The Arty Semite

Brothers in Minimalism Came Together at BAM

By A.J. Goldmann

Photo: Alex Rivas/Twitter

Hiney ma tov u’ma-na’im shevet achim gam yachad.” “How good and how pleasant it is when brothers sit together.” That campfire classic came to mind as I sat in the Gilman Opera House at the Brooklyn Academy of Music earlier this month for the second of three concerts featuring Steve Reich and Philip Glass.

The two pioneering composers were appearing onstage together for the first time in nearly 40 years as part of “Nonesuch Records at BAM,” a series marking the 50th anniversary of the influential label, which ran from September 9 to 28. Nonesuch, whose founding mandate was to produce “fine records at the same price as a trade paperback,” has nurtured and promoted an extraordinarily wide and genre-crossing range of composers and musicians, from George Crumb to the Gipsy Kings, John Zorn to Wilco.

Both Reich and Glass studied composition at Juilliard and honed their musical styles in the downtown New York arts scene of the 1960s. In that symbiotic atmosphere their music, often performed in lofts and clubs, developed along similar paths. The result was what is now known as “minimalism,” a term coined by the composer — and fellow minimalist — Michael Nyman, although neither composer embraces the designation.

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Leonard Bernstein Sculpture Unveiled at Tanglewood

By JTA

(JTA) — A bronze sculpture of Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990), one of the last century’s towering musical figures, was unveiled last week at Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO).

Boston Symphony Orchestra/Twitter

The sculpture, by artist Penelope Jencks, is the second in a series planned depicting Tanglewood’s most iconic music figures, according to a statement issued by by the BSO. The first sculpture, also by Jencks, is of Aaron Copland, Bernstein’s teacher and mentor, who in 1940 recommended the young Bernstein for Serge Koussevitzky’s conducting class at Tanglewood.

Over the next 50 years, Bernstein, who went on to lead the New York Philharmonic, and later conducted around the world, frequently in Israel, became a highly-anticipated presence at the renowned music center, known for its pastoral scenery. “Tanglewood has always been, and will continue to be, the spiritual home of Leonard Bernstein,” said composer and Academy Award winner John Williams, whose donation to the BSO is funding the sculpture series. A courtyard at the music center is named after Bernstein.

The themes of many of Bernstein’s scores, including his Kaddish Symphony and Chichester Psalms, reflected his Jewish roots. The son of Ukrainian Jewish immigrant parents, Bernstein wrote of the early musical influence of Solomon Braslavsky, the European-born and trained vocal director and organist at Boston’s Congregation Mishkan Tefila, the family’s synagogue.

Bernstein, who taught at Brandeis University from 1951 through 1956, launched the school’s Festival of Creative Arts in 1951 and served on the university’s Board of Trustees from 1976 to 81. He performed frequently in Israel, notably during the country’s founding years and during the 1967 Six-Day War. At age 70, Bernstein was named conductor laureate of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

Bernstein was also a prolific composer for Broadway, with the musical “West Side Story” his most famous Broadway show.

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7 Best Classical Concerts of 2013

By Raphael Mostel

Of the many great classical music events this year in New York, seven with some Jewish content particularly stood out:

1: Mozart collaborated on three operas with librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte, who was born to a Jewish family in the Ghetto of Venice. All three are among the greatest ever written, and explore issues of identity and disguise — subjects familiar to Jews throughout history. Jewish Hungarian conductor Ivan Fischer specializes in making familiar music fresh, and he certainly delivered with his brilliant, playful, semi-staged version of “The Marriage of Figaro,” the first of the three, at Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival.

Richard Termine
Iván Fischer leads Mozart’s ‘Le Nozze di Figaro’ at the Rose Theater.

Figaro, which Napoleon called “the first cannon shot of the revolution,” is a comedy about class and entitlement (or the lack thereof). Da Ponte helped Mozart distill the layers of deception in the original Beaumarchais play. For this semi-production, Fischer distilled them further, eliminating sets and scenery entirely, except for costumes hanging overhead. One by one each “disguise” descended, spotlighting each character’s transitions.

