Completely Mozart: The Pianos Festival tickles Jerusalem’s ivories

The program features three original works inspired by Mozart, specially written for the Jerusalem East-West Orchestra by Wolpe, Nizar Elkhater and jazz-leaning Guy Mintus.

 THE ISRAEL Chamber Orchestra, with conductor Ziv Cojocaru, team up with soloists Malachi Rosenbaum and Oxana Jablonska (photo credit: MICHAEL PAVIA)
THE ISRAEL Chamber Orchestra, with conductor Ziv Cojocaru, team up with soloists Malachi Rosenbaum and Oxana Jablonska
(photo credit: MICHAEL PAVIA)

Attending a classical music concert can be an exhilarating experience. After all, there you are with, possibly, 40 or 50 instrumentalists going at it hammer and tongs and with an animated conductor – albeit with their back to you – adding to the onstage goings on. The piece of music, which may have been written a couple of centuries or more prior, is brought to life before your very eyes and ears.

While it stands to reason that contemporary works of art are more adept at conveying here-and-now street cred, there are composers and musical compositions that clearly stand the test of time. They not only offer a sense of the zeitgeist of the era in which they were created, in the right hands they also manage to impart modern day human and cultural dynamics.

One could certainly place Mozart’s oeuvre, as a whole, in that chronological continuum-spanning category. And Tomer Lev is blessed with “the right hands” to get the job done.

Lev is on the roster of this year’s Pianos Festival, with the ninth edition thereof due to take place at the Jerusalem Theater November 10 to 13. As usual, the program was crafted by founder artistic director Michael Wolpe, a celebrated composer and educator who is also a dab hand at ivory tickling himself.

Wolpe is a prime example of someone who simply loves music per se, and has a wonderful eclectic and non-discriminatory approach to the discipline. His long-running annual Desert Sounds Festival, down on Kibbutz Sde Boker where he lives, always incorporates a broad stretch of artists, groups and output.

For Wolpe there is no such thing as high or low culture and, despite the reverence in which Mozart has been held over the decades, the Austrian composer would, no doubt, go along with that open and all-embracing ethos.

The latter is the thematic linchpin of this year’s festival, which marks the 230th anniversary of Mozart’s passing at the age of only 35. During the four days, theater audiences will be able to hear all 27 piano concertos, chamber pieces, sonatas, trio arrangements and even some jazzy and Middle Eastern colorings.

One slot that really catches the eye is Lev’s confluence with disciple Alon Kariv in a rendition of Larghetto and Allegro for two pianos and orchestra, along with The Israel Camerata Jerusalem. The November 12 date also includes Mozart’s Concerto No. 10 for two pianos and orchestra in E-flat Major, when Lev joins forces with 37 year old Soviet-born Israeli pianist Berenika Glixman. Lev will be kept gainfully engaged throughout the evening, with the three-piece program also taking his soloist spot in Piano Concerto No. 17 in G major.

Having Larghetto and Allegro in the festival lineup is quite a scoop for Wolpe and Lev. The original manuscript, probably scored in 1781, was left unfinished when Mozart moved onto the celestial concert hall a decade later. Both piano parts for the slower tempo first part were fully written by Mozart, but the far more rapid Allegro was left hanging. Mozart’s friend, composer, pianist and musicologist Abbé Maximilian Stadler, completed the chart, and that version, presented shortly after Mozart died, was best known to the Western classical music-loving community thereafter.

In 2015 Lev offered the world a fresh perspective on Larghetto and Allegro when he completed and orchestrated the work, and then recorded it, alongside Kariv, together with the English Chamber Orchestra. The recording came out on the independent British-based Hyperion label. All the previous renderings of the composition, including versions penned by Paul Badura- Skoda and Robert Levin, were piano duets. Lev’s is the first with orchestral support for the keys.

 NIZAR ELKATER plays a self-written work that brings Mozart into the Middle East (credit: YOEL LEVI) NIZAR ELKATER plays a self-written work that brings Mozart into the Middle East (credit: YOEL LEVI)

Having more than one piano on stage at the same time is not a novel idea for the 54-year-old pianist and professor at the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music at Tel Aviv University. “We established Multipiano more than 10 years ago”, Lev notes, adding that his hands-on love affair with the piece he will perform in Jerusalem stemmed from a simple matter of logistics. “In 2012, ahead of our tour of China, we were asked to present a program with the main event at the Beijing Concert Hall. We very much wanted to perform Mozart but his famous sonata for two pianos (in D) was too long for the timing of the concert. It is 25 minutes long.”

Lev was frustrated but not out for the count. “I didn’t want to give up on Mozart for such an important event THE ISRAEL Chamber Orchestra, with conductor Ziv Cojocaru, team up with soloists Malachi Rosenbaum and Oxana Jablonska. (Michael Pavia) www.jpost.com | IN JERUSALEM 7 so I started looking for a shorter composition. Then I came across the Larghetto and Allegro. I really liked it, but I wasn’t totally enamored with the completions added by other composers. And they are only for two pianos. My approach was for two pianos and an orchestra.”

It wasn’t just the absence of a full-blown ensemble in the contemporary offerings that bothered Lev. “Stadler’s addition is terrible,” he states. “You can really see where the original Mozart part ends, and where Stadler’s begins. It is really formulaic, and lacking in energy.”

