Israeli pianist David Greilsammer creates musical labyrinth

Labyrinth is a study in opposites, how they attract and even enhance one another.

DAVID GREILSAMMER (photo credit: ELIAS AMARI)
DAVID GREILSAMMER
(photo credit: ELIAS AMARