The Arty Semite

The Fresh Faces of Chamber Music

By Marion Lignana Rosenberg

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The photo of sweet-faced young people on the CD cover does not prepare you for the ferocity of the music making on “Opus 1” (Azica), the debut recording by the Israeli Chamber Project. Founded in 2008, the ICP as configured for Opus 1 comprises clarinetist Tibi Cziger, cellist Michal Korman, harpist Sivan Magen, pianist Assaff Weisman and violinist Itamar Zorman.

“Opus 1” showcases the group’s wide-ranging musical sympathies. Béla Bartók’s “Contrasts” (a 1938 Benny Goodman commission) finds Cziger dispatching the clarinet part with cool panache while Zorman and Weisman bring Bartók’s bluesy, folksy soundscape to boisterous life. Zorman and Magen lavish playing of surpassing beauty on Camille Saint-Saën’s 1907 “Fantaisie” for violin and harp, and the full ensemble shines in Bohuslav Martinů’s “Chamber Music No. 1,” most of all in the glowing, enigmatic Andante.

As performed by Korman and Magen, Claude Debussy’s 1915 Sonata for Cello and Piano (arranged for cello and harp) is all moonbeams and Gallic suavity. The album’s highlight is an ICP commission: “Night Horses” by Matan Porat, whose music has been played in concert and on a recent CD by David Greilsammer. Inspired by one of Jorge Luis Borges’s lectures, “Night Horses” is a prickly, slithering fever-dream that leaves you longing to hear more from both Porat and the ICP.

The ICP holds its fall gala on October 16 in New York, where it will also perform at the America-Israel Cultural Foundation’s gala on October 28. The ICP’s 2012-13 schedule includes concerts in New York, Massachusetts, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, and Israel, with additional dates to be added.

Assaff Weisman and Tibi Cziger, the ICP’s executive and artistic directors, respectively, answered a few questions by e-mail.

Marion Lignana Rosenberg: There are so many fine chamber ensembles. What does the ICP offer that is unique?

Assaff Weisman: First, because it is a dynamic ensemble (as opposed to, say, a fixed string quartet or piano trio) comprising strings, winds, piano and harp, the ICP presents programs featuring a wide range of instrumental combinations. Second is our three-part mission: to reach out to new audiences by putting on concerts in places where live chamber music is rare or nonexistent; to engage in educational outreach, and to support the next generation of composers by commissioning new works. Finally, there is also a very special dynamic stemming from our shared cultural background. Some of us have known each another since childhood, and I think that makes for the unique cohesiveness of our ensemble.

All of the ICP members also have active solo careers. How hard is it to make the mental shift from soloist to chamber musician?

Weisman:There is a mental switch that happens, but I find it refreshing and energizing. There is nothing quite like the give-and-take that occurs when making music in a small ensemble: the intense listening, anticipating what the person sitting beside you will do next, reacting to it in the blink of an eye. It’s the thrill of making music this way.

Your CD program notes mention classes and concerts in areas where there are few concerts and opportunities to learn music. What does teaching give you as working musicians?

Weisman: There is great value for us in articulating our ideas about music to others. It forces us to crystallize our own thinking and gain a better understanding of our process. We have partnered with many schools across Israel and have returned to some year after year: from Shfaram, an Arab town in the north of Israel, to Ma’alot, a mixed Arab and Jewish city, and all the way to Mitzpe Ramon in the Negev Desert, where we held an educational event for children in a jazz club. We offer private lessons and masterclasses for several hours, sometimes performing in a larger ensemble with the students, and then concluding the day with our own concert for the students and the general public. This allows the students to see us as teachers, colleagues, and performers within a short time span. It is an incredibly rewarding experience for us.

”Opus 1” includes “Night Horses,” a stunning piece by Matan Porat. Tibi, what can you tell us about Mordecai Seter, Gilad Cohen and Tzvi Avni, whose works are on ICP’s 2012–13 concert schedule?

Tibi Cziger: Gilad Cohen’s “Trio for a Spry Clarinet, Weeping Cello, and Ruminating Harp” (2010) draws on a wide array of styles, from rock to folk to more traditional concert music. Along with supporting the next generation of Israeli composers, we also want to keep alive the works of more established figures. Moredecai Seter (1916-1994) was one of founders of the Israeli school of composition. His style combined elements of modern Western music with Jewish liturgical music. Tzvi Avni (b. 1927) was a student of Seter’s and is one of Israel’s most celebrated living composers. We will perform his string trio “Credo” as part of our spring concert tour.

Do you plan to commission music by women composers?

Cziger:We have commissioned two works from Israeli women so far: Aviya Kopelman wrote “Phantom of the Fugue” for clarinet and strings in 2009, and the “Dell’Arte Miniatures” by Ronnie Reshef will receive their premiere in the near future.

Where do you see the ICP five or 10 years from now?

Weisman: Our aim is to expand our activities. If the past five years have taught us anything, it is that there is a place and a need for the work we do. We look forward to bringing the Israeli Chamber Project before new audiences across the world.

Watch the Israeli Chamber Project play ‘Night Horses’ by Matan Porat:


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