“Nowadays, we often look at the world and say how bad it is. But maybe it’s time to say, ‘Thank God, this world is glorious!’” says harpsichordist/conductor Yizhar Karshon, who will lead Gloria, the closing concert series of the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra. The concerts will take place on May 24 in Tel Aviv and May 26 in Jerusalem.
“The program is simply wonderful,” Karshon says.
“The central piece is Bach’s Lutheran Mass in G Minor, performed by eight vocalists singing both solo parts and the choir. There are two other glorias – a virtuoso piece by Handel, which was recently discovered in the library of the Royal Academy of Music and is performed from time to time, and one by Monteverdi. It is amazingly beautiful, and to perform it is bliss. The program also features two concerti grossi by Muffat and Corelli.”
Karshon stresses, “Some 15 or 20 years ago, this project with seven Israeli vocalists (the eighth singer is a Dutch national who lives in Israel) would have been impossible. In the 2000s when I was a student at the Jerusalem Music Academy, there were very few vocalists and instrumentalists specializing in early music. Now an entire new generation has entered the local music stage.”
For Karshon, 42, music is a natural milieu. His father, who studied piano from an early age and in his youth performed to reasonable success, had deliberated between a musical or scientific career.
“He finally opted for physics and is now a professor at the Weizmann Institute, but music always resounded in our home in Rehovot,” Kashon recounts. “On Saturday mornings his friends used to come and play chamber music together, including such musicians as cellist Zvi Plesser and singer Bracha Kol.”
It was only natural that from an early age Yizhar Karshon sang in choirs, played flute and later piano. After graduating from the Jerusalem Academy of Music, he completed his education at Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Switzerland. On his return to Israel, together with his friends from the new generation of Israeli Baroque musicians, he co-founded Barrocade.
As it happens, the harpsichordist became a conductor almost by chance.
In 2010 Barrocade participated in a joint project with British ensemble Retrospect.
“Those were really the first steps of Barrocade. We received generous funding for a co-production of Purcell’s The Fairy Queen in Israel and in England at the prestigious Wigmore Hall in London. Conductor Matthew Hall and two singers came to Israel. Later, I and Israeli singers Yeela Avital and Claire Meghnagi went to London.”
Karshon recalls that during the rehearsal period, he told Hall that he felt rather strange about conducting, and the latter shared a few tips and ideas.
“But at that stage, it was not really serious,” Karshon says. “Since Matthew went to Germany for a few days to conduct some orchestra, there was no a general rehearsal. The important thing was that the first concert of The Fairy Queen was scheduled for April 10, 2010. On that day, a volcano in Iceland erupted, with huge clouds of ash disrupting the flights in Western Europe. Totally absorbed in the preparation for the premiere, I did not follow the news, so an SMS from Hall came as a total surprise: ‘Looks like I will not make it to London in time. Be prepared to take command.’ Granted, the ensemble was ready for the performance, but still, there were a few complicated choir fragments that I had to go through, with just a few hours left.”
Karshon recalls with a smile, “The tension was immense. But fortunately, judging from the reviews, the concert was a success.”
On his return home, Karshon felt that he got hooked by conducting and started taking lessons in this demanding art. He later conducted the Barrocade, including the Vocal Barrocade project, as well as the Israeli Chamber Orchestra and the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra.
“In a way, the first invitation from the JBO came as a result of the Wigmore Hall concert. The music director of the JBO, David Shemer, heard about it and asked if I would like to lead the Telemann program in a year and a half. That seemed like a lot of time for me, so I agreed without hesitation,” laughs Karshon. “But it worked well, and later we even had a joint project of the JBO and Vocal Barrocade,” he says. “After several conducting projects, I felt it was time to lead one of Bach’s important pieces. I have performed the Lutheran Mass several times and wanted to conduct it. Now it is finally happening.”