Israeli Vocal Ensemble looks into affairs of the heart

“I think people will leave happy, but also with some useful advice about life and love.” Can’t be bad.

 THE ISRAELI vocal Ensemble will be performing in Haifa, Ra’anana and Tel Aviv.  (photo credit: TZUR KOTZER)
THE ISRAELI vocal Ensemble will be performing in Haifa, Ra’anana and Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: TZUR KOTZER)

Love is, without a shadow of a doubt, a ubiquitous theme in the pop music world. It doesn’t do too badly in the rock stakes either – nor, in fact, in the classical world. There was, after all, the Romantic Era which straddled the 19th century.

All of the above feature, in one guise or other, as part of the forthcoming concert set by the Israeli Vocal Ensemble (IVE), taking in shows in Haifa, Ra’anana and Tel Aviv (December 2, 4 and 5 respectively), with the latter going online, too. The program goes by the unambiguous title of Crescendo for Love, followed by the equally alluring subhead of About Women, Men and What Goes on Between Them.

It is hard to think of a more titillating banner as the members of the veteran ensemble perform works by an eclectic slew of composers, including Brahms, Britten, late 16th-early 17th century Italian composer Carlo Gesualdo, Bizet, Debussy and also Freddie Mercury. The late flamboyant Queen rock band frontman’s anthemic number “Love of My Life” will be performed based on an arrangement by Jonathan Rathbone, whose professional portfolio includes a 12-year stint with British a cappella group The Swingles.

In fact, the majority of the 11 works in the program will be executed without instrumental support, with only Brahms’s “Liebeslieder Waltzes Op. 52”, Britten’s “The Ballad of Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard” – and Bizet’s instantaneously recognizable “Habanera” aria, from the ever-popular opera Carmen – being presented with piano accompaniment.

YUVAL BENOZER knows he’s onto an irresistible winner. “Love is the cheesiest thing around but, on the other hand, it is always fresh,” says the ensemble’s founder, music director and conductor. “It’s like the sunset. It is always beautiful, regardless of whether you and billions of other people have seen it millions of times before.”

THE ISRAELI Vocal Ensemble. (credit: DAVID EVEN-CHEN)THE ISRAELI Vocal Ensemble. (credit: DAVID EVEN-CHEN)

He might have added that no two sunsets are the same and, even with its meticulous approach to the craft and its well-earned kudos, the IVE troupe is a living, breathing, singing organism that, no doubt, never performs any work in exactly the same way twice.

What can romance do for the arts?

Romance, Benozer feels, offers plenty of room for expressive maneuver. “There is something special about love. People who write religious music do not necessarily do that from the heart. They do that because they have to, or they were commissioned for the job or have a certain position. But love, in the main, spawns much more interesting peripheral tales.” 

The Gesualdo work is a colorful case in point. “It is a very non-PC piece. He [Gesualdo] killed his wife and her lover. Let’s say it was a different era,” Benozer chuckles. “But he was obsessed with love and disappointment, and that informed a lot of his work. It is fascinating: There is nothing run of the mill about it. It is very human.”

There are also romantically-linked shenanigans afoot on the choral agenda, with Britten’s contribution echoing the real-life Gesualdo event, and also telling a bitter tale of betrayal. Benozer notes that this is a recurrent motif across history, particularly in musical circles. 

“I did some research on this work and I discovered that the ballad appears in many Anglo-Saxon cultures, but not just Anglo-Saxon: The storyline has been around since the 16th century.” 

It is a tale of illicit love and terrible vengeance, but also of cultured decorum. “The lord hears of his wife’s betrayal and catches them in the act,” Benozer explains. “He tells the young lover to get dressed because he doesn’t want him to die naked.” The niceties of British etiquette are indeed a marvel to behold. 

There’s more. “They have a duel, with two swords, one good quality and the other one inferior. The lord allows the lover to take the good one but eventually kills him as he is far more skilled.” Nothing like fair play.

BENOZER AND his IVE pals are clearly not part of the classical music police brigade, and that is reflected in the programmatic mix. The conductor feels the base theme offers numerous nuances and perspectives to feed off. “What is love? Is it passion? Is it marriage? Betrayal? Disappointment? Unrequited love is possibly the most powerful form of love, if you think of the times of the knights and all that.” He might have added a roll call of yesteryear Hollywood blockbusters – or even soap operas.

That informs the forthcoming concert repertoire. “There are so many facets to love, and that filters through into the music,” says Benozer. “The music is so accessible, and there are some wonderful works, like those by Brahms and Britten, and [early Baroque German composer Heinrich] Schutz. And there are some lovely works that lend themselves to a cappella renditions.”

The Freddie Mercury pop hit slips smoothly into the stripped down unaccompanied category. “It is a very harmonious song. It is not heavy metal: It is very rhythmical; it is a ballad. Mercury himself performed it accompanied only by guitar,” the ensemble’s leader says.

Crescendo for Love spans over half a millennium of musical output – and fluctuating mores and zeitgeists – with romance running through the lot and coming out the other side just as vibrant and pertinent as ever. “Everyone talks about love, and everyone engages in it,” Benozer observes.

Frank Sinatra certainly made a penny or two out of his unparalleled readings of romantic fare with one of his better known pieces, “Love and Marriage,” making it into the concert lineup. 

“I put it in as an encore,” says Benozer, confessing that he was not familiar with the song before he got down to putting the concert together. “I don’t know why; there are some gaps in my musical education,” he laughs. He feels the number will spread the emotive lay of the entertainment land. “You know the [1955] text [by Sammy Cahn] is so innocent and naïve. It is also delivered sort of tongue-in-cheek. Sinatra does a wonderful job with it, but the song doesn’t take itself too seriously.”

Sounds like a neat counterweight to some of the earlier slots in the concert and, presumably, will send the audiences home with a smile on their faces. Benozer suggests there may be some added value in there, too. “I think people will leave happy, but also with some useful advice about life and love.” Can’t be bad.

For tickets and more information: (074) 701-2112 and ivocal.co.il