Monday, April 30, 2012
Carl Gottlieb Reissiger
Carl Gottlieb Reissiger (1798-1859) was a successful German composer, conductor and teacher of the first half of the 19th century. His father – composer, organist and cantor of Belzig – was his first teacher; he taught the boy piano and violin. By age ten, Carl Gottlieb was performing publicly, giving piano recitals and accompanying hymn-singing at the organ. He began theological studies at Leipzig University, but left for Vienna to study music theory with Salieri, moving to Munich to study composition and singing with Peter von Winter. From the height of his career to his death, he was, as Weber’s successor, Hofkapellmeister (court conductor) of theatre and opera in Dresden and director of music for the Catholic Hofkirche. He was also busy as a coach and pianist at Dresden’s society soirées. His output numbers more than 200 works of various genres – some eighty piano solos, eighty collections of songs or duets, nine masses and smaller sacred works, five works for clarinet, 27 piano trios, seven piano quartets and three piano quintets. Today, he seems best known as an opera composer, although he wrote only eight. Well-known during his lifetime, much of his oeuvre, in particular his sacred music, has fallen into oblivion.
The aim of the Reissiger Society, founded in Belzig in 2003 by church musician Thea Labes and other admirers of Reissiger’s music, is to enable the study and performance of the composer’s works. In her quest to find more of the composer’s church pieces, Thea Labes, who happened to live in the house in Bad Belzig where Reissiger was born, unexpectedly came across the score of Reissiger’s only oratorio “David”. She and colleagues spent four years copying out the 400 pages of the original manuscript by hand, this eventually leading to the first performance of the work 150 years after its composition. Thea Labes dreamed of having the work performed in Jerusalem, but, unfortunately, did not live to see her dream fulfilled. It was she who established the David Choir in 1995, taking its name from Reissiger’s oratorio. The choir’s 50-or-so members are amateur singers from the Belzig region of Germany. Winfried Kuntz took over direction of the choir following Labes’ death. Maestro Kuntz performs widely as an organist and takes a special interest in the teaching of young organists in order to be sure that the many historical organs in Brandenburg will continue to be played.
Carl Gottlieb Reissiger’s oratorio “David” had its first performance outside of Germany April 28th 2012 at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem’s Old City. Under the baton of Winfried Kuntz, the David Choir and soloists from Germany were joined by players of the Israel Camerata Jerusalem. The text tells the story of David, the young shepherd, who, on becoming a great king, abuses his power, eventually finding forgiveness in repentance. The oratorio’s prophecy is that the Messiah will emerge from David’s lineage. A textual analysis of the oratorio has revealed that Bible texts were altered to form a tribute to the king of Saxony. The work is composed in a lush Romantic style, its hearmonically rich choral- and orchestral textures,sweeping melodies and forthright sound making for satisfying listening. The David Choir produced a harmonious and full choral sound, set off by well-rounded (and occasionally too loud) playing of the Israel Camerata Jerusalem’s instrumentalists. The soloists – soprano Friederike Holzhausen, contralto Andrea Pitt, tenors Georg Führer and Patrick Grahl and bass baritone Stefan Puppe - were especially competent, their musicality adding much pleasure to the performance. Under Kuntz’ direction, the pace of the music never lagged. The event drew a large audience, curious to hear Reissiger’s recently rediscovered oratorio “David”. Will Carl Gottlieb Reissiger’s “David” become a standard work of oratorio repertoire to be performed by other choirs? This remains to be seen.
Saturday, April 28, 2012
The Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra’s 2012 Special Independence Day Celebration concert (April 25th) in the Henry Crown Auditorium of the Jerusalem Theatre was conducted by Gil Shohat. The soloists were duo pianists Sivan Silver and Gil Garburg.
