Sunday, January 7, 2018

"Maestro Elbaz's World of Wonders" - the Israel Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra hosts the Gilad Ephrat Ensemble

The Gilad Ephrat Ensemble (photo: Yoel Culiner)
The Israel Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra’s third concert of the 2017-2018 season - “Maestro Elbaz’s World of Wonders” - remained true to the current season’s “north-south-east-west” theme, as usual, also including Israeli content. The NKO hosted the Gilad Ephrat Ensemble (Gilad Ephrat-double bass,Keren Tannenbaum-violin/vocals, Hilla Epstein-’cello and Shmuel Elbaz-mandolin). Shmuel Elbaz, the orchestra’s house conductor directed the orchestra and played as a member of the quartet, also soloing on the mandolin. This writer attended the event in the Recanati Auditorium of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on December 30th 2017.



The three works by European composers took the listener to different points of the compass, beginning with the Overture to French composer Adrien Boieldieu’s (1775-1834) opera “The Caliph of Baghdad”.(1800), eastern in subject matter, but definitely European in musical style, although Boieldieu’s vibrant use of percussion would have been an association or the orient for European audiences of that time. Charming and joyful, albeit conventional, the piece was good concert fare, setting the scene for an evening of genial music. Gioachino Rossini’s Overture to “The Italian Girl in Algiers” (South) (Rossini wrote the opera at age 21!)  was a fine opportunity to hear one of Rossini’s most sparkling overtures and some of the NKO’s finest players in solo moments, a substantial amount of the solo work was played by Hila Zabari-Peleg, the orchestra’s very fine 1st oboe. Taking us westwards, Jewish-Hungarian composer Leó Weiner’s (1885-1960)  “Three Hungarian Folk Dances” were originally written for piano solo. Arrangements for piano duet and for violin and piano exist. Shmuel Elbaz has arranged the work for mandolin and orchestra. Opening with the lively “Fox Dance”, Elbaz and his players present the vivacious dances, each from a different region of Hungary, with much zest and exuberance, With the wink of an eye, Maestro Elbaz challenges the audience to follow him through the whimsical rubato of the “Ronde from Marossék”, as he pulls out all the plugs in the virtuosic abandon of the “Peasants’ Dance”,  a type of fast Csárdás.



Following the above whirlwind world trip, the rest of the concert all comprised contemporary Israeli repertoire. Oded Zehavi (b.1961) composed his Fantasy for mandolin and orchestra (Concerto No.2) in 2017 for the Israel Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra. This concert was the work’s world premiere.  Prof. Zehavi’s program notes discuss where he stands as regards Israeli music and the elements that go to make up this work: modal patterns, sounds heard in music of this region and outside of it, rhythms taken from the debka and hora dances and the concept that a symphony orchestra can sound somewhat informal. Opening with a long oboe solo, the first movement, with its octave melodies and homophonic utterances, bristled with associations of Arabic music. The Andante (2nd movement), communicating a sense of well-being, took on a more western character, with the final Rondo allegro seeming to bring east and west together in a seamless, busy soundscape. The piece sits well on the mandolin, with Elbaz articulately addressing its challenges and fine details and the mandolin easily heard at all times. Oded Zehavi speaks to his listeners through sounds and gestures that are intelligible, accessible and indeed pleasurable and with which they can identify.


Continuing the NKO’s project of presenting short new works by students of both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv Academies of Music, we heard “The Sun Was Dark at Givon” by Naama Zafran (b.1988), a masters student of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. Composer, arranger, pianist and teacher, Zafran’s already comprehensive oeuvre includes chamber music, works for orchestra, for theatre, for video art and cinema. “The Sun Was Dark at Givon”, a program work set in 1207 B.C., describes a solar eclipse. “A solar eclipse is perhaps the most  spectacular natural event people will see”, writes the composer. “During the day, the sun is hidden by the moon, with the stars briefly seen in a sky illuminated with the pink light of dusk…” A mysterious violin melody leads the listener into Zafran’s rich, intense and dramatic musical canvas, wrought of maqam associations, but not just, of articulate melodic strands, energy and compelling orchestral writing.


For the rest of the program, the Gilad Ephrat Ensemble joined the Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra in a selection of Israeli and other numbers arranged by Eugene Levitas. The pieces featured the four ensemble members, with the NKO mostly joining them in tutti support. The quartet’s upbeat, polished and understated style and individual solo improvisations made for sophisticated performance, be it in the sultry, typically Spanish “Murcia”, “Iri-An” with its Irish motifs and pizzazz, Chick Corea’s bouncy, jazzy “Sea Journey” or Ephrat’s “Stockholm”, (dedicated to the NKO’s musical director Maestro Christian Lindberg) the latter weaving folk-like motifs with jazzy sounds. In Moshe Vilensky’s “Lighthouse” and the caressing, nostalgic “Song of the Valley” (Marc Lavry/Rafael Eliaz), Keren Tannenbaum’s low-key singing and more folklike use of the violin added spontaneity to the performance. Established by composer and double bass player Gilad Ephrat, the ensemble’s virtuosic artists perform music of a style that brings together jazz, classical music,ethnic- and Israeli music. The ensemble recently returned from a concert tour of Brazil and South Korea.


The Israel Netanya Kibbutz Orchestra goes for different and daring programming, with Israeli music always high up in its priorities. It is much to the NKO’s credit that its audiences are curious and open to new ideas. And they were kept on their toes at this unusual concert, examining and enjoying the less familiar, the surprises and the challenges of the program. Maestro Elbaz presented his wonders in high-standard, polished performance.