Sunday, July 17, 2016

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

Maestro Shalev Ad-El (

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Israel Contemporary Players, conducted by Fabian Panisello, sign out of the 2015-2016 season at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art

Fabian Panisello (
The event concluding the Israel Contemporary Players’ 25th Discoveries concert season presented four works of composers from four different countries. Argentinian composer Fabián Panisello conducted the concert. Soloists were Yael Barolsky (violin) and Gan Lev (saxophone). This writer attended the concert on July 2nd 2016 in the auditorium of the Herta and Paul Amir building of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

The concert opened with “Release” for twelve instruments by Tel Aviv-born composer and conductor Nizan Leibovich (b. 1969). The title refers to the piece’s theme of release from a state of extreme physical or mental tension. The original version of the work was written for the New York-based NOW Ensemble, which premiered it in 2013. The second version, fuller in instrumentation and lengthier, was premiered at the 2015 Boston Composers Conference. The latter version was what was played in the Tel Aviv concert. The basic idea of the piece’s scoring was the grouping and regrouping of instruments throughout the work, which in the composer’s words “enables the development of specific musical parameters, mainly the sound quality”. Beginning minimally with the motif of the half tone, melodic ideas appear and the listener finds himself absorbed in the delicate sound-world Leibovich is creating, as it escalates, offering jazzy chords on piano joined by double bass, then by brass. With the build-up of texture, there is much individual utterance of instruments, small gestures joining- or set against constant rhythms or breaking down into joint homophonic gestures. Leibovich’s canvas bustles with colours and a myriad of ideas, all drawn together in elegant sensibility. Nizan Leibovich is currently musical director of the Pittsburgh Philharmonia Orchestra and artistic director of the Israeli Music Festival in Jerusalem.

No new face to the Israel Contemporary Players or to Israeli audiences, Argentinean composer, conductor and educator Fabián Panisello (b. 1963) was back to conduct and present a new work “Le Malentendu” (The Misunderstanding) (2016). An opera to a libretto of Juan Lucas, it is based on Albert Camus’ 1943 play “Le Malentendu”, a sinister story of destruction and horror. In his opera, Panisello uses instrumental interludes scored for ensemble and electronics to connect scene to scene, with the interludes also painting a portrait of each of the five characters in the story in sounds. We were presented with the vivid and contrasted set of pieces, their moods ranging from the frenetic to the exotic, a kaleidoscope of colour and fine solos – the electronics were also given a decent solo. Complex and sophisticated as it is, the music is intelligible, gregarious and intelligent, appealing directly to the senses. Panisello’s feel for the aesthetics of the instrumental ensemble makes for active, adventurous listening. Fabián Panisello is the founder and director of PluralEnsemble (Spain).

Born in Japan in 1977, Dai Fujikura moved to the UK at age 15. Receiving many commissions, he is one of Europe’s most significant voices today, with his works performed in his native Japan and worldwide. Cooperating with artists of other disciplines, he is known to be a fine improviser, collaborating in the experimental pop/jazz field. In “Fluid Calligraphy” for violin and optional video (2010), the art of calligraphy meets the sound world of the solo violin (Yael Barolsky). Watching the mesmerizing play of twisting fibres on the screen above the stage, one becomes aware of the fact that the musical agenda and moving fibres are not synchronized. Barolsky’s playing was personal, sensitive and engrossing as she set the scene with the score’s myriad of high notes, harmonics, harmonics and glissandi etc. to create an uneasy, otherworldly and austere soundscape. I found my eyes leaving the screen in order to savour every small gesture of Barolsky’s very moving performance.

