Home About Us Media Kit Subscriptions Links Forum
Dr. Irving Spitz: August 2011 Archives

August 2011 Archives

This year saw the inauguration of the first Jerusalem Season of Culture. One of the highly acclaimed events of this festival featured performances of Steve Reich’s “Different Trains” staged by the Jewish Theater of Stockholm in collaboration with Jerusalem’s Tower of David Museum. 

Performances took place in the "Kishle," in Jerusalem's Old City. This old Turkish barracks and prison, was built on ancient ruins dating to the Roman occupation of the city and could well have been part of the original palace of the Jewish king Herod. One section of this complex still serves today as a police station. The rest is part of the Tower of David Museum and the site has lain derelict for decades. It is currently undergoing archeological excavation and this is the first occasion when it was partially open to the public. This represented a brilliant exploitation of a unique space and although not wheelchair friendly, one can only hope that this exciting venue will be used more frequently in the future. 

Steve Reich, one of the foremost American current composers, is at the center of the modern minimalistic music scene and his compositions are highly repetitive. “Different Trains” is a three-movement composition for string quartet interwoven with recorded spoken voices and received a Grammy Award. 
The composition relates to the benign pleasurable train journeys from New York to Chicago and Los Angeles undertaken by Steve Reich in his youth. These are contrasted with the tragic train journeys in Europe in the early 40’s which transported Nazi Holocaust victims to the death camps. This is the main focus of the composition. The music and dialog were augmented by movies of trains and scenes from the Holocaust. “Different Trains” was performed by the Swedish ensemble "Fleshquartet" using modern electronic instruments and there were taped recordings for the monotonous repetitive spoken dialog which was fascinating and dovetailed with the music and videos. 
The novel staging consisted of about eighty transparent or opaque glass sculptures, designed by the Swedish artist, Ann Wahlstrom, which were suspended from the ceiling or placed on the floor. The four Swedish musicians were seated in the midst of these glass sculptures. At the two ends of the rectangular performance space were screens where the video images of trains and scenes from the Holocaust were projected. 

spitz 8-9 photo 2-fleshquartet.jpg
All the dazzling effects of this production were achieved through a combination of music, voices, videos and sculpture together with dramatic lighting. It was put together by Pia Forsgren, director of the Jewish Theater in Stockholm which has become a vital part of contemporary Swedish culture. It premiered in Stockholm in 2008. Ms Forsgren used Reich’s original composition and added to it the video and incorporated the glass installation. This is the first foray of this production outside Stockholm. 

Following the Reich work, the quartet played their own exciting composition “Tears Apart,” written as a reflection and commentary on “Different Trains.” In addition to their electronic instruments, the four musicians made musical sounds by playing on the glass sculptures. 

Other events in Jerusalem’s Season of Culture included sessions devoted to philosophy and poetry as well as valedictory performances by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company as part of the troupe’s final world tour. The final event was a performance by the renowned soprano Renee Fleming in her first appearance in Israel with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Zubin Mehta. 

spitz 8-9 photo 1-Renee Fleming.jpg
Renee Fleming is rightly acknowledged as one of the foremost sopranos of the time and this was made abundantly evident in this gala concert which was a fund-raiser for the Richard Tucker Music Foundation. The concert got off to a good start with a lively and dramatic performance of Verdi’s overture to Forza del Destino. Ms Fleming gave a scintillating account of the Jewel song from Gounod’s Faust and a riveting performance of Vissi d’Arte from Puccini’s Tosca. Here she succeeded in spinning out every subtle nuance of the aria like a silken thread. 

She was joined in this concert with the up and coming Maltese tenor, Joseph Calleja, who gave an impressive rendering of La Donna e mobile from Verdi’s Rigoletto and E lucevan le stele from Tosca. Calleja’s voice is not of the light Italian lyric quality but is nevertheless an impressive instrument and he was crystal clear in the high, middle and lower registers of the tenor range. 

Ms Fleming returned after intermission having changed into another flattering evening gown resplendent with large earrings and necklace. Together with Joseph Calleja there was a wonderful rendition of Parigi, o cara from La Traviata as well as the love duet from Madame Butterfly.  

As encores, Ms Fleming gave an unforgettable account of Puccini’s show stopper O mio babbino caro from Gianni Schicchi. She then took a microphone and with audience participation, gave a spectacular rendering of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. The final contribution of the two stars was a lively account of the Brindisi from La Traviata. This represented a fitting end to a great and memorable concert. 

According to the organizers of the Jerusalem Season of Culture, it is anticipated that this will become an annual event. One can only hope it does. This certainly gives the Jerusalem public a new cultural perspective and also adds luster of the city. 


Fig 1: Stockholm’s Fleshquartet (photo credit Jonas Lindstrom).

Fig 2: The glamorous soprano Renee Fleming (photo credit Andrew Eccles)

Enhanced by Zemanta

Music in Jerusalem: The ancient Sultan's Pool put to glorious use.

