By the Rivers of Babylon

Russian Violinist Vadim Repin brings his Trans-Siberian Art Festival to Israel next week.

DANIELLE AKTA stars in the junior fare. (photo credit: Courtesy)
DANIELLE AKTA stars in the junior fare.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
 We seem to have got the business of putting on festivals down pat. This country is replete with homegrown events, of all ilks, right through the calendar. But when Vadim Repin comes over here next week from Russia, he will augment the local offering with a creation of his own.
The occasion in question is the Trans- Siberian Art Festival, Repin’s brainchild, which began life in his hometown of Novosibirsk a couple of years ago. The 44-year-old, world renowned classical violinist will present the (pared down) Israeli version of the festival May 5-9, with six concerts taking place in Rishon LeZion, Rehovot and Tel Aviv. The performances comprise the By the Rivers of Babylon program, and the Children Play for Children lineup which features the Bright Bows junior chamber orchestra, from Novosibirsk, as well as the stellar violinist himself. The Israel Symphony Orchestra Rishon LeZion and Repin’s longtime colleague, conductor James Judd, will be on hand to ensure that all the performances are executed in a consummately professional manner.
Repin has put together a fascinating swath of works for the occasion, with a repertoire that takes in a bunch of intriguing contemporary pieces, including a composition with a distinctly local flavor, which gives the festival its title. By the Rivers of Babylon is a particularly emotive composition, with poignant ties to this part of the world.
It was written by Latvian-born composer Marc Lavry, who made aliya in 1935 when he felt life in Riga had become too precarious for Jews. By the Rivers of Babylon was the first thing Lavry wrote after coming to Palestine, and he also developed an interest in Middle Eastern music.
Another standout item in the adults’ program is the De Profundis violin concerto written by 42-year-old Russianborn pianist and composer Lera Auerbach. The work was composed specifically for Repin.
“It is wonderful to play something that has been written for you, especially when it is so great,” says the violinist. “I think it is one of the most powerful and emotional concerti. It is tragic and beautiful, and for some reason I really feel very close to it.”
One wonders whether the fact that Auerbach plays a different instrument from the soloist has any bearing on the creative process, and on what the piece offers Repin.
Does, for example, a pianist invest a violin-based score with “extraneous” insight, that imbues the chart with some slightly off-kilter added value? Repin notes that Auerbach is no novice at creating for his chosen instrument.
“If you see the Profundis, it says ‘Concerto no. 3.’ She has made many many great pieces for violin, and she clearly feels very comfortable with violin. We have had rehearsals in New York and in Germany, before the first time we performed this concerto. I feel she has a special taste for violin.”
The agenda also includes an emotive work by Viktor Ullman called Der Zerbrochene Krug (The Broken Jug).
Ullman completed the composition in 1942, shortly before he was sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp. Ullman died in Auschwitz in 1944.
“This concerto is not a program piece like, for example, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons or the Fantastique [symphony] by Berlioz,” Repin notes. “I think people who play this, or listen to it, may well create expressions and imagery which are tragic. There have been really horrible events in history, and I think that if there is something that touches your heart, there is definitely something of that in this concerto.”
The By the Rivers of Babylon repertoire is completed by a couple of items from Repin’s country of birth – Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 in D minor and Violin Concerto No. 2 by Prokofiev.
The inclusion of the word “art” in the festival moniker alludes to the interdisciplinary streak that runs through the original Russian-based program, which also takes in dance and cinema. The program also places great store by the nurturing of the next generation, or two, of classical musicians and junior audiences. That is addressed in the Israeli version with the Children Play for Children slot, which takes in works by J. S. Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, but also a couple of 20th century pieces written by Viennese-born violinist and composer Fritz Kreisler: Kleiner Wiener Marsch (Miniature Viennese March) and Tambourin Chinois (Chinese Tambourine).
The junior fare will feature some promising young soloists, including 13-year-old Danielle Akta in the first movement of Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1 and 12-yearold Mohammed Alshaikh in the opening section of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12, with eight-year-old violinist Violetta Medvedko doing the honors in Kleiner Wiener Marsch. Repin will take the solo role in the other Kreisler slot.
As something of a former wunderkind himself, Repin is particularly sensitive to the musical efforts of young children and youth, and the way their talents should be brought along. “Nobody can be really ignorant to children,” he proffers. “I think that when you do a global project [the festival also takes place in Japan and South Korea, as well as other cities around Russia], I think that is one of the first actions to think about – children musicians.”
Repin is also keenly aware of the practicalities involved in trying to juggle an incipient musical career and the demands of regular education.
“I remember going on tour and coming back to school and, of course, we would be far behind the class. But we had one-on-one extra lessons which really helped me and the other children who played in the concerts. That was easier in Soviet times [when there was more state support for education] but it is important now too.”
Logistics notwithstanding, Repin is determined to do his bit to ensure that the classical music luminary conveyor belt keeps on churning out bright young stars.
“My goal would be that every school should have music lessons, just like mathematics. We have to broaden the education of children, to get connected to music, and see what they like.”
There will certainly be plenty to like in Rishon LeZion, Rehovot and Tel Aviv next week, for one and all.
For tickets and more information about the Trans-Siberian Art Festival: (03) 948-4840 and http://