The program and the Israel Contemporary Players’ 2015-2016 concert season concluded with a work by Italian composer Franco Donatoni (1927-2000). Donatoni composed using the aesthetic of transformation. From the late 1970s, he had expanded the technique to that of mapping entire pieces onto each other to create new works. “Hot” for saxophone solo and six players (1989) had its origins in “Alamari” for ‘cello, bass and piano (1983). The work was commissioned by the French Association of Saxophonists and dedicated to saxophonist Daniel Kientzy, who also premiered it. The composer described the piece as some kind of “imaginary jazz” and, in fact, it begins with the rhythm section – piano bass and percussion – in lightweight textures making for an agreeable, jazzy feel. Its rolling bass line punctuated by ghostly block chords on the piano (Maria Nikitin) emerges pleasingly. The brass enters (muted trumpet and trombone) dueting in parallel seconds. When the saxophone (Gan Lev) enters, it is paired with the clarinet. Moving from tenor to sopranino saxophone Lev carried his role off with pizzazz. This piece suits Lev’s musical personality and upbeat, easeful technique. However, other players contributed moments of brilliance - those including Tibi Zeiger (clarinet), Nadav Meisel (bass) as well as some excellent percussion.

Maestro Panisello directed with articulate elegance. The ICP’s fine line-up of players and high standard of ensemble-playing never disappoint and this concert was no exception.

Violinist Yael Barolsky (


Monday, June 27, 2016

The Carmel Quartet closes its 2015-2016 "Strings and More" series with Beethoven's String Quartet in C-sharp minor opus 131

Yoel Greenberg,Yonah Zur,Rachel Ringelstein,Tami Waterman

“Literary Notes IV” was the fifth and last of the Carmel Quartet’s 2015-2016 commentated concert series “Strings and More”. This writer attended the English language concert/lecture on June 15th at the Jerusalem Music Centre, Mishkenot Sha’ananim. Founded in 1999, members of the quartet are Rachel Ringelstein (1st violin), Yonah Zur (2nd violin), Yoel Greenberg (viola) and Tami Waterman (‘cello).  The quartet performs internationally and has been the recipient of prizes and awards. Its debut CD, including quartets and quintets of Paul Ben-Haim, was issued by Toccata Classics (2014).

This event focused on Ludwig van Beethoven’s String Quartet in C-sharp major opus 131. Written 1825-1826, (its sketches occupying three times as many pages as the finished work itself) the C-sharp minor quartet was the composer’s last large-scale composition and considered by Beethoven as his greatest. Not heard in public till 1835 (Beethoven died in 1827) some private performances took place prior to the premiere, including one for Schubert on his deathbed.  Dr. Yoel Greenberg, a faculty member of Bar-Ilan University’s Department of Music, spoke about Beethoven, the work and its influence on other musicians and art forms, namely cinema; he also shared his own thoughts on the work. Greenberg opened with discussion of the work’s eccentric aspects, as were typical of Beethoven’s later writing, such as the expressive but not especially comfortable key of C-sharp minor for string players and the work’s unconventional proportions – seven movements of various lengths and played with no breaks between them. Here, Beethoven, summarizing his experiments directs the flow towards the end of the piece, taking diversity, forming a coherent unity from it, and, with motivic links, has the final section alluding to the work’s opening fugue. We were reminded of what British philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) had said about outstanding people – that they should behave in eccentric ways. To illustrate this idea, we then saw a few moments of “Back to the Future” III.

Following the intermission, the Carmel Quartet gave a richly detailed and articulate performance of the work, their contemplative playing of the opening Adagio (referred to by Wagner as “surely the saddest thing ever said in notes”) imbued with the colours of shifting chromaticism and contrapuntal intensity. Following the sunny, somewhat quizzical-sounding Allegro second section, the third section – here one moment, gone the next – issues in the Theme and Variations, set in the key of A-major, its simple melody referred to by Wagner as the “incarnation of innocence”. The artists dispelled any hint of simplistic scoring as they presented the rich variety of the 4th movement (theme and variations) -  its hocket (the melody divided between the violins), a march, its “lullaby” section, its majestic waltz, its bizarre moments and its sublimity, with the variations becoming progressively more complex. Strangely issued in by the ‘cello, the Presto movement is a hell-for-leather journey, its trio less frenetic, the coda less than conventional in its otherworldly sul ponticello sounds.  The sixth section was intensely poignant (Greenberg spoke of its melody as having a “Jewish” theme, evocative of the “Kol Nidre” melody, claiming, however, that Beethoven would probably not have been familiar with Jewish music) leading into the last section, a scene of musical utterance that is wild, confrontational but also noble. Of the final section Wagner wrote: “This is the fury of the world’s dance – fierce pleasure, agony, ecstasy of love, joy anger, passion and suffering…”

