Friday, December 24, 2010

Notes on the Grammy Nomination Party at Le Poisson Rouge, New York, December 16, 2010

In “The Grammy that nobody knows,” Classical Beat’s Anne Midgette recently shared her worries about this year’s seemingly random classical music choices nominated to receive a Grammy.Her description of a watered-down selection process for Grammy nominations, resulting in an artificially inflated voting power of even the smallest majorities, casts a gloomy verdict on the music industry’s ability to pass judgment. She also talks about an increasing disparity in an ever-growing sea of diversity:“The result is a field in which tastes are so individual, and there are so many things to choose from, that there is no longer any wide consensus about what is best. It is striking how little overlap there is between the classical Grammy nominations and some of the best-of-2010 lists that have been coming out in places like the New York Times and NPR.”
Midgette is also concerned about a dissipation of traditional norms within the record labels’ marketplace, influencing tangible sales, as well as the reviews and critique sector along with it.
But no matter what the greater implications for the music industry might be, the mood at Le Poisson Rouge’s Grammy Nomination Celebration in Lower Manhattan on December 16, 2010, was at an all-time high.
The young Israeli mandolinist Avi Avital had been nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of Best Instrumental Soloist Performance (with Orchestra). A beaming Avital explained that in this category the trophy is given to both the performing soloist and the orchestra’s conductor.
The nominated performance, “Mandolin Concerto,” is part of a collection of "Concertos for Mandolin, Piccolo, Piano and Concerto Grosso" by Israeli composer Avner Dorman. (See also my interview with Dorman. (Photo below)
Conductor Andrew Cyr is the innovative mastermind and entrepreneurial energy behind the Metropolis Ensemble, a nonprofit professional chamber group of young and talented classical musicians, which formed around an intimate group of his supporters.
Offering chamber and solo performances by classical musicians in alternative settings, groups like Metropolis take their art right to their audiences’ homes, proving that someone’s (albeit large) living room might be just as effective a venue as Carnegie Hall (if not more so).
Cyr recognized the opportunity for "social marketing" of classical music by involving enthusiastic volunteers like Mrs. June Wu. Now a member of the Metropolis Ensemble’s board, she made her gorgeous Upper West Side apartment available for the ensemble’s last concert and almost 80 of its fans.
Refreshingly enthusiastic about putting their skills to work, the Metropolis group is part of a new trend: musicians organizing performances in people’s homes or alternative venues. Often concentrating on contemporary composers, many of these performances extend the range of traditional classical music events.
In perfect harmony with the credo to expand the experience of the classical spectrum, Avi Avital showed his mesmerized audience the incredible artistic appeal of his beloved mandolin with immense soulfulness and virtuosic skill.
Pre-empting an actual Grammy decision, Avital’s mandolin, sharing center stage with a variety of other instruments, like the tambourine, the accordion, and the harp, became the undisputed winner of the evening. It is highly unlikely that anybody in the audience that evening will ever think of the humble mandolin the way they may have thought about it before hearing Avital play; he certainly changed my appreciation for it tremendously.
The evening’s global offerings truly captivated the audience, starting with a baroque Bach concerto followed by Avner Dorman’s contemporary amalgamate and charismatic ‘Allegro’ movement, led by Cyr and members of the Ensemble. Spectators at Le Poisson Rouge were enchanted by the lyricism of Spanish song (DeFalla), and whisked away by a formidable and commanding performance of Middle Eastern rhythms by Avital and friends. Now, Avital’s Grammy nomination made all the more sense.
Sean Hickey, sales and business development manager of Naxos USA, commented on one of the multiple nominations his label received this year:
“Avner Dorman’s relationship with Naxos goes back a few years when he submitted a recording of his piano works with Eliran Avni. The newest recording of this work, featuring the astounding Avi Avital along with Andrew Cyr leading the forward-thinking Metropolis Ensemble, allows us the opportunity to work with visionary American artists and ensembles, a commitment Naxos made years ago. We are incredible happy for all involved in their Grammy nomination this year.”
Avital and Dorman are part of a constantly growing roster of talented young Israeli artists. Their careers have been fostered by the America Israel Cultural Foundation (AICF). This made it possible for them to further their education within their respective artistic fields, as well as develop their talents outside them.
As David Homan, AICF’s Executive Director and a composer and collaborative artist in his own right, explained to me: “The sponsorship works on two levels: In Israel, with the early identification and support of all extraordinary artistic talent, and then in America, through further development and training or mediation of performance opportunities in corresponding venues.
“The tricky part sometimes becomes the coordination of each one’s efforts—the ones in Israel and the ones that follow up abroad—in order to achieve the best possible outcome for the artist, which of course, is our common objective.” Working under AICF president, Bill Schwartz, and tasked by Vera Stern, wife of the late virtuoso violinist, Isaac Stern, who led the AICF from 1964 to 2002, Homan has been able to improve networking opportunities among the organization’s alumni.
While Avner Dorman was able to attend New York’s Juilliard School as a student of the highly respected composer, John Corigliano, Avi Avital was able to expand his skills in the rare field of the mandolin in Padua, Italy.
Always on the lookout for different mandolin repertoire, Avital had met Dorman in Israel. According to Avital, Dorman started working on a concerto for him in 2006, and finished it after a mere three months of fantastic interactivity between the two artists. Dorman’s artistic sensitivity allowed him to understand Avital’s personal approach to the instrument extremely well, thus creating a rare and fruitful meeting of two musical minds.
The concerto was, in part, commissioned by the Israel Ministry of Culture and the Rabinovich Foundation, Tel Aviv, and co-commissioned by the “Festival Nessiah” in Pisa, Italy, where it was also premiered.
The concerto’s recording was produced by six-time Grammy Award-winner David Frost and helped garner him a nomination as Producer of the Year, potentially leading to his third “Producer of the Year” title. (Photo: Cyr and Frost)
Released by Naxos, the CD consists of a variety of concertos for mandolin, piccolo, piano, and concerto grosso, and also features pianist Eliran Avni, piccolo player Mindy Kaufman, and harpsichordist Aya Hamada.
This is the second collaboration between composer Avner Dorman and producer David Frost on the Naxos label. In the course of being introduced to David Frost at Le Poisson Rouge, I had the chance to find out more about his connection to Avner Dorman.
Said Frost: “It was John Corigliano who had brought his student, Avner Dorman, to me. I liked his music —although the venue where I heard Eliran Avni at first had terrible acoustics and the piano was not great either. We decided to do a recording together, and Naxos was brought onboard through Dorman. That first recording was released in 2006.”
And what does the immensely successful producer of critically acclaimed recordings for all of the major labels—RCA, Sony, Decca, Deutsche Grammophon, EMI, Naxos—answer when I ask him how important another Grammy is to him?
Frost grins bashfully: “I am not saying ‘no.’ While it will not be devastating if I won’t get it, it will be great if I will. It’s so much fun and certainly a pat on the shoulder. Being nominated, I will definitely make the trip to the ceremony.”
Just today, David Homan informed me that he has also found an enthusiastic sponsor in support of Avital’s presence at the ceremony. As they say: the first time is an once-in-a-lifetime experience. I couldn’t agree more.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Miami International Piano Festival

