Saturday, September 24, 2016

Concerts offering in the October 2016 Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival

The Crypt (photo: Berthold Werner)

The 50th Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival, under the direction of Hanna Tzur, will take place from October 20th to 24th 2016. Concerts will be performed at the Church of the Ark of the Covenant, on the hill of Kiryat Ye’arim (appropriately called the Town of Forests), and in the 12th century Crusader Church Crypt that nestles among the mature pine trees of a magical garden in the lower area of Abu Gosh. (The historic town of Abu Gosh is located 10 kilometers west of Jerusalem.) In the words of festival director Hanna Tzur: “Twice a year the village of Abu Gosh becomes a paradise for vocal music-lovers, who come in their thousands from all over the country and turn Abu Gosh and its churches into a colourful vocal locale of festivities”.

For a pre-festival treat on a very different note, to take place on Thursday October 20th, many of the finest accordionists around will perform folk music in six locations in and around the Kiryat Ye’arim Church.

As in each Abu Gosh Festival, music-lovers will be able to hear several great works of choral repertoire – Brahms’ “German Requiem” (Concert no.2), for example, will be performed in its original form for choir, soloists and two pianos and will feature the Chamber Choir of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance (Director: Stanley Sperber). In “Brilliant Baroque with Bach and Caldara from Venice” (Concert no.4) the Tel Aviv Chamber Choir (director Michael Shani) will be joined by soloists Yeela Avital, Gòn Halevi, Doron Florentin and Guy Pelc. For “Pergolesi - Stabat Mater” (Concert no.5), the program also including the Fauré “Requiem”, the Barrocade Ensemble will be joined by fine soloists and the Bat Kol and Maayan Choirs (director: Anat Morahg.) In Concert no.6, Hanna Tzur herself will conduct soloists, the Ramat Gan Chamber Choir and the Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra in Puccini’s “Messa di Gloria”, also works of Verdi and Kurt Weill. The Moran Ensemble (director: Naomi Faran) and soloists will perform “Mendelssohn Gloria, Schubert Magnificat” (Concert no.7); selections from J.S.Bach’s “St Matthew Passion” can be heard in “Bach - Requiem for a Prince”, with Ron Zarhi directing soloists and instrumentalists in Concert no.9.

An auspicious event of the 2016 Fall festival will be the world premiere of Sicilian Baroque composer Michelangelo Falvetti’s oratorio “Nabuco” in its complete form (Concert no.8), performed by Ensemble PHOENIX with vocal soloists. Working with musicologist Fabrizio Longo, PHOENIX founder and director Dr. Myrna Herzog has put together the first reliable score of the work for this ground-breaking event. A renowned Baroque violinist, Fabrizio Longo will also be joined by soprano Einat Aronstein, Avid Stier (harpsichord) and Myrna Herzog (viola da gamba) in Concert no.14 in the Crypt to play works of Vivaldi, Banchieri and Vivaldi.

Regularly performing at Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festivals, members of the Meitar Opera Studio of the Israeli Opera, accompanied by studio director, arranger and pianist David Sebba, will present “Carmen in Abu Gosh” (Concert no.10), a program of opera gems, French Classical works and French chansons. Other events will also offer a mix of classical- and non-classical works: “Paul McCartney, Paul Simon, Henry Purcell” (Concert no.16) with countertenor Gòn Halevi and guitarist Eyal Leber and “An Exciting Meeting Between Jazz and Classic” (Concert no.15), featuring soprano Sharon Dvorin, with guitarist Uri Bracha and bassist Oren Sagi.

Other festive fare will include a concert of music from East and West (Concert no.11), with singer, oud player and violinist Yair Dalal and sitar player Yotam Haimovich, “The Virtuosi” (Concert no.12) in which accordionist Emil Aybinder and mandolin artist Shmuel Elbaz with perform music from Armenia, Macedonia, Romania, Russia and Hungary as well as a Piazzolla work, Concert no. 1 – Mikis Theodorakis’ oratorio “Canto General”, with alto Silvia Kigel and the Kibbutz Artzi Choir conducted by Yuval Benozer; also “From the Andes to Copacabana” (Concert no.13) in which mezzo-soprano Anat Czarny will be joined by Tamar Melzer-Krumlovsky (recorders) and guitarist Erez Yaacov.

This festival will host members of the Simvol Very Men’s Choir (Russia). Conducted by Pnina Inbar and Seraphim Dubnov (Concert no.3) they will sing works of Dvorak, Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky and arrangements of Russian folk songs in a joint program with the (Israeli) Naama Ensemble.

In the Abu Gosh Festival’s relaxed atmosphere, concert-goers can also enjoy informal outdoor concerts, browse the craft stalls and picnic with friends in the tranquil setting of the Judean Hills.



