New horizons

Contralto Noa Frenkel stretches the border between classical and contemporary music.

Noa Frenkel 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Noa Frenkel 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Noa Frenkel, an Israeli contralto with an impressive globe trotting career, arrives from Holland, where she currently resides, for two contemporary music programs. The first concert will take place on February 9 at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, and at the Jerusalem Music Center on February 10. She will perform pieces by Israeli composer Menahem Tzur and American composer John Cage.
Offerings by the Israeli Contemporary Players are always interesting, but Frenkel ‘s other program – her solo recital later this month at HaTeiva, the ensemble’s home, a small concert hall in Jaffa where it really happens – is even more intriguing.
In an interview from her home in The Hague, Frenkel talks about her music world view.
“Beautiful classical music is not lacking, and why not to perform it? But the thing is, how long is it possible to chew it? It is like a museum, where everybody seems to know how to perform it (which, by the way, is wrong, I suggest). Lately, I have been performing a lot of contemporary music, along with Mahler, Bach, Verdi and Mozart. I enjoy both worlds immensely, and I think that without contemporary music, something would be missing. This something is an act of creating new things. It could be marvelous, and it could be awful. You don’t know if it will soar or flop miserably. Even the composer hasn’t heard it if it’s the premiere. This is alive, this is here and now.”
Frenkel stresses that her activities in the field of the contemporary music have given her a fresher view of music of the past. “I see the composers of the past as living persons. I can go through Bach’s score and say, ‘Well, probably this was not his best day.’ For me, their music is something very live. I do not take for granted ready-made ideas of style and approach – I deconstruct and analyze familiar old pieces and then put them together again. This is because I am in constant contact with composers.”
Frenkel, who started as a classical singer, began singing contemporary music almost by chance: “Most of my friends at the Rubin Academy were composers, and they needed somebody to sing their pieces,” she explains.
She continued her studies in Holland, “and I was pretty sure that I had come to sing Baroque and classics, but also here I was invited by a local ensemble to sing contemporary pieces – and quite soon I realized that it suits me, and this is what I really want to do!”
Since then, she has been performing world premieres of the new pieces, some of them composed for her.
In regard to her upcoming recital at HaTeiva, Frenkel says, “I love challenges. So when the artistic director of the Dan Yuhas ensemble suggested that I should appear at HaTeiva, I thought, ‘Okay a recital is usually a singer accompanied by a piano, but why not to take it to the extreme?’ So it will be my solo with live electronics. The question that currently preoccupies me is what I define as solitude in the age of mass media. Nowadays, with social networks like Twitter and Facebook, with smartphones that are always with us, we can hardly be alone, for good and for bad. What is happening to us? So I took a piece by Morton Feldman, who is one of my favorite composers – it is a terzet for a singer and two pre-recorded voices of my own. This is quite captivating. It is like talking to tombstones or to the dead. I will probably perform songs by Purcell and Mahler in my arrangement for electronic music. There also is a program that turns our voice into something else – and this is also a musical version of the same question: What happens to us while we are living our lives deep inside the world of mass communication? The Internet is an amazing thing – I travel a lot, and I keep in touch with my family and friends via Skype, I found materials I need for my work and maintain professional contacts. That said, we can hardly concentrate on anything; we are never alone,” she says.
Frenkel sums up: “I am not going to lecture or teach anybody, and I have more questions than answers. I just want people to enter this musical world and to be aware of the situation, both musically and socially. After all, this is just an hour-long concert. And by the way, to my best knowledge, I’ve never heard of a solo recital of contemporary music of a singer supported only by electronic devices and not by his fellow musician who is often a full partner in the music-making.”
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