Music festivals often rely on the initiative of a spirited founding member or institution, whose goals manifest themselves through the characteristics of that festival.
Since its launch at the initial venue, the Miami Beach Lincoln Theater, in 1998, the Miami International Piano Festival has steadily gained momentum by adding venues and entourage, evoking the “Golden Age of the piano” in sunny South Florida.
The co-founder and artistic director of the festival, Giselle Brodsky, herself a trained pianist and teacher, established the foundation, “Patrons of Exceptional Artists”, to support exceptionally gifted performers. When I met Brodsky in summer 2010 at the annual Golandsky International Piano Seminar and Festival at Princeton University, she explained the rather spontaneous birth of the festival to me:
“I had organized a house concert, as I often do for my students, and I had invited some of my good friends. There is so much talent out there, and with the right support system, young artists can really grow and achieve wonderful things. So I addressed my friends and told them: ‘I have the dream to be able to make a difference in these young artists’ lives, and share that dream with you and with audiences right here in Florida’. They supported me and soon I had the basic funding to apply for grants and get the festival on its feet.”

Giselle Brodsky
The Bolivian-born powerhouse can certainly rely on her highly developed skills when it comes to recognizing great talent in prospective performers. Many fine pianists have performed at the Miami Festival before launching successful international careers, thus confirming Brodsky’s choices. Among those are Piotr Anderszewski and Ingrid Fliter, two pianists who have recently won the prestigious Gilmore Award.
Yet, perhaps even more impressive than Brodsky’s ability to recognize exceptional talent early on, is the fact that artists, who have been building strong careers over the years, still enjoy taking part in the Miami Festival, time and again.
Attracted by Brodsky’s continuous commitment to bringing musicians and audiences together in the best possible way, her list of returning performers has grown into an impressive roster of musicians from all over the world. With her personal interaction being based on camaraderie, respect and understanding, it comes as no surprise that many performers have also become personal friends of Brodsky’s, such as the Russian pianist, Ilya Itin, and the Turkish pianist, Guelsin Onay. Like Brodsky, Onay is the artistic director of a music festival.

Guelsin Onay and Giselle Brodsky at the Bodrum Piano Festival in Turkey
(Photo) Last summer, Brodsky has visited Onay’s Bodrum-based festival in Turkey as a lecturer.
Apart from pianists, Brodsky also includes other instrumentalists that inspire her in her festival line-ups. There is, for example, the now 81-years old violin virtuoso, Ida Haendel, who Zubin Mehta called a “violinist for violinists”. A British citizen and Florida resident, Haendel is a living legend who has shared her extraordinary talent with the greatest orchestras and most legendary conductors. Her autobiography, “Woman with Violin” (1970), describes the extraordinary life of a musician that Brodsky truly admires, so much so, that she shares her admiration for Haendel on YouTube.
Ida Haendel and Giselle Brodsky

Brodsky also stands by this remarkable artist by acting as a producer for Haendel’s soon-to-be-released DVD. The DVD will feature Haendel, as accompanied by the young pianist, Misha Dacic, himself another of Brodsky’s regular festival performers.

Misha Dacic -Photo
It seems that Brodsky and Haendel share devotion for a ‘full-blooded performance’, or that ‘affliction’ Haendel described in a recent Associated Press interview, stating, … “Passion is something you are born with”.
Festival highlights
The Single Composer Series: Started in 2008, the series features marathon performances and recordings by pianists, who are highly regarded for their interpretation of a particular composer.
Examples include ‘benchmark recordings’, such as Konstantin Lifshitz’s Well-Tempered Clavier (on DVD), as well as recorded performances by Kemal Gecic, Misha Dacic and Ilya Itin.
Lectures will focus on a variety of disciplines, incl. film and music documentaries.
Master classes will support the festival’s objective to be innovative and support the educational effect of performances on the audience.
Recording projects: CDs and DVDs are available on the festivals VAI label, and on the new ‘Miami International Piano Festival’ label. See also the festival’s YouTube channel.
Film projects related to the festival:
- Brodsky and Haendel are featured prominently in a three-part documentary titled ”The World’s Greatest Musical Prodigies”, produced by Britain’s Channel 4, and partially filmed in South Florida. The series will be aired in the U.S. in February 2011.
Italian pianist, Francesco Libetta, ‘discovered’ at the festival by renowned music documentarian, Bruno Monsaingeon, is featured in the award-winning film, “The pianist of the Impossible”.