  |   Comment   |   Bookmark and Share
spitz 7-22 photo.jpg
Nowadays many outdoor cultural events in Jerusalem take place in the Sultan's Pool.  In biblical times, this area was known as the Hinnon valley.  It was here that Menasseh, the biblical king offered child sacrifices.  Subsequently, the Romans converted the valley into a water reservoir by constructing a wall across it to the south.  This was later repaired in the 16th century by the Ottoman Turks, hence its name, Sultan's Pool.  In more modern times, this area was part of a dangerous no-man?s land forming the border between Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. 
Today, the Sultan's Pool has been magnificently restored.  On one side of the valley, rise the walls of the old city of Jerusalem, which were also built by the Ottomans.  On the other side are the first buildings constructed in the 1860s when the Jewish population began to move out of the old city.   The ambience of this magical place is unique.  This was complemented by the lighting effects with intermittent illumination of the old city walls.
One of the main events of the recent Jerusalem Opera Festival, organized by the Israel Opera, which was held at this venue, was an evening devoted to popular arias.  The program consisted of excerpts from the operas of Verdi, Puccini, Rossini, Mascagni and Cilea.  It was performed by soloists and the Arena di Verona Orchestra, under the baton of Italian conductor, Giuliano Carella.  Since this orchestra plays at Verona's open air annual opera festival, the musicians were accustomed to this type of venue.    
The concert began with a rather pedantic performance of Rossini's overture to William Tell.  It took a little time to adjust to the sound.  The orchestra had to compete with the wind as well as the traffic on the surrounding eastern and southern roads.  The real drama began with the soloists.  Pride of place went to Italian tenor Stefano Secco whose Nessun dorma (None shall sleep) from Turandot, was perhaps the real highlight of the evening.  Both the soprano Svetla Vassileva and mezzo soprano Mariana Pentcheva hailed from Bulgaria.  Mariana Pentcheva was best in Acuzena's aria Stride la vampa (The flames are roaring) from Il Trovatore and Svetla Vassileva rended Butterfly's aria Un bel di vedremo (One fine day) exquisitely. Brazilian bass, Luiz-Octavio Faria captured the subtle nuances of Don Basilio's aria La calunnia (Slander) from the Barber of Seville. 
At the conclusion of the concert, the enthusiastic audience clamored for more.  Tenor and soprano obliged, perhaps not unexpectedly with the Brindisi (Toast) from La Traviata to the audience's great delight.

Illustration: The setting of the operatic gala by the Arena di Verona Orchestra in Jerusalem's Sultan's Pool (courtesy, Yossi Zveker)

The Israel Festival, 2011

  |   Comments   |   Bookmark and Share
Fifty years old and still going strong!
Gil Shohat, the talented young pianist, conductor, composer and lecturer, indeed a musical polymath, conducted a fine performance of Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde.  He used Arnold Schoenberg’s arrangement where Mahler’s massive orchestration was reduced to 11 instrumentalists from the Elisyum Ensemble.  Musically nothing of this dramatic masterpiece was lost in this transcription.  One could even appreciate how far Mahler, the heir of Wagner and Brahms, had moved in the direction of the Second Viennese School of Schoenberg, Webern and Berg.  Mahler himself was never formally a member of this group.
Unfortunately no program text notes were supplied although the veteran Israeli actress, Gila Almagor, introduced each song.  Despite her mellifluous Hebrew, this did lead to a loss of continuity.  Gabriel Sadeh’s ringing tenor did justice to the cycle.   Mezzo soprano, Ayala Zimbler, was barely audible in the fourth song, Von der Schönheit (Of Beauty).  However she came into her own with her final contribution, Der Abschied (The Farewell) which is nearly as long as the previous five movements combined.  Here she gave an incandescent rendering of Mahler’s farewell although I would have preferred an even more subdued ending.
This concert was part of a 6 hour Mahler marathon which also included some of his most famous song cycles and piano quartet.   Mezzo soprano, Bracha Kol, brought out all the poignancy and emotional intensity of Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Death of Children).  This was far more successful that her earlier foray into Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer).  Shohat accompanied her most competently on the piano although he tended to drown her out in the fortissimo passages.    

spitz 7-21 photo 1.jpg
Another notable festival event was a recital given by the famous soprano, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa.  Remarkably even at her age, she still retains all the high notes although her lower register is somewhat restricted and her voice has also lost much of its volume.  Nevertheless her voice’s characteristic beauty and resonance have been largely retained. 
This recital took place in the huge auditorium at the Jerusalem Convention Center, a most inappropriate venue for a recital.  A more intimate venue would have better served both Dame Te Kanawa and her public.  Nevertheless, her regal presence and magnetic and wining personality overcame all issues and this was a memorable recital. 
She gave wonderful renditions of Mozart’s songs, Chi sa, chi sa, qual sia (Who knows, who knows, what be) and Vado ma dove (But where I go) as well as Pamina’s Ach ich fuhl’s (Ah, I feel it) from the Magic Flute and Un moto di gioia (A joyous emotion), an alternate aria of Susanna from the Marriage of Figaro.
The unquestioned highlight was a stunning performance of Richard Strauss’s song Morgen (Tomorrow).  Te Kanawa spun these lines with considerable beauty and grace.  This was unfortunately marred by incessant coughing from some sickly members of the audience.  Her recital ended with an encore, her usual show- stopper, Puccini’s O mio babbino caro (Oh, my beloved father) from his opera Gianni Schicchi. 
Dame Te Kanawa also introduced one of her young protégés, Phillip Rhodes, a promising baritone who is destined for a great career.   Her excellent accompanist was the pianist Michael Pollock.
Another noteworthy event of the festival was a performance by the period instrument British group, Florilegium.  Pergolesi’s Salve Regina, not as well known as his Stabat Mater was given an outstanding rendition by Canadian soprano Gillian Keith and this group of seven very talented musicians.  Most impressive was the agility and trills of her lovely voice in her interplay with flautist Ashley Solomon in a performance of the aria Sweet Bird, a pastoral ode by Handel based on the poetry of John Milton.  This left an unforgettable impression and was one of the most memorable highlights of the current Israel Festival.

spitz 7-21 photo 2.jpg

Fig 1: The soprano Kiri Te Kanawa, courtesy John Swannell
Fig 2: The soprano Gillian Keith, courtesy Clare Park
Enhanced by Zemanta

Education Update, Inc. All material is copyrighted and may not be printed without express consent of the publisher. © 2011.