Friday, September 23, 2016

Members of Ensemble PHOENIX recreate the Paris salon, taking listeners to the Isle of Cythera

Tal Arbel, Marina Minkin, Myrna Herzog (photo: Eliahu Feldman)
“Journey to the Isle of Cythera” was the curious title of a house concert in Ra’anana, a small city in the central area of Israel, on September 15th 2016. Performed by PHOENIX members – founder and director Myrna Herzog and Tal Arbel (viols) and Marina Minkin (spinet) - the program consisted of French Baroque works as well a few Italian pieces. Making this event unique was seeing and hearing two beautifully crafted French pardessus viols built by Louis Guersan and Benoist Fleury and a quinton made by Nicolas Chappuy, heard in performance, in my opinion, for the first time in Israel.  We were about to take part in the experience of the musical salon. The French salon, a result of the Enlightenment of the early 18th century, acted as an extension of the royal court, providing women with an alternative to the court in order to gain status in the elite echelons, offering them a positive role in the public sphere of French society. As to the ladies’ choice of instruments, Herzog spoke of the violin (and ‘cello) as considered too vulgar for women to play in the salon. Women of the time were more likely to choose the harpsichord or the “pardessus de viole” (a sopranino viol of five or six strings, the highest pitched member of the viol family) instruments popular from the late 17th century up to around 1760. The five-string quinton, shaped like a violin, is the subject of discussion in Dr. Myrna Herzog’s article “Is the quinton a viol? A puzzle unravelled” (Early Music, 2000) in which she writes that the quinton is “a viol with a violin-like shape”. With these small instruments played mostly by women, Herzog recounts that “one of the most important [performers] was Mlle. Levi, who delighted all Paris with her performances of the ‘Concert Spirituel’ in 1745”.

J-A Watteau’s painting “The Embarkation for Cythera” (1717) hangs in the Louvre, Paris. It depicts lovers about to sail to the Greek island of Cythera, or are they, in fact, returning from the island in pairs? The lush oil painting, a true Rococo masterpiece of the then-new “fêtes galantes” genre that depicted courtly scenes in idyllic country settings, captures the sense of excitement and carefree prevailing in French aristocratic society of the time. With the Greek island of Cythera claiming to be the birthplace of Aphrodite (goddess of love) the above-mentioned painting, from which the PHOENIX Ensemble concert took its title, has fired the imagination of many a European artist dreaming of such an amorous escapade.

Whetting our taste for a true salon concert, the artists opened with an excerpt from Alexandre de Villeneuve’s (1677-1756) “Le Voyage de Cythère” (1727). A secular cantata for soprano and basso continuo, it features obbligato flute and violin. The composer’s introductory letter was not addressed to any royal patron but to the women who would be singing the cantata. We heard Tal Arbel on recorder, with Myrna Herzog playing the vocal line; Herzog and Arbel presented an excerpt from the text welcoming the lovers to the island, read in the original French and in a Hebrew translation. And on the subject of love, what could be more pertinent than one of François Couperin’s “Concerts Royaux”, composed for the “little chamber music concerts to which Louis XIV summoned me almost every Sunday”, in the composer’s words, and in which Couperin played the harpsichord. His Ninth Royal Concert – “Ritratto dell’Amore” evokes the various facets of love. The artists highlighted its grace, wit and elegance of court dance music in gently-swayed gestures.

Tal Arbel and Marina Minkin performed the Prelude from “Pièces de Viole” Book II, (1738) of Roland Marais (one of the celebrated Marin Marais’ 19 children), a leading viol player of the reign of Louis XV. Composed for bass viol and figured bass, Arbel’s playing focused attention on the piece’s agenda, with Minkin giving the harpsichord plenty of say. Even more daring was Jean-Baptiste Forqueray’s piece “Jupiter”, in which Arbel presented the demonic, dark gestures, the extrovert and the unpredictability of this small, unconventional work.

So why does a program of French Baroque chamber music include two sonatas of Arcangelo Corelli? Corelli’s music was known in France due to its extensive publication, its numerous editions pervading every corner of Europe, serving as models for violinists and composers. Editions were bought by people wanting to perform the music, these including the growing number of amateurs.  The Corelli trios were performed from a hand-written copy for two pardessus viols by Alexandre de Villeneuve. The Ra’anana house concert offered maximal conditions for hearing the finest details of Corelli’s Opus 3 No.2 and Opus 4 No.8 trio sonatas in this scoring and in all the text’s articulate detail, highlighting the imitative interaction between Herzog and Arbel and much elegant shaping of phrases. Neapolitan-born composer Francesco Guerini wrote a number of sonatas for two flutes, with the option of playing them on two  pardessus de viole. Herzog and Arbel played the Allegro from Duetto IV (1761), music both charming and accessible. 

