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Eilat's first international chamber music festival (February 23-25) bore all the treats one might hope for: various music ensembles and soloists (many of which were playing in Israel for the first time), and an iconic guest of honor in the form of veteran musician Ida Haendel.
The festival was opened by the iPalpiti ensemble. These fine soloists, who play at prestigious events around the world, exuded an impressive young energy. Astor Piazzola's "Las Quatras Estaciones Portenas" was the highlight of the evening, with an excellent performance by pianist Dmitri Demiashkin, while the Chamber Symphony by Shostakovich somehow lacked the necessary drama.
The festival's second day was blessed with wonderful music making. It opened with a matinee of the Aviv Quartet, which showcased its intense ensemble sound, and continued with Concerto Koln, which had its Israeli debut in Eilat. This international-caliber ensemble played with inspiration and precision; harpsichordist Gerald Hambitzer is to be especially lauded for his captivating cadenzas. But it was a Russian-born pianist, Evgeny Koroliov, who emerged as the absolute hero of the festival. Koroliov, who is known for his J.S. Bach, gace his rendering of the "Goldberg Variations," which has brought him world fame. His performance was both emotional and intellectual; the humane yet hypnotizing sound of his piano kept the audience literally breathless throughout the long piece.
Later in the evening Ms. Ida Haendel, playing both solo and with iPalpiti in the homage concert, reminded one and all of what the old values of violin playing are about. The highlight of the closing-day concerts was the Shostakovich Piano Trio #2, played by the Jerusalem trio with their usual zest.
Now we can only dream of two things: that next year the organizers will bring music lovers from the country's southern cities and towns to Eilat, and that the musicians who made their debut this year will make their way to Israel's major venues.