Israel Festival blasts off with tribute to Eric Siday

His name may not be instantly recognizable, but some of his work is considered an important milestone in the marketing world and, indeed, what we listen to across the musical soundboard.

STEPHEN HORENSTEIN (right) and Matan Daskal will guide a combined combo of the LAB Orchestra and Castle in Time Orchestra in performing scores inspired by Eric Siday (Left).  (photo credit: NADAV YAHLOMI RUHAVI/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
STEPHEN HORENSTEIN (right) and Matan Daskal will guide a combined combo of the LAB Orchestra and Castle in Time Orchestra in performing scores inspired by Eric Siday (Left).
Many moons ago, around the late 1930s, the sound of the recently invented electric guitar was augmented by amplification. That led to the birth of electric blues, around six decades after the genre began life as an acoustic form of delivery. It also spawned a deep divide between devotees of the original format from the Deep South and the electric usurper from Chicago.
That seemingly incongruent interface is also core to the explorations of Eric Siday, who gets a long overdue tribute in these here parts at this year’s Israel Festival, with a concert based on the spirit of his oeuvre due to take place at the Jerusalem Theater on Wednesday, at 9 p.m.
Wednesday’s program is spearheaded by composer-conductors, and active instrumentalists, Stephen Horenstein and Matan Daskal, who will guide a combined combo of the LAB Orchestra and Castle in Time Orchestra – established by Horenstein and Daskal, respectively – through their own scores.
Each conductor will oversee his own Siday-inspired scores, with Horenstein conducting one 36-minute piece, albeit with several sections that span expansive rhythmic and textural terrain, and with Daskal’s slot taking in a host of short works, some lasting only a few seconds. “He strings these things along until you are into a kaleidoscope of all these amazing sounds, with all this rhythm stuff,” Horenstein observes.
SIDAY CEMENTED his place in Western musical history in the 1950s-1970s as one of the pioneers of electroacoustic music. Starting his artistic life as a jazz violinist, in London in the 1920s, Siday relocated to the States in 1939 and became a prime force behind the development of 20th-century electronic music.
His name may not be instantly recognizable, but some of his work – especially the electronically underpinned music for a bunch of landmark TV commercials, including an ad for Maxwell House coffee which ran in the 1950s and 1960s – is considered an important milestone in the marketing world and, indeed, what we listen to across the musical soundboard.
“Millions heard his music every day but didn’t know his name,” says 72-year-old Horenstein, who remembers the coffee ad, and others, well. “Siday wasn’t a household name, but everyone heard his music at least once a day.”
The soundtrack to the commercial incorporated a popping sound which was designed to emulate the action of a percolator as the steam works its way through the coffee granules. It was the perfect sonic sublimation, and follows the conceptual line of the sound logo, an audio hook used to great effect by marketing people across wide and varied tracts of the industrial-commercial world.
Siday may not have become well known until he was eventually featured in Time magazine in the early seventies, not long before his death, but his bank manager was perfectly happy with Siday’s relative anonymity.
“He was the highest paid composer per second in the history of music,” Horenstein chuckles.
HORENSTEIN AND Daskal will not be looking to entertain the Jerusalem Theater and Zoom audiences on Wednesday with anything even remotely formulaic. Instead their scores will dip into broad areas of sonic and textural endeavor, and meander through variegated energetic domains.
All of which will feed off the composer duo’s well-developed creative nous, and strong desire to venture into previously uncharted waters, including going out on a limb as and when. That is a sentiment shared by all the instrumentalists, chosen from the aforesaid ensembles.
“This is a very vital and energetic approach to the music,” Daskal notes. “We leave open spaces for the players to bring their own ideas, to bring themselves, to the performance.”
That infers a fundamental risk-taking ethos. Conductors, in the mainstream world, unequivocally rule the roost, and the instrumentalists are there to do their bidding, and to play the score as the conductor understands it. Neither Daskal nor Horenstein follow that line of thought.