There are few string quartets more complex or enigmatic than Beethoven’s opus 131. A challenging work for players and listeners alike, Yoel Greenberg took the bull by its horns and threw light on the many elements and interest making up the work…no mean feat, and the audience was with him all the way.  And yet the music itself remains baffling, defying words. It takes an ensemble of the calibre of the Carmel Quartet to finish off the lecture with Beethoven’s own personal explanation – the sounds themselves. It was an enriching, thought-provoking musical event to wind up the season.


Thursday, June 23, 2016

Trio Noga performs works of women composers at the Felicja Blumental Music Center, Tel Aviv

Trio Noga: Orit Messer-Jacobi,Idit Shemer,Maggie Cole

Trio Noga’s recent intensive concert tour of Israel presented works of women composers. Interestingly, all three artists of Trio Noga – flautist Idit Shemer, ‘cellist Orit Messer-Jacobi and pianist Maggie Cole (UK, USA) – are well-known performers on today’s Baroque music scene; Trio Noga, however, sees them performing music from the Classical period and up to the most contemporary of works. This writer attended “Celebrating Women in Music”, the second concert in the chamber music series of the Israeli Women Composers and Performers Forum at the Felicja Blumental Music Center, Tel Aviv, on June 12th 2016.  Representing the Forum, recorder player Inbar Soloman offered words of welcome.

 The program opened with Trio Sonata No.1 by Marion Bauer. Born in Washington to a French Jewish family, composer, teacher, writer and critic Marion Eugénie Bauer (1882-1955) was something of a Renaissance woman. Professor Bauer was especially supportive of American music and modern composers, she was the first woman on the Music Faculty of New York University, with affiliations with the Juilliard School and other educational institutions; she spent 12 summers in the creative environment of MacDowell Colony for composers, artists and writers. Her prolific writing on music addressed both specialists and general readers and she was the author of five books. Despite brief forays into 12-tone music in the 1940s and 1950s, Bauer’s music did not plumb the depths of atonality, rather focusing on the mix of coloristic harmony and gentle dissonance. The opening movement of Trio Sonata No.1 was coloured with Impressionistic musical language, its second movement was eloquent and touching, to then be followed by a playful third movement (Vivace e giocoso).

 Most of the works of French Romantic composer and pianist Cecile Chaminade (1857-1944) were published during her lifetime. Primarily a concert pianist, she wrote over 100 piano works and toured the world performing them with great success. In 1901, she was one of the first pianists to record for the gramophone, with seven sides of her works, and she was the first woman composer to become a member of the French Légion d’Honneur. Like Marion Bauer, however, she also suffered from criticism based on gender prejudice. On hearing an orchestral work written by Chaminade at age 18, composer Ambrose Thomas remarked: “This is no woman composer, this is a composer who happens to be a woman.” Chaminade composed Trio No.1 opus 11 in g-minor opus 11 (the flute part played by Idit Shemer originally written for violin) at age 23. The Trio Noga artists gave expression to the composer’s compositional prowess, the piece’s charming Gallic flavour and the influence of Romantic composers on its style – Brahms, possibly Schumann, and others.  Following their intense and emotional reading of the Allegro movement and the lyrical, almost vocal Andante, the rondo constituting the third movement (Presto), bristling with thirty-second notes and cross rhythms, was performed with buoyant optimism as each instrument presented its own agenda. The final movement, classically oriented, nevertheless takes the listener through some late-Romantic harmonic twists. With the piano part illustrative of Chaminade’s own piano mastery, the ‘cello here initiated many of the melodies. With “salon music” viewed as third class entertainment, Chaminade’s music has been sadly ignored. Capturing the work’s moods, melodic richness and elegance, Trio Noga has proved what a misjudgement this was.