Fransesco Libetta (photo)
Libetta will kick off the 2010/2011 season by performing in a concert at the Aventura Arts & Cultural Center location on November 28 (this Sunday).
He will also perform with Ida Haendel at the Festival Sagra Musicale Malaestiana, one of Italy’s premier cultural events, on December 5.
For more information about the Miami International Piano Festival and Giselle Brodsky, go to The article was published first at BlogCritics

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Pianist Xiayin Wang: Barnes & Nobles CD signing and upcoming concert on Novemeber 23rd, 2010.

This afternoon, (November 21st, 2010) Pianist Xiayin Wang played excerpts from her new CD, at the Barnes & Nobles Lincoln Center Triangle location,which may be one of the last events here. To general great regret, the cultural hub is supposed to be closing it's doors in the near future.
The CD, released by Chandos, presents a first time collection of all of Earl Wild's musical arrangements of Gershwin songs and Wild's Piano Sonata, dating from 2000, which leans strongly on jazz, blues, rag and American folk music, while still remaining firmly connected within the classical form.
Wang provided a miniature recital that gave an impressive "tasting" of her brilliant technical mastery and fine musicianship at the piano. She also eloquently talked about Wild, the composer and consummate pianist, who just recently passed away.
Taking breaks in between the movements of the sonata, she explained about its meaning and some of the difficulties, and managed also in the following Q + A, to engage the attending audience splendidly. Also present was Bill Schwartz, one of the great New York musical patrons, who has championed the young
artist, who has continuously commanded the critiques attention and praise.This season Ms. Wang will be heard twice at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall; first on November 23, 2010 she performs works by Schumann, Franck and Earl Wild with the distinguished Fine Arts Quartet : Violinist Ralph Evans, violist Nicolò Eugelmi and cellist Wolfgang Laufer; and then on April 11, 2011 she will be heard in a solo recital.
A recording of Schumann's chambermusic, in joint performance with the Fine Arts Quartet, is going to be released by Naxos. To read more about the young pianist , please visit my article "Xiayin Wang : Celebrating Her New Life"

Ilona Oltuski and Xiayin Wang For more information please visit
I am a big fan and looking forward to the concert on Tuesday !

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Composer Lowell Liebermann: Creating a Better, Alternative World

Like many of music history’s traditional classical music composers, Lowell Liebermann doesn’t only compose, but he also performs. Not limiting himself to playing his own compositions, he also dedicates some of his time to the works of other composers.

Lowell Liebermann
To my mind, this informs Liebermann’s attitude towards composing, and shows his deep connection to classical music in general.“I understand what pianists go through, so I am very sympathetic, and the exchange with the performer [of my composition] becomes much easier and more meaningful. Due to the emphasis on specialization in America, we have unfortunately created the phenomena of composers who are not active performers themselves. I think that this often results in losing touch with the physical joy and the direct connection to the active process of performing,” says Liebermann. “Most performers of my premieres have adhered to extremely high performance standards, but I don’t really write for a specific performer, otherwise it won’t fit anyone else." Ida Kavafian, renowned violinist and violist and member of the piano quartet Opus One, who also serves as Artistic Director of the Angel Fire Festival in New Mexico, says about Liebermann: “Mr. Liebermann is not only an extraordinary composer, but also an outstanding pianist. It has been wonderful playing his music in groups with him, and in our piano quartet, Opus One. This summer, we premiered his Quartet for Piano and Strings Op.114 (2010), at Angel Fire; my festival had commissioned him to write a work of his choice as part of his composer-in-residence participation...”
In 2007, John Bloomfield dedicated a lecture at the annual Golandsky Summer Institute at Princeton University to Lowell Lieberman’s composition for piano solo, “Three Impromptus” Op. 68 (2000). Written to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Yaddo artist colony in Saratoga Springs, the piece had been premiered by Stephen Hough at New York’s Alice Tully Hall on May 4th, 2000. The Grand Prize winner of the Van Cliburn First International Composers' Invitational Competition, it was published by the Theodore Presser Company.
Says John Bloomfield: “With the beginning of the 20th century, composers looked for ways to expand the range of sonorities instruments were capable of producing. While George Crumb, for instance, sometimes has the pianist strum or pluck strings inside the piano, Liebermann keeps us on the keys, but uses the complete range of the piano, from the keyboard’s lowest note to the highest. In these extreme registers, the point is to create dramatic sounds and textures… Lowell Lieberman
By intentionally blurring sound through pedaling, he creates an ambiguity between areas of clarity and areas of harmonic blurring, all contributing to the overall texture of the piece."
It was pianist Sandro Russo who, in October 2007, had invited me to hear Liebermann’s work being performed at the Louis Meisel Gallery on Soho’s Prince Street. Every so often, the Meisels put up their distinctly bohemian home and gallery to host concerts by young artists. That night, Russo played Liebermann’s 5th Nocturne, a piece commissioned by the Adele Marcus Foundation, and premiered in 1997. (photo) - Lieberman
Schnabel-protégée Adele Marcus, herself a performer and a piano teacher at the Juilliard School, shares her February 22nd birthday with Liebermann; the two met during his years studying at Juilliard.Liebermann’s extensive studies included piano lessons with Jacob Lateiner, composition classes with David Diamond and Vincent Persichetti, and conducting classes with Lazlo Halasz. In 1987, he graduated Juilliard’s music arts program with a bachelor, a master’s degree and a doctorate. Liebermann says that he feels lucky to have been connected to Juilliard’s amazing talent pool right from the start; after all, some of America’s most talented musicians, including Andrew Litton, Stephen Hough, and Jeffrey Biegel, had trained and taught at Juilliard.
Biegel fondly remembers Liebermann sometimes knocking at the practice room door and asking him to play through a new piece. Liebermann and Biegel connected again years later, through the commission for Liebermann’s 3rd concerto.
“It is certainly a strong piece, with energy and many beautiful moments. The lyricism is haunting and very unique, while the pianistic sections require fine pianism. One can sense the inspiration from Brahms, Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Barber, but Lowell’s musical language is his own, and gives the listener every feeling and emotion needed to experience and enjoy his music,” says Biegel.