The Budapest Festival Orchestra, which Fischer created and is now widely considered one of the finest in the world, in this production mixed authentic 18th century with modern instruments to create a remarkably vital realization of the score. Focused by these spare suggestive choices, one felt as if hearing the work as it must have felt the first time it was played.

The performance easily equaled Fischer’s thrilling bare-bones staging of “Don Giovanni” from a couple of years ago and artistic director Jane Moss is trying to convince Fischer to take on the third of the Mozart / Da Ponte trilogy, “Cosí Fan Tutte.”

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German-Jewish Orchestra With a Twist

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Those looking to discover a new, young classical music orchestra with a Jewish twist should keep an eye out for Orchestra Jakobsplatz Munich, which is performing in North America for the first time this month with concerts in Maine, Kansas, New York and Montreal.

Conductor Daniel Grossmann founded Orchestra Jakobsplatz Munich in 2005 to bring Jewish culture to German audiences without every concert turning into a memorial to the Holocaust. Grossmann, 34, believed it was time to celebrate Jewish composers by playing their music without direct reference to their fate at the hands of the Nazis. He gathered around him a group of similar thinking fellow young musicians to form the orchestra. Almost all of the 35 musicians, one-third of whom are Jewish, live in Germany, though many of them originally come from other countries.

Orchestra Jakobsplatz Munich brings to life works written by Jewish composers killed in the Holocaust and puts them in a broader musical context by pairing them with well-known works of the 20th and 21st centuries. “We don’t speak from the stage about the composers or memorialize them. We just let the music speak for itself,” Grossmann told The Arty Semite.

According to Grossmann, the musicians, most of whom are in their 30s and 40s, like being able to play pieces that are new to them, while at the same time connecting to music they already know and love.

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The Big Schnoz Returns to the Met

By Raphael Mostel

KEN HOWARD/METROPOLITAN OPERA

James Levine is not the only major return at the Metropolitan Opera this week. Coming back for just seven performances between September 28 and October 26 is one of the Met’s most artistically acclaimed productions in recent years, Shostakovich early, wildly inventive, over-the-top adaptation of Gogol’s classic story, “The Nose.”

Picked by every critic as the best of the year when it was first introduced at the Met in 2010, this production by South African artist William Kentridge features giant papier-mâché and projected film versions of Kentridge’s own extravagantly hooked Jewish schnoz, appearing as Gogol’s eponymous proboscis running loose in Moscow. Both the opera and this production are a breathtaking, risk-taking adventure.

Gogol’s story manifestly resists dramatization, so Kentridge faced quite a challenge adapting it for the stage. His antic vision — half-Constructivist and half-Dada — had distractions across every vertical and horizontal inch of the stage. Normally so many disparate gambles would careen apart into shambles, but this was the exceptional success — perhaps because Shostakovich did the same thing with the music. Kentridge’s opening gambit brilliantly shows what he’s up to: During the opera’s introduction, the mysterious shadows of a slowly turning machine appear to be flying apart with pieces reaching the far edges of the stage-screen, only to coalesce suddenly into a stunning line-drawing portrait of Shostakovich. That combination of wildness and precision embodies the whole production.

Shostakovich’s nose-thumbing score (this was composed in 1928 before the Stalinist censorship and terror) bristles with attitude, including wild shifts of technique and tone. Conductor Valery Gergiev is again conducting the first four of the seven performances. Last time he brilliantly managed to get the Met orchestra and singers to ride this roller coaster while hanging on for dear life.

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Gustavo Dudamel May Not Return to Israel

By Forward Staff

Superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel is reconsidering future engagements in Israel after being interrogated by security services upon arriving in and leaving from Ben Gurion airport.