 Making the concert an especially auspicious event was the premiere of a work by Israeli composer Hagar Kadima. “By a Doorway” (2016) was commissioned by Trio Noga. A winner of the 2003 Prime Minister’s Award for Composers, Hagar Kadima (b.1957) was the first Israeli woman to earn a PhD in Composition. A professor at the Levinsky College of Education (Tel Aviv), she has spent many years teaching young composers and has been dedicated to collaboration between Arab and Jewish women musicians. In 2000, Dr. Kadima founded the Israeli Women Composers’ Forum, serving as its first chairperson, continuing to devote time and effort in supporting women composers and integrating them into the Israeli musical scene. At the Blumental Center Concert, she talked about the new piece, its genesis being the interval of a minor third – viewing it from all angles – as the piece moves between states of chaos and order. Another element making up the work is Israeli composer Yohanan Zarai’s setting of Avraham Halfi’s “The Ballad of Three Cats” (a nonsense poem whose subtler meaning touches on the subject of loneliness), the song itself announced by the flute, its melody also beginning with a minor third.  Listening to Kadima’s work, Trio Noga’s reading of the work created a sense of curiosity, guiding the listener into closely following the course of the various sections, each different in mood and intensity, each inspired by the simple, unadulterated minor third, always to return to it only to find a new path of departure.  The three instruments, though engaging in much imitation, seemed to have their own agendas as the artists gave a dedicated reading of the piece. Hagar Kadima spoke of her search for simplicity in music. Clarity would certainly run a close second!

 In 1839, Clara Schumann wrote: “I once believed that I possessed creative talent, but I have given up this idea; a woman must not desire to compose…” One of the 19th century’s most outstanding and influential musicians, she would go on to compose over 30 works – character pieces for piano, a concerto, Lieder and three romances for violin and piano. (In the 40 years she outlived her husband, she hardly composed, focusing more on family and her performing career.) Her only chamber work, the Piano Trio in g-minor opus 17, however, composed in 1846 when she was 27, showing the influences of Robert Schumann and Mendelssohn as well as her in-depth study of Bach counterpoint, is considered her finest work. With the flute (Idit Shemer) taking the place of the original violin part, the Noga Trio artists gave full expression to the work’s mid-century Romantic style texture with its interweaving of lines and sweeping ardent melodies, its coquettish Scherzo, its emotional agenda and the fugal writing in the final movement, their playing a careful balancing of forces, their textures never turgid or in excess, as they highlighted Clara Schumann’s skilful writing and ingenuity and the intimate nature of chamber music.

 A concert of fine performance introducing the Israeli concert-goer to works not generally heard and a new work of an Israeli woman composer.



Friday, June 17, 2016

The Oreya Choir (Ukraine) performs a-cappella works at the 49th Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival

The Oreya Choir (
As a part of its Israeli tour, the Oreya Choir from the Ukraine performed two concerts at the 49th Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival. This writer attended their a-cappella concert at the Church of Our Lady of the Covenant, Kiryat Yearim, in the Jerusalem Hills, on June 11th 2016. The Oreya Choir was founded by Alexander Vatsek as a municipal choir in 1986. Performing internationally, Oreya has represented the Ukraine and the Zhytomyr region in concerts, festivals and competitions and is the recipient of several awards.  The choir performs a very wide range of repertoire; its liturgical repertoire, for example, includes sacred works of the Christian, Jewish, Moslem and Buddhist faiths.  Maestro Vatsek continues to serve as the choir’s conductor and musical director.