Returning to French music, of the works of Jean-Philippe Rameau on the program, Marina Minkin played two solo pieces - the joyful “Les Sauvages” (inspired by two Louisiana Indians Rameau had seen performing in a Paris theatre) performed with verve and inventive ornamenting. In “L’Enharmonique” we meet Rameau the intellect and theorist in unprecedented writing for the harpsichord, in which he examines the effects of enharmonics and to where they lead, and surprising effects they were! With Minkin’s articulacy and artistic discretion, the pieces sounded especially convincing on the spinet, an instrument built for Herzog by Abel Vargas (Brazil) in 1992. Rameau’s “Musette and Tambourin” closing the evening soirée with delicacy and spirit were taken from viol virtuoso Ludwig Christian Hesse’s arrangements of Rameau works for two viols (and harpsichord), the viols thought to have been played by Hesse and his pupil Prince Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia.
In his painting, “Pilgrimage to Cythera” as well as in its variation “The Embarkation for Cythera” (1718), Antoine Watteau has created an idyllic scene in which Parisian ladies and gentlemen are about to engage in a “fête galante” under the watchful eye of Aphrodite’s statue. The tiny island of Cythera does really exist northwest of Crete; it boasts beautiful landscapes – forests, waterfalls, cliffs, gorges and an incredible wealth of wildflowers. We can see pictures of the lush island on the Internet or even take an idyllic vacation there. Members of the Paris salon would have only Watteau’s paintings on which to base their imaginings. Myrna Herzog’s musical ventures bring together ideas and fine playing. Her concerts never fail to take the listener into other worlds of sound, of fantasy and of interest, revealing so much about the essence of early music, its background and the people who created it.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Israel Chamber Orchestra opens its 2016-2017 season with J.S.Bach's Mass in B-minor

Maestro Ariel Zuckermann (photo: Felix Broede)
The Israel Chamber Orchestra opened its 2016-2017 season - “Colors Worth Hearing” - with J.S.Bach’s Mass in B-minor BWV 232. The work was conducted by Ariel Zuckermann, the ICO’s musical director. Soloists were soprano Claire Meghnagi, alto Avital Dery, tenor Eitan Drori and bass Raimond Nolte (Germany). Joining them was the Chamber Choir of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance (director: Stanley Sperber). This writer attended the concert at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on September 13th 2016.

Johann Sebastian Bach spent the last years of his life in Leipzig compiling parts of previously-composed works, mostly from his cantatas (the practice of “parody”) into his last great composition – the Mass in B-minor. Composed over 15 years, certain sections had been performed, but less than a year after completing it, Bach died, never to hear it performed in its entirety. Not only does the work include Bach’s study of several musical styles – coordinating style of the past and the future in the High Baroque, stile antico and the Galant style - its spiritual agenda would subtly but surely have some connection with the history of his own personal religious dilemmas as a Lutheran and his position regarding Lutheran Protestantism of his day.

With Zuckermann’s performance of the B-minor Mass, we are not talking about performance on period instruments or of Joshua Rifkin and Andrew Parrott’s one-to-a-part approach for the singing of choruses. An ambitious undertaking, the work is so universal that what is essential to any conductor taking on the challenge is to understand how perfect the piece is and how to present its detail, its fusion of styles and its meaning, which extends far beyond that of a sacred Baroque work. In my opinion, performing and hearing the B-minor Mass presents as much interest for instrumentalists as it does for singers; Zuckermann led his orchestra in playing that was secure, supportive, articulate and elegant. We heard some splendid playing from the wind sections and there were several beautifully rendered obbligato parts enriching the various arias.  The Jerusalem Academy Chamber Choir, boasting four strong sections, gave crystal-clear expression to fine detail, complex melodic strands and the work’s extensive use of counterpoint. At times, the choral sopranos tended to emerge a little too dominant. The fragmenting of words in the opening Kyrie, probably in the name of clarity, was somewhat baffling. In contrast to the vibrant energy of some of the more dramatic choruses, with the choir’s enunciating of consonants energizing phrases and meaning, the subtle and moving expression in such choruses as the “Qui tollis” (Gloria), the “Credo in unum Deum” (Credo) or in the colliding, tragic dissonances of the “Crucifixus” was hauntingly cushioned in lush, velvety harmonies.