US-born longtime Jerusalemite Horenstein has been at the forefront of envelope-pushing musical pursuits here for around 40 years, as a saxophonist, band leader, composer and conductor, as well as providing budding musicians with a seasoned helping hand in his former capacity as a teacher at the Jerusalem Academy of Music. Daskal’s mother, wind instrument player Rachel Mazor, was among Horenstein’s disciples, and she is included in Wednesday’s lineup as a flutist, while Daskal’s brother Yonatan will work his magic on various synthesizers.
Daskal, Horenstein’s junior by 40 years, says he was always looking to flex the frontiers of sonic adventure. “I started on piano, and got into conducting and classical music and jazz. And I quickly realized that I love to compose, and that became my major interest.”
Daskal has another weighty string to his artistic bow. Betwixt baton-yielding spots he also earns a crust as a professional dancer. He says he has no problems balancing the two disciplines.
“There is a strong bond between them because they both deal with movement,” he muses. “I am very much a movement person. Music is movement through frequencies, and dance is physical movement through space.”
Daskal also utilizes his dance experience to good effect on stage, often indicating to his ensemble members how to address the next musical passage simply by means of a corporeal gesture. “I have written a lot of music for dance, and also the performative side of the music is conducting, which is also an artistic element.”
Improvisation is also central to Daskal’s ethos, and he says working off material by the likes of Siday, in as free a fashion as possible, is a delight for him. “You get away from the world of written music, which is very limiting. Classical music doesn’t allow you to compose and improvise in the moment.”
He says the Castle in Time Orchestra was not premeditated.
“We wrote a work for acoustic and electronic instruments in 2015, and that led to the formation of the orchestra,” he laughs. “We didn’t set out to create an ensemble. We didn’t know that was what we wanted to do. It just happened.”
That suited Daskal and his fellow free-roaming artistic souls just fine. The confluence with Horenstein and the LAB outfit, for the Siday-based excursion is a natural fit, too.
“Steve is one of my favorite composers in Israel,” says Daskal. “I have been a fan of the LAB Orchestra, and have been going to their concerts for years. Steve inspires me so much.”
For his part, Horenstein is just as delighted to share the bill with Daskal. “Matan is so gifted. He is an amazing composer and artist.”
Siday’s name may not, for most people, spark instant recognition, but his accrued wealth continues to leave its creative mark. “We are benefiting from that now because his family started this foundation, the Eric and Edith Siday Charitable Foundation [created in 1998], which, for the last five years, has supported talented musicians in Israel. One of the members of the Siday family lived in Israel, so I suppose that’s why,” says Horenstein.
Daskal was one of the grantees to benefit from the Siday family largesse.
Horenstein was also fortunate enough to run his eager and appreciative eyes and hands over Siday’s instrumental collection when he got a call from New York asking if there was anyone in the neighborhood who could give the treasures a professional look-see. Horenstein suggested they fly him over to the Big Apple to carry out the evaluation process himself, and he duly made several Stateside trips.
“I felt like a kid in a candy store,” Horenstein gleefully recalls. “I couldn’t believe I was actually there, with all of Siday’s instruments and sheet music and everything.”
That legacy will be preserved and promulgated to a wider audience here, and possibly across the globe, on Wednesday by a top-class, risk-taking bunch of musicians and their equally adventurous conductor-composer front men.
“It’s going to be a blast,” says Horenstein. It’s going to be quite a roller coaster, too.
“My work goes through four commercial musical fanfares, and that takes us into a whole Section B, which is like a madman on steroids,” he laughs.
“It starts to cook up. You’ve got all these logos coming up, and suddenly this place gets saturated. I’m trying to do two things to the audience. One is to hypnotize them by, literally, stopping time, with the amount of information coming at them, and also resource some subliminal advertising in the midst of this. They may go out and buy a carton of Coke,” Horenstein giggles.
Shopping sprees aside, Siday and his pioneering work should be better known here, come Wednesday, and the Jerusalem Theater and virtual audiences have a rare sonic and emotional experience in store for them.
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