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Since creating it less than a decade ago, pianist Elena Bashkirova has made the Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival one of the country's most preeminent classical music events. Neither intifada nor local travail has frightened off the distinguished colleagues that she and husband, celebrity conductor/pianist Daniel Barenboim, attract annually.
Barenboim himself always puts in an appearance at the festival, and this year - the ninth - will be no different. However, for the first time, Bashkirova will also be bringing her first husband, legendary violinist Gidon Kremer. She and Kremer will appear together this afternoon at the festival's opening concert to play Arvo P rt's Fratres, which the Estonian emigre composer wrote for the then-couple back in Russia.
While Kremer features in the concerts at the beginning of the festival, Barenboim will be playing at its closing on Tuesday evening, September 12, and at a special benefit concert at noon the following day. The atmosphere gets even more familial as Berlin-based Bashkirova and Barenboim bring their violinist son Michael to join his father in Schumann's Piano Quartet (along with young Jerusalem Quartet violist Amihai Grosz and cellist Kyril Zlotnikov).
Michael Barenboim, playing in a number of the festival's concerts, is joined with his father again Wednesday noon when, along with Grosz, Zlotnikov and double bassist Nabil Shehata, they'll play Schubert's ever-popular Piano Quintet, "The Trout." At the benefit concert Barenboim will also join clarinetist Matthias Glander and Grosz for Mozart's "Kegelstatt Trio."
Each year Bashkirova, who serves as artistic director, gives a theme to her festival. This year's celebrates three anniversaries: the 250th of Mozart's birth; the 150th of Robert Schumann's death; and the centenary of the birth of Dmitri Shostakovich. While the festival's 12 concerts will be weighted toward those composers, as always the festival also celebrates contemporary music in its program.
One of the younger musicians coming in from abroad who relishes the opportunity to play contemporary music is 30-something cellist Claudio Bohorquez.
"We do not have as wide a repertoire as pianists or violinists. I was very lucky, I met [Polish composer] Kristof Penderecki. It was so fascinating! Suddenly here was a composer whom I could ask questions! The most surprising thing was that even when I mistakenly played not as it was written, like fortissimo instead of mezzo forte, Penderecki would said it was okay. He prefers that different performers give new flavors to a piece. Then, coming back to Haydn, Beethoven or Brahms, I realized better what piano or forte means for different composers - singing piano, whispering piano, and so on. It preserves the personal fingerprints of the composer and made me read more about them, but I also believe in my own intuition."
The Berlin-born son of South American parents adds, "It has been said that music is the mirror of a specific time and society. For me, as a musician it is a great privilege to be close to these people and to see the music of today. I am a music-addicted musician, and the music of our time is no exception."
Besides serving as a showcase for contemporary chamber pieces, the Jerusalem festival commissions a new work each year. This year's premiere will be Gil Shohat's "Introduction and Presto" from his Septet for flute, oboe, clarinet, violin, viola, cello and double-bass.
Another festival tradition is a focus on vocal music. This year Dutch bass-baritone Robert Holl comes in to sing a lesser-known piece by Shostakovich, Suite on Verses by Michelangelo - lesser-known works being another Jerusalem festival specialty.
As it has for the past few years, the festival takes place at Jerusalem's YMCA. Most of the concerts, including today's at 1 p.m., are broadcast live on Israel Radio.
The festival Web site is www.jcmf.org.il and tickets are available at (02) 625-0444.