Above all the doubt

Young Israeli maestro Omer Wellber returns home to perform Verdi’s Requiem.

Omer Wellber  (photo credit: Courtesy)
Omer Wellber
(photo credit: Courtesy)
This evening and on July 10, 30-year old globetrotting Israeli conductor Omer Wellber will wield his baton over the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra and the Israeli Opera choir, plus four solo vocalists in what promises to be stirring renditions of Verdi’s Requiem. With around 80 instrumentalists and about 80- 90 choir members, besides the soloists, on board there will be plenty of voluminous endeavor on offer at the two concerts.
The performances will also be something of a rare opportunity for Wellber to display his skills in his native country. These days the young conductor earns a significant part of his living as the music director of the Queen Sofía Palace of the Arts opera house in Valencia, Spain and is a frequent guest conductor at such venerable venues as La Scala in Milan, Italy where the requiem was first performed in 1875.
During his time here he has performed with the Israeli Sinfonietta, the Israel Chamber Orchestra, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, Haifa Symphony Orchestra and the Israel Symphony Orchestra of Rishon LeZion.
Impressive track record notwithstanding this evening’s concert will be the first time he has overseen a reading of Verdi’s Requiem.
“I have never conducted it in Israel, or anywhere else. It is an exciting prospect,” says Wellber, adding that he is particularly looking forward to this evening’s concert at the Jerusalem Theater.
“Think about it. I am going to get on a stage and conduct an orchestra in a performance of a religious work in Jerusalem.
There is always something special about doing anything in Jerusalem, especially something like this” Wellber has occupied the podium for renditions of other requiems but says there is something about Verdi’s work which sets it apart.
“I had a discussion about it with the orchestra the other day. I don’t generally have philosophical discourse with my orchestras. But, with works like this, you can’t just talk about piano and forte, and other technicalities. There comes a stage when you have to talk about the work in general.”
“I told the orchestra that, for me, as opposed to any other requiem, there is an element of doubt in Verdi’s Requiem. For me that is the strongest aspect of the composition.
It talks about religion, and about God, and lots of associations, but it is a human work with lots of doubt in it.”
GIVEN THE tendency of religious works to glorify God and all things deified in no uncertain terms that is quite an observation.
“In Christianity there is always supposed to be some distance between human beings and God, and no one should have any doubt about anything at all. But, in Verdi’s Requiem there are elements in the music itself, and the Latin text, which generate a sense of doubt.
Verdi gives us this work with a large question mark.”
Mind you, not everyone would agree with that angle.
“I was in Berlin a few days ago, to talk to [conductor Daniel] Barenboim about this.
He said I take an overly Jewish view of the work. That may be so but there are definitely some things in the Requiem that raise question marks. I find that a bit difficult emotionally. Verdi wrote the work towards the end of his life, and you can almost hear him saying: ‘When I was young I was certain about God and religion but, now that my end is near, I am not so sure.’ That is what is intriguing for me.”
Wellber says that should come across in the concerts.
“It will be a performance of people who are looking for something, and not of people who have found it.” That does not, however, mean that the orchestra and conductor might lose their way in mid-flight.
“It was important to talk to the orchestra so that we are all on board, and that the players all know where I am heading with this.”
Questions marks or no, with around 170 instrumentalists and singers, and a conductor, on stage for the requiem an emotive experience is assured for one and all.
Omer Wellber and soloists, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra and the Israeli Opera choir will perform Verdi’s Requiem at the Jerusalem Theater in Jerusalem this evening at 8 p.m., and at the Center for the Performing Arts in Tel Aviv on July 10 at 8 p.m. For more information and tickets, call: 02-5605755, 1- 700-70-4000 or 036927777 or go to www.israel-opera.co.il