With the singers dressed in beige and yellow folk-inspired outfits, the first half of the program of Oreya’s second Abu Gosh Festival concert consisted of music mostly from the Ukraine – a-cappella arrangements of folk songs and works of living composers. The printed program offered information on each piece in both English and Hebrew, giving the concert-goer something of a picture of Ukrainian life and some events in the country’s history. In “Oh, the Violets Have Bloomed”, a Ukrainian folksong arranged by composer and theorist Stanyslav Lyudkevich, Vatsek and his singers created an idyllic nature scene, complete with bird calls.  “My Thoughts”, a tonal setting of a text by the greatest Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko (1814-1861) (arr. Yevhen Kozak, Alexander Vatsek) and serving as an unofficial national anthem, expresses anguish and yearning for the homeland. In “Oh Field, Field” (arr. V.Mihnovetsky, A.Vatsek) the text tells of two Cossacks killed in war, one rich, the other poor; whereas the rich Cossack has a big funeral, the poor soldier has nobody to bury him, “only a raven cawing above his body”.  The ensemble performed two songs by Hanna Havrylets (b.1958), beginning with “On Sunday Morning”, in which she presents a simple melody in different guises, building up its intensity as it proceeds. Havrylets is one of the composers engaging in the now popular genre of spiritual songs in the Ukraine. With the women holding lit candles, her song “I Will Light a Candle” was suggestive of a church procession as the song spiralled from childlike simplicity to a large cluster-embellished sound, returning to the naïve-sounding solo of the young girl, the song ending in a magical whisper. Another contemporary Ukrainian woman composer represented at the concert was Tatyana Vlasenko (b.1977); bright in timbre and ceremonial in mood, “Carol” presented a tranquil, optimistic melody, some solos and many delightful bell effects.

 Following intermission, conductor and singers returned, now in formal dress, to perform works by composers from the 17th century to today – secular-, sacred and instrumental works. J.S.Bach’s “Arioso”, was sung sensitively, its phrases superbly sculpted as was the lush, lilting vocalization of a section of Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony. As to the sacred works, from a performance of the section of Rachmaninov’s powerful “All-Night Vigil” the composer requested be sung at his funeral, the basses competently descended below conventional choral bass range, to two of Alfred Schnittke’s “Three Sacred Hymns” with their serene harmonies and intense word-painting, to the gorgeous, fresh, vivid and tonal layering of “Ave Maria” by young American composer Daniel Elder (b.1986), to the transparently scintillating timbres, daring harmonic shifts (almost jazzy at times) and carillon references in the “Sanctus” of Poulenc’s Mass in G-major. Among the secular works, of special interest was American composer Eric Whitacre’s (b.1970) 8-voiced “Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine” (2002), to a text of Charles Anthony Sivestri (b.1965), the result of a collaboration the composer himself described as “a fascinating balance, an exotic hybrid of old and new”:
‘Tormented by visions of flight and falling,
More wondrous and terrible each than the last,
Master Leonardo imagines an engine
To carry a man up into the sun…’
The singers flowed with the work’s blend of Italian madrigal and contemporary style, playing with its palette of colours and reflecting the course of the text, culminating in the women singers delighting the audience as they physically created an impression of a light aircraft swaying through the air.