The program began with Felix Mendelssohn’s (1809-1847) Concerto for Two Pianos in E major. An early work – the composer was 14 years old when he wrote it – the E major concerto was Mendelssohn’s first effort at writing for a larger orchestra - including double winds, brass and percussion. It was initially performed at one of the musicales at the Mendelssohn family home in Berlin, with Felix and his sister Fanny as soloists. However, Mendelssohn then placed this concerto and the other four early concertos aside, considering them immature works; he went back to revising the E major concerto - mostly the first movement - in the early 1830s, but, following major changes to thematic material, solo- and tutti sections, the composer remained unhappy with the work and abandoned it, never performing it again, neither did he publish it. Fortunately, a pianist friend of the family – Ignaz Moscheles - had made a copy of the original in 1824 and seems to have had it performed by two of his students in 1860. The work remained in manuscript for over a century, being first published in 1961; now, with both versions in print, one is able to choose which to perform and also observe Mendelssohn’s compositional dilemmas.
The E major Concerto for Two Pianos sparkles with energy and melodic interest, as well as with a sense of freshness, joy and well-being. Silver and Garburg addressed its finest details, their passagework was articulate and unmannered, their crystal-clear lines free of vaporous overpedalling. From the opening notes of the Allegro vivace movement, they drew the audience’s attention to interaction between both pianos, balancing imitation of gestures with individual utterance. In the tranquil Adagio non troppo, both meditative and majestic, the pianists emphasized the greater contrast between their solo roles, allowing the music to unfold naturally, the JSO woodwind section adding color and charm to the movement. Moving straight into the Allegro movement, small whimsical gestures, dynamic variety and virtuosic playing provided hearty enjoyment rather than showy acrobatics. Orchestra and soloists joined with lightness of texture and collaborated well to express Mendelssohn’s youthful joie-de-vivre.
We then heard Gil Shohat’s Concerto for Piano for Four Hands, with Sivan Silver and Gil Garburg at the piano. In his program notes, Shohat mentions the fact that there are very few concertos for two players at one piano and that these existing works for four hands (one piano) demand less virtuosity than works for two pianos. Ready to prove otherwise, Maestro Shohat was thrilled when Silver and Garburg requested such a work from him, a work in which “both pairs of hands” would “require ceaseless independent virtuosity”. Shohat invites the piano to set the scene, the Andante spirituale opening in an arpeggiated autumnal, thoughtful and slightly jazzy-tinted vein, taking the listener far away into the realm of sound- and color fantasy. The movement is a marvelous combination of the mesmerizing piano part, velvety orchestration and extra color added by various instrumental solos. The Scherzo is a true scherzo in character. Its first section, the piano part intensive in rhythm and texture, is seasoned with a colorful use of percussion, humorous twists and whimsical orchestral comments. In the movement’s middle section – marked larghetto classico - Shohat pays homage to the Classical style. The movement ends on an insistent major chord. The composer has dedicated the concerto’s final movement – Allegro Barbaro – to Béla Bartók. In keeping with this, it includes energetic,changing eastern European rhythms. Weighty, uncompromising orchestral chords (à la “Rite of Spring”) are heard as is an appealing, bitter-sweet folk theme. Once again, Silver and Garburg take on board the complexities of the score; their understanding and handling of the work’s challenges are exemplary, their playing never lacking elegance or good taste. And Shohat’s orchestra has a field day: players’ individual moments make for total involvement. Referring to the work’s conclusion as “a roar, with unabashed enthusiasm, which I make no attempt at hiding”, the composer leaves his audience fulfilled and well entertained. Gil Shohat (b.1973, Israel) is, himself, a pianist, but, as a conductor and composer, one also senses his fascination with the potential of the symphony orchestra. Shohat writes an interesting score, bristling with exhilaration and color; his conducting of it was articulate, precise and joyful.
