Coming home to play

One of today’s most prominent baroque violinists, Kati Debretzeni, returns to Israel to dazzle audiences with her breathtaking technique and deep-rooted musicality.

311_Hungarian woman in purple (photo credit: Courtesy)
311_Hungarian woman in purple
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra (JBO), established in 1989 by harpsichord player and conductor David Shemer, opens its 22nd season this week with concerts at the YMCA in Jerusalem (Tuesday, 8:30 p.m.) and at the Einav Center in Tel Aviv (Wednesday, 8:30 p.m.).
The season opener features all the usual suspects, with works by CPE Bach, Telemann, Handel, Vivaldi and JS Bach, although the item written by the latter represents something of a departure from the beaten baroque path. The work in question is JS Bach’s Concerto in D minor for violin and strings, which is thought to be based on a lost violin concerto but is, today, known for the harpsichord and strings rendition. This will be the first time the piece will be played in Israel as a violin arrangement.
The concerts will be fronted – as conductor and soloist - by Transylvanian-born, former Israeli resident and now UK-based baroque violinist Kati Debretzeni who has become one of the genre’s stellar performers in the global baroque firmament. Dafna Ravid, Boris Begelman and Noam Schuss will share the other soloists’ spots in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. This week’s concerts are, in a way, a matter of returning home to roost for Debretzeni – albeit temporarily.
“The JBO is my ‘alma mater’ in terms of Baroque playing, together with the Jerusalem Consort,” she says. “It is where I got hooked to the addictive beauty and deceptive simplicity of the Baroque playing style.
Had David Shemer not asked me to step in for someone in a rehearsal whilst I was a student at the Tel Aviv Academy, life might look very different today.”
The JBO’s season-opening program has a catchy title - Father, Son, Godfather & Gardener – which naturally alludes to familial ties, both by blood and by design, and the green fingers with which some of the composers whose works are featured were blessed.
“The title alludes to a very strong link indeed between the composers,” explain Debretzeni. “Telemann was a good friend of JS Bach who asked him to be his eldest son, Carl Philip Emanuel’s godfather, whereas Handel and Telemann shared a passion for gardening, and there is evidence of them sending each other flower bulbs in the mail – no small undertaking at the time between Hamburg and London!”
ACCORDING TO Debretzeni there is also some parental guidance in the mix. “CPE Bach was also the one who first arranged a now lost violin concerto of his father’s concerto, in D minor, for the harpsichord.
His arrangement is not particularly skillful and Johann Sebastian himself rearranged the same work years later, perhaps showing his son how it ought to be done, and that piece is the now famous harpsichord concerto in D minor. The reconstruction of the lost original, which we’ll be performing for the first time in Israel, is based on CPE’s early attempt, providing another neat link in the program.” OK, but where does Vivaldi fit in here?” Vivaldi is the odd one out – but everyone, from Bach to Telemann, was hugely influenced by him.” Fair enough.
Artists, acquired skill and innate talents aside, generally bring something of the influences from their formative years to the creative fray too.
“It is hard for me to say exactly what I bring with me from my cultural baggage,” observes Debretzeni. “I’d say That I bring from Transylvania a love of playing fast and furious music – although there won’t be any of that in these concerts - and a slight tendency to over-intellectualize things in a morose Hungarian way. From Israel, hopefully, I bring an openness and directness which is often not part of the European scene.” Sounds like a beguiling cultural stew.
After 15 years in the UK some of that also finds its way into Debretzeni’s work. “In terms of playing ‘the English way’, I learned a tremendous amount from my British colleagues about blending in and being part of the section sound, where the whole matters more than its parts. Orchestral players there are very quick in assimilating material, and extremely good at changing their individual playing to the benefit of the group sound. The polished and seamless results are a hallmark of orchestras there.”
As the crossroads of ancient times, this part of the world has imbibed so many different ethnic influences over the centuries. With her multipronged cultural attack, her long English residence notwithstanding, it looks like Debretzeni will fit in here just fine this week.