Jun 2012 Journal

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Letter from Israel

A cold and rainy Saturday morning with no visiting grandchildren or social obligations presented a golden opportunity to attend a concert of chamber music given in the nearby neighbourhood of Ein Kerem. This is an outlying part of Jerusalem, consisting mainly of picturesque old houses, many of them inhabited by artists. The programme on this occasion consisted of two quintets by Schubert, and we had hastened to order tickets earlier in the week.

The Eden-Tamir Music Centre in Ein Kerem was founded by Alexander (Alex) Tamir and the late Bracha Eden, both renowned pianists. During Bracha Eden’s lifetime they played as a duo, but today Alex Tamir, who is now aged 80, no longer performs but continues to give broadcasts about music on the radio. The Music Centre is also his home and it is in the auditorium there, with its wonderful acoustics and seating for an audience of about 120, that concerts are held, usually at the weekend.

The concert we attended was sold out, and we soon understood why. The two Schubert quintets are among the most popular pieces of chamber music in the world. In addition, the Millennium Ensemble, consisting of outstanding musicians, most of them originally immigrants from Russia, played with a sensitivity and profundity that brought tears to my eyes.

The first chord of the ‘Trout’ quintet (D667) resonated with a clarity so full and rich that it was immediately clear that we were in the presence of musicians of the first water. Schubert’s joyful music echoed through the auditorium as the artists played in perfect harmony, their hearts seeming to beat as one, sweeping the audience along with them and taking us all to higher realms. Sitting in the auditorium, listening and watching, it struck me that no matter how well one knows a piece of music and how many times one has heard it on the radio, records, discs or any other medium, nothing can compare with hearing and seeing it performed live, especially if you’re in one of the front rows and the musicians are almost sitting on your lap. It is only then that one can catch all the nuances, observe how Schubert sends the same musical element from one instrument to the other, and how the music benefits when all five musicians are in harmonious dialogue with one another, supporting one another in bringing out every brilliant note.

After the interval, when hot drinks as well as hot soup made by Alex Tamir were available for the members of the audience, the musicians played what is one of Schubert’s final and saddest pieces: the quintet for two violins, viola and two cellos, D956. In stark contrast with the light-hearted gaiety of the ‘Trout’, it is full of tragic cadences and passages that seem to presage Schubert’s own untimely and imminent death. In some ways its dark, brooding themes echo elements of Schubert’s last piano sonatas, especially his posthumous D960. Nevertheless, in this quintet, as in the sonata, despite the tragic beginning Schubert tries to finish on a more optimistic note.

And deservedly so, as although his physical existence was so heartrendingly brief, Schubert’s music is immortal, and through it he continues to live on in our hearts and minds.

A few weeks later we went back to hear another concert, this time one devoted to chamber music by Mozart and played by the same ensemble. It concluded with an arrangement for sextet of the sublime Symphonia Concertante, which again took us to the heights of intellectual and emotional pleasure. The soup was delicious too - almost reaching the same level of excellence as the music.

Dorothea Shefer-Vanson

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