Feb 19th 2015

Nice Jewish Music

by Glen Roven

Glen Roven, Emmy Award winner, is a composer, lyricist, conductor, pianist, translator and CD Producer.
When American song writer Jerome Kern announced he was going to write a show based on Marco Polo, an enthusiastic reporter asked, “Mr. Kern, your new musical is based on an Italian who crossed the Alps and then the Leviathan desert, got to Mongolia, then China and finally returned home to Italy. For heaven’s sake, what type of music will you compose?” Kern answered without missing a beat, “Nice Jewish Music.” (Oh, I hope that’s true.)

Last Monday, I went to my favorite venue in the city, SubCulture (160 seats-the friendliest staff and a bar that actually closes during the performances) to see CONTACT! a Co-Presentation of 92nd Street Y and the New York Philharmonic, the seminal series dedicating to performing new music. This concert was called New Music from Israel, and yes it was “nice Jewish music!”

Substituting for an indisposed Lisa Batiashvili was the erudite Yotam Haber (picture right), a composer I deeply admire, Israeli or not. In fact, I knew the music of all four of the composers but had never once thought of three of them as particularly Israeli, although somewhere in my mind I guess I knew they were all born there.

As Haber took pains to explain in his welcome speech, Israel today is a melting pot; what it means to be Israeli is completely different than what I meant forty years ago. He joked that what was being presented was a Me'orav yerushalmi, or Jerusalem Mix, a grilled mix of meats that is often served before a meal. He talked about the dilemma of writing “nationalistic” music. Before the twentieth century most classical music did indeed have a nationalistic sound, perhaps not because of a composer’s personal politics but simply because traveling to other parts of Europe, let alone the world, was exceedingly difficult, and for geographical reasons composers were mostly exposed to music of their compatriots. A national sound developed almost by default. In today’s world of instant down-loads from iTunes, or actually ever since air travel became the norm, the nationalist sound of various regions became diffuse; a composer almost has to consciously decide to write music that would be deemed nationalistic.

The first composer presented Joseph Bardanashvili (picture left) was born in Georgia in 1948 and didn’t move to Israel until 1995. Since then he has been one of the countries most performed composers and it’s easy to see why judging from the movement selected from his String Quartet No. 1, Quasi danza macabre.

As the music began, I felt it couldn’t be less Israeli if it tried. The danza kicked off with a riotous tango, the rhythms directly from Argentina but the harmonies directly from Bardanashvili’s fertile imagination. It was as if Astor Piazolla, suddenly inspired, discovered Schoenberg, Berg and Stravinsky. The syncopations, the disjointed rhythms and the delicious harmonies made for a perfect opening. But suddenly as the first section dissolved into the second by way of an astounding cello cadenza (played by the Nathan Vickery,) we high-tailed it out of Argentina, and via El Al landed directly at Ben Gurion Airport.

The music turned decidedly modal, with the aching and longings of a wandering Jew, and we were smack in the Old City of Jerusalem. The cello and occasionally the viola kept the incessant beat with a macabre pedal tone as the two violins danced high above with shimmering, but steely harmonics.

The main theme returned at the end and the piece came to a rousing climax with a reprise of the infectious tango, the perfect way to open this me'orav yerushalmi.

Next up was Haber’s own piece, and though I adore Haber’s minimalist style with his post-Adams tunefulness and post-Glass syncopations this piece, Estro Poetico-armonico II was a dense concentration of sounds and pitches far removed from anything I’ve heard of his before. Suggested by the story of Benedetto Marcello, a Venetian contemporary of J.S. Bach’s who hid in the Synagogue transcribing the ancient melodies, Haber took snippets of these tunes and compressed them into musical atoms. This piece was an interesting contradiction: the densest musically as well as the sparest. I loved how the “tunes” seemed to surface through the lowest notes of the bass clarinet (Lino Gomez) and then swirl into the modular trillings’ of the violins.

Shulamit Ran (picture left), the second woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for music was perhaps the most well-known of the quartet although her piece, Mirage for five players seemed to me a minor work from a great composer.

I was most looking forward to hearing the piece by Avner Dorman (picture right), the composer I would have mentioned if someone asked me to name and Israeli composer. I was lucky enough to hear his outrageous piece at the NY Phil, Spices, Perfumes, Toxins!  in 2009 featuring the now (sadly) disbanded Perca-duo, one of the most sensational performance of a new piece I’ve ever heard. Dorman did not let me down with his, aptly titled, Jerusalem Mix.  Blasting off with the rhythms of New York with more than a touch of Bernstein and Gershwin, the syncopated phrases engulfed the audience and took us on a virtually tour of the night-life of New York City. But then just as suddenly as in the Bardanashvili, we were in Tel Aviv with Marc Nuccio on the clarinet and Sherry Sylar, oboe, inviting us to a Jewish Wedding. Of course, with Dorman, this is no let’s-all-improvise-on-D-minor-and-dance-a-hora-type music, but a deeply contrapuntal excursion into the vernacular.