Jeffrey Biegel (photo)

Cellist Steven Isserlis, another champion of Liebermann's compositions, says: "Lowell Liebermann is a wonderfully talented composer, with a real gift for melody and a connection to players and listeners that is rare. I loved working with him on the sonata that he wrote for Stephen Hough and myself - and he is great fun to be with as well."

Steven Isserlis (photo)
Talking about the process of composing a piece, Liebermann explains: “If you are writing an orchestral piece, you hear the sound in your head; in other instances, you envision a specific instrumental solo. I try to immerse myself as much as possible in particularities, acquiring an overview of everything I can get to know about a particular instrument. Besides piano, I don’t really play another instrument, although I am learning the cello right now.”
London-based pianist Stephen Hough is also a Juilliard graduate; he studied side-by-side with Liebermann, and the two musicians still keep in touch with each other.
“I played many of Lowell Liebermann’s pieces over the years,” says Hough. “Two of his sonatas and the 2nd Concerto are dedicated to me personally … I’ve always found that everything about his music felt natural, both musically and pianistically … He‘s a musician of tremendous intelligence and sensitivity, and a treasured friend.”
Filling in for Murray Periaha, who had to cancel his performance at the Stern Auditorium’s Perelman Stage due to a hand injury, Stephen Hough will perform at New York’s Carnegie Hall on November 18th. That same evening, Sandro Russo will perform his tribute to Chopin and Schumann at Carnegie Hall’s Weill’s Recital Hall. It is a nice coincidence that these two artists who first met through a friend in 2001, will be performing under the same roof (albeit in different parts of the venue). It was the friend they both share, Richard Goula from Louisiana, who had commissioned Liebermann’s 6th Nocturne
Stephen Hough and Sandro Russo
After meeting Liebermann, Russo became a champion of Liebermann’s works, premiering the composer’s 8th Nocturne (Op.85) in Europe in 2004, his 10th Nocturne (Op. 99) in June 2007, and his Four Etudes on Brahms Songs (Op. 88) at a recital presented by the Pro-Mozart Society of Atlanta in 2009. He also recorded Liebermann’s work for his 2010 Piano Recital CD.
Says Russo: “I very much cherish these works for the perfection and sophistication of their piano writing, and for representing a spiritual continuation of such romantic masters such as Liszt, Rachmaninov and Faure, at the same time… His series of Nocturnes can, by all means, join Chopin and Faure’s great masterpieces of the same genre. In my opinion, Lowell understands the physicality of the instrument so well; in fact, his compositions feel great under the pianist’s fingers.”
Liebermann, in turn, appreciates Russo as “a pianist’s pianist and a musician’s musician, for whom no technical difficulty seems to be too challenging, and whose interpretations reveal his unique and profound artistry.”
So, once again, the world of the international performance circuit shows its local roots, and its connecting threads woven by personal encounters. Given that commissions and deadlines tend to rule a composer’s daily life otherwise, this "human element" seems reassuring.
To my surprise, Liebermann is happy to point to the positive side of his life between those two poles: “I get inspired by commissions and deadlines,” he explains.
“Composing is a very difficult and sometimes painful process, since you are constantly creating something out of nothing, trying to generate some sort of logic or abstract morality, which—although built on abstract rules—is in search of inevitable solutions. You obsess a thousand times over each detail. When I have twelve months, I will ponder during eleven of them, so deadlines at least provide an outer barrier.”
And he concludes: “I try not to figure out what my place in music history is; I leave that to others. My interest is only to write music, that I, sitting in the audience, would like to hear myself.”
Judging from his creative output, Liebermann’s place in music history already is secure.
“My love for music came through my exposure to the great Western classical tradition; that’s the continuum I always wanted to be part of. There has been the cliché of modern music always having to break with tradition, which I see as a kind of Marxist perspective. I rather see a continuous building on tradition, within which I find a context that I want to be part of. I do not set out to innovate, but rather to create conditions that lead to something—not in a predictable sense, but rather inescapably so. Until it’s done—for better or worse—I don’t stop for feedback.”
Liebermann rarely has his scores printed before their premiere, and he hardly ever revises them; yet, when he does revise, his changes do not go beyond minor technical details. Small adjustments were made in cooperation with Stephen Hough to the score of the Second Concerto; with Jeffrey Biegel to the Third Concerto; and with John Mannase to the Clarinet Concerto.
He stresses that the urge to do what he does best serves him as ultimate inspiration: “One does not write music because one wants to, but because one must. Art is about transcending limitations, whether in painting, when transcending the limitations of the canvas, or in playing the piano, with its limited 88-key keyboard. It is about creating a landscape where one can lose oneself. Composing is about the journey to create a better, alternative world."
Highlights of Lowell Liebermann’s current season are the first performances of his Third Symphony, commissioned under the Magnum Opus project of “Meet the Composer,” for the orchestras of Virginia, Nashville and Marin- JoAnn Falletta conducts the world premiere with the Virginia Symphony Orchestra in November 2010.Other commissions include a work for the 50th anniversary of the American Harp Society, a piano trio for Trio Solisti, commissioned by the Arizona Friends of Chamber Music, and a piano quartet, commissioned by Music from Angel Fire for the group Opus One.
For more information see this bio or Liebermann's website.Ilona Oltuski's article has been first published at

Sunday, November 14, 2010

facebook Chopin : About getting inspired on the internet

A recent facebook message sent to a well known live composer by a fan, a young musician to thank him for accepting his “friend request”, got me thinking how great it is, that our generation of fans and instrumentalists have the opportunity to connect not only with their peers but with the great and admired performers and contemporary composers.