The concert ended with Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky’s (1840-1893) Symphony no.4 in F minor opus 36. Written between 1877 and 1878, the most turbulent year of his life, the year he was closely associated with two women – his ex-student Antonina Miliukhova, infatuated with him and whom he married, and his patron and confidante, the wealthy widow Nadezhda von Meck (whom he never met. He and von Meck did, however, exchange over 1000 letters). With the disastrous and traumatic marriage to Antonina short-lived, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no.4 was dedicated to von Meck, who supported him financially from age 38 to 49. The subject of the Symphony is Fate and this atmosphere pervades almost every bar of the work. The composer wrote much about this, reflecting his state of mind:
…‘And so all life is an unbroken alternation of harsh reality with swiftly passing dreams and visions of happiness…Drift upon that sea until it engulfs and submerges you in its depths…’
The impressive Fate fanfare stated by the brass at the outset of the work establishes the atmosphere dominant throughout. Shohat stages the work in all its gestures, whether dramatic or intimate and vulnerable and whether one chooses to see it as a program work or not. The second movement – Andantino in modo di canzone – with its touching oboe opening and sweeping melodies was nostalgic, delicate and thought-provoking. Shohat’s reading of the unique Scherzo, emphasizing how expressive and carefully shaped long pizzicato passages can be, did not detract from its urgent, fleeting and somewhat disquieting disposition. The composer himself referred to its setting as comprising ‘disparate images…having nothing to do with reality…strange, wild and disjointed.’ The final movement, once again strong in orchestral color, intensity and message, with the melody of the Russian song “In the Field Stood a Birch Tree” heard, returns to the work’s opening motif. Shohat’s taste in orchestration replete with textural and emotional content produced a performance that was gripping and uncompromising. The evening’s program was enjoyed by those of us whose choice it was to issue in Israel's Independence Day with fine orchestral fare and excellent performance by local artists.
Monday, April 23, 2012
Pianist Daniel Gortler
Concert no.8 of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra IBA’s Classical Series took place April 19th 2012 – Holocaust Remembrance Day - in the Henry Crown Auditorium of the Jerusalem Theatre. Guy Feder was conductor, with pianist Daniel Gortler as soloist.
The concert opened with Franz Josef Haydn’s (1732-1809) Symphony no. 26 in D minor, Hob.1:26, “Lamentatione”. Apparently written in 1768, it is scored for the typically Esterhazy orchestral forces noted for pairs of oboes and French horns, bassoon, strings and harpsichord. The possibly of performing it in conjunction with church services at Easter would explain its somber moments and Haydn’s use of plainsong as melodic material. Charged with the emotion and mannerisms of the “Sturm und Drang” (Storm and Stress) movement, the symphony belongs to Haydn’s middle period. In the JSO’s performance of it, the harpsichord was mostly inaudible; the orchestral sound, however, was fresh and direct, not always shaped, but with some beautiful wind-playing. Concertmaster Jenny Hünigen’s solo violin “comments”, sometimes joined by those of the viola, added charm to the trio of the Minuet (final movement!)
Johannes Brahms’ (1833-1897) Concerto no.2 for Piano in B flat major, opus 83, following twenty years after his first piano concerto, was dedicated to one of his piano teachers – Eduard Marxsen. It was premiered in 1881, with Brahms himself at the piano. The concerto, in Brahms’ hands, had now not only expanded into a four-movement form, but also comprised lengthy movements. Israeli pianist and teacher Daniel Gortler took on board the piece’s challenges, reading deeply into its text, addressing its power, drama and contrasts, as well as its lyricism. He allowed the piano to intertwine with the orchestra, using the work’s virtuosity to match the orchestra’s power and textures rather than as a means to showy playing; and he took part in instrumental dialogue in all its guises, sharing in Brahms’ delectable instrumental colors – marvelous use of horn, ‘cello, etc. Feder, Gortler and the orchestra collaborated to produce a constantly changing collage, one gesture flowing into another. Gortler flexed and shaped the cadenza of the third movement – Andante – weaving its course pensively and with spontaneity. Known for his sensitive performance of Romantic piano pieces, in particular for his profound study of the music of Schumann, Gortler chose to play one of Schumann’s “Études Symphoniques” as an encore, delighting the audience with filigree melodic lines and a glimpse into real Schumann sensibility.
