Family, friends, colleagues, students and music lovers joined to celebrate Israel Prize winning composer Yehezkiel Braun's 85th birthday with a concert of his compositions, held at the Tel Aviv Conservatory the evening of Tu Bishvat, February 4. The coincidence is significant. As early Zionism transformed the traditional new year for trees into a Jewish Arbor Day, Braun's generation sought a regeneration and renewal of the ancient homeland through artistic values - that is, creating works of spiritual and ethical presence, outside the forms and formats of liturgical tradition. He sought and found inspiration in the folk music of Israel's Oriental Communities, Gregorian Chant, and the tonal elegance of the Late Renaissance. These he fused into a language at once pure, personal, accessible, modern, yet serious in thought, content and form.
The program opened with two sensitive two and three part settings of Sabbath Zemiroth ("Shabbat Hamalka" and "Tzur Mishelo"), sung impeccably by the Tel Aviv Conservatory Girls Choir, Bat Kol, under Anat Morag. It was followed by "Piano Trio No.4". Though rooted in chamber music traditions it strives towards a Mediterranean modality. The Inbar Trio (Leor Karzar-piano, Uri Dror-violin, and Nizan Lester-cello) played it with obvious understanding and dedication.
Then, a song cycle "Love is Strong as Death" was sung with rich tone and pliable melodicism by contralto Tehilla Nini-Goldstein, to the support of the Inbar Trio. In notably clean and refined textures, Braun's music spiritualizes the sensual aspects of the text.
Collegium Tel Aviv luminously sang a multi-movement choral concerto to "The Words of Koheleth, son of David" (2003), together with articulate baritone Peter Simpson as soloist, and Ruth Zori at the piano. Like Braun's earlier work, it has a classic quality, eschewing fads and gimmicks, and focusing clearly on the projection of content.
Although framed in the same gay and festive language found in pieces written in the springtime of the composers life, this latter work reveals more substance and energy.
Our choral repertoire and culture is richer for Yehezkiel Braun's contributions. As conductor Avner Itai put it, "Thank you Yehezkiel, for giving us what to sing!"