Baroque and roll

Composer Avner Hanani to unveil his latest creation at Christmas Concert in Jerusalem

 AVNER HANANI – his ‘Concerto alla moda’ will get its world premiere.  (photo credit: AVNER HANANI)
AVNER HANANI – his ‘Concerto alla moda’ will get its world premiere.
(photo credit: AVNER HANANI)

Avner Hanani is a difficult man to pin down. He is not elusive on an interpersonal level and comes across as an open, communicative and thoroughly amiable chap. But his growing musical portfolio is a different matter entirely. The public will get a chance to see where Hanani is currently at along his creative continuum when the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra (JBO) performs his latest work Concerto alla moda, in what will be a world premiere presentation.

The 48-year-old Jerusalem-born composer and pianist has produced several notable scores over the years that have drawn kudos, as well as column inches. The last time our paths crossed was in the run-up to the 2018 Israeli Music Festival, which showcases some of the best work by contemporary local composers across a range of styles and subgenres.

Hanani’s contribution to the proceedings was an intriguing and highly entertaining solo piano work called Trump Sonata. Actually, “solo” is a bit of a misnomer, as Hanani had an unwitting partner in sonic enterprise: a video of a speech by Donald Trump when he was running for the US presidency.

The Christmas Concert set of four concerts, in Haifa, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Nes Ziona December 24-28, will not feature any video screens. The JBO, conducted by founder and harpsichord player David Shemer, will play a program of works by Bach, Corelli and Vivaldi, before unveiling Concerto alla moda to the world, with vocalists Daniela Skorka, Hagar Sharvit, Itamar Hildesheim and Guy Pelc, and Slovenian recorder player Marusa Brezavscek front and center.

In truth, it seemed a little strange to see Hanani’s score tacked on to the end of a purely baroque playlist. Trump Sonata did not exactly tick any baroque-style boxes, nor did a previous work, Wind Borne, which took first place at the International Composition Competition for Wind Orchestras, Coups de Vents, in France, in 2008.

 Vocalist Daniella Skorka (credit: YOEL LEVI) Vocalist Daniella Skorka (credit: YOEL LEVI)

Hanani is clearly a free thinker and tends to leave generous room for maneuvering and definition when it comes to his craft. That, it seems, is also the case with the new piece. “It is not really a baroque work,” he suggests, “but there is a sort of baroque sound to it, with the harpsichord and other instruments, and the ‘extras’ – the texture, the laconic element, and there are lots canons in the piece, imitations. It that sense it is a baroque composition.”

True to his free-roaming musical bent, Hanani throws in the odd curve ball, for good measure. “There are also blue notes here and there,” he says, referencing an element that is used most commonly in jazz and blues whereby a note appears which is slightly lower than one might expect, sometimes employing a slide or even trill effect.

“And, of course, there is always a touch of minimalism,” he observes although adding there is plenty more to the Hanani layering in Concerto alla moda. The composer seems to be willing and able to go with the inspirational flow, wherever that may lead him. The variety of influences on his work he cites includes Stravinsky, Vivaldi, Gershwin and rock. “Actually, it is almost anachronistic to talk about rock and roll today,” he chuckles, “but it is in there – you know, the bass lines. That sort of vibe.”

SURPRISINGLY, WITH such multifarious stylistic strata in the Hanani compositional mindset, one might have expected jazz to work its way into the reckoning. That, it seems, is a matter of interpretation. After all, jazz is such a broad musical domain. Comparing contemporary jazz with, say, the infectious definitively danceable airs of the ragtime or swing approaches, to the untrained ear can seem to be taking things too far.

Hanani feels his work does not have one of the core elements of jazz. “I see that as having a more swingy feel. My music doesn’t have that. It’s not like the big band swing and it’s not like the more sophisticated jazz. I think a jazz musician has to know how to improvise and be more rigorous,” he notes. “There may be blues notes [in his music], but it is more in the rock vein.”

There may be something akin to rock music but, naturally, the main line of musical attack leaned towards the baroque side of the business. When Hanani and I spoke things were very much still in the air. “I finished the writing about a month ago,” he informs me. “We haven’t had a rehearsal yet so I really don’t know how it will work out.” That said, he isn’t exactly tossing and turning every night in anguish and possibly a little trepidation over the Christmas Concert unveiling.

For starters, he is pretty familiar with and is a fan of the JBO and the piece was commissioned by Shemer himself. “He asked me if I would like to write something for the orchestra and I love harpsichord,” he says. That’s a good a start as any. “I thought the best way to approach would be, not to be overly modernist with all sorts of special effects with the harpsichord and with all sorts of special parts for the string instruments. I don’t work like that.”

Hanani felt he and the JBO would find a common language. “The music of people like Vivaldi and Bach, it is very straightforward music. I think that works well with semi-minimalists.” That said, he feels there is plenty of room for expressive maneuver in there, too. “In fact, baroque music is very expressive. People think of classical music as something very decorous and restrained.”

Hanani is all for letting it all hang out. “The music back then was the real thing, in real-time. You should be serious about [composing and performing] the music, but the wonderful thing is that all that expression is integrated within a serious statement. You don’t just go wild for the sake of it. You channel all those energies through nuances and a rigorous kind of form.”

The audiences in Haifa, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Nes Ziona can look forward to some robust musicianship for the program finale. As this will be the first time the public will hear Concerto alla moda Hanani was keeping his composing cards close to his chest. “I don’t really want to say the work is reminiscent of Vivaldi because they might expect to hear something like Vivaldi’s Winter [movement of The Four Seasons]. But I think it’s a pretty good analogy. There will definitely be effects,” he notes, alluding to the highly expressive aesthetic element that is typical of the Baroque era.

While there may not be too much in the way of dry ice or laser beams, there should be plenty of musical fireworks on offer at the Christmas Concert.

For tickets and more information, call: 02-671-5888 and visit: https://www.jbo.co.il/en/concerts/christmas-concert.