Vocal solos and duets were dealt with well, if not always grippingly. Claire Meghnagi and Avital Dery’s very different styles and timbres did not make for felicitous dueting. Meghnagi and Eitan Drori found more common ground in the “Domine Deus”, with Drori and flute obbligato compatible in the “Benedictus”. Guest bass-baritone Raimond Nolte’s singing was attentive, his upper register pleasingly mellifluous. But, of all the soloists, it was alto Avital Dery who was the most engaging in her truly outstanding interpretation, her communication with the audience and her highlighting of the profound emotional content of each aria. With Maestro Zuckermann’s interest in articulacy, the most complex, multi-layered contrapuntal textures were never unintelligible under his direction. He led all in a performance that bristled with freshness, poise and luxuriance.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Israel Pianists Quartet "Octopus" hosts Taiseer Elias and Alex Ansky in a program from Bach to Avni

Bart Berman, Tavor Guchman, Yifat Zeidel, Meir Wiesel (photo: Ilan Shapira)

One of the opening events for the 2016-2017 concert season was that of the Israel Pianists Quartet “Octopus” on September 10th in the Recanati Auditorium of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Guest artists were oud player Taiseer Elias and actor Alex Ansky.

Formed in 2013, “Octopus” consists of four pianists playing on two pianos – piano 1: Yifat Zeidel and Bart Berman, piano 2: Tavor Guchman and Meir Wiesel.  The ensemble’s aim is to promote high quality arrangements of classical works and to encourage and perform new Israeli works, having so far performed works by Josef Bardanashvili and Eran Ashkenazi. The September 10th concert included the world premiere of Tzvi Avni’s “Metamorphosis” (2016), a work for oud and four pianists.

The concert opened with Paul Klengel’s 8-hand arrangement of Johannes Brahms’ Serenade No.2 in A-major opus 16. A work originally scored for winds, ‘cellos and double bass, written by the young Brahms as a work to provide him with experience in orchestral writing prior to embarking on the composition of symphonies, Klengel’s setting works incredibly well on two pianos. In a balance of restraint and finely “orchestrated” expression, the “Octopus” artists drew out the work’s innate mellowness, so Brahmsian in temperament - the darker piano timbres reminding us that the original score includes no violins. As they re-created the work’s solid, full-bodied sound world and seamless melodiousness, the work’s dance movements and its folk-like scherzo, the artists fashioned as one player the work’s centrepiece - the poetic Adagio non troppo - in singing, tender resonance. Adding an extra dimension and throwing light on Brahms’ personal emotional life, the Serenade movements were punctuated by actor Alex Ansky’s reading of excerpts from letters of Brahms  from Shimshon Inbal’s lofty Hebrew translation of “Brahms: His Life and Work” by Karl Geiringer: letters effusive with love to his mother and Clara Schumann, a jolly description of his birthday celebration and quite a heartrending account of Robert Schumann’s dying in letters to his friend Julius Otto Grimm; also a self-effacing, letter to violinist Joseph Joachim, showing admiration for the violinist’s compositions.

Taking Max Reger’s lesser-known but rich piano transcription of J.S.Bach’s Toccata & Fugue in D-minor BWV 565, Meir Wiesel adapted it to the 8-hand “Octopus” constellation. Dousing the opening chords in a ringing effect of the sustaining pedal was a reminder of the grand church pipe organ and church acoustic, but from there, we were returned to the possibilities offered by two modern grand pianos. Comparing organ and piano timbres here would be a pointless exercise; using the physical strength demanded of the modern pianist, the artists presented the work’s drama of large dimensions; its pared-down, more intimate sections came across with pleasing articulacy. As to the work’s daring and pomposity, referred to as “famosissimo” and “celebratissima” by Alberto Basso in his 1979 Bach biography, that is what the work is about, and the audience loved it.

Performer, scholar and researcher Taiseer Elias, one of the world’s leading soloists in the field of classical Arab music, founded and has headed the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance’s Department of Eastern Music, leading the Arab-Jewish Orchestra; he also teaches at Bar-Ilan University. At the Tel Aviv concert, we heard Professor Elias in solo on the oud in improvisations and variations on “The Pretty Maiden”, an Arabic folk melody.  Elegant, virtuosic and succinct, Elias’ poetical playing produced a kaleidoscope of east and west – the song melody richly ornamented, then dovetailed with sections based on western harmonies, including a reflection on the Bach Toccata and Fugue performed prior to the solo. The use of a microphone allowed listeners in the hall to enjoy every filigree detail to the full.

An auspicious item on the program was the world premiere of “Metamorphosis”, a work by Israeli composer Tzvi Avni (b.1927) for oud and 8 hands on two pianos. Professor Avni spoke briefly about the piece’s genesis. When Meir Wiesel approached him in July 2016 with the suggestion of a new work for “Octopus” and oud, Avni had just finished reading Kafka’s novella “The Metamorphosis”, in which Gregor Samsa wakes one morning to find he has turned into a large, monstrous insect. The novella proceeds to deal with Gregor’s attempt to deal with the situation and to his family’s attitude to the repulsive creature he has become. Avni makes no effort to write the story into the work, but has taken from it the theme of coping, of finding solutions to a given situation, such as living in Israeli society, where east and west meet. Avni’s opening gesture in “Metamorphosis” takes the form of an imposing and uncompromising piano cluster. Then, in writing that is both pleasing and appropriate for the instrument, we hear the oud in its own musical agenda. Dialogue between pianos and oud oscillates between the docile and the conflicted. Following a long, engaging oud solo, the pianos enter once more, accompanying the oud in velvety textures, the strumming of piano strings at one moment meeting the oriental plucked instrument in a spacy, otherworldly effect. In this new work, Tzvi Avni has met and juxtaposed the most unlikely of instrumental combinations, coupling them on an intensely human level in a musical language of the senses, in a piece bristling with interest and with timbral appeal.

