Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players: musically devoted to the beauty found in “caviar” as well as in the “potatoes” of music repertoire.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Jerome L.Green Space
Having the opportunity to listen in on a live-broadcast conversation with Esa-Pekka Salonen, the internationally renowned composer/conductor and curator of the Lincoln Center’s festival “Hungarian Echoes” (taking place March 10th -27th), sounded like a wonderful proposition to me. This was a presentation of WQXR’s Green Space on Tuesday, March 7th.
I would have just wished that the energetic moderator, a driving force in the New Music scene, Nadja Sirota, had let the conversation really take off to higher grounds. Sirota is a successful Juilliard graduate violist and faculty member at Manhattan’s School New Music department, as well as a performer and interpreter of the new new music scene, so she certainly neither lacks the knowhow nor the charisma to engage her subject in a meaningful discourse.
The Q2 production at the Jerome L. Greene Performance Space at WQXR, which accommodates a small audience to experience the process of radio broadcasting, is an ideal multi-media performance space that could be the cultural platform for New York and beyond. This could have been true in this case, had Salonen been given the chance to get in more lines.
Instead, there he was, the current leader of the British “Philharmonia”, whose vocational career has catapulted him, even though he is on the younger side, into the internationally recognized top league of enigmatic conductors, hardly being given the opportunity to share much of his insights with the audience.
He was the undisputedly most interesting guest one wanted to hear from, as he sat next to Sirota while pianist Conor Hanick performed Ligeti on the harpsichord. And there he remained sitting silently, while pianist Marino Formenti filled in for Pierre-Laurent Aimard at the piano with some Bartók pieces and while musicians of the New York Philharmonic offered a somewhat awkward potpourri of different movements of works by the three featured festival composers: Bartók, Haydn and Ligeti.
Even if the pieces represented the composers of the festival, the characteristics of Ligeti on harpsichord, or the tender piano pieces of Bartók’s “Hungarian Dances,” had little in common with the symphonic festival and they certainly did not help answer the question thrown out by Sirota to Salonen and pianist Formenti: “What makes them Hungarian? “
The only information I really took away from the conversation which gained lively momentum through the emotionally charged, but a bit chaotic, Formenti was the fact that the Hungarian thread was to be understood somewhat loosely, since Hungarian geographical territories continuously shifted according to political alliances within the Austria-Hungarian Empire. Culturally, what was really thought to be Hungarian was often rooted in Gypsy music.
However the music of Hungarian-born Bartók and Haydn, who had worked at the Esterhazy court in Hungary, and Ligeti, born into a Jewish-Hungarian family from Transylvania, remains fascinating. Their music was highly innovative for its time and therefore captivated the interest of Salonen, the true modernist spirit, to curate the festival.
As far as Salonen’s personal input about the festival, he volunteered one important fact, namely that he finds himself at a stage in his life where he now has free choices of performances. Luckily for us, he obviously likes the Bartók, the Haydn and the Ligeti. This was even clearer when I heard his Bartók rehearsal with the New York Philharmonic that same morning. He was really fantastic at it. Demanding yet devoted, he negotiated with the already excellent and capable Philharmonic players several nuances of tempi, dynamics and coloration. He stopped and started them, even stopping them mid-bar where they immediately picked up fluidly. Sometimes he did this with a little humor: “We managed to bury the trumpets…twice…”, sometimes with firmness, but always making sure of getting his way, in a compelling manner. Concert master Glenn Dicterow sat to his left with the violins, opposing the violas on the right hand side of the conductor – a relatively new seating arrangement, agreeable with Salonen and Alan Gilbert ( compare with my concertmaster article: http://getclassical.blogspot.com/2011/02/first-fiddle-glenn-dicterow.html )
The atmosphere stayed always friendly, but there was also a tremendously focused concentration in the orchestra, as they conformed audibly to the energetic, modern dance-like movements of the Finn. It was an exciting way to listen to Bartók’s inventive themes that actually seem so much less confrontational as we get more and more familiar with them over the years. He really – as Dicterow remarked on the way to rehearsal, is not at all that “avant-garde” anymore. As wonderful as this rehearsal was, I felt that at the Green Space performances, “Less is more” would have worked better.
I went there for Salonen’s vision and how it connected to works at his festival, as well as to get to know something about his personality. The incredibly important fact that he had worked closely with Ligeti, before his death in 2006, was only briefly mentioned, but never elaborated on. A world of influences on a potent composer and conductor could have been brought to light, by the talented performer and radio show host known to champion New Music of this high caliber, so why didn’t Sirota do it? She had the space, the time, and the man right with her.
Salonen, who had not even taken the time to change since the rehearsal must have felt similarly, after beating traffic all the way to 160 Varrick Street, even if he did come by limousine.
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Thursday, March 3, 2011
Kissin performs concerts in Tel Aviv on a regular basis, but this concert, held on February 16th, (instead of as planned on January 8th) was the first of its kind, his first Solo recital here and had a locally invested objective: to help raise funds for the Jerusalem Music Center.
The initiative for the concert, as Kissin told me, was based on his wish to perform in Jerusalem itself and, looking for this welcomed opportunity, he approached his friend, Lady Annabelle Weidenfeld.
As a member of the Center’s Advisory Board, Lady Weidenfeld, in conjunction with the Jerusalem Foundation and renowned pianist Murray Perahia, the organization’s president since 2009, obliged enthusiastically and the concert was planned as part of Kissin’s 2011 world tour.
