Presented by the Carmel Music Society, the internationally-acclaimed chamber ensemble, the Israeli Chamber Project, completed its most recent tour at Sunset Center in Carmel on Sunday March 25th. According to the program notes, the ICP commissioned Yuval Shapiro to create an abbreviated musical arrangement of Igor Stravinsky’s ballet, Petrushka, specifically scored for flute, clarinet, violin/viola, cello, harp, and piano. The players were Daniel Bard, violin, Michal Korman, cello, Guy Eshed, flute, Tibi Cziger, clarinet, Silvan Magen, harp, and Assaff Weisman, piano.
The result was the first piece on the program, the four-movement Scenes from Petrushka. The original ballet centers around a tragic love-triangle involving three puppets, the clown Petrushka, a ballerina, and a Moor, who are brought to life by a magician at a Shrovetide fair. The first movement of the arrangement is The Shrovetide Fair, where the scene of the fair is laid out and the people are called to witness the show at the puppet theatre. The second movement, Conjuring Trick and Russian Dance, conveys the moment when the stage puppets come to life and begin to dance. The next movement, Petrushka’s Room, shows the awkward Petrushka making attempts to gain the favorable notice of the ballerina, with whom he is in love, with dismal result — she flees. Finally, there is a reprise of The Shrovetide Fair where the Moor slays Petrushka and the clown’s ghost rises above the stage to angrily look down on the Moor who slew him, the ballerina who rejected him, and the magician who brought him to life to experience such a tragedy. This Shapiro arrangement is brilliant in its distillation of the original orchestration into the four movements for the small chamber group.
ICP’s mission is to promote music educational outreach, as well as to feature the works of Israeli composers. The second piece of Sunday’s program was the entomologically programmatic Firefly Elegy by Israeli composer Gilad Cohen (b. 1980), an ICP special commission. The piece contains “four sections that reflect the four life stages of the firefly,” the egg, larva, pupa, and adult stages, all represented with variations and transformations on a 12-note melodic theme. The charm of the work is the opportunity to personify the firefly, and in the composer’s words, “[the firefly] must sometimes look back and wonder: was it all worth it?” Dimitri Murrath on viola joined the stage, and at one point turned his instrument sideways and strummed it like a banjo, while harpist Magen made unusual percussive knocking sounds on the wooden “running board” of his full-size harp.
The next piece was Espirit Rude – Espirit Doux by Elliott Carter (1908-2012). The title translates roughly to “rough breathing, smooth breathing” and was a duet for flute and clarinet. We were told prior to the start of the piece that it was a conversation in the truest sense of the word between the two instruments: sometimes they would talk at the same time, saying the exact same thing, or the opposite. They would at times agree with one another, sometimes disagree, and once in a while outright argue. At times one would sustain a note while the other “spoke” at length about something, and then switch. It was suggested that we listen to the conversation as if we were listening to two people converse in a foreign language; we might not understand the exact words, but if we pay attention, we can get the gist of the feeling between the two. It was a fascinating modern interplay between these two instruments.
The last piece of the first half was Introduction and Allegro by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937). The Ravel was our tonal reward, and we were able to relax and simply enjoy the lushness we hadn’t realized we had been longing for throughout all the avant-garde until this point. Silvan Magen’s harp was stunning yet again, both in elegance and playing. Carmit Zori, violin, joined the ensemble for the first time.
After the intermission, we were treated to the Piano Quintet in E Major, Op. 44 by Robert Schumann (1810-1856). As one of the five greatest piano quintets ever written, it never fails to move audiences with its amazingly effective marriage of the string quartet and the full blown dazzling romanticism of Schumann’s piano writing. This is Schumann at its best, and it makes the spirits soar. For the Schumann, Carmit Zori led on first violin, and there was a humorous moment during the Scherzo. Everyone was playing with vigor, then came a sudden moment in the middle when they all stopped, completely silent and still. Zori carefully turned her page of music, and then they all resumed, in previous vigorous fashion, to the end!
Clarinetist Tibi Cziger, has the distinction of being the prizewinner of the 2005 Carmel Music Society Instrumental Competition, thus, having the Israeli Chamber Project (founded in 2008) perform on a CMS presented program, featuring this founding member was a special pleasure.