The program concluded with Emil Kronke’s 8-hand setting of Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No.9 “Carnival in Pest”. With its blend of folk melodies and virtuosic passages, connected by improvisatory elements, the work evokes the atmosphere of a Budapest carnival from around 1840. Indulging in the constant changes of mood and “scoring”, the pianists gave a dazzling performance of the work’s Hungarian dance melodies, addressing its intimate moments and its elaborate, colourful finale - a challenging tour-de-force. Then for two encores: Aram Khachaturian’s unleashed “Sabre Dance”, well suited to the 8-hand medium, followed by a somewhat sober rendition of Beethoven’s “Turkish March”. “Octopus”, its members spanning a wide range of ages, offers the concert-going public a new, fresh approach to concert repertoire in playing that is both tasteful and most stylish!




Saturday, July 30, 2016

Musical theatre in Jerusalem - Maya Pennington and Guy Frati perform together in "Guy & Doll"

Maya Pennington,Guy Frati (photo:Elle Jones)

“An evening of tongue-in-cheek, double-entendre and just a touch of neurosis for good measure” is how Maya Pennington and Guy Frati describe “Guy & Doll”, their lively presentation of songs of Tom Lehrer through Sondheim and all the way to contemporary song numbers. This writer attended the event at the Harmony Centre for Cultures, Jerusalem, on July 11th 2016.

The artists took the audience back to the vivid and diverse world of show tunes of the second half of the 20th century and into the 21st century. Opening with three “laments”, the bittersweet “Diva’s Lament” (Du Prez, Idle, Innes) and “Alto’s Lament” (Heisler, Goldrich) conveyed the hardships of survival in show biz. There were numbers from the Broadway show “Guys and Dolls” (Frank Loesser, 1950) and several Tom Lehrer songs, the latter’s political- and social satire expressed in quick-witted texts of much hilarity. Of course, there were songs about love and its complications; take, for example, Stephen Sondheim’s despondent, psychotic patter song “Not Getting Married Today” (from the musical “Company”, 1970) and “The Boy from…”. Here the young lady is unaware of her crush’s homosexuality. On the song’s humorous side, there is the very lengthy fictional name of the boy’s Spanish hometown ending each verse. Pennington unhesitatingly tops it off with informing the audience he is moving to Wales, to a town called Llanfairwllgwyngyllgogerychwrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. And then there is Kristin Chenoweth’s autobiographic episode in “The Girl in 14G” (Tesori, Scanlan, 2001), telling of the non-stop music practice emanating from her neighbours’ apartments when she first moved to New York. In her animated presentation of the song, Pennington skilfully changed from imitating the ‘cellist, an opera singer and a jazz singer as she sang fragments of “Tristan und Isolde”, Mozart’s “Queen of the Night” aria and “Swan Lake”.

A “natural” on stage, her clean, flexible voice, polished performance and marvellous wit make Jerusalem-born singer/actress and composer Maya Pennington (a native English speaker) a first-class show-woman.  A graduate of Composition and Jazz Singing from the Inter-Disciplinary Faculty of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, she spent four years touring the world with the “Voca People” a-cappella ensemble. Her solo appearances include those with the Beer Sheva Sinfonietta, the 2006 Jerusalem Jazz Festival and the 2008 Red Sea Jazz Festival. She currently lives in Tel Aviv, where she sings, writes and teaches singing.

Early in 2014, Pennington approached Guy Frati with the suggestion that they create a show built on comical performance, with an emphasis on complexity and sophistication – lyrical, melodic and subject-wise. That was the genesis of “Guy & Doll”, which has to date had over 20 performances. One of the most memorable was one in the middle of Operation Protective Edge (2014), referred to by Pennington as a “very powerful experience”. With both artists being avid teachers, Pennington and Frati recently held a second intensive two-day summer program consisting of master classes and ensemble work for singers. The two have collaborated with other musician friends – Nir Cohen, Ziv Shalit and Anna Spitz – in a “sister show” on the subject of Jewish artists on Broadway.