Dudamel, 32, who is music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra, was in Israel to conduct the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra for a week-long series of eight concerts in January. According to Haaretz he may have been singled out at the airport because he is a citizen of Venezuela and he is now considering not returning to Israel until relations have improved between the two countries.

In a statement to Haaretz, the Philharmonic claimed that Dudamel should have been carrying his letter of invitation from the orchestra. In a February 13 blog post, however, music journalist Norman Lebrecht wrote that “We are assured that he was carrying the letter.” What’s more, Lebrecht wrote, “a representative of the orchestra was with him from the moment he left the plane.”

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Master of the Jewish Renaissance

By Marion Lignana Rosenberg

The notion of a European “renaissance” in the 14th through 17th centuries has grown more problematic in recent decades, challenged by historians of many stripes. They include those who emphasize cultural continuities, as well as those who draw attention to stagnation in science and mathematics during that period of supposed reawakening.

Still, nowhere is it more startling to encounter the age’s tropes of rebirth and emergence from darkness than in a Jewish text written at the height of the Catholic Reformation: Rabbi Leone da Modena’s praise for the composer Salamone Rossi and his “Hashirim Asher Lishlomo,” published in Venice in 1622. “After the splendor of the people had been dimmed by the passage of days and years [in the Diaspora],” Rabbi Leone wrote, “he restored their crown to its ancient state as in the days of the Levites on their platforms. He set the words of the Psalms to music that was published, joyous songs before the Ark on Sabbaths, feasts and festivals.”

Rossi’s music will shine forth on November 4 at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in Manhattan when Salon/Sanctuary Concerts presents “From Ghetto to Palazzo: Vocal Works of Salamone Rossi Hebreo.” The concert by Cantor Daniel Singer and the Western Wind Ensemble will feature sacred works in Hebrew and secular madrigals and theater compositions in Italian. Francesco Spagnolo, curator of collections at the University of California at Berkeley’s Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, will give a pre-concert lecture on Rossi and his world.

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Wunderkind Composer Hits the Road

By Marion Lignana Rosenberg

Electric energy pulses through the music of Tel Aviv-born pianist and composer Matan Porat. Earlier this year pianist David Greilsammer and the Israeli Chamber Project released recordings of his works, and he will tour North America this month and next spring with Musicians from Marlboro. He will be at the keyboard for György Ligeti’s 1982 Trio for Violin, Horn, and Piano on October 20 in New York, with subsequent dates in Connecticut, Schenectady, Toronto, Washington, DC, Vermont, Boston, and Philadelphia. In May 2013 he will perform in the rapturous Opus 26 Piano Quartet by Johannes Brahms, to whom Ligeti’s trio pays wry tribute.

Micha Kirshner

Only 30, the Berlin-based Porat is formidably accomplished, with a hefty catalogue of compositions and a concert repertoire ranging from Rameau and Bach to contemporary works. He trained at Tel Aviv’s Rubin Academy of Music and at Juilliard, and his teachers have included Emanuel Krasovsky, Maria João Pires and Murray Perahia. The wise-beyond-his-years depth of Porat’s playing astonishes: his Mozart is dewy and brimming with joy, his Schumann fragile but smoldering, and he burns up the keyboard playing his own variations on Astor Piazzola’s Libertango. (You can sample his pianism at his website.)

Porat has toured with Peter Brook’s A Magic Flute and improvised scores for silent films (Alex Ross of The New Yorker called his playing “an astounding feat of creative musicianship”); he is also a member of the Gropius Ensemble and the Tango Factory. The artists from whom Porat has drawn inspiration — including Jorge Luis Borges, Yehuda Amichai, Franz Kafka, and Roy Lichtenstein — bespeak a sophisticated and wide-ranging intellect. Volatile and intense, his compositions brim with life even when they take listeners to dark places. The author of a blog entitled Off the Blocks best captured this aspect of his art. “We could play Whaam! by Matan Porat at a party,” he wrote. “It would have to be a good party, though.”

Matan Porat answered a few questions by email on the eve of his North American tour.

