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Felicja Blumental International Music Festival comes to Tel Aviv

CM 28/07/2021

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These days marketing professionals and PR guys and gals have quite a dome scratcher. In the old days the music industry captains, and their foot soldiers, would summarily place the output of artists in neat pigeonholes, for the consumer purchase thereof. But now it is becoming increasingly challenging to define many works, say, in the music field, as simply “classical” or “jazz” or “folk.”

Mind you, this is not a particularly new development, and for some time now music festivals that appear under some thematic banner have incorporated material from a broad range of disciplines and styles.
The open-vision approach has certainly been central to the Felicja Blumental International Music Festival since the off, the new edition of which will take place at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art August 3-7. Founded in 1999 by Annette Céline, daughter of the acclaimed eponymous pianist, the event has always spread its programmatic net far and wide. Executive director Avigail Arnheim, who assembles the festival lineup together with Idit Magal, says: “It is the curiosity for music-making from all over the world in classical music, ethnic and jazz, as well as special joint projects, that bring together a musical week with a twist for the public in Tel Aviv.”
That is evident right across this year’s agenda. You can find staples of the classical repertoire, with works by Mozart, JS Bach, CPE Bach and Telemann, but plenty of “extramural” stuff too, and an intriguing pre-program premiere, on Saturday evening, of the Cut Glass chamber opera by Georgian-born Israeli composer Hana Ajiashvili.
Gilad Harel also suits the eclectic festival line of thought. His August 6 (9:30 p.m.) spot is called “Homage to Benny Goodman,” and appears to be a perfect fit for someone who lives comfortably in both classical and jazz-oriented domains. “I started out, actively, as a student of classical music,” says the 47-year-old clarinetist. “I studied at Stricker [Israel Conservatory of Music in Tel Aviv] and then I went overseas, to take an undergraduate degree at the National Conservatory of Music and Dance in Paris.” Harel kept progressing along the classical continuum following a transatlantic move. “I carried on to a master’s degree, at [The] Juilliard [School] in New York.”

It was there that Harel’s artistic world opened up to the possibilities of non-classical endeavor, although, in truth, the seed of his musically errant ilk was first sown many years earlier. “When I had just started to play clarinet, when I was in second grade, my mom bought me a cassette tape, with [preeminent klezmer clarinet player] Giora Feidman,” he recalls. Not to be outdone, Harel’s dad soon got in on the offspring educational act. “A few months later my father bought me a tape of Benny Goodman.” And so, the King of Swing entered the lad’s rapidly developing musical consciousness. “I was suddenly introduced to these two genres, klezmer and swing,” he says. That epiphany came to full fruition during his decade-long sojourn in the Big Apple. “In New York I began to engage in jazz professionally, in klezmer and in swing jazz.”
Not that his long and rich classical backdrop was in any danger of going to waste. “What really interests me in life is fusions, combining all the edges. If you see the programs of my concerts – concerts that I curate myself, and not someone else telling me what to play – you’ll find works by Mozart and then klezmer and contemporary music.”
Naturally, adopting such a varied and accommodating approach to music-making means that very little of what Harel gets up to, on the stage, is going to be straight up. “If I play klezmer it will generally be with some added spice. And, while it won’t be like Giora [Feidman] it won’t sound like it comes straight out of the shtetl. In New York I played in a sextet which fused klezmer with salsa, and in Israel I have played in a band which marries klezmer with gypsy swing, and I founded a project which combines klezmer with Dixieland [traditional jazz].”
They say that Goodman always exuded a sense of gaiety and joy, even though he was dedicated to his craft almost to the point of obsession, and Harel goes along with that sunny view of music-making. “Within the classical and academic world there is always fun to be found in looking for new vistas. If you don’t enjoy what you are doing, as a musician, you may as well go and work in an office. I don’t say you can’t enjoy yourself as a member of a big orchestra, playing the notes in front of you, but I need something else. It is a matter of personality.”
Goodman certainly had plenty of the latter, and his charisma came across on stage regardless of the charts he was playing off. The tribute show is not in fact based on the late great clarinetist’s oeuvre as an iconic jazzman. The three works in the program were all written by classical composers who created works specifically for Goodman, or pieces that ended up being showcased by him.
Friday’s lineup features Derivations by American composer Morton Gould, Igor Stravinsky’s Ebony Concerto, and Leonard Bernstein’s Prelude, Fugue and Riffs. While the Gould work was written with Goodman in mind, both the others were composed for bandleader-clarinetist Woody Herman, although it was Goodman who starred in the premiere of the Bernstein piece, possibly because Herman’s ensemble had already disbanded by the time the concert came around. “Gould really grasped Goodman’s individual idiom,” Harel explains. “He tailored it to Benny Goodman’s language and structure, and worked it through classical tools – counterpoint, harmony, tonality and such like.”
There is a juicy tale behind the Stravinsky offering. “When Herman got the chart he said there was nothing there that related to him,” says Harel. “He said he didn’t want to play it.” Goodman had no such qualms and was happy to take it on.
Harel says he is champing at the bit. “This is a very rare opportunity to play these works live,” he notes. “This is a pretty expensive undertaking.” For the occasion, Harel will be backed by a big band, with Guy Feder conducting. “This is a dream come true,” Harel adds. “I hope I get another opportunity to do this.”
Elsewhere on the Felicja Blumental glittering artist agenda one can find stellar ladino vocalist Yasmin Levy and internationally acclaimed countertenor Yaniv d’Or in a high-powered Latin-leaning concert, veteran rock-pop pianist-flutist-vocalist Shem Tov Levy, and vocalists from the German-based baroque and classical Kölner Akademie, as well as a dynamic performance of Music for 18 Instruments by the Tremolo Percussion Ensemble. The work was written by 84-year-old American minimalist Steve Reich, and jazz pianist and composer Chick Corea, who died earlier this year.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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