A number in which Frati sang and accompanied himself was “Something’s Coming” (Bernstein, Sondheim) from Act 1 of “West Side Story”. In this song, Tony expresses his disillusionment in gang warfare and looks forward to a better future. Frati gives a fine interpretation of the piece - its excitement and anticipation, its different moods, personal expression and its word-painting as he appropriates the accompaniment into energizing the number with jazzy, offbeat rhythms. Pianist, arranger, composer, accompanist and vocal coach working in the forefront of Israeli performance schools, Guy Frati is vastly experienced in ensemble work, vocal instruction and music theory and has acted as arranger and pianist for several leading Israeli orchestras, also producing events at the President’s residence, the Prime Minister’s office and the Jerusalem Cinematheque. He is a conductor of the Ashkelon branch of the international “Hazamir” Choir and has served as director of the Ashkelon Conservatory.  “Guy & Doll” brings together two outstanding artists in high quality musical theatre performance that is stylistically accurate, dedicated, finely detailed and splendidly entertaining.     



Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Israel Chamber Orchestra, hosting the great Georgian pianist Eliso Virsaladze, closes its 2015-2016 concert season with "Feminine Strength"

Pianist Eliso Virsaladze (

The Israel Chamber Orchestra closed its 10th Classical Series with “Feminine Strength”, conducted by the ICO’s musical director Ariel Zuckermann; soloists were pianist Eliso Virsaladze and mezzo-soprano Avital Dery. This writer attended the concert in the Recanati Auditorium of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on July 20th, 2016.

The program opened with Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s Symphony in F-major Wq 183/3, one of the “Hamburg Sinfonias” probably composed in 1773. Here C.P.E.Bach, J.S.Bach’s second (surviving) son, has augmented the string section (and harpsichord - Ethan Schmeisser) with flutes, oboes, horns and bassoon, creating a kind of “sinfonia concertante”.  Zuckermann presented the work in all its idiosyncratic shifts of mood and dynamics, rhythmic twists and unexpected solos and duets, in keeping with the composer’s unconventional signature style and the language of the “Sturm und Drang” (the latter influenced by the fact that C.P.E.Bach preferred the company of literati and intellectuals to that of musicians). From the suspenseful first movement, to the mournful, counterpoint-laden Larghetto and ending with the jaunty rondo of the Presto with its comic horn interjections, the ICO gave a crisp, attentive performance of what constituted a fine aperitif to the evening’s musical program.

 We then heard Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A-minor opus 54 with soloist Eliso Virsaladse (b. 1942, Tbilisi, Georgia). With the first movement composed in 1841 as a Fantasie for his new wife Clara, Schumann added the other movements to form the A-minor Piano Concerto in 1845, his only work of that genre, again with Clara in mind. Delighted, Clara wrote in her diary that she was getting a “big bravura piece”. Schumann, however, insisted he was incapable of writing “for the virtuoso”; his writing, therefore, lays emphasis on structural unity and thematic connection. Clara Schumann would go on to premiere the work in Leipzig on New Year’s Day of 1846, with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra conducted by Ferdinand Hiller, to whom the work was dedicated. The work, however, does include some very challenging passagework, but, true to the composer’s intentions, Virsaladse, performing in Israel after a hiatus of 17 years, put the concerto’s virtuositic aspect to the service of its strategically-wrought symphonic structure. In the impulsive, dramatic opening Allegro affettuoso movement, her full-blooded, slightly flexed playing gave the music a spontaneous feel as she both soloed and blended with the orchestra, the wistful oboe theme dominating the movement, with the exchange between piano and clarinet so poignant. Virsaladze then showed the listener through the cadenza with its mix of counterpoint, feisty chords, conflict and Schumannesque musings. Following her poetic, unmannered reading of the lyrical Intermezzo: Andante grazioso, in which she engaged in eloquent dialogue with the orchestra, the Allegro vivace was a kaleidoscope of melodies and ideas, with never a note lost in the profile of each piano utterance. Eliso Virsaladze’s playing was intelligent and balanced, but also rich in inspiration, warmth, good taste and colour. One of today’s greatest pianists, Sviatoslav Richter has referred to Professor Virsaladze, who today teaches at the Moscow Conservatory and in Florence, as “an unforgettable Schumannist…Can one imagine a more beautiful Schumann?”

Josef Bardanashvili (b.1948, Balumi, Georgia) immigrated to Israel in 1995. The recipient of many prizes and awards, his oeuvre consists of more than 80 works, including four operas, music for dance, symphonies and concertos, vocal music, music for solo instruments, also music for 45 films and for 55 theatre pieces. “Yearning” for female voice and orchestra (1999), based on prayer texts and poetry, is typical of the composer’s candid, spiritual and vehement personal form of expression. It opens with a morning prayer taken from the first tractate of the Talmud:
‘My God-
The soul that You have given me is pure.
You created me. You formed it. You breathed it into me;
You keep my body and soul together.
One day You will take my soul from me…’
Mezzo-soprano Avital Dery lured the listener into the involved, conflicted and challenging world of devotional belief and conviction. In her profound enquiry into the work’s meaning and theatrical dimension, she played out the drama of the soul, addressing the various texts and gestures with dedication and articulacy, alternating their intensity with tenderness, eyeing- and and involving the audience. Dery was a fine choice for the role. Familiar to many concert-goers as a performer of early music, she is a versatile artist with impressive vocal- and expressive command. Bardanashvili’s soundscape is vibrant in timbral colour, offering beauty, imagination and interest, as his compositional style straddles the boundaries between the tonal and the atonal. The characteristic nostalgia of Eastern European Jewish music brings the work to a close. The composer was present at the concert.