Following a (literally) head-turning, whimsically buzzy vocalized rendition of “Flight of a Bumblebee” as its final encore, the choir concluded a memorable concert. The Oreya Choir, under the energetic and impeccable direction of Maestro Alexander Vatsek, is a versatile, virtuoso group, its outstanding vocal forces offering flawless vocal performance. Never static, the singers move, regroup, occupy all sections of the hall, make occasional use of small props and add choreographic touches that lend some interesting touches to first class professional choral interpretation.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Yuval Benozer conducts Ensemble Barrocade, the Kibbutz Artzi Choir and soloists at the 49th Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival

Alessandro Marcello (
The 49th Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival took place from June 10th to 12th 2016. In perfect spring weather, people arrived from near and far to enjoy the concerts in the churches, the many outdoor musical events, picnicking, the craft stalls, the flower displays and the panoramic view over the region. This writer attended “Vivaldi -Gloria, Pergolesi – Magnificat” on June 11th in the Church of Our Lady of the Covenant, Kiryat Yearim. Ensemble Barrocade and the Kibbutz Artzi Choir were conducted by music director of the Kibbutz Artzi Choir Yuval Benozer (music director of the Kibbutz Artzi Choir). Soloists were soprano Reut Rebecca, countertenor Alon Harari, oboist Yigal Kaminka and trumpeter Yuval Shapiro.

The program opened with the choir’s warm, nicely blended performance of “Ave Verum Corpus” (Hail, true body), W.A.Mozart’s small gem of a hymn, its piety and meaning  encompassed in the harmonies and chromaticism of 46 bars.

The opening aria from J.S.Bach’s “Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen” BWV 51 (1730) with obbligato trumpet (Yuval Shapiro) was performed by soprano Reut Rebecca. The aria’s outpouring of joy and word-painting were expressed in her fine singing of coloratura passages, the Bach score demanding virtuosity not only on the part of the singer, but on that of the obbligato trumpet role (Yuval Shapiro on natural trumpet) and also of the first violin (Shlomit Sivan). With no score to hinder, Rebecca’s singing addressed the audience, her fresh-timbred voice negotiating the minefields of this piece with ease, agility and elegance of sound.

Yuval Shapiro performed Giuseppe Torelli’s Trumpet Concerto (c.1701). Like most trumpet concertos in the Baroque, the work is written in D-major, a scale sounding best on the natural trumpet. An accomplished string player, Torelli (1658-1709) began writing his first trumpet works around 1690. It seems his interest in writing for this instrument was the result of the splendid resonance of the San Petronio Basilica (Bologna) and of his acquaintance with virtuoso trumpeter Giovanni Pellegrino Brandi, who occasionally performed with the San Petronio Orchestra, of which Torelli was a member. Torelli became the most famous and prolific composer for trumpet in that period, combining musicality, sonority and virtuosity in these pieces. With this effervescent work indeed written specifically for the natural trumpet (a valveless instrument) Shapiro’s playing merged and soloed well with the other period instruments. His foray into the tricky and precarious field of the natural trumpet (a work in process) is showing nice results and proving to be an asset to the Baroque music scene.

From an artistic Venetian family, Venetian musician, poet, philosopher, artist, diplomat and mathematician Alessandro Marcello (1673-1747) (Benedetto’s older brother) first published his Concerto for oboe and strings in D-minor in 1716. Alessandro Marcello epitomized the 18th century Italian “nobile dilettante”. His most famous work, and one of the most beautiful works of the Venetian School, the oboe concerto, also gained popularity when J.S.Bach transcribed it for harpsichord.  From the outset, Yigal Kaminka‘s performance on Baroque oboe had the audience with him all the way, his hearty, energizing and ornamented playing of the opening movement answered by first violin (Sivan). In the Adagio, with its resplendent, upward-spiralling oboe cantilena, Kaminka wove the movement’s melody with singing expressiveness and poignancy, to be followed by his buoyant, upbeat and quick-witted playing of the final movement, all much to the joy of the attending festival-goers.

As to Pergolesi referred to in the concert title, there was no work of his; we heard Neapolitan composer and famous teacher Francesco Durante’s (1684-1755) Magnificat in B-flat major, written in the 1640s. Some controversy surrounds the work. In the early 20th century the work had been attributed to Durante’s gifted pupil G.B.Pergolesi, this theory now considered incorrect. Yuval Benozer drew together the threads of the work, bringing out voice-leading in the choir and giving attention to diction, highlighting the work’s exciting and forceful choral comments and outbursts. Harari and Rebecca gave delicacy and shape to the duets, descriptive in the (tenor-bass) “Suscepit Israel”. The choir highlighted the urgency of call and response characterized in “Sicut locutus est”, celebrating the work’s last section satisfyingly with vibrant intertwining of the texts.