Honoring the memory of those who suffered and those who perished in the Holocaust, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra performed Viktor Ullmann’s Symphony no.2 in D major (arr. Bernhard Wulff). In recent years, there has been much interest in this composer’s music. Viktor Ullmann (1898-1944), born in Bohemia was a composition student of Arnold Schönberg, later becoming Alexander von Zemlinsky’s assistant at the German Theatre in Prague. One senses the influence of both the above-mentioned composers in his style, a style which also used a very free tonal language, polytonality and some atonality. Ullmann’s anthropsophical beliefs took him to Stuttgart but the rise of the Third Reich forced him to move back to Prague in 1933. On being sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp, he left all his scores behind, choosing to take with him blank music paper. He was an important musical voice there, one of Theresienstadt’s most gifted composers. Paradoxically, his internment became a highly prolific period for him, in which he composed, conducted, wrote and taught, working together with Pavel Haas and Hans Krasa in intensive musical activity and producing concerts, the Nazis showcasing Theresienstadt as a “model ghetto” in an effort to deceive International Red Cross inspectors and the world. (All the same, Ullmann’s music had come under the category of “degenerate music” according to the German authorities; this theory was based on the writings of physicians who claimed that these composers must be mentally or physically sick to write such music). After over two years on Theresienstadt, Ullmann was transferred to Auschwitz, perishing in the gas chambers within two days of arriving there. Before leaving for the extermination camp, he entrusted all his scores to a friend. These scores have all survived, whereas earlier scores have not. Ullmann’s Piano Sonatas 5 and 7 bear many indications of plans for orchestration, suggesting that they might have even started out as Symphony numbers 1 and 2; the composer then probably chose the smaller scoring, realizing that it might be impossible to achieve a good symphonic performance in the ghetto. The two works have been orchestrated by pianist, percussionist, conductor and composer Bernhard Wullf (b.1948, Germany).
Piano Sonata no.7 was Ullmann’s last composition prior to being deported to Auschwitz. A work in five movements, Wullf’s scoring includes support by the harpsichord. Here Wullf takes his cue for this from instrumentation in Ullmann’s opera “Der Kaisar von Atlantis” (The Emperor of Atlantis) opus 49, composed in Theresienstadt (whose premiere cancelled by camp authorities, who realized the main character represented Hitler in a thinly disguised form). The stage of the Henry Crown Auditorium was now crowded with the many players taking part in the work. The first movement – Allegro – is optimistic and whimsical, its many fragments contrasted. The woodwinds were prominently scored, but there was also a variety of solo passages. The second movement – Alla Marcia, ben misurato – begins with a Mahler-type march. Feder’s reading of it infuses cynical, humoristic and nostalgic gestures proceeding until interrupted by dark, foreboding trumpet sounds quoting a theme from Ullmann’s 1935 opera “The Fall of the Antichrist”, a clear message symbolizing Hitler’s presence in Europe. Sweeping, legato string melodies characterize the Adagio ma non tanto movement, its cantabile soundscape balancing precariously on the edge of tonality. Feder strikes a nice balance between his woodwind section, the brass and solo violin as he communicates the underlying sadness of this third movement. The Scherzo: Allegretto grazioso is a dancelike movement of feather-light textures; graced by small motifs, numerous small solos and complex rhythms, it was, indeed, a feast of orchestral color. The fifth movement “Variation and Fugue on a Hebrew Folk Tune” is drastically different to the four preceding movements. The variation theme is Yehuda Sharett’s arrangement of a poem by the poetess Rachel; the movement quotes from several musical sources, including Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde”, a Protestant chorale by Crüger and the Slovak national anthem. The lyrical and nostalgically Jewish theme and variations were performed by the JSO with delicacy and sensitiveness, Wulff’s use of clarinet a clear association with Jewish (Klezmer) music. The movement ends with a triumphant fugue. It is thought that Ullmann’s parents were born Jewish but converted to Catholicism prior to his birth. Ullmann himself had little interest or background in Judaism. Even so, he perished as a Jew in Auschwitz. A fitting end to Holocaust Remembrance Day, Viktor Ullmann’s Symphony no.2 represents the resilience of the human spirit.