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Handel, Egypt and the Jews

By Marion Lignana Rosenberg

Wikimedia Commons

The sheer number of oratorios that George Frideric Handel wrote on Jewish subjects, including “Solomon,” “Esther,” “Joseph,” “Saul,” and “Judas Maccabeus,” has long led critics to suppose that he was a stout friend to the Children of Israel, and that London Jews were key patrons of his music. More recent scholarship suggests that Handel’s purported empathy with the Jewish people was invoked to prop up “the sacredness of his works” (too steeped in the profane funk of the theater), and that the enthusiasm of 18th-century Jews for Handel may have been overstated to assuage doubts about Jews as loyal British subjects.

Besides, one need look only to Handel’s borrowings from other composers — once derided as plagiarism or evidence of waning genius — to lay bare the old supersessionist agenda. Take, for instance, “Israel in Egypt” (1739, rev. 1756), recently recorded to splendid effect by Trinity Wall Street (Musica Omnia). Exploring Handel’s extensive use of music from Dionigi Erba’s “Magnificat” in Part III of “Israel in Egypt,” Ellen T. Harris of M.I.T. suggested that Handel had conflated words from Exodus with music that had accompanied Mary’s song of praise in Luke, “deliberately reinterpreting the Old Testament (Moses’ Song) through the New Testament (Mary’s Song), in the manner of a Christian theologian.” So much for Handel as BFF to Am Yisrael.

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The Fresh Faces of Chamber Music

By Marion Lignana Rosenberg

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?

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A Guide To The Fall Classical Music Season

By Benjamin Ivry

Courtesy of Lilyfrancis.net
Lily Francis will be among the musicians playing the Hungarian Jewish composer György Ligeti’s Trio for Violin, Horn, and Piano and Felix Mendelssohn’s String Quintet No. 1

As this fall’s concert season kicks off, Manhattanites in search of classical performances with a dollop of Yiddishkeit will have a delightful array of choices, starting with the genial ghost of beloved Austrian Jewish violinist Fritz Kreisler, which presides over the New York Philharmonic’s Opening Gala. On September 27 at Avery Fisher Hall, Itzhak Perlman will play Kreisler’s “Tambourin Chinois,” which some music snobs might see as an unadventurously musty selection for such a high-profile orchestral outing, but Kreisler’s legion of fans will be ever-grateful.

At the same venue on October 4, 5, and 6, pianist Emanuel Ax will solo in Arnold Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto, with the Philharmonic led by Alan Gilbert. More modernism will be heard on October 20 at the High School of Fashion Industries when a group of Musicians from Marlboro, including violinists Itamar Zorman and Lily Francis and violist Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt play the Hungarian Jewish composer György Ligeti’s Trio for Violin, Horn, and Piano and Felix Mendelssohn’s String Quintet No. 1, among other works.

Schoenberg and Mendelssohn, those disparate spirits, are combined on October 25 at Carnegie Hall when the Israel Philharmonic under the baton of Zubin Mehta performs a highly original program of Schoenberg’s “Kol Nidre” and Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 1, as well as the New York premiere of veteran Israeli composer Noam Sheriff’s “Mechaye Hametim (Revival of the Dead).” Soloists include Yuja Wang and Thomas Hampson.

Also at Carnegie, on October 27, Robert Spano leads the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” and Leonard Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms.” Music lovers pining for a little more Kreisler-like fiddling schmaltz should hurry to Merkin Hall on October 30 to hear virtuoso Paul Huang in his New York debut playing Franz Waxman’s “Carmen Fantasy,” once a staple of the staggeringly able Jascha Heifetz (Kreisler would have balked at its technical demands). As the month rounds off, the benevolent mastery of Emanuel Ax, one of today’s classical musicians most temperamentally in the Kreisler tradition, will again be heard. On November 4 at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater, Ax will perform Schoenberg’s “Six Little Piano Pieces” as well as the chamber version of Mahler’s “Song of the Earth,” arranged in part by Schoenberg, who died before completing it, whereupon this version was eventually made performance-ready in an edition by German composer Rainer Riehn. Any month in which Schoenberg and Kreisler are so prominently honored is a good month for Jewish music.

