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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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.
“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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
It’s always surprising how often Jews cross borders. But this coincidence was just too good not to be documented.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Crossposted from Haaretz
Sometimes an unknown work is rescued from oblivion and performed at a concert before an audience. Usually it’s a minor work that somehow eluded the catalog and was stuck in a drawer of some unimportant library, and its eventual discovery and performance mark the end of a painstaking process of collecting all of a composer’s oeuvre.
It is therefore fascinating to see a major piece rescued in this way — especially when it is not simply “big,” but a magnum opus. Indeed, that was the opinion of Paul Ben Haim, one of the fathers of Israeli music, regarding his oratorio “Joram.” And now, almost 80 years after its completion, and for the first time in a complete and professional rendition (it was performed in part over 30 years ago), the oratorio will be staged in Israel as part of a grand project — featuring the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and a guest choir from Germany, the Munich Motet Choir, with dozens of singers and soloists — thanks to government and private donations. The vocalists are even paying about 350 euros each toward the cost of their visit here. A performance is being held at a special price on Tuesday at 8:30 p.m., at the Smolarz auditorium at Tel Aviv University.
Nina Beilina, a violinist and professor at Mannes College The New School for Music, describes herself as a traditional, if not a religious Jew. It was when she was branded a “Yid” on the streets of Russia that she first felt really Jewish. “I was brought up by my parents to be cosmopolitan, international; then the Stalin era came and anti-Semitism was blooming. I turned to being nationalistic, not international. I was proud to be Jewish,” she said.
Beilina left Russia with her son in 1977. Yet, “as soon as I crossed the border, I was furious because suddenly I became a ‘Russian’!” she exclaimed. “I would say, ‘Why are you calling me Russian? I’m Jewish. I have Jewish blood!’”
On March 28 Beilina will be presenting a concert of “Jewish Voices” at Manhattan’s Congregation Ansche Chesed, featuring Bachanalia, a group of 16 musicians she leads, and the world premiere of “The Breath of All Life — Meditations on two Jewish Prayers,” a composition by Cantor Natasha Hirschhorn.
Crossposted from Haaretz
A white minivan was spotted in the Western Galilee last week, heading through the Tefen Industrial Park to the Zikit Cultural Center. The mountainous landscape was awash with color, but this was no scenic tour for members of the Israeli Chamber Project. Armed with their music stands and instruments, they were on their way to work and perform with local high-school students majoring in music.
The trip to Tefen is part of a much larger journey the musicians are taking from the center to the periphery. In contrast, though, two weeks before their arrival in the Galilee, the group completed a tour of the United States with a concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall before a full house and a spillover crowd waiting outside.
In tandem with three New York concerts given by the Berlin Philharmonic in February, New York University’s Deutsches Haus has opened an exhibition of Holocaust survivor David Friedmann’s “Lost Musician Portraits” from the 1920s. These sketches of Berlin Philharmonic members were drawn from life, and captured each of the artists in the act of performing. Before World War II Friedmann’s sketches of various personalities in all fields appeared in hundreds of newspapers, but have only recently been rediscovered. His talent helped him survive Auschwitz, where he drew portraits of SS guards, their families, and even their dogs.
The exhibit, which is also sponsored by the Leo Baeck Institute and the consulate general of Germany, includes short biographies as well as recordings of all the musicians shown in the sketches, many of whom were Jewish. It is on view until March 30. (WNYC broadcast a substantial interview about the artist with his daughter, which can be heard here.)
The Berlin Philharmonic has always been one of the finest orchestras in the world. But only since 1989, when Claudio Abbado took over from Herbert von Karajan, and more recently under the direction of its current music director, Sir Simon Rattle (whose contract has just been extended to 2018), has the orchestra once again begun to have the kind of adventurousness it was known for at the time these portraits were made. It is currently a surprisingly young orchestra — the average age of its musicians is 38 — and almost half the members are not German.
We all know the answer to the old question, “how do you get to Carnegie Hall?” is to “practice, practice, practice.” But the Israel Chamber Project has also gotten there by cultivating an appreciative New York audience in the four years since the ensemble’s inception.
“It’s the right time for a Carnegie Hall debut,” the group’s executive director, pianist Assaff Weisman, told The Arty Semite about the performance scheduled for February 1. “It feels in some way like an arrival… there is nothing quite like a Carnegie Hall debut to solidify your reputation.”
ICP, an ensemble of eight accomplished Israeli musicians in their 20s and 30s, has gained the interest of chamber music fans in Israel, Europe and the U.S. The group comes together several times annually for intensive tours and concerts at prestigious venues like Symphony Space and The Colburn School’s Zipper Hall in Los Angeles. Recently they also recorded their first CD, which is forthcoming.
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