In a concert abounding in much festive festival fare, what could be more suitable or uplifting than Antonio Vivaldi’s much loved Gloria in D-major, a work also calling for the forces on hand on the stage! Thought to have been composed around 1715, what happened was that for two centuries after Vivaldi’s death, the Gloria remained undiscovered until the late 1920s, when the manuscript was found in a pile of forgotten Vivaldi manuscripts.  The Kibbutz Artzi Choir shaped the choruses with melodic detail, with expression and dynamic variety, their intonation exemplary for an amateur choir. In “Laudamus te”, Rebecca and Harari’s teamwork was splendid as they played out the section’s dissonances. In “Domine Deus, Rex caelestis”, Rebecca’s singing competently engaged not only in the text but also with specific players. Harari’s emotional statements in the gentle “Domine Deus, Agnus Dei”, answered by the choir, were joined by lyrical viol playing (Amit Tiefenbrunn).

The Kibbutz Artzi Choir was established in 1958, earning a reputation of excellence, recording and touring in Europe and the USA. Yuval Benozer has been the choir’s musical director and conductor since 1990. Barrocade – the Israeli Baroque Collective – was founded in 2007 by a group of young musicians, led by viola da gamba player Amit Tiefenbrunn. Shlomit Sivan is the ensemble’s first violinist.


Monday, June 13, 2016

The Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir closes the 2015-2016 season with "In Wndsor Forest"

Windsor Forest (

Taking place on June 9th 2016 at Christ Church in Jerusalem’s Old City, “In Windsor Forest” was the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir’s closing concert for the 2015-2016 concert season. Conducted by Kate Belshé, the ensemble’s director as of 2014, the selective choir of 30 singers presented a demanding program of music from the British Isles, from the Renaissance to the 20th century and some folk music. Soloist was soprano Shira Cohen.

The program opened with Samuel Wesley’s (1766-1837) double choir anthem “In Exitu Israel” (When Israel Went Out), Psalm 113, a work demonstrating the composer’s admiration for J.S.Bach’s fugal style (Wesley was one of the composers to introduce Bach’s music into England), a tricky work with which to open the unaccompanied section of the concert. “Beati Quorum Via” (Blessed are those whose way) Psalm 119 a motet in six voices by Sir Charles V. Stanford (1852-1924), fared better, the choir’s reading of it capturing its mysterious, intimate and meditative character, with effective contrasts drawn between upper and lower voices.

Secular music occupied the majority of the program, with a representative group of madrigals of composers writing for the court of Elizabeth I, beginning with the choir members’ silken and poetic singing of John Bennet’s (c.1575-c.1614) “Weep O Mine Eyes”, their luxuriant waves of sound both quoting and expressing the melancholy and despair of John Dowland’s “Flow my Teares”, on which it well may have been based. Presenting Thomas Weelkes’ “Hark, All Ye Lovely Saints”, Belshé and her singers offered a lively blend of voices and dynamics, their direct, unfussed rendition of the madrigal conveying the work’s underlying message on love as hinted at by Weelkes in the piece’s harmonic and rhythmic twists. As to Thomas Morley’s less subtle “ballet” madrigal “Now is the Month of Maying”, with its bawdy double-entendres, it was performed with gusto and with plenty of dynamic colour. Moving into the Baroque and Henry Purcell’s “Sound the Trumpet” a birthday ode for Queen Mary II, performing it with soprano and alto sections seemed to bypass the opportunities for personal expression, energy and ornamentation offered by the duet when sung by two individual singers.

