Music of the soul

Twin brother duo Daniel and Alex Gurfinkel and the Rishon Lezion Symphony perform the world premiere of Benjamin Yusupov’s concerto for clarinet.

February 18, 2011 16:28
3 minute read.
Daniel and Alex Gurfinkel

Daniel and Alex Gurfinkel 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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On February 23, the clarinet duo of Daniel and Alex Gurfinkel, together with the Rishon Lezion Symphony under conductor/harpsichordist Shalev Al-Ed, will perform the world premiere of the Images of the Soul concerto by Israeli composer Benjamin Yusupov.

Speaking about the piece, commissioned from him by the Rishon Symphony, the composer says that today for a piece to be even noticed in the deluge of pieces that come on stream, which are almost indistinguishable from one another, it has to be different, special. “That is probably why I come with a concept, with an idea of the piece first. That said, the concerto itself is not schematic, far from it. One can write various pieces of music built on the same idea. In Jewish tradition, the clarinet has always been identified with the soul.

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Also, its virtuoso possibilities and its rich color give me, as a composer, a lot of space.”

Yusupov, who was born in Tajikistan and studied and worked in Moscow before immigrating in Israel, explains that “It is far from simple to grasp such elusive a concept as the soul and express it through a physical body, which is a musical instrument. But on the other hand, this is the main objective of art in general.”

Yusupov’s piece has four movements, each illustrating various aspects of the soul. “The first movement, ‘Echoic Ruminations,’ is based on the traditional playing of the duduk, a popular Caucasian wind instrument with a very folkloric and warm sound. The figure that emerges in this movement is restless and stormy. ‘Mutterings and Commotion is a fast scherzo, which balances on a thin border between a scream. Here, a klezmer style of clarinet playing emerges, but it remains merely as an allusion. In this movement, the soul is also restless and imperceptible. In the ‘Potent Stillness,’ movement I relate to the adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. In my vision, potency of silence is the potency of tranquillity. And the ‘Exuberant Rhythms of the Soul,’ the final movement of the work, presents spirituality, which is similar to the divine spirit,” he explains.

Yusupov composed his piece especially for a unique duo of twin brothers, Alex and Daniel Gurfinkel, the third generation of a musical family (their father and grandfather are well-known clarinet players), who came to Israel in the last wave of immigration from the former Soviet Union.

Born in 1992, the brothers have been studying with their father, Michael Gurfinkel, who is the principal clarinetist of the Israel Symphony Orchestra. “For us, he is the best teacher. He can be strict and demanding but also very caring, and we have a great understanding with him. There are not so many pieces for a clarinet duo in the world repertoire, but our father has been commissioning arrangements, so now there’s quite enough,” they laugh.

The brothers started their career at the age of 12 when Zubin Mehta invited them to perform at the annual concert for young musicians with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. “That gave us a great push,” they recollect. Nowadays, they perform throughout the world. Their 2010-2011 schedule features performances with Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic, as well as with the Zagreb Philharmonic, Belgrade Philharmonic, the Vienna Tonkünstelr Orchestra, Kiev (Ukraine) as well as a tour in France of 11 concerts with the Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire under the baton of Egyptian conductor Nader Abbassi, Moscow Virtuosi.

“It’s great to play clarinet together. We keep eye contact and support each other, and it’s fun. We are best friends.”

The young musicians have nothing but praise for Yusupov’s new piece: ‘This is for the first piece ever composed for us. It is replete with special effects and reveal the clarinet’s rich possibilities, some of which probably were not aware.”

Daniel and Alex Gurfinkel, together with the Rishon Lezion Symphony, perform on February 23 at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center, The Opera, at 8 p.m. and February 24 -27 in Rishon Lezion, Heichal Hatarbut at 8:30 p.m.

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