AN EVENING OF JEWISH MUSIC reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

January 18, 2006
Art of Time Ensemble presents
An Evening of Jewish Music

Andrew Burashko’s Art of Time Ensemble does consistently fine work. Their “Overture on Hebrew Themes Op. 34 by Prokofiev is the best I’ve ever heard. Lori Freedman’s tone and timing made the lugubrious clarinet motif (think “Pink Panther”) wonderfully slinky. Burashko’s piano kept the beat on padded feet, and the strings were appropriately gritty.

Soprano Monica Whicher joined the quintet for Osvaldo Golijov’s heartbreakingly beautiful “Tenebrae” (2002). Talk about a voice crying in the wilderness while cello and viola maintain a minimalist pulsing murmur of restless wind!

The Ensemble as string quartet performed John Zorn’s “Kol Nidre”, an entrancing piece built on a drone and a sigh: the sigh being a melody played mid register by second violin (Sarah Nemtallah) and viola (Steven Dann), that is sandwiched between the sustained keening of Ben Bowman’s first violin and the groaning of Thomas Weibe’s cello.

The work of the Ensemble is the part of the concert you could take to the bank. The rest of the show, a bold exploration of Judaic Fusion—the kind of risk we’ve come to expect Burashko to take and make—didn’t pay off evenly, despite the high caliber players. Around these efforts, I did not feel the audience and the players connecting, nor was there much energy in the room. The applause, like the lighting, was on the dim side.

This is the part where I chew over the bread of complaint and try to pick out a few of the tasty raisins. The main raisin was Marilyn Lerner on piano. Despite her composition, “Rumshinsky’s Bulgar” sounding like a cross between “Shortnin’ Bread” and Leadbelly’s “Pick a Bale of Cotton”, Lerner’s energy was solid and upbeat and her playing was vivid.

Martin van de Ven’s work on clarinet is gentle and lovely, while his bass clarinet thrills. Nonetheless, his “Yiddishism on a theme by Prokofiev”, despite nice polyphonic runs by clarinet and trumpet over the ostinato piano seemed long and loose and left the audience energy to wander disjointedly into intermission.

The previous act, six songs based on contemporary Yiddish poems, with Marilyn and Martin and David Buchbinder on trumpet accompanying David “the voice” Wall were too many, and too much the same talky-style delivery, despite Wall’s amazing range of vocal gifts. His showmanship, as someone said during intermission, though intended to bring out the audience, created a sense of constraint. Odd, but I agree. More of the same in the second half, with a bit more energy, until Prokofiev and the Ensemble saved the evening.

Bottom line: the show, as a show, would have benefited from a stronger directorial hand. Why? Because the music is so worth it. Here is an impressive testimony on that.
“Jewish folk music is close to my ideas of what music should be. There should always be two layers in music. Jews were tormented for so long that they learned to hide their despair. They express despair in dance music.” Dmitri Shostakovich

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