A joy to be heard

This year’s International Jerusalem Chamber Music Festival includes a wide array of Russian pieces.

Elena Bashkirova (photo credit: Courtesy)
Elena Bashkirova
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The annual International Jerusalem Chamber Music Festival returns in time for the new year and, as always, it is a joy for all music lovers.
Founder and artistic director of the festival, Elena Bashkirova, tells The Jerusalem Post in a phone interview from her Berlin home that this year she decided to dedicate the 15th edition of the festival to Russian music, with the accent on vocal pieces.
“It was always performed at the festival, but not enough,” she says.
“The programs include a wide array of Russian pieces, from Glinka, who is regarded as the father of Russian music, to the world premiere of the most interesting contemporary Azerbaijani composer, Faradj Karaev. Almost every concert will be opened with a piano piece from Tchaikovsky’s Seasons, in new arrangements written by Israeli pianist/composer Ohad Ben Ari.
Another theme, which I see as a counterpoint to the Russian music, is our tribute to Schubert, as well as a dedication to Debussy.”
As every year, the list of performers includes both veteran festival guests and those who will appear there for the first time.
Young Berlin-based Russian soprano Anna Samuil is among those who will make their festival debut. Born into a musical family (her father is a conductor, her mother a pianist, her sister a violinist), Samuil studied violin from the age of four but graduated from the Moscow Conservatory as a singer.
“Choosing between the two music professions, I opted for that one in which I was more successful,” confides Samuil, speaking during her vacation in the Canary Islands.
“But studying violin made me only good. Being submerged in music from an early age, I never even considered another career. Being a musician is the most natural thing for me.”
After graduating from the conservatory, Samuil sang in the Stanislavski and Nemirovich- Danchenko Moscow Academic Music Theatre. By 2004, following her performance as Violetta in La Traviata at Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin, she was accepted to the theater by its artistic director Daniel Barenboim, who was impressed by her vocal abilities.
Since then, she made Berlin her base, appearing on some of the world’s best stages, among them the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra under Zubin Mehta in 2009, when she sang Donna Anna in a concert performance of Don Giovanni.
“On that occasion, I spent most of my time in Tel Aviv. This time I am coming for almost an entire week. and I am dreaming of seeing as much of Jerusalem as possible – I’ve read about it a lot!” she says.
“I was lucky to study with the last of the Mohicans,” says Samuil, “such as my teacher Irina Arkhipova. Rich traditions, professionalism, high demands, strict discipline, the competitive atmosphere and last but not least, involvement of the parents at the early stages of music education are what professional music is all about.
There is no room for chance.
Maybe that is why today you can find Russian musicians all over the world.”
That said, she sees the eight years she spent at the Staatsoper Berlin Theater, arguably one of the world’s best opera houses, as the most enriching.
“I’ve learnt the German language, meaning that I’ve learnt an entire new repertoire, that of the German opera, as well as many other operatic pieces, which are rarely performed in Russia. Surprising as it sounds, looking from the West, I’ve revealed new aspects in Russian music. Participating in various productions, I’ve learnt a lot about acting, and today it’s very hard to surprise me with an unusual or even weird directorial ideas – this all before we talk about cooperation with outstanding vocalists such as Domingo or Netrebko and, of course, with maestro Daniel Barenboim, who is a genius, as simple as that.”
At the Jerusalem festival, Samuil will sing her favorite Russian pieces by Glinka, Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky and Rimsky--Korsakov.
But in her operatic career, she does not limit herself to Russian music. “I love Mozart, Verdi, Puccini, Donizetti, Dvorak – in a word, everything that is beautiful!”
The International Jerusalem Chamber Music Festival takes place September 1 – 15 at the YMCA auditorium. For a full program, go to www.jcmf.org.il