THE ISRAELI CHAMBER PROJECT offers a fine example of how tuned-in to each other musicians in a small group must be. The ICP is made up of Daniel Bard and Carmit Zori (violins), Dimitri Murrath (viola), Michal Korman (cello), Guy Eshed (flute), Tibi Cziger (clarinet), Sivan Magen (harp) and Assaff Weisman (piano). At Sunset Center on Sunday afternoon, these musicians paid attention to everything their comrades were doing and it made the performance that much more musical, not to mention more interesting for the audience. Though they all performed with sheet music (the pianist and the clarinetist actually read the music off their iPads), they were not confined to it, and made eye contact with each other at key moments. They breathed together, moved together, and at times seemed like they were just one instrument. If someone came to this concert with no chamber music knowledge they would emerge afterward having experienced excellent examples of chamber music from several musical eras.
The program began with an arrangement of four scenes from Stravinsky’s Petrushka. This chamber miniature of Stravinsky’s ballet about a demented puppet was commissioned by the ICP and arranged by Yuval Shapiro, a trumpet player in the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. A good choice for a concert opener, the players put their brilliant technique and expression on display and each performer had a chance to show off his or her virtuosity. The clarinetist, Tibi Cziger, explained that as chamber musicians they sometimes miss playing classic orchestral repertoire. He went on to say that performing this arrangement helped the members of the group feel at home when they were on tour.
Petrushka was not the only piece commissioned by the ICP. Gilad Cohen’s Firefly Elegy is a new piece for violin, viola, cello, harp and clarinet. It depicts the life of a firefly from the larval stage to its death after mating. Played without interruption, the piece has distinct sections that mark different phases in a firefly’s life. Unusual effects in the second phase include the violinist and the harpist knocking on the wood of their instruments and the violist strumming his instrument like a guitar, depicting the larval stage as it goes about eating other insects in order to get the energy it needs to grow. What I found enthralling about this piece as a whole was that it brings us down to the level of a tiny bug; here nature is ferocious and raw, but the lives of insects are so small that we don’t normally give them much thought. Music has the power to bring us to a completely different world, and that is what the ICP did here. Violinist Bard, had a penchant for getting very animated with his movement, which in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but his foot tapping on the floor was audible distracting for a few measures.
Another modern work was a 1985 composition for clarinet and flute titled Esprit Rude-Esprit Doux (Rough Breathing-Smooth Breathing). The talents of Guy Eshed and Tibi Cziger were showcased, and while it was enjoyable to listen to their playing, the composition itself was not very musically satisfying. However, there was an underlying logic. As Cziger explained, it was like listening to a conversation in a foreign language. With that in mind it was certainly very interesting, even if not exactly something one would return to regularly.
The two more familiar pieces on the program were Introduction and Allegro by Maurice Ravel and Piano Quintet in E-flat Major by Robert Schumann. The group was able to easily modify their playing and stage presence depending on the style of the piece; even the type of movement was varied to reflect the smooth, elegant melodic lines. The Ravel especially was well done, with great attention to the little details that give the piece life. The eleven minute work emphasizes the harp and could even be considered a one-movement harp concerto. Harpist Magen deserved special recognition for his interpretation. The Schumann quintet, which runs for roughly thirty minutes, was met with enthusiastic applause. Schumann was a sensitive man and wore his heart on his sleeve. It comes across in his often-nostalgic and always lyrical compositions, this one as no exception. One of my favorite moments of the concert was the interplay between the viola and cello in the first movement. With the players looking at each other it was like watching a conversation without words.
The mixture of styles in the program was a wise choice, and one that I always prefer when I attend a concert as a spectator. It brings out the individual talents of each member of the group and it also shows the strengths of the group as a whole, especially in pieces like the Stravinsky which are challenging even when there is a conductor managing the tempo. The Israeli Chamber Project performed as part of the Carmel Music Society’s 2011-12 season; we hope to see them back soon for more excellent music, both new and old.
Monica Mendoza is a professional flutist.