On Saturday, at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, the 21st Century Ensemble will open the 19th season of Discoveries, a series of performances of contemporary classical music pieces. The program will feature Bejamin's Octet, Ligeti's Concerto for Cello, Rain Spell by Takemitsu and The Yearnings of the Duck - In Memoriam for Dudu Geva, by Seroussi. The soloists will be Eric-Maria Couturier, a French cellist, who is also a soloist of Pierre Boulez's ensemble Intercontemporain. Michel Tabachnik will conduct. The concert will be repeated on November 1 in Jerusalem's Mishkenot Shaananim neighborhood.
The ensemble's contribution to the country's music life is hard to overestimate. Founded by composer Dan Yuhas 19 years ago, it has consistently presented the major 20th century classics to a local audience. The modest and soft-speaking Yuhas, a perfectionist by nature, made it a point to bring to Israel the best conductors and performers who specialize in this repertoire. In addition, the ensemble commissions new works from Israeli composers for each and every concert it stages.
The official opening date aside, the music feast actually started yesterday with a contemporary music marathon at the ensemble's outpost, the intimate Hateiva chamber hall in Jaffa, with Saturday's opening slated to be the culmination.
The marathon opened with a lecture on electro-acoustical music, presented by Gilbert Nouno, a composer and leading sound specialist from IRCAM, followed by a homage concert dedicated to the 85th birthday of Boulez. Yael Barolsky (violin), Eric-Maria Couturier (cello) and Nouno (electronics) participated. Other concerts featured pieces by John cage, John Zorn, Edison Denissov, Yoseph Bardanashvili and Arik Shapira. Also on display were dance and musical theater shows, with the participation of the Paris-based Israeli trombone player Benny Sluchi and the Trio MouzÃ¡rt in their Israeli premiere, as well as Avi Avital, Amit Dolberg, dancer Tamar Borer and others, to name just a few.
AWARD-WINNING French cellist Eric-Maria Couturier, a soloists of the Intercontemporain Ensemble, is participating in several of the marathon's programs. In a phone interview from his home on the eve of his Israeli debut, Couturier said that although he grew up on classical music, played with the Orchestre de Paris and performed a lot of chamber pieces, about seven years ago he felt a need to discover new ways of playing the cello. Now he divides his time equally between a classical and contemporary repertoire, saying that both experiences are enriching him as a musician.
"Modern music is a challenge because there already is a new way of thinking about it. From my point of view, the old style of modern music, that of Shoenberg, Webern, Berg, Stockhausen, Boulez, belongs to the past, and something new is to be invented," Couturier said. "Nowadays, it is harder for composers to create a totally new modern classical music without repeating something that has already been done.
"But what I wanted to say is that we are in the age of nothing, both in everyday life and in music, and this makes the task of creating music even harder," he added.
Couturier confided that presenting the Israeli premier of Ligeti's concerto would be something of a challenge for him. "I know Ligeti's music well," he said, "I played his chamber pieces and participated in performance of this concerto as an orchestra member, but never as a soloist."
When it came to the Boulez piece, Couturier said that he "decided to prerecord all six accompaniment cello parts and to perform the solo live, adding that the idea was not new.
The 21st Century Ensemble plays at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, and at Mishkenot Shaananim at the same time on the following day. For more details on the 21st Century Ensemble's 2009/10 program visit www.ensemble21.org.il.