Sunday, April 22, 2012
Dimitri Platanias (Rigoletto) and Ekaterina Siurina (Gilda)
Giuseppe Verdi’s opera “Rigoletto” was broadcast live to many parts of the world from the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden UK, on April 17th 2012. Israelis were able to view the performance in cinemas in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa. The opera was directed by David McVicar, with John Eliot Gardiner conducting the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House. This writer attended the screening at the Rav Chen Cinema, Jerusalem.
The creating of Giuseppe Verdi’s mid-career opera “Rigoletto” (1851) was fraught with obstacles. Based on Victor Hugo’s verse melodrama “Le Roi s’amuse” (The King is Entertained) – which was closed down by the authorities in 1832 in Paris after its opening night – its characters and plot were what appealed to the composer upon his receiving a commission to write an opera for the Venice Teatro La Fenice early in 1851. Aware of the fact that he would come up against the censors (Hugo’s play focused on the womanizing French monarch Francis I), Verdi’s librettist Maria Piave was determined to make changes that would soften the censors’ hearts: the story’s setting was consequently moved from Paris to Mantua (the Italian city known for its more relaxed moral code), Francis I became the Duke of Mantua, “Blanche” became “Gilda”, “Triboulet/Triboletto” became “Rigoletto”, and so on. Vastly different from the lieto fine (happy ending) of 18th century drama, the focus was now on the darker side of existence. Alongside the grotesque and ugly, Verdi, the humanist, was interested to present characters with realistic failings and a wide range of emotions in an opera characterized by duality. In 1850, Verdi wrote “A hunchback who sings? Why not?…To me there is something really fine in representing on stage this character outwardly so ugly and ridiculous, inwardly so impassioned and full of love”.
We begin our evening’s viewing as people are taking their seats in the Royal Opera House and the orchestra is tuning up. A well-spoken “call boy” (this term stems from Shakespearian times) enunciating in the finest British English, alerts soloists, each by name, to be ready to appear on stage. Cameras take us down into the orchestra pit now and then during the evening, enabling viewers to see the players, Maestro Gardiner and to even get a clear glimpse of the occasional page of the opera score. As the curtain rises, following the foreboding message of the overture, we are presented with a scene that could only be described as a drunken orgy. McVicar makes it quite clear that this court, the social environment of the opera, is a place of debauchery and depravity. The role of the hunchback court buffoon Rigoletto is played by Greek baritone Dimitri Platanias, making his Covent Garden debut. His huge voice and all-encompassing stage presence are matched by his intensity, total involvement, vitality and facial expression. At each stage of the plot, one reads the emotion of the moment in his eyes. Those eyes burst into flame as he turns on the courtiers, screaming at them, calling them “you evil damned race”, with the orchestra reflecting his gestures with incredible energy and violence. And then he is so different – so tender - when enquiring about his daughter. The court jester turns out to have an enormously noble and dignified side to him. Platanias’ performance was moving and real.
Rigoletto’s daughter Gilda was portrayed by Russian soprano Ekaterina Siurina; her performance displayed ease and confidence, effortless singing of piano passages, her creamy voice and girlish charm well suited to the role of the inexperienced Gilda, the naive prisoner of her dwelling and her dreams. Young Italian Vittorio Grigolo, formerly a soloist in the Sistine Chapel, now a tenor soloist at La Scala, Milan, played the handsome, suave and destructive Duke of Mantua. Grigolo spoke of really loving the complex role of the fearless duke (a character everyone loves to hate), referring to it as one of the most difficult tenor parts in opera; his energy and mellifluous vocal color, his flexibility, good looks and charisma, however, make it smooth sailing for him; and those waiting to hear his nonchalant singing of “La donna è mobile” (Woman is fickle) were not disappointed. British Bass Matthew Rose as Sparafucile (a professional assassin) came across as suitably wicked, his singing articulate and sonorous.
John Eliot Gardiner spoke of the importance of balancing the energy coming from the orchestra and the need to infuse the singers with that energy. He referred to the constant “ping-pong” of the orchestra taking the foreground and then retreating to give stage to the singers. He calls “Rigoletto” an opera that is multi-layered in its unpredictable transitions between comic and tragic elements. And, indeed, the orchestra’s playing was delightful and uplifting, boasting delicacy, elegance and good taste.
