Festivals in Israel: Solace for the troubled
musical life, always strong, is flourishing, in spite of its economic
and political troubles. One reason is that the country has received
a tremendous boost in the last two decades by the influx of a
large number of competent musicians from the former Soviet Union.
Partly as a result of the availability of this new talent, a number
of new orchestras have been set up and older established institutions
have been strengthened. All of these orchestras give regular subscription
concerts; in addition, Israel hosts several international music
First and foremost is the annual Israel Festival. The most memorable
event at the most recent festival was the appearance of soprano
Kiri te Kanawa, on her first visit to Israel. Her program comprised
arias by Handel and Mozart as well as those from the French and
Italian repertory. At 56, she is nearing the end of an illustrious
career, but remarkably her voice still retains all the brilliance
of the high notes although some of the lower register has gone.
She attained heavenly heights in her rendering of Handel’s Piangero
la sorte mia (I Shall Weep For My Fate) from his Giulio Cesare.
She concluded with an encore, her show stopper, O Mio Babbino
Caro (Oh My Beloved Father) from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi.
She was accompanied by the Symphony Orchestra of Rishon Letzion
under conductor Asher Fisch, who successfully captured the subtle
nuances of the scores in the diverse repertory. Her rapport with
conductor, orchestra and audience was extraordinary; this was
a concert to remember and cherish.
An equally impressive festival event was a performance of Verdi’s
penultimate opera, Otello by the Israel Opera, which was
staged at the spectacular Roman amphitheatre in Caesaria. Like
many other outdoor venues, this has the usual drawbacks with uncomfortable
seating and problematic acoustics, compounded in this case by
the gentle lapping of the waves and the occasional drone of an
overflying aircraft. The part of Otello was taken by tenor
Gaby Sadeh. He was most convincing and conveyed the requisite
arrogance, pride, jealousy and pathos characteristic of the role.
Iago, sung by Boaz Senator, was effective but despite amplification,
his voice was frequently drowned out. Desdemona was sung by Larissa
Tetuev, a light soprano. She displayed the required air of innocence,
as a balance between the evil Iago and the complex Otello, her
willow song and Ave Maria being especially poignant. Alexander
Lisiyansky’s sets were dramatic and grandiose, possibly even a
bit overwhelming, and Avi-Yona Bueno’s lighting was particularly
effective. The staging also featured a ballet scene at the arrival
of the Venetian ambassador at the conclusion of Act 3. Not often
included in regular performances, this was well suited to an outdoor
venue, contributing to a performance which would be a credit to
any international festival.
An outstanding Israeli musical tradition is the annual chamber
music series established by the renowned pianist Elena Bashkirova,
wife of Daniel Barenboim. Many prominent international soloists
and recognized chamber musicians participate, contributing their
talents on a voluntary basis. The festival is currently in its
fourth year. Most concerts in this series are given at the Jerusalem
Khan, an old Turkish building with an intimate theatre well suited
to chamber music. The program is built around a theme, which on
this occasion was transcriptions and transformations of well-known
pieces by their composers or by others.
The festival usually lasts about 9 days and amongst the most memorable
highlights was the appearance of Emmanuel Palud, the former principal
flutist of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra who gave a masterful
account of Debussy’s Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune
and his Serene for flute. He was joined by the outstanding solo
oboist, Francois Leleux, in duos by WF Bach and Mozart. Lelaux
himself gave an inspiring performance of Teleman’s fantasy for
oboe. Matthias Glander, principal clarinetist from the Staatskaplle,
joined pianist Elena Bashkirova and the exceptional cellist Boris
Pergamenschikow in an exciting performance of Beethoven’s own
arrangement of his Septet Op 20 for trio. There was also an interesting
performance of Bach’s Goldberg Variations transcribed for
string trio by violinist Dmitry Sitkovetsky, who was joined by
violist Gerard Causse and cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras in this
exciting, unusual rendition. Other prominent performers included
violinists Nikolaj Znaider and Renaud Capucon. They joined violist
Michael Tree, a founding member of the Guarneri Quartet, and cellists
Boris Pergamenschikow and Sennu Laine, the principal of the Staatskapelle,
in an unforgettable performance of Schubert’s profoundly eloquent
string quartet in C major, D. 956. This was specially added to
the program and dedicated to the memory of the victims of the
September 11 terrorist attacks. There could be no more memorable
tribute than the soaring harmony, epitomizing despair, melancholy,
but also hope, that characterize the adagio movement of this great
Another annual musical festival is a Liturgical series hosted
by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra in which local and international
soloists and choir groups participate. This year the choral groups
were the Budapest Academic Choral Society and the local Philharmonia
Singers. I heard an excellent rendition of Brahms’ Deutche
Requiem under conductor Lawrence Forster, musical adviser
of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, with Israeli soprano Michal
Shamir and American bass-baritone Thomas Carson. Carson was joined
by Italian soprano Fiorella Burato, Israeli mezzo Susanna Poretsky
and Italian tenor Vicente Ombueno in a dramatic, taut performance
of Verdi’s requiem, which was led by Dan Ettinger, conductor in
residence of the Israel New Opera. He led a lively and impressive
performance that managed to coax the maximum from orchestra, choirs
and soloists, all contributing to a memorable account of the work.
Soloist and choirs all acquitted themselves admirably but the
highest accolades must be given to the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra,
whose playing has improved dramatically over the last few years.
Because of the current unrest, Israel is going through a major
crisis. There are few tourists, hotels are all but empty, and
restaurants are closing. The buoyant optimism seen only 18 months
ago has dissipated; bringing in its wake sadness and failed aspirations.
Nevertheless, despite or possibly because of this, the rich music
life of the country continues. Israelis require some antidote
to turn them away from the grim news on radio and TV.#
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