If C.P.E.Bach’s F-major Symphony was the evening’s aperitif, Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No.4 in A-minor opus 90 “Italian” was certainly a zesty “chaser”, its freshness and self-assertiveness, inspired by the Italian people, their landscape and visual arts, making it one of the composer’s most popular works. How curious it is that it was performed only twice in Mendelssohn’s lifetime and not published until 1851, four years after his death. Zuckermann and his players conveyed the energy and exhilaration Mendelssohn had found in the southern climate of Italy with a performance that was forthright, joyful and buoyant. The Andante con moto, prompted by the sight of a procession of monks in Rome, “their pious, meditative gait and pious aspect”, in Mendelssohn’s words, was a soupçon of hints, musings and gentle solemnity.   We were entertained by the symphony’s dance-suggestive themes and its clear-cut dances – an old-fashioned minuet, a saltarello –  but no less by the contrapuntal play of the final movement, a reminder of how visual orchestral music is! The Italian Symphony is a celebration of  wind instruments and the ICO did not disappoint. The Israel Chamber Orchestra signed out of its 2015-2016 season with vitality and a sense of well-being.

Israeli conductor Ariel Zuckermann (b.1973, Tel Aviv) made his name as a flautist before moving to the conductor’s podium. He studied flute in Munich with Paul Meisen and András Adorján, later with Alain Marion and Aurèle Nicolet and conducting with Jorma Panula (Royal Music Academy, Stokholm) and Bruno Weil (Musikhochschule, Munich).  Completing the Georgian thread running throughout this concert, Maestro Zuckermann was appointed music director of the renowned Georgian Chamber Orchestra in 2007. One of the most sought-after conductors of the younger generation,  he has a busy, international career in conducting. He also tours with his own ensemble “Kolsimcha”-The World Quintet,  an ensemble focusing mainly on Klezmer music. Maestro Zuckermann took over direction of the Israel Chamber Orchestra in 2015.


Sunday, July 17, 2016

Maestro Shalev Ad-El bids farewell to the Israel Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra with a reconstruction concert - Vienna 8.12.1813

Maestro Shalev Ad-El (

The Israel Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra closed the 2015-2016 concert season with “Vienna –
8.12.1813”. The concert was directed by Shalev Ad-El, who has been the orchestra’s musical director and principal conductor since 2013. This writer attended the event on July 13th 2016 in the Recanati Auditorium of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

 It was Maestro Ad-El’s idea to reconstruct the concert that took place to an audience of some 400 people at noon on that freezing December day in 1813, in which Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No.7 was premiered. Of an unusually short duration (most concerts were four hours long!) with Beethoven conducting with a baton (he was one of the first to do so) the gala concert was hailed as a great success, but not just owing to Symphony No.7; it was repeated twice in the following weeks, with the Allegretto of the 7th Symphony encored at each performance. The event was held as a benefit affair for wounded Austrian and Bavarian soldiers, its celebratory mood boosted by the fact that Napoleon’s conquest of Europe had run aground. In his lively account of the event, Shalev Ad-El mentioned some of the musical who’s who of Vienna joining the 125 players of the orchestra, those including Hummel (violin), Spohr (violin), Meyerbeer (bass drum) and Moscheles, (drum). Beethoven’s teacher Salieri served as a kind-of assistant conductor. Coming from further afield were two Italians - the double bass virtuoso Domenico Dragonetti and the great guitarist Mauro Giuliani (Giuliani played the ‘cello in the performance). The orchestra was led by Beethoven’s friend and teacher Ignaz Schuppanzigh. At the Tel Aviv concert, the players were seated as they would have been in Beethoven’s time, with the violin sections seated at the front of the stage on either side and facing each other in order to engage in dialogue. Opening the concert with a symphony was also typical of programming at Beethoven’s time.