Listen to Kreisler play his own “Tambourin chinois” accompanied by Franz Rupp here.

See a trio of young Icelandic musicians, Sigrún Eðvaldsdóttir (violin), Stefán Jón Bernharðsson (horn), and Víkingur Heiðar Ólafsson (piano) playing part of Ligeti’s Trio for Violin, Horn and Piano in 2006 here.

Watch Jascha Heifetz playing Franz Waxman’s “Carmen Fantasy” here.

And see Yuja Wang playing Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 1 here

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Israeli Pianist Seeks Missed Connections

By Raphael Mostel

Julien Mignot

Out of curiosity, especially after reading the restless intelligence and enticing spin he recently gave his work on this blog, I went on August 14 to hear young Israeli pianist David Greilsammer make his debut at Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival with a late-night, hour-long performance of wide-ranging repertoire.

What I experienced was interesting and problematic in equal measure. There is no question that Greilsammer is a serious and capable musician, and his desire to draw connections through extremely diverse composers is laudable. But his distortion of these composers’ works gives me pause.

In his brief introduction Greilsammer explained that he would play the entire program without pauses between works, and that the first and last were by living composers. He then went on to recount how “frankly annoying” the composer’s reaction to the first piece on the program had been (Helmut Lachenmann’s “Wiegenmusik,” or “Cradle-Music”), when Greilsammer played it for him. Not knowing the Lachenmann work, I can’t vouch for how true to the composer’s intentions his interpretation is. But I’m familiar with all the others on Greilsammer’s program, except for the U.S. premiere that ended the program.

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And Haydn Said, 'Let There Be Light'

By Marion Lignana Rosenberg

“On the Sublime” is a treatise from early in the Common Era by an unknown author, conventionally styled Longinus. Some scholars suspect that Longinus was a Hellenized Jew because he or she paraphrased Genesis, praising Moses for telling of Divinity’s power “in the opening words of his ‘Laws’: ‘God said’ — what? — ‘let there be light, and there was light: let there be land, and there was.’”

One of the great instances of the sublime in music centers on the very verses echoed by Longinus: the prelude and opening number of Joseph Haydn’s oratorio “The Creation” (1796–98). With dreary dissonances, uneasy wind figures and hollow, long-delayed cadences, the composer depicts the void and darkness of chaos. The archangel Raphael and a whispering chorus quietly narrate the creation of heavens and earth.

But at the moment when light shines forth, the music explodes in C major splendor. Brass fanfares sound, strings throw off their mutes and unveil their full glory, and the chorus roars in joy. As wrought by Haydn, the birth of light takes about 15 seconds, but its impact is shattering. (Bewilderment, Longinus wrote, is a mark of the sublime.) At The Creation’s Vienna premiere, stunned listeners interrupted the performance for several long moments after this passage.

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Classical Pianist Goes Wild

By Marion Lignana Rosenberg

Two enthralling recordings that pair keyboard music from centuries past with contemporary works have been released this year. The first is Jeremy Denk’s “Ligeti/Beethoven” (Nonesuch), which bookends Beethoven’s otherworldly Sonata Opus 111 with György Ligeti’s astringent and electrifying études. The other is “Baroque Conversations” (Sony Classical) by the Jerusalem-born pianist and conductor “David Greilsammer,” who will play a late-night concert on August 14 at New York’s Mostly Mozart Festival and a recital on August 17 at the Ravinia Festival near Chicago.

Greilsammer is 35 and music director of the Geneva Chamber Orchestra. He has made a name for himself by crafting risky, imaginative programs: playing all of Mozart’s piano sonatas in one day, for example, or exploring links between Freemasonry and Kabbalah in music. He studied at the Rubin Conservatory in Jerusalem and in New York with Yoheved Kaplinsky and Richard Goode.