The masters are available via email and even are sharing some facts of their lives, making them human yes, but not less venerable for their work.

I wonder how it would play out, if it became possible to connect to our old revered masters the same way. What would Chopin have answered to a friendship request? He was probably too private to even register on facebook.
Schumann however, would have been posting lots of: ‘Robert is….’ ’status comments’and blogs too, I assume. Lots of them.

It certainly would have meant a lot to Clara Schumann to be able to record from home. Maybe she would have used Skype and Youtube to promote Robert’s music. Her own compositions may have come out with a little help from fan groups and I-tunes would have most certainly posted her recordings on I-like.

I wonder if Beethoven would be opposed to perform at a nightclub,like the (le)Poisson Rouge, the popular Downtown Manhattan Bar that integrates Classical Programs alternatively to its Rock and New World Music Scene-I suspect he would not be at all.

Looking at the speed of communication and promotional tools out there, one has to wonder how these greats made it into our lives at all,considering that mail, music and performers as well as social relationships, were based on visits by horse and wagon, instead of blackberries and the varying electronic devices of our day.

Maybe it took a while longer to reach everyone, but their stardom lasted from generation to generation, their music has been taught with passion by teachers and performers for centuries. Maybe that was the case, because their message was powerful enough to overcome space and time.Maybe it was partly due the fact, that the way they collected their ‘friends’ over decades, happened by building a relationship through effort and understanding, not by clicking “accept” a thousand times.
Posted by ilona

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Maestro Zubin Mehta's 50 Years With The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra

October 16, 2010, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra presented, in celebration of its upcoming 75th anniversary season, a spirited concert featuring excerpts from Bizet’s ‘Carmen’. A speech by Israel’s President Shimon Peres opened the event at Tel Aviv’s Mann Auditorium; a gala benefit at the Hilton Hotel followed.
But this was about far more than 75 years of Israel’s premier orchestra: It was Zubin Mehta’s 50 years of association with the orchestra which orchestra members and the adoring audience were particularly excited about.
So when the charismatic Mehta led the orchestra in ‘Hatikvah’, Israel’s national anthem, the atmosphere in the concert hall was definitely one of strong emotion and gratitude for the support and friendship the legendary maestro had extended to the people of Israel throughout his long career.Ever since leaving his native India at age 18, Mehta has become one of the foremost figures within the international music world.
Starting off as a young conductor and music director of both the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, he later successfully filled positions with orchestras in Tel Aviv, Florence and Munich; his 13-year term as music director of the New York Philharmonic was the longest consecutive term in that orchestra’s history.
Particularly for a society which is part of a region facing political unrest and violence on an almost daily basis, music serves as a reminder of a slice of humanity beyond conflict. And so it came as no surprise to me, when Shimon Peres expressed his gratitude and respect for Mehta’s meaningful musical leadership.
“His baton supplies us powerfully with magic and hope … he introduces harmony to our country, which is not often the case in abundance…” And, in turning to Mehta: “We thank you for that unmatched service.”Mehta replied by reconfirming his strong connection with the orchestra: “Thanks for your support for my orchestra that I love with all my heart. We are one big family.”
But this honorary citizen of Tel Aviv does not only lend his voice of musical reason to the people of Israel. He has also done so in other places in crisis, from protesting the Vietnam War to the injustices suffered by the people of Sarajevo.
One of his more recent humanitarian efforts include a concert titled “A cry to the world”, held on July 5, 2010, in support of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalith, who, as a prisoner of Hamas, is not permitted visits by the International Red Cross or other humanitarian organizations.
Ever since he first started with the orchestra as a young, then still unknown conductor, substituting for Eugene Ormandy in July 1961, his “beloved” Israel Philharmonic Orchestra has always held a special place in the maestro’s heart. In 1969, Mehta accepted the position as the IPO’s music advisor, and in 1977 he became their music director. Then, in 1981, Mehta was appointed music director for life.
Most of the orchestra’s 120 musicians have been handpicked by Zubin Mehta. In his autobiography, ‘Zubin Mehta - The score of my life’, he explains: “There was excellent chemistry between the IPO and me from the beginning: we liked each other almost immediately.” The Six-DayWar in 1967 strengthened Mehta’s bond to the country and its people, and he went to Israel several times as a guest conductor of the IPO.
Numerous great performers from the world of classical music have followed his invitation to Israel to perform for free in times of crisis, such as Arthur Rubinstein and Isaac Stern. Mehta says: ”It is so wonderful when great souls give of themselves to the orchestra and benefit a country so in need of cultural infusion, whose entire sixty years of existence have been mired in terror and crisis.”
The founding of the orchestra dates back to 1936. Then, the Polish-Jewish violinist, Bronislaw Huberman, convinced 75 Jewish musicians to emigrate from Nazi Germany to Palestine to form an orchestra, thus saving them from the Holocaust. First called ‘The Palestinian Philharmonic Orchestra’, its inaugural concert on December 26, 1936 was headed by the legendary Arturo Toscanini. Leonard Bernstein led the renamed ‘Israel Philharmonic Orchestra’ in concerts during Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, and was named its ‘music director laureate’.
Unlike most of the world’s big symphony orchestras, the IPO is run co-operatively, its administrative team consisting of just 15 IPO musicians and 35 staff members. Not only do the musicians handle the orchestra’s daily operations, they also share a great deal of responsibilities in terms of financing, programming, public relations and human resources.
The challenge of keeping classical music alive and appreciated by the young generation has led the IPO to create community programs targeting young people, including youth in remote areas. There are also musical outreach programs to Israel’s Arab population.
Through its international tours, the orchestra tries to act as a cultural ambassador for Israel, and support funding efforts for its operations.Currently, not only are the rehearsals for this season’s nine programs under way, but preparations for the orchestra’s forthcoming international tours are in full swing, as well.
With backstage hallways buzzing with excitement and a healthy dose of chaotic, but creative energy, I still managed to greet the maestro and exchange a few words in my native German, the language he had acquired along with his musical education at the Vienna Musikakademie.
But before I could catch my breath, he was already being whisked away by someone determined enough to be in charge of any situation.
Yet, I was lucky that the orchestra’s ‘number one’, Avi Shoshani, was nice enough to take out a little time to give me his personal account of the maestro, who by now was resting in his office to get some peace between the earlier rehearsal and the forthcoming afternoon performance.
“I met the maestro for the first time in 1973. He was very supportive of me and has become an integral part of my life. I like to think that I, in turn, have become an important part of his life, as well. Because he is such a humble and down-to- earth man, whom I consider to be a great friend, it is easy to forget that he is one of the foremost maestros, and capable to inspire some of the most relevant musical experiences. One should never forget that he deserves to be put on a pedestal,” says Shoshani.
When I asked him which of the many musical experiences he has shared with the maestro on their many tours and concerts together stood out for him, Shoshani did not hesitate: “For me personally, the Mozart Requiem he performed during the Gulf War, or Wagner’s ‘Ring’, on tour in Valencia last June, will remain unforgettable breakthroughs on a musical and emotional level. Some of the pieces he has performed would be hard for me to imagine being played any other way.”
The depth of Shoshani’s commitment becomes clear when he continues: “I consider it a privilege to be associated with him and to exchange ideas on a continuous basis. Our communication is exquisite; it is often not necessary to finish the sentence – we know immediately what the other one means.”
Mehta has left his imprint on each of ‘his’ orchestras. His unerring ear, perhaps only rivaled by his communication skills, extends above and beyond the members of an orchestra. So does his personality that reaches all the way out to the audience. Many different musicians, whose lives he has touched throughout his astounding career, have commented on his extraordinary skills.
Deeply influenced by his music education at Vienna’s Musikakademie, Mehta managed to surpass the academy’s traditional approach and create his own. In turn, he helped to form many of the instrumentalists he has hired over the years, whether in Israel, New York or Los Angeles. And Mehta had a sure hand when it came to the choices of artists for his orchestras. One of the most prominent examples of a musician he brought along with him is the New York Philharmonic’s concertmaster Glenn Dicterow, who at age 11 had his solo debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. His father, Harold Dicterow, had served this orchestra as the principal of the second violin section for 52 years.
Soloists that have performed with Mehta span entire generations of artists, from greats like Arthur Rubinstein and Isaac Stern, to musicians like Daniel Barenboim, Pinchas Zukerman and Yitzhak Perlman, all the way to the younger and youngest of today’s classical music scene.
The maestro’s invitation to perform with one of the orchestras he was associated with has resulted in more than the occasional career breakthrough; Yefim Bronfman’s career break serves as one of many examples.
Mehta’s devotion to fostering young musical talent and his involvement with youth programs worldwide have become crucial for many young artists.
The same goes for his willingness to feature young talent on stage. Child prodigy Gil Shaham, for example, performed with Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic at age 11. Many of the young generation of classical music talent are full of praise for Mehta’s continuing efforts and generosity of shining the spotlight on them.
Cellist Inbal Segev remembers her debut under Mehta at the Barbican Hall in London, back in 1991. Mehta had almost effortlessly calmed down her nerves by saying: “After conducting Wagner, Beethoven’s triple concerto is like taking an Alka Seltzer,” making everyone laugh and relax. Says Segev: “After working with many conductors, I appreciate his genius even more. I almost took it for granted then, that playing a concerto could feel so ‘right’, but, of course, it does not happen that often, that a soloist and the conductor click as effortlessly, as we did back then.” And she adds: “Zubin’s loyalty to Israel is absolutely admirable. Now, as in the past, it takes bravery to support Israel and the Jewish people publicly. How many people have done so during the last 50 years? Zubin Mehta is the best friend to the Jewish people, that’s why he is so loved by all of us.”
Within any long and successful career there are special moments and events of particular significance. The maestro fondly remembers one of those moments, as captured in Christopher Nupen’s documentary “The Trout”. A benchmark in classical music documentaries, the film celebrates the spirit of a very special group of artists and friends in the late sixties: Zubin Mehta, Daniel Barenboim, Jacqueline du Pres, Pinchas Zukerman and Yitzchak Perlman. This was an exceptional moment in classical music’s history, and the film conveys the energy and creative interaction between musicians who would continue on in their career to reach the very top. But even at the time of the documentary, these artists were revered, not unlike pop or movie stars.Upon phoning my public relations contact within the IPO about another opportunity to conduct an interview with Mehta, I got an invitation to that evening’s featured program, “The IPO in Jeans”, instead.
Geared to get the younger generation’s attention, Mehta and TV personality, Tsufit Grant, presented young talent during an entertaining evening where everybody dressed informally, and most of the orchestra’s musicians were in jeans.
It was then that I had the opportunity to experience Mehta’s lighter side. Just as compelling as the ‘serious’ Mehta, his charm and entertaining personality clearly proved that both modes could co-exist in one person.
But then his self-confident style has often allowed him to make unconventional and refreshing decisions. Some of his initiatives even seemed way ahead of their time, like his early ‘70’s ‘crossover’ concert, which was held at the Hollywood Bowl and featured the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra alongside some of rock music’s biggest names, like “Santana” and “The Who”.
In the backstage dressing room area I met with bassoonist Zeev Dorman, one of the senior members of the orchestra and the director of the Buchman - Mehta School. Founded in 2004, the school has set out to create a unique collaboration between academic and orchestra training for musicians. Principal IPO musicians are part of the school’s faculty.
Dorman, who also had been the conductor of the Israeli Youth Orchestra, shared some interesting historical details with me: “It is important to mention that the first viola player of the orchestra, the Hungarian Oden Partos, founded the first Music Academy in Tel Aviv, in the mid-thirties. Already in its founding days, the close connection between the orchestra and the Academy was established. Then, in 1962, the Music Academy was incorporated into the arts faculty of Tel Aviv University. Today, the Buchmann- Mehta School of Music is run as an independent unit, though, with members of the orchestra working with different instrumentalists, section by section, one on one.”
A creative solution was put in place, supporting the efforts of both the orchestra, as well as the university’s education of young musicians. Says Dorman: “The direct training with the orchestra enhances student’s interest and prepares them to continue a career with the orchestra. A problem that the orchestra faces is a loss of its younger generation of capable musicians, leaving the country to seek out positions with international orchestras. We are compatible with the highest international standards; we are also supporting talented students from around the world, who want to come to study with us. However, it is in our interest to foster a close relationship of the younger generation with the IPO, to ensure the legacy of the orchestra. Maestro Mehta is fully supporting those efforts. One performance each year is devoted to a chosen student of the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music.”
Having grown up in Frankfurt, Germany, I personally know one of the great benefactors and patrons of Israel’s education and the arts, Frankfurt real estate entrepreneur, Joseph Buchmann. Buchmann became instrumental in the founding of the Buchmann- Mehta School.In a phone interview, Jossel (Yiddish for ‘Joseph’) told me about his involvement in founding the school, and about his role as the university’s Chairman of the Board of Governors: “The University approached me with the dilemma that funds were needed to support the Music Academy. I responded that I was not an expert in the field of music, but that my friend of 25 years, Zubin Mehta, certainly was. Funds were also needed for the orchestra’s operations, especially for the education of the young musicians, who potentially would stay on with the orchestra, in Israel.”
Already a staunch supporter of the IPO, Buchmann came aboard. Zubin Mehta, who through his work with international orchestras is all too familiar with the fundraising needs of orchestras’ operations, joined as the school’s honorary president.
Back in New York, I had recently met with Zeev Dorman’s son, the young composer, Avner Dorman, who is the first graduate of the school’s composition program. See my article: Avner Dorman’s Compositions: Percussive Fairytales.
Avner Dorman told me about his experiences of working with Mehta, who this season premiered Dorman’s “Azerbaijani Dance”.
According to the young Dorman, “Mehta is one of the most accommodating and open-minded conductors. He wants to really include the composer, always asking, ‘is this how you envisioned it?’ and making sure you are happy. It amazes me that someone of his stature and genius continues to want to keep on learning and to be curious.”
I was rather overwhelmed by all the impressions that I had collected throughout my adventures following Zubin Mehta’s endeavors, and those surrounding the celebrations of his 50 years of intense musical and personal involvement.then my final good-bye happened totally by accident, when I practically bumped into the maestro in the elevator as we both departed the Hilton Hotel.
After those strenuous last days, packed with performances and public presentations, Mehta confided in me: “I can’t believe it, I am already leaving in half an hour for Akko, our next concert.”
I conclude that if anything might be missing in his exciting life, it may be a few moments of privacy and quiet downtime. And I finally fully understand his words at the gala benefit that night: “When we finish this season, we will have climbed a musical Mount Everest together.”
Perhaps I will have another chance to meet the Maestro. His ongoing 50th celebration season will bring him and the IPO to a gala performance at New York’s Carnegie Hall, on February 22, 2011.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Meeting Mark Peskanov of Bargemusic