Discussing why “Rigoletto” remains so popular, associate- and movement director Leah Hausman spoke of “Rigoletto” as an opera centering on the theme of evil, adding that we are all fascinated by evil. On the other hand, the opera takes the audience through the plot by way of the most wonderful music. With such strong personalities on stage, Michael Vale keeps the stage design to a gloomy minimum. After the colorful (and daring) costumes of the opening festivities, Tanya McCallin’s costumes are mostly in hues as dark as the plot itself. Gilda, pure, naïve and girlish, stands out in contrast like a ray of light in her cream-colored dress, as did the Duke of Mantua, at one stage appearing in bright red.
Despite the fact that the venue was a far cry from the opulence of the Royal Opera House, that the sound was too loud and the fact that the English subtitles began only after intermission, the performance was, indeed, a treat and a truly riveting experience for opera lovers. The large cinema screen offers a highly visible, larger-than-life picture. Short conversations with soloists, conductor and associate director gave insight into the making of such a performance.
Monday, April 9, 2012
The fourth concert of the Israel Contemporary Players’ 2011-2012 Discoveries Series took place at the Jerusalem Music Centre April 1st 2012. The concert was directed by Norwegian conductor Christian Eggen (b.1957). Eggen made his debut as a solo pianist (classical and jazz) in 1973. His international career as a conductor was launched at the 1990 ISCM World Music Days in Oslo. Eggen also composes, mostly for theatre and television. Much in demand today as a conductor, he is well known for his in-depth understanding of modern music.
The program opened with Bent Sørensen’s work “The Deserted Churchyards”. Born in 1958, Sørensen is considered the leading Danish composer of his generation. Scored for violin, ‘cello, flute, clarinet, piano and percussion, the title “The Deserted Churchyards” (1990) refers to several churchyards along the western coast of northern Jutland, in locations that were formerly inland, now close to eroding beaches being ravaged by the sea. Not a program work, the composer refers to its title as “only an association”. It is, however, a delicate collage using light and dark “colors”, a fascinating use of single and mixed timbres depicting a strange, grey, moody world. The piece itself is economical and effective; the ICP performance was one of precision and lucidity.
In 1938, violinist József Szigeti approached Béla Bartók, requesting him to compose a duo for violin and clarinet with piano accompaniment, a work consisting of two contrasting movements, with a cadenza for each solo instrument. The work - “Contrasts” – was, however, officially commissioned by American jazz clarinetist Benny Goodman. One wonders if Goodman was not expecting a jazzy little concert piece; the work Bartok came up with was a high quality, three-movement chamber work whose fabric is made of Hungarian- and Rumanian folk music, as well as meters suggesting Bulgarian and Greek music . Originally titled “Rhapsody”, it (in its original form consisting of the two outer movements) was premiered at Carnegie Hall in 1939, performed by Szigeti, Goodman and pianist Endre Petri. In 1940, it was performed at Carnegie Hall once again, but, this time, as “Contrasts”, in its three-movement form and played by Szigeti, Goodman and Bartok himself. The movements are titled “Verbunkos” (Recruiting Dance, a dance used from about 1780-1849, when the Austro-Hungarian government was encouraging conscription), “Pihenö” (Relaxation) and “Sebes” (Fast Dance). We heard “Contrasts” played by Yael Barolsky (violin), Gilad Harel (clarinet) and Ofra Yitzhaki (piano). The artists gave an articulate, well-defined reading of the work, from the mildly jazz-tinted whimsical and nostalgic opening movement, through the magical middle movement with its nocturnal nature scene in which violin and clarinet play together, with comments by the piano, to the final wickedly humorous third movement with its complex rhythmic figures. Bartok’s fine writing was highlighted throughout by the players; the score calls for the clarinetist to change from A-flat clarinet to B-flat clarinet and back again and for the violin to tune differently (scordatura) in the final movement, the latter suggesting folk music of a rougher idiom. An outstanding performance.