The concert presented a fine opportunity for the audience to hear English music from the early 20th century, a marvellous body of repertoire sadly neglected in Israeli concert halls. Kate Belshé’s precise direction of “My Spirit Sang all Day”, the setting of a Robert Bridges poem by English-Italian Jewish Sephardic composer Gerald Finzi (1901-1956), gave expression to the composer’s in-depth approach to the English language in his effusive and emotional declaration of the joy of love, and all in 44 bars. A highlight of the concert was the performance of Edward Elgar’s (1857-1934) early song “My Love Dwelt in a Northern Land” to words of Scottish poet and folk tale collector Andrew Lang – an evocative, atmospheric reading, the singers’ fine intonation and clean, well-blended sound re-creating the Romantic richness of Elgar’s melodic lines and harmonies together with Lang’s nature scenes washed over with melancholy. The Oratorio Chamber Choir’s attention to the melodic layering and delicacy of Gustav Holst’s splendid setting of the modal Cornish folksong “I Love my Love” sketched in the details and despair of a young girl committed to Bedlam (Bethlehem – the infamous London asylum) and deranged as her loved one has been sent to sea, creating the music’s sense of rocking (the girl’s lonely rocking back and forth?) in scintillating sounds. In the choral arrangement David Overton made for the King’s Singers of the Scottish folk song “Loch Lomond”, baritone Shlomo Tirosh sang the solo in a relaxed, pleasant manner.

Then to English music’s strong connection to theatre. We heard an excerpt from Act II of Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera “Pirates of Penzance” or “The Slave of Duty” (1880), with soloists David Goldblatt, Shira Cohen, Simone Kessler and Louis Sachs. Accompanying on the piano was Rina Schechter. In the role of the sergeant, David Goldblatt displayed richness of vocal timbre; too poker-faced for the roistering hi jinks of this opera, Goldblatt’s voice was also a little too reticent. Shira Cohen, looking comfortable in the role, made for a saucy Mabel, her light coloratura easeful, agile and most pleasing. The final work performed was “In Windsor Forest”, a cantata of choruses drawn from Ralph Vaughan Williams’ (1872-1958) opera “Sir John in Love”. Based on Shakespeare’s “Merry Wives of Windsor”, “Sir John in Love” was composed in 1928 and premiered in London in 1929.  The cantata opened with “The Conspiracy” (words: Shakespeare), a celebratory piece sung only by the women members of the choir. In the “Drinking Song” (words: John Still, Bishop of Bath and Wells!), the choir’s men singers pulled out the plugs to create its roguish, rollicking folksy character. “Falstaff and the Fairies” (Shakespeare, Ravenscroft, Lyly) offered some gossamer-fine textures as it took us into the forest but also some dramatic moments, its playful ending somewhat of a patter song; Shira Cohen’s theatrical flair gave pizzazz to her solo here. In the “Wedding Chorus” (Ben Johnson), the only tranquil movement of the cantata, the choir created a piece of delicacy and lyricism. Concluding the work, the “Epilogue” (Campion, Rossiter), displaying some strange counterpoint, bids farewell with words of wisdom:

“All our pride is but a jest.
None are worse and none are best.
Grief and joy and hope and fear
Play their pageants ev’rywhere.
Vain opinion all doth sway,
And the world is but a play.”

Kate Belshé and the ensemble gave this rarely-performed work a spirited performance, with Rina Schechter’s piano accompaniments supportive and lively. The Oratorio Chamber Choir saw the audience out with Bob Chilcott’s tender arrangement of “O Danny Boy” (Londonderry Air).

Ms. Belshé holds degrees from the University of Southern California and Williams College and is the recipient of several awards. She sings in the Gary Bertini Chamber Ensemble and Choir.  In 2010, she formed the Walworth Barbour American International School Advanced Chorus and was assistant conductor of the Meitav Vocal Ensemble (Rosh Ha'ayin) from 2013 to 2014.