I can imagine going paperless, even Internet-less but going musicless? Impossible! Thanks to people as energetic and creative as Juilliard-trained violinist, Mark Peskanov, this is unlikely to happen.
Peskanov is the man behind Brooklyn’s ‘Bargemusic’, a series attracting music mavens and sporadic music lovers alike. At least four times a week, the ancient 100-foot barge at Fulton Ferry Landing sways gently to the rhythm of Peskanov’s diverse program offerings featuring emerging, as well as sought-after, performers from the world of classical music and jazz.
This summer, the floating concert hall’s 176 seats were filled daily, sometimes even twice a day. “We present 52 weeks of continuous programming, all year around”, Peskanov explains. “It is, in a real sense, music in motion.”
Bargemusic is very much part of its Brooklyn neighborhood. “A grocery store is open every day of the week, as well”, says Peskanov. “People are used to just showing up, and there is something going on. Some artists – not all of them very well known to the public - perform many times during a season; the choice of programming informs the choices of artists, and vice versa”.
Above all, the series strives to be inclusive. Kids come free, and at $35 a ticket per adult, some families bring many, and come often. “We remain a venue with a friendly, family-style character. When you arrive late for a performance, because the weather is bad, you are not going to stay outside in the rain.”
For a long time, Bargemusic was not even set up to accept credit cards, let alone online booking. All reservations were handled the old-fashioned way - by phone. “We are in the process of adapting, technology-wise”, Peskanov promises.
Word about Bargemusic is spreading, even without a lot of advertising. “Our artists are of a certain level, and we do want to make them happy. It is the personal approach that is really special. I work closely with the artists, and often perform together with them. Many are good friends and acquaintances of mine, and I share my own experiences as a musician. Everything I do is informed by that. I played in many different concert halls, and with many illustrious artists … music is a gift to express.”
When talking about his responsibility towards younger performers, Peskanov is taking a page out of the book of Isaac Stern, whom he performed with himself and not only admires as a great artist, but also as a great educator. “The best way to learn is to be on stage. Anything can happen”.

