<<< << -- 3 -- Malcolm Miller ORIENTAL SPICE
The climax of the concert was the UK première of the Flute Concerto by Michel Wolpe, performed with great artistry and beauty of tone by Yossi Arnheim, Principal Flautist of the IPO with the EMFEB orchestra. Wolpe, who is a professor at the Jerusalem Academy of Music, is Artistic Director of a fascinating annual festival of 'Music in the Desert' which attracts large audiences each December to perform and enjoy wide ranging musical styles at the Kibbutz Sde Boker in the Negev Desert. His style steers a telling course between modernism and multiculturalism, aiming self-consciously at a postmodern assimilation of middle eastern folk idioms and their symbiosis with western techniques. However rather than westernising the oriental elements as in earlier Israeli music, here the materials are set into a confrontation, their identity retained distinctly yet contrasted, and combined. The initial theme was a syncopated, lively flute tune that seemed to evoke an Arabic pastoral scene or sailors' hornpipe, a blend of the Negev and Plymouth Hoe, perhaps. This and several other folk-like themes were all Wolpe's original material, displaying a thorough assimilation of middle eastern elements, not as foreign material but rather as part of the fabric of a multi-layered Israeli identity.
After the orchestra echoed the skipping flute theme, a new phase introduced helter-skelter flute passagework over simpler textures in strings, where atonal, chromatic textures dominate the idiom with engaging, gripping drama. Especially idiomatic of middle-eastern and Arabic music were the many unison and octave statements of the main themes by the entire orchestra. This monodic style has propulsive energy, strengthened by incisive drum patterns, using bass and side drum. After a main first section the music moved into a type of movement, a new phase in which the flute was accompanied by Debka, announcing a lively syncopated dance, in which the orchestra gradually joined. The final movement intensified the dance, with more Arabic sounding textures in the buoyant conclusion. The work symbolized an optimistic vision for Israeli music, a colourful panorama responding to the variety of cultures and traditions and fully engaged with a contemporary musical idiom.
A final work crowned the concert, Menachem Wiesneberg's arrangement of Song of the Land by one of Israel's most popular song composers, Sasch Argov. Wiesenberg's luminous textures added much to the expressive, lyrical yearning of the work. The conductor Ben Ellin observed how the concert was an important first stage for the EMFEB orchestra in an ongoing project to increase collaboration with younger talented composers from Israel. That process is also a feature of the Jewish Music Institute's Visiting Composer from Israel project, initiated in 2004-7 with Menachem Wiesenberg, and which continues with Michael Wolpe as the incumbent VCI. Certainly the performances of music of such potent quality in this concert affirmed the value of such projects which one hopes will evolve increasingly in the future.
Copyright © 10 December 2007
Malcolm Miller, London UK
EAST AND WEST - MUSIC BY PAUL BEN-HAIM
THE JEWISH MUSIC INSTITUTE, LONDON