The concert, to honor Liszt’s 200th bicentennial was held at the International Convention Center ’Binyanei hauma’ in Jerusalem to accommodate as many people as possible. This was part of a Liszt recital tour which put Jerusalem on the classical music map along with the usual venerable venues including Carnegie Hall, the latter on March 9th, 2011.
Situated within the picturesque neighborhood of ‘Mishkenot She’ananim’, near Jerusalem’s Old City, JMC was founded in 1973, inspired by the vision of legendary violinist and mentor to many great artists, Isaac Stern and Teddy Kollek, then eminent mayor of Jerusalem.
As an advanced training center for Israel’s young musical talents, JMC’s mission - as executive director Hed Sella in an interview with Sarah Carnvek explains, is not geared to discover the next prodigy, but is rather invested in helping talented young people to become all-round musicians.
Says Sella:”From the JMC point of view, we try to be apolitical and invite only those with the best musical quality. We are involved in several projects that see Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs playing together. We believe in coexistence.”
Without being a school, JMC provides a most formidable education, like the ‘Perlman Music Program’ that makes it possible for students to play in an orchestra under the baton of Maestro Yitzhak Perlman, as well as study chamber and classical Arabic music; and also sing in a chorus and receive individual lessons from a world class faculty.
Kissin agreed to donate proceeds from his Jerusalem concert to support the JMC training programs for young pianists at the center. According to Sella, “It was a solid reaffirmation of high esteem for Jerusalem’s culture.”
It most certainly was a gesture to honor Jerusalem, which had honored Kissin before. In 2010, Kissin was the recipient of an honorary doctorate at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
A written interview with the Jerusalem Post in January 2011, depicts Kissin’s strong sentiments, towards his Jewish identity: “…In spite of the fact, that I… grew up in an assimilated family and knew nothing about Jewish history, let alone religion…when I was a child, I wrote a will (yes!) The content of which, I believe, reveals a lot. It read as follows: ‘when I die, bury me in a forest…with the following inscription: Here lies Evgeny Kissin, a son of the Jewish people, a servant of music…See, that’s how I identified myself already as a child.”
When living in England, Kissin was exposed to rising anti-Semitic and anti-Israel sentiments. He felt an obligation, being in the public eye, to come to Israel’s defense.
My article examined his public outrage voiced in his open letter to the BBC.
His fan site incorporates a library that he describes with statements like these....”Authors who are mainly non- Jews, many of them Arabs, giving interviews in support of Israel….I started to speak up in public, in order to counter the raging anti-Israel hysteria in much of the world.Since I was well known and hundreds of thousands of people all over the world were coming to my concerts and buying my recordings, I felt that I had to tell them:”If you like my art, this is who I am, who I represent and what I stand for.” Kissin explains his convictions to his fans on his website with essential historic facts about Israel, in an attempt to counteract anti-Israel propaganda.
While I was very familiar with Kissin’s commitment of speaking out in support of Israel’s democratic rights and obligations, I became only recently aware of his heartfelt love of and proficiency in the Yiddish language.
Doomed by the threat of extinction, Yiddish was the vernacular language of Jews living in Eastern and Central Europe before World War II, and has become a national treasure of Jewish culture. In an interview in Yiddish, with Dr. Max Kohn on the video channel of the “Forverts” (the Yiddish version of the Forward), Kissin explains how he taught himself the ‘Alef Beis’, the Hebrew letters necessary to read Yiddish in its “Urtext.” He also promotes his CD, ‘On the Keys of Yiddish Poetry,’ featuring poems by Yiddish poets which Kissin recites in Yiddish. The interview (in Yiddish as well), is available on Youtube. He also has done live presentations in Yiddish at Verbier and Montpelier.
Not unlike the American people, Israelis are bound to a multitude of ethnic presences, even though Israelis are only one generation removed from their ancestors’ cultural heritage.
At the Jerusalem concert, the Russian keyboard master played for a practically sold out hall, despite the short notice change of date. The prevailing language heard, besides Hebrew, was Russian. As I sat next to an older lady, who was muttering comments in Russian, I gathered she was a piano teacher. We were sitting in the front row, and she watched every move on stage critically. She might as well have been an acquaintance of Kissin’s own great teacher, Anna Pavlovna Kantor.
The great school of Russian-Jewish musicianship prevails in Israel after a significant wave of Russian Jew emigration in the Seventies and Eighties. This is made evident, for example, by the large percentage of Russian descent musicians within the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.
Kissin was celebrated throughout the performance, with young and just as enthusiastic older fans approaching the stage and handing over one bouquet of flowers after the other.
Immediately following the concert, a flock of admirers, music students and all, followed Kissin to the make shift Greenroom, of the Convention Center. One could think this was a scene from a Rock concert; fans hovered around Kissin, struggling to get a glimpse, an autograph, a photo from their idol.
At the Greenroom, a very friendly and courteous Kissin, greeted his fans, including myself. We had been in touch over email, but it was the first time we met in person.
His affable and responsive salutation :”Shalom Ilona, at last we meet,” after having him heard perform the most remarkable concert , with the most definitely ideal rendition of the Schubert –Liszt - transcription‘ Soiree de Vienne Valse Caprice No.6’, was just the perfect encore for me, personally.