All through the evening I kept trying to hear any sort of unifying sound that would link these three disparate composers. It seems that in all of the pieces, surrounded by vibrant rhythms of dance and exotic colors was an aura of sadness, loneliness and desperation. I wonder if that’s the “nice Jewish music.”

And a postscript:

Before the CONTACT! concert, I went to the York Theater on Lexington (which  is completely unmarked, can they please fix that?) for a staged reading of an operatic version The Sleeping Beauty.  The composer, Benjamin Wenzelberg (in the picture), age 15, has been working on the opera since he was 11. He won the 2014 BMI Student Composer Award and a 2015 National Young Arts Foundation Merit winner. He sings in the Met Children’s chorus, was a composer at Tangelwood last summer, studies composition and conducting at Juilliard and I saw him as Miles in the NYCO production of The Turn of the Screw. I never use the “G” word, but if I did, I would burden Wenzelberg with it. So how was the opera? Wonderful. This was a true opera full of recitatives, choruses and arias that define and delineate character but most importantly it is music driven, not surprising for a young composer who grew up singing at the Met, but still. Plus Wenzelberg enlisted his “friends,” to perform, nice to have friends like the legendary Soprano Lauren Flanigan who was at the top of her game. Watch out for this kid!



For the Author's, Glen Rowen's web site, please click here.

To follow what's new on Facts & Arts, please click here.

 


This article is brought to you by the author who owns the copyright to the text.

Should you want to support the author’s creative work you can use the PayPal “Donate” button below.

Your donation is a transaction between you and the author. The proceeds go directly to the author’s PayPal account in full less PayPal’s commission.

Facts & Arts neither receives information about you, nor of your donation, nor does Facts & Arts receive a commission.

Facts & Arts does not pay the author, nor takes paid by the author, for the posting of the author's material on Facts & Arts. Facts & Arts finances its operations by selling advertising space.

 

 

 


This article is brought to you by the author who owns the copyright to the text.

Should you want to support the author’s creative work you can use the PayPal “Donate” button below.

Your donation is a transaction between you and the author. The proceeds go directly to the author’s PayPal account in full less PayPal’s commission.

Facts & Arts neither receives information about you, nor of your donation, nor does Facts & Arts receive a commission.

Facts & Arts does not pay the author, nor takes paid by the author, for the posting of the author's material on Facts & Arts. Facts & Arts finances its operations by selling advertising space.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Music Reviews

