The Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival, one of Israel's most prestigious musical events, starts Friday for the ninth time. With pianist Elena Bashkirova serving as musical director, the festival will again benefit from the enormous reputation of her husband, famed pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim. Barenboim will perform in the festival and has already contributed by drawing the participation of many renowned musicians with whom he regularly collaborates.
Among the prominent musicians scheduled to appear at this year's festival are renowned violinist Gidon Kremer and percussionist Andrei Pushkarev; pianist Kirill Gerstein; Dutch bass-baritone Robert Holl; principal Berlin Philharmonic clarinettist Karl-Heinz Steffens; Danish violinist Nikolaj Znaider; Israeli violinist and Berlin Philarhomic concert master Guy Braunstein; cellists Claudio Boh rquez and Frans Helmerson; violist Madeleine Carruzzo, who in 1982 became the first female member of the Berlin Philharmonic; acclaimed soprano Angela Denoke; and Israel's own superb Carmel and Jerusalem Quartets.
The festival will celebrate three anniversaries this year: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's birth 250 years ago, the 150th anniversary of Robert Schumann's death, and the centenary of Dmitri Shostakovich's birth. The rich chamber music of these composers will be highlighted among the great variety of works that will be performed.
Of the performances featuring works by Shostakovich, one of the more notable will be Gidon Kremer's reading for an arrangement of Shostakovich's extraordinary 15th Symphony. The festival will also provide insight into the lesser known Shostakovich vocal piece Suite on Verses by Michelangelo, which will be be sung by Robert Holl. Holl will also perform songs he's composed for the festival.
Denoke's appearances, meanwhile, will include Shostakovich's Romances on Poems by Alexander Blok, and two works by Arnold Schoenberg.
Each year, a new work is commissioned and receives its world premiere during the festival. This year's premiere is Gil Shohat's Introduction and Presto from his Septet for flute, oboe, clarinet and string instruments. Concerts will take place at the Jerusalem YMCA's concert hall.
Already a festival tradition, master classes, lectures and jam sessions will be held at the Jerusalem Music Center by artists participating in the festival. The Jerusalem Cinematheque will also screen a selection of foreign films with musical themes.
Braunstein, concert master of the acclaimed Berlin Philharmonic for the last six years, will perform some expecially heavy labor while in Jerusalem: the violinist is scheduled to play no fewer than five different pieces over the course of just a few days. And, like all the other participants in the festival, he will receive no monetary compensation for his work. "In this case, my only incentive is to come and play in my homeland. I'm from here, my family lives here and I feel an obligation to come and play here," Braunstein said. "I've been coming to play in Israel for practically no fee ever since I started my career overseas. The money I make elsewhere."
Braunstein explains his willingness to play five difficult pieces as an attempt to help the festival's music director, Bashkirova, as much as he can. "I run a music festival in Germany myself," he said, "and I know how difficult it is when you have to negotiate with each player about the repertoire. So I'm trying to be easy. Elena sets the program, and I say amen."
The Jerusalem festival features a significant number of modern pieces this year, an unusual choice on the usually conservative Israeli musical scene. "It is an awful lot of modern music in Israeli terms, but not such much in comparison to Europe," Braunstein said. "People in Israel are rather conservative in terms of repertoire, and the Jerusalem festival is relatively unique in that regard."
The festival officially closes September 12, though Barenboim and other artists will perform a special benefit concert for the festival the following day.