Conducting without the score, Shalev Ad-El gave an invigorating reading of Beethoven’s Symphony No.7 in A-major opus 92, from the majestic opening movement, also highlighting delicate moments and Viennese melodiousness. The solemn beauty of the Allegretto variations, with their dirge-like theme and haunting insistent rhythm, were followed by buoyant playing of the Presto movement, its dynamic contrasts, echo- and pastoral effects well furnished with Beethovenian surprises and scoring jokes.  In all the exuberance and suspense of the final Allegro con brio, Ad-El and his team addressed each musical gesture. Much fine wind-playing throughout added to the pleasure of a performance that, in the work’s gusto, never surrendered to thick, inarticulate orchestral textures.

 In the intermission, the Tel Aviv Museum’s cafeteria was temporarily transformed into a Viennese “Kaffeehaus”, with concert-goers enjoying cakes baked to the original Viennese recipes of 200 years ago. No Viennese café would be complete without a jolly medley of light, sentimental classical pieces played live; these were provided by two of the NKO’s violinists, with Ad-El on the accordion!

Back in the auditorium, we heard the Overture to Giacomo Meyerbeer’s “Alimelek” oder “Die Beiden Kalifen” (Elimelech” or “The Two Caliphs”), also known as “Wirth und Gast” (Host and Guest) a Lustspiel mit Gesang (comedy with singing) based on an episode from the “Thousand and One Nights”, the work's storyline that of a rich young merchant who becomes the caliph of Baghdad for a day. The overture to the composer’s second opera (written in the so-called “oriental” or “Turkish” style popular in Germany at the time), it makes for a fine concert piece, combining the 21-year-old Meyerbeer’s contrapuntal skills, his taste in Italienate colouring and sense of drama. Abundantly scored with doubled woodwind- and tripled percussion sections, Ad-El and his players gave the piece a richly melodious and hearty rendering.

 Then to Beethoven’s “tenth symphony” – “Wellington’s Victory” or “The Battle at Vittoria”, opus 91, a work of doubtful quality, whose composition was encouraged by Beethoven’s friend Johann Nepomuk Maelzel, a musician and inventor, mostly known today for patenting the metronome in 1817. Other of Maelzel’s inventions were the hearing trumpet used by Beethoven, the “mechanical trumpeter” and the “panharmonicon”. (Maelzel was also a faker. His “Great Chess Automaton”, discovered to have been operated by a man, was a total hoax.) The panharmonicon was a mechanical organ that combined all instruments of a military band of the time. Each work was on a separate revolving cylinder. Maelzel was keen to add a Beethoven work to its repertoire of battle music. It seems that the news of the Duke of Wellington’s victory at Vittoria in Spain on June 21st 1813 had inspired Maelzel to approach Beethoven to write the work to cater to English taste. Beethoven, however, ended up scoring the work for so many instruments that Maelzel could not build a contraption large enough to perform it and the panharmonicon, merely a curiosity, sank into oblivion. Maelzel and Beethoven had a falling-out over ownership rights to the work, with which their financial collaborations went sour; but, for Beethoven, who probably considered the work an entertainment piece for the Viennese, it had turned out lucrative all the same. It was published in several versions, including one for two pianos and offstage cannons!  “Wellington’s Victory” calls for the usual string section, two flutes, piccolo, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, contrabassoon, four horns, six trumpets, three trombones, timpani and a large percussion section (including muskets and other artillery effects). Instruments located on either side of the stage represented the British on the left and the French, on the right.

 Although a critique in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung referred to “Wellington’s Victory” as “ingenious”, insisting that there was “no work equal to it in the whole realm of tone-painting” and  the Wiener Zeitung saw Beethoven’s Symphony No.7 merely as a “companion piece” to “Wellington’s Victory” (at which Beethoven was most annoyed), this is perhaps the most universally mocked piece of the Beethoven oeuvre (and of the whole 19th century), having been spoken of as “of a calculated popular appeal,” “noisy,” and a “piece of orchestral claptrap”.  What is clear, though, is that it was the product of a commission, written in unabashed appeal to popularity and that it came of a business deal – a crowd-pleaser and not written for posterity.  I think many of us in the audience were curious to hear it.  With the Recanati Auditorium stage accommodating a large orchestra, including extra percussionists enlisted from the Tremolo Ensemble, the conflict of Beethoven’s only “battaglia” piece was played out to the full, its flamboyant use of brass and percussion evoking the work’s martial program. True to Beethoven’s instructions, the percussionists on the bass drums simulating cannon-fire (and possibly thunder) played with spontaneous independence of the music. As to concert-goers around me humming to the strains of “Rule Britannia”, “God Save the King”, the latter becoming a fugue subject (representing England) and “Malbrouk s’en va-t-en guerre” (sounding to us like “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” but representing the French) it was all part of the fun! If hearing Beethoven’s “Wellington’s Victory” is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, this was the way to do it – in a live performance. There was much to see as the NKO’s playing of it brought out the piece’s temperament and contrasts, making for fine entertainment. Maestro Ad-El’s final concert as the Israel Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra’s house conductor was an event to remember.