|Israeli maestro Lior Shambadal returns to his homeland to lead the Israel Chamber Orchestra in the world premiere of his La Portada de Ripoll in a concert dedicated to the memory of violist Daniel Binyamini.
Binyamini was an internationally acclaimed musician and veteran member of the Israel Philharmonic, as well as an active chamber musician, recitalist and teacher, who succumbed to cancer 19 years ago.
“Daniel was my cousin, and I miss him as a family member but even more than that as a musical friend,” says Shambadal. “For me, his opinion was precious when I played viola, and later, when I turned to conducting. He also performed under my baton with Sinfonietta Beer Sheva,” he recollects.
A prolific composer in the past, Lior Shambadal is the music director of the Berlin Symphony and a conductor with a globetrotting career that leaves him no time to write music. But recently he made an exception, composing a new piece – a very special piece, one must admit.
“Last summer I came across the most unusual church of Ripoll in Catalonia, Spain, which is famous for its façade. I was stunned to realize that the bas relief figures there depict scenes from the Bible, with maybe only one figure of Jesus and with not a single cross at all! Dated back to 1392, it was built a century before the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, most probably by Jews forcibly converted to Christianity.
Following this personal discovery, I visited the Jewish Museum in Girona and read a lot on the topic and realized that a vibrant Jewish life once thrived there. It came to an end as a result of the clash between cultures and religions that existed at the time in that region. What has survived is the written word in Hebrew,” he says.
“This encounter triggered my new piece, which I dedicated to Binyamini. Yet again, I did not want to compose just another Israeli piece – what for? Instead, I composed the music, which cannot be put on paper using the existing notation. Jewish prayers – those from the 14th century Catalonia, as well as our contemporary prayers – served as a source of inspiration for me. The texts are not printed in the program notes, but they exist within the music. Because of this, I see my La Portada de Ripoll as a liturgical piece with the hidden text. Every letter of the Hebrew alphabet has a music interval and a sound associated with it, and this is what gives structure to the piece. It leaves room for personal interpretations of the performers, based on what I define as the acoustical honesty,” he explains.
“Because of the very nature of the piece, the music and the spiritual experience, which will be different in each performance, are born as the result of the spontaneous interaction between the conductor and the musicians and between the listeners and the hidden text, which hopefully they will perceive.”
Carried away with his ideas, Shambadal is realistic enough to add, “It sounds great while I talk about the music, but you never know what happens at the live performance. I hope it works.”
Gilad Karni, one of Israel’s finest violists, will participate in the concert. Karni will also play Shostakovich’s Viola Sonata op. 147, arranged for orchestra by violist Vladimir Mendelssohn.
In a phone interview from Hartford, Connecticut, Karni, who has also recorded this piece, says, “It is very dear to my heart, and I probably like this arrangement even more than the original version for viola and piano because of the very special interaction between the strings and the viola. This sonata is rich in moods, from sad and melancholy fragments, which somehow correlate to Yizkor by Partosh on which I grew up, to connotations of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, to agonizing pains of Shostakovitch, who lived under Stalin’s regime and actually to his death at the end of the piece. I can’t imagine a better choice for a concert dedicated to the memory of Dani Binyamini.”
Also on the program is Schubert’s Symphony No. 5 in Bflat Major.
The concert takes place at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on February 26 at 8:30 p.m. For reservations: (03) 518-8845.