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)

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