts to leave the life she knows behind, in an attempt to finally find true love.


From the moment the first scene opens with a grand party of singing and dancing hosted by Violetta, we are swept into the energetic, vital ambience of the Jerusalem Opera's performance. With orchestra and conductor occupying most of the stage, chorus and soloists appear at the front, making for direct communication with the audience and with each other. In performance that was both convincing and never overblown, the soloists were well cast: American tenor Aaron Blake as the tender and somewhat naive Alfredo, his timbral range and timing reflecting each stage of the unfolding drama, baritone Gabriele Ribis (Italy) as the sanguine, understated but resolute Giorgio Germont, bass-baritone Yuri Kissin as the kindly Dr. Grenvil, soprano Inbal Brill as Anina, Violetta's loyal maid, and soloists Oded Reich (Marquis d'Obigny), Esther Kopel (Flora Bervox), Marc Shaimer (Gastone, Visconte de Letorieres) and Dmitry Lovtsov (Baron Douphol).. Born in Yaroslavl, Russia, soprano Olga Senderskaya made for an outstanding Violetta, portraying each situation and emotion in articulate, communicative and dignified singing and body language, allowing for each shade of meaning of the text and music to shine through to the audience. She was exceptional!


With Verdi's music moving hand-in-glove with Francesco Maria Piave's libretto, Maestro Arieli and the JSO gave the music a sense of urgency and expectation, emphasizing how intertwined the orchestral score is with the opera's course and characters throughout, as the overtures poignantly conveyed the heartbreak awaiting Violetta and Alfredo. And one never tires of La Traviata's highlights, among them, “Sempre libera”, in which  Violetta laughs off the idea of true love and vows to live for pleasure, even when she hears the voice of Alfredo outside her window, .Alfredo’s bubbling "Brindisi" (drinking song), the symbol of the opera’s good times and joyous hedonism and "Addio del passato", Violetta’s Act III aria, its music harking back to the dances and festivities of Act I, her words, however, renouncing her youthful dreams of love to now accept her approaching death. 


The Jerusalem Opera's concert performance left one feeling that La Traviata's portrayal of the superficial glamour of 19th-century Paris, as contrasted with scenes of great intimacy, then culminating in the heart-rending final act, were intense and meaningful without any need for stage sets and backdrops.


Miri Shamir