He investigated other, more recent, completions, by the likes of Austrian pianist Paul Badura-Skoda, who died in 2019 at the age of 91. “Strangely, he uses material from Mozart’s Quintet K 452, which is in the same key, as the basis for developing the score. And he takes full sections from other works and inserts them piecemeal.

Then there’s the addition by [now 74-year-old American pianist and musicologist] Robert Levin. He did a good job, but he took the work in directions I wouldn’t have thought of. I wouldn’t have expected the Mozart work to go that way.”

It was time to move up a couple of gears. “I had three days to work on the piece, and decide whether we would use it for the Beijing concert. I took a three-day weekend and I devoted all my time, from dawn till the dead of night, to the work. I decided that, if I succeed in arriving at a suitable development and coda for the piece, I would have a basis for the composition. Without that it would be like a bagel without a hole,” he laughs. The “hole” was the worthy completion of the curtailed original.

Lev spared no effort in getting the job done or, at least, getting to the point where he could make an informed decision on whether or not to include the work in the Beijing agenda. He duly managed that and undertook to perform the revised Larghetto and Allegro at the gala event, for two pianos. “It was a great success,” he happily reflects. “We got wonderful feedback from the Chinese, but they said the piece calls for an orchestra.”

The die was cast, and the road which eventually led to the current chamber version was opened wide. “I started looking at Mozart’s full body of work. I learned he started writing the piece immediately after his Double Concerto, in Vienna. It’s in the same key [as the Larghetto and Allegro]. The first and second keys are an octave apart, one like a violin and the other like a viola. You can see they are twin compositions. Then I decided I would complete the score, for two pianos and an orchestra.”

Lev was determined to do the 18th-century composer justice. “I sent my continuation to experts, to see if they thought Mozart might have written something similar.”

Happily he got the thumbs up, and the reworked score eventually found its way onto the Hyperion label CD, with Kariv and the English Chamber Orchestra.

 PERENNIAL ARTISTIC director Michael Wolpe performs his own composition alongside  the Jerusalem East-West Orchestra. (credit: YONATAN DROR) PERENNIAL ARTISTIC director Michael Wolpe performs his own composition alongside the Jerusalem East-West Orchestra. (credit: YONATAN DROR)

“Hyperion was delighted to go for it,” Lev recalls. “From that point of view it was a new outlook on the full range of Mozart creations for more than one piano.” The complete recording offering takes in the Concerto for three pianos and orchestra in F major, the piece Lev will present in Jerusalem with Kariv, and the work he will perform here with Glixman. It was quite a coup. “It is fascinating to see how an idea starts out, and gathers steam, and comes out as a far more ambitious venture on a grander scale. It really took off.”

Having 32-year-old Kariv alongside him is also eminently appropriate for the occasion. “Alon has been my student since he was 12. I think that is wonderful, as Mozart wrote the work to be played with his own student. The whole idea was to present in a triple capacity, as composer and a pianist and a teacher.”

That fits the Lev bill pretty well. “I wouldn’t say I am exactly a great composer, but I am a very active pianist and I teach. So, for me, there is a sort of triple capacity except when I take the stage with Alon, and I show that I can write and play. It is a source of great – triangular – pride for me.”

Lev fully embraces the Mozart mindset of passing the baton on to the next generation. “There is so much joy for me when I perform with my students, with younger musicians. That adds a new dimension.” It is, he says, very much a two-way street. “They bring their freshness, and their youthful enthusiasm, to the projects we do together. It’s a fantastic win-win situation. I bring my experience and they bring their vitality and fresh approach. I think that is the secret of this kind of ensemble. And we all come from the same school of thought. That is a big bonus. We research the fundamental textures and elements together, and we can devise a uniform concept.”

That also adds a Mozartesque dimension to the Multipiano interplay fray. “If you look at his famous concerto [no. 20] and sonata you see there is a kind of ping pong between the pianos. It is a stereophonic concept.

Mozart looked for a ping pong of themes, of passages and arpeggios. I think that works well.”

The members of the November 12 audience at the Jerusalem Theater have a lyrical, dynamic and thoroughly entertaining time lined up for them.

ELSEWHERE OVER the four days Ido Shpitalnik will conduct The Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra in renditions of Mozart’s Piano Concertos no. 16 in D major and the aforesaid renowned no. 20 in D minor, with soloists Ron Regev and Lior Lifshitz, while Oxana Yablonskaya will be front and center in a reading of Rondo for Piano and Orchestra in A major.

Wolpe will step into the limelight when he plays piano in the intriguing Mozart in the Fertile Crescent synergy with The Jerusalem East-West Orchestra, in a concert commissioned by the festival. The program features three original works inspired by Mozart, specially written for the Jerusalem East-West Orchestra by Wolpe, Nizar Elkhater and jazz-leaning Guy Mintus.

For tickets and more information: (02) 560-5755 and jerusalem-theatre.co.il

 ACCLAIMED PIANIST Tomer Lev unveils  his arrangement and orchestration of  Mozart’s Larghetto and Allegro to the  Israeli public. (credit: MICHAEL PAVIA) ACCLAIMED PIANIST Tomer Lev unveils his arrangement and orchestration of Mozart’s Larghetto and Allegro to the Israeli public. (credit: MICHAEL PAVIA)