Nov 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "Most important  to him, he explained, is maintaining his individuality in interpretation. He feels it was a mistake in his past to pick and choose bits from different teachers and combine them into a finished performance. He has decided to create his own perspective, and 'go for it'."
Oct 28th 2021
EXTRACTS: "The 16th International Beethoven Piano Competition came to a rousing climax in Vienna on 21 October with first prizewinner Aris Alexander Blettenberg’s lyrical rendering of the Beethoven Piano Concerto No 1." ---- "The other two finalists, Austrian Philipp Scheucher and South Korean Dasol Kim, played Beethoven’s Fourth and Fifth Concertos respectively."
Sep 21st 2021
EXTRACT: "Top prize, worth 22,000 euros, went to Jae Hong Park, a flamboyant, emotive player with and a firm grasp of Rachmaninov, and second prize went to Do-Hyun Kim, who played Prokofiev’s second concerto with some considerable verve. Placing third was Lukas Sternath, a young Austrian who performed Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto with cool charm -- the opposite of Park’s style."
Jul 9th 2021
EXTRACT: " .....I have to give everything in these concerts,.... "
Jun 26th 2021
EXTRACT: What do you want to be known as? --- As “Stewart Goodyear, composer and pianist”.
Mar 15th 2021
EXTRACT: Denis Pascal, founder of the French Trio Pascal: ".....recording studios began working again. We recorded our Schubert trios at the end of September. And musicians everywhere are finding that the crisis allows time for a certain introspection and questioning into the way music is performed. Music will play a much more important role after the crisis."
Feb 12th 2021
EXTRACTS: "She began her piano training rather late in life – age 8." ..... "I want to contribute a sense of joy by discovering atypical works that might surprise an educated public. I have great experience and am inclined to share them with anyone who can appreciate them, or as André Gide wrote, anyone “who has an open mind”."
Jan 31st 2021
EXTRACTS: "A new recording of Franz Liszt’s piano compositions presents ten carefully balanced pieces in a double-CD album aptly titled Between Light and Darkness, launched by Piano Classics. The pianist, the veteran French virtuoso Vincent Larderet .... Larderet opens his CD with a moving exploration of Après une Lecture de Dante with a tortured lyricism unmatched by many of his contemporaries who play it. I was stunned the first time I heard his performance. In our interview below, he describes lyricism as “an essential facet of my musical conception. The piano must be able to sing like the human voice.” "
Jan 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "Jack Kohl is an American pianist and writer with three novels and two essay collections to his credit. His new collection, From the Windows of Diligence: Essays from a Standing Pianist, has drawn critical acclaim in the U.S. and Europe. In these reflections, he examines the power of ‘hack pianism’, the metaphor of running vs. the piano, and the ‘hidden gift’ of the Covid virus pandemic on solitary practicing. Robert Beattie spoke to Kohl about his music training and how he made the transition from pianist to author. (This edited interview was first published on www.Seenandheard-international.com and is reproduced with permission.)"
Dec 17th 2020
EXTRACT: "Freedom in Beethoven’s music takes many, frequently overlapping forms. There is heroic freedom in the Eroica (1803), freedom from political oppression in the Egmont Overture (1810), artistic freedom and innovation in the Ninth Symphony (1824). Today, Beethoven’s music remains deeply connected with a true humanism, which has the principles of freedom and self-determination at its heart. The composer’s music grew out of the age of European Enlightenment, which located human reason and the self at the centre of knowledge......"
Nov 27th 2020
EXTRACT: "One of the most durable tales in Western civilization – the legend of Faust – is brilliantly rendered in a piano adaptation, performed this week by the multi-talented Australian musician of German/Slovenian parentage, Ashley Hribar. A new recording of the music, now available digitally, will appear as a CD in the New Year. Hribar calls his recording, “Faust: A Mortal’s Tale”.  It is a personal musical reflection on the Faust story, loosely based on the 1926 silent film by Wilhelm Friedrich Murnau."
Aug 6th 2020
EXTRACT: "For 60 minutes, my mind was clear, the air was clean and the sound heavenly. It was my honor and privilege to have been there."
Jul 25th 2020
EXTRACT: "Scarlatti sonatas are enjoying a popular surge in recent years, tempting pianists –Europeans, Americans, Asians -- to try to master their broad range. Margherita has some advice: “Don’t be afraid to slow down, to speed up, to play the truly singable melodies with a quasi-Romantic feeling.” "
Jul 18th 2020
EXTRACT: "The dizzying output of John Cage the musician, the poet, the writer, the thinker, the artist, was so prolific that one of his sidelines – his interests in wild mushrooms -- has been almost overlooked. A new a two-volume set of books, beautifully designed by Capucine Labarthe, packaged in an elegant slipcover, seeks to fill this gap."
Jul 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "In our chat by telephone, Paley spoke from his Paris apartment and asserted his belief that Rameau was “the greatest French composer ever. Pure genius and very special colors.” He acknowledges his extensive research into the period of Rameau’s life (1683-1764) in order to recreate the spirit of the time."
Jul 8th 2020
EXTRACT: "In A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and subsequent films, Morricone opted for an unprecedented fusion of archaic-sounding lines in the melody, reminiscent of medieval modal music. He intermixed this sound with contemporary pop touches (the Fender electric guitar), wordless choirs, unusual instruments (Jew’s harp, ocarinas, mariachi trumpets…) and ambient sounds (whip cracks, whistles, gunshot, coyote’s howls). He also infused scores with his trademark humour. This can be heard in the comedy western Il Mio Nome è Nessuno (My Name is Nobody, Tonino Valerii, 1973) where a toy trumpet toots bits of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries."
Jul 1st 2020
EXTRACT: "Question: Are you collaborating with living composers? Answer: Yes, Scott Wollschleger sends me unfinished new works every month. Keeril Makan is working on a piano concerto. Melaine Dalibert has dedicated several recent works to me. There are more names on the horizon. But these are the three where I feel I can have a big impact on their careers, and all three write music that I feel born to play. That combination of things is important to me."
Jun 1st 2020
EXTRACT: "Question: How do you see your musical mission today? Answer: My real passion in music is to resist popularity rankings and market forces. In my view, these currents impoverish our cultural richness........."
May 1st 2020
EXTRACT: Alessandro Deljavan: "I bought a former convent 40 kilometers from Pescara, in Villamagna. It's very important for me to breathe clean air and live as simply as possible. Life in a giant city full of cars and smog is hard for me to imagine. My perspective is always to live fully. My aspirations for the best musical experiences guides my decisions and over the past several years I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with some wonderful musicians—these experiences have brought me a sense of optimism for what might lie ahead.”