Luca Lombardi’s (b.1945, Rome) education and professional life straddle both Germany and Italy, placing him in the most divergent of cultures. A student of Stockhausen, he wrote a dissertation on Hanns Eisler; he lived, studied and was performed in both Germanys, standing up for his political and aesthetic ideals. He studied piano and composition in Rome, Florence, Vienna, Cologne and Berlin. His PhD from Rome University is in German language and literature. From 1973 to 1993, he taught composition at the conservatories of Pesaro and Milan. His oeuvre includes opera, orchestral music, chamber- and solo music. With a passion for the music of Stravinsky and Bartók, Lombardi had deep contact with the avant-garde movement. In 1982, he explained the existence of different styles in his works through the concepts of “ex-clusive” (the possibility of creating complex forms from greatly reduced materials) and “inclusive” (the will to include multiple musical “behaviours”). In the 1970s Lombardi was composing for electronic instruments, but meantime has returned to more conventional scoring, making much use of the flute as of the late 1990s: this came about from his having come across some excellent flautists, but the composer also sees the flute as “close to the sound of nature…at the very origin of everything – of life itself”. Today Luca Lombardi divides his time between Lago Albano (near Rome) and Jaffa (Israel).
“Infra” for 11 instruments refers to ‘depth’ (as in infrastructure), an association referred to by the composer as activity below the earth’s surface or in our own sub-conscious. The work was composed in 1997 in Italy, where the composer’s house looks out onto Lake Albano, a small volcanic crater lake; he uses a scale he constructed as the result of his encounter with Jewish music. The work opens with an uncompromising combination of low, (sometimes buzzing) sounds, the basis of the work, to which the composer returns again and again. Solo instruments introduce new tints – high ‘cello sounds, nostalgic chimes, a drum solo… But the lion’s share of solo-playing is scored, not unexpectedly, for the flute. The several flute solo sections were handled superbly by Dafna Yitzhaki, who literally breathed meaning into the large variety of effects and gestures, some breathy and distant, others introducing a flow of ideas like distant and disturbing memories. Yitzhaki paces the solos strategically, taking time to give each motif expression; she uses her fantasy to give meaning to each idea, to paint the ideas in eerie hues onto a canvas of haunting silence. The listener who is willing to confront “Infra” is well rewarded. This was the work’s Israeli premiere. Ambassador for Italy in Israel Luigi Mattiolo was present at the concert, as was the composer himself.
The concert concluded with György Ligeti’s (1923-2006) Chamber Concerto for eleven orchestral instruments: piano doubling celesta, harpsichord doubling Hammond organ, flute doubling piccolo, oboe doubling oboe d’amore and cor anglais, clarinet, bass clarinet doubling second clarinet, horn, trombone, two violins, viola, ‘cello and double bass. Melody and motifs do not form the basic fabric of the four movements: each, however, focuses on a specific quality of musical expression. Composed 1969/1970, at a time the composer was exploring micro-polyphony and was emerging as a leading member of the international avant-garde, the Chamber Concerto is a concerto for each of the instruments. The listener becomes aware of elements of melody, counterpoint and harmony, but no less of Ligeti’s textural ideas – clusters in which the notes seem to suddenly take on individual life, moving like insects, muted chord effects, fast repeated, witty, percussive notes (as in movement 3 – Movimento preciso e mecanico) and eerie, trippy screens of sound, the instrumental textures being thread through stereo speakers. And there are also the horrific shrieks and shaking effects, never far away from Ligeti’s soul and drawing-board. A Jew born in Transylvania, he survived the Second World War in a labour camp; his brother and father perished in Auschwitz. Commenting on the emotions shaping his creative utterances, he was quoted as saying “I am permanently scarred; I will be overcome by revenge fantasies to the end of my days”. The Israel Contemporary Players, most of them young artists, took on the challenge of this work with the utmost of competence, giving it a sensitive, finely-detailed reading, their treatment of the text, on all its levels, making for compelling listening.
It was an interesting and inspiring evening of music. The Israel Contemporary Players’ concerts offer high quality programs. Their players are committed to bringing fine performance of modern music to Israeli audiences. The auditorium of the Jerusalem Music Centre is the ideal venue for this music.