In the early eighties, when his Russian compatriot, Bargemusic founder and violinist Olga Bloom, managed the operation, Peskanov performed at the venue himself.
He remembers: “ ‘Welcome home’, she said to me, and indeed, her unique and charismatic personality made me feel at home right away. It was an intimate arrangement; people were sitting close to the performers. One could feel the dedication to the music in the space, and that gave it a special atmosphere.”
In the mid-nineties, the visionary Bloom, then already in her nineties, called on Peskanov to get involved with the programming and presentation of concerts. (Photo: Olga Bloom)
“That went on for about six year, or so”, states Peskanov. “She was particular about what she liked or not, and there would be occasional disagreements with the board of directors. Some people would leave, but she had a vision I believed in. Like a barometer indicating the weather that would influence the current of the East River, upon which the vessel would float more or less calmly, she had a feeling for the balance of music to be programmed. In 2006 I came on board as the president. When I asked her ‘why me?’ she answered: ‘It’s your taste’.
With the current board of directors not really involved in artistic decision-making, Peskanov’s taste still continues to guide the little barge into the mainstream of New York’s music world.
The concept’s ever increasing popularity has attracted broader audiences and opened the doors to new and distinguished venues.
The “Here and Now” new music series, as well as the ”Here and Then” early music series attract selective audiences, many of them part of a solid group of longtime Bargemusic aficionados.
“This is a concept that can actually survive in economically sparse times, and keep its character in the best of times, as well”.
It is Peskanov’s dream to franchise the Bargemusic concept to other big cities. Anyone knows of a barge in - let’s say, Chicago?
For Bargemusic’s program visit their website.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

High expectations might be justified for a forthcoming Sunday afternoon performance of voice and piano, which will take place at the Tenri Cultural Institute on June 20 at 3 pm. 24-year-old pianist Michael Brofman, at the beginning of a very promising musical career, will accompany mezzo-soprano Emily Howard, whose voice has been called nothing less than “extraordinarily beautiful”.
The concert’s program grew out of the idea of juxtaposing a contemporary composer’s work with similar pieces from classical repertoire. Michael Rose of Brooklyn is that contemporary composer whose songs will be paired with some quintessential romantic Schubert songs, like “Der Tod und das Mädchen”, “Gretchen am Spinnrad” and “Wanderer’s Nachtlied”, as well as repertoire by composers G. Crumb, H. Wolf and H. Duparc. The pairing of traditional art songs with Rose’s contemporary pieces is largely based on subject matter and overall mood.
The ’Rosiad’ event will pay tribute to the famous ‘Schubertiades’ held in the 19th century, when Schubert’s friends and supporters used to get together in a salon setting, playing his music for each other.
The effect of combining some very well known works with Michael Rose’s compositions promises to be illuminating our understanding of song.
Duparc’s “Au Pays ou se fait la guerre” will be followed by Rose’s “The generous Enemy” for a short set of war-themed songs. Crumb’s “The Sleeper” provides a natural fit with Rose’s “13 ways of looking at a Blackbird”; according to Michael Bronfman, both pieces are set in a thoroughly atonal but accessible style, utilizing extended techniques in the piano accompaniment throughout.
The artists
Even before graduating High School, pianist Michael Brofman performed at some prestigious New York City events and venues, such as Barge Music and Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall. A student of famed Gyorgy Sandor, he continued his studies at Northwestern University with James Giles. He received the Director’s Award for his chamber music endeavors with the New York Symphony, and the Frida A. Pick Award for Piano Studies, featuring a performance on Chicago’s classical radio station, performing works by Lukas Foss.
A frequent performer of new music, he has collaborated with composers Michael Klingbeil, Michael Rose and Mohammed Fairouz. As a vocal accompanist, he has worked with Christine Moore, Emily Howard and Amy van Roekel. While continuing his studies with Robert Durso, Michael is also part of the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music’s faculty, teaching piano and chamber music.
Mezzo-soprano Emily Howard, known for her vocal versatility and razor-sharp musicianship, has proudly premiered many operatic roles and song cycles by contemporary New York composers.
In 2004 she performed the role of ‘Blues Queen Bee’ in Sorrel Hays’ ‘The Bee Opera’, a role that took her to Europe in 2007. Howard is featured on two recent recordings: ‘Works of Michael Rose, 2001-2005’ and ‘The Chamber Music of Jim Lahti’. On the latter recording she is presented as a soloist with the critically acclaimed Omni Ensemble. Her last few years have been extremely productive, with performances of Schoenberg’s demanding masterpiece “Pierrot Lunaire” and the role of “Schwertleite” in “Die Walküre” at the Metropolitan Opera, her Carnegie Hall debut as the alto soloist in Mozart’s “Coronation Mass” with the New England Symphony, and New York City Center’s “Mikado” with the New York Gilbert and Sullivan players – all performances which have attracted rave reviews for this “most vocally impressive” performer (Theater Mania).
For other upcoming concerts, incl. performances with Ensemble Youkali, which she founded in 2007, go to her website http://

Composer Michael Rose has seen his works performed by many soloists and ensembles across the US, Europe and Asia, such as Eight Blackbird, Richmond County Orchestra, and the Momenta String Quartet. His Opera “Ugetsu” is currently in development with ‘American Opera Projects’.
A Brooklyn Conservatory faculty member as well, he has been an active force behind the “Composers and the Voice” series, which originated around the inaugural season of ‘American Opera Projects’.
He was also part of forming the “South Oxford Six” collective, an independent group of Brooklyn musicians devoted to the performance of new music.
For more information about Michael Rose and South Oxford Six please go to:

The three artists started collaborating in 2008, when they performed a set of works by composer Michael Rose under the sponsorship of the ‘American Opera Projects’.
June 20, 2010, at 3 PM
Tenri Cultural Institute
43A, West 13th Street
For reservations call 917-507-6258