“Baroque Conversations” showcases Greilsammer’s seductive, deeply intelligent playing of an astonishing range of music. Four groups of musical encounters bracket 20th- and 21st-century works with earlier music, bathing all in kaleidoscopic colors. The restless intervals of pieces by Rameau and Soler find shadowy echoes in Morton Feldman’s spectral “Piano Piece”; the prepared-piano stutters of Nimrod Sahar’s “Aux murailles rougies” (honoring Juliano Mer-Khamis) shine a desolate light on the stately sadness of works by Froberger and Gibbons. The program also includes music by Couperin, Matan Porat, Handel, Frescobaldi, Helmut Lachenmann, and Sweelinck.

Greilsammer answered a few questions by email on the eve of his Mostly Mozart recital.

Marion Lignana Rosenberg: In your Twitter profile you write that you are “always interested in crazy musical projects.” What makes a project “crazy” for you?

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Salzburg Festival Embraces Jewish Music

By Blair Thornburgh

Austria’s internationally-acclaimed Salzburg Festival opened a new chapter last weekend when it kicked off the first in an annual series of spiritually-themed “Overtures” with concerts featuring selected pieces from the classical canon composed and performed by Jewish musicians.

Silvia Lelli

The 10-day addition of religiously-inspired programming to the beginning of the five-week performance calendar in the prominent cultural capital and birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was the brainchild of its new artistic director. When Vienna native Alexander Pereira took the position last fall, there was no question how to inaugurate the concert series he’d first envisioned over 30 years ago: “It’s not by chance that we start with Jewish music,” Pereira told the New York Times.

Working with conductor Zubin Mehta, a longtime collaborator with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Pereira curated a program for last Tuesday’s evening concert, one of three central performances of the series. With Mehta conducting, the Israel Philharmonic and Collegiate Chorale of New York played works with significant roots not just in Judaism but also in European Jewish history.

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Top-Notch Music Festival Comes to Leo Baeck

By Raphael Mostel

Courtesy of the Leo Baeck Institute

When I found out that an ambitious new music festival in New York, the Chelsea Music Festival, was honoring the 150th birthday of Claude Debussy, I was intrigued to learn that the celebration would feature a performance at the Leo Baeck Institute at the Center for Jewish History in Manhattan.

Debussy — his high-strung, artistic, rich and Jewish second wife notwithstanding — associated himself with France’s anti-Semitic right wing, and openly mocked Edvard Grieg when the Norwegian composer’s outrage at the Dreyfus affair moved him to forbid performances of his compositions in France. So featuring his music at the Leo Baeck Institute seemed a bit, well, outré.

Still, Debussy was one of the most influential composers of the last century, and this promising program sandwiched his work between two composers of Jewish origin: Darius Milhaud and Felix Mendelssohn. It also included the pro-Dreyfus Maurice Ravel, as well as the world premiere of a new work by the contemporary Japanese composer Somei Satoh, who was born in Sendai, the epicenter of the recent earthquake/tsunami disaster.

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A Concerto and Chance Meeting for the Ages

By Raphael Mostel

It’s always surprising how often Jews cross borders. But this coincidence was just too good not to be documented.

Cathy Fuller
Beate Sirota Gordon and virtuoso soloist Marc-André Hamelin at Carnegie Hall.

In January I was raving to my friend Beate Sirota Gordon about a performance of the famously gigantic, wild and strange Ferruccio Busoni Piano Concerto I’d just heard for the first time, performed by Leon Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra with soloist Piers Lane in Carnegie Hall. In response, Beate exclaimed, “You know, my father gave the Viennese premiere, with Busoni conducting! When I was a child in Vienna, I remember my father playing that music over and over. How could I have missed this?!”

The half-Jewish, half-German and, despite his name, only half-Italian Ferruccio Busoni was astonishingly gifted and contradictory in equal measure. One of the greatest pianists and composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, he remains a strange historical figure. In his review of the concert, critic Alex Ross wrote:

He was, in some ways, the prophet of a future that never came to pass, yet his idiosyncratic pluralism now seems strangely contemporary, as if he had anticipated the entire course of the century and tried to resolve its contradictions…. atypical of him, to the extent that any of his works are typical… the concerto… is a gaudy, unapologetically over-the-top piece, stuffed with references to nineteenthcentury Romantic styles.

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Monday Music: Berlin Celebrates Amalia Beer

By A.J. Goldmann

Amalia Beer was one of 19th-century Berlin’s preeminent salonieres. The Brothers Grimm and Humboldt, the poet Heinrich Heine and composer Felix Mendelssohn were all regular guests at her famous soirées. On May 6, this vanished world was briefly resurrected in the confines of the Berlin Philharmonic’s Chamber Music Hall with a program that combined music and spoken word performance. The packed concert, which will be repeated May 13, was titled “Soirée at Amalie Beer’s, Berlin 1820” and presented a loving portrait of the fascinating Jewish woman who once stood at the center of the city’s musical and intellectual life.

Over two very packed hours, members of the Philharmonic, joined by the spirited soprano Laura Nicorescu, performed music of the period that would have been heard in the Beer salon. Works by Beer’s famous son Giacomo Meyerbeer (né Jacob Beer) figured prominently, alongside chamber works and songs by Mendelssohn, Schubert, Donizetti, Rossini, Weber and Louis Spohr. The musical instruments shared the stage with Central European Biedermeier furniture intended to create a suitably salon-like ambiance. Supplementing the musical performance were selections from the letters and diaries of Amalia Beer, Meyerbeer and Heine, recited dramatically (and often quite humorously) by the wonderful German actor Burghart Klaussner.

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Monday Music: Virtuoso Violinist Joshua Bell

By Laura Goldman

Getty Images

Joshua Bell, the mop-topped musician who plays the $4 million “Jewish” Stradivarius previously owned by Israeli Philharmonic founder Bronislaw Huberman, is perhaps the world’s most recognized violinist. His playing to a naked Greta Scacchi in the movie “Red Violin” garnered the film an Oscar for best score. His violin solos have also been featured in “Angels and Demons,” “Ladies in Lavender,” “Defiance,” and Chinese director Zhang Yimou’s soon-to-be-released “Flowers of War,” starring Christian Bale.

Bell, age 44, is known for his athletic style of playing. He is currently in the middle of a 15-city U.S. tour, which included an April 16 performance at Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center as music director of the renowned Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, one of the world’s most celebrated chamber orchestras. After his performance in Philadelphia, where he performed Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, the audience, which included many young musicians, stood in line for more than an hour to say hello and have him autograph CDs and programs. He talked to The Arty Semite about what he’s got on his iPod, playing vs. conducting, and almost losing a $4 million violin.

Laura Goldman: How does it feel to replace Sir Neville Marriner as music director of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields?

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Monday Music: Gil Shaham Revives German Composer

By Raphael Mostel

Is there a more sunny and less ego-driven violinist than Israeli-born Gil Shaham? He makes even the most virtuosic music seem so effortless and natural, it’s easy to forget how rare and difficult an achievement that is.

This year he has devoted himself to reviving a handful of under-played 20th-century violin concertos. In mid-March, abetted by David Zinman guest-conducting the New York Philharmonic, Shaham put his whole being into performing the Concerto Funèbre for violin and string orchestra by Karl Amadeus Hartmann. Most violinists would be daunted by this work’s technical demands and try to make the audience see how much sweat is required to play it. Shaham, in contrast, made it sing.

There were not many German composers who behaved honorably in the Nazi period, but Hartmann was one. He chose to maintain public silence so as not to be co-opted by the Nazis. This rarely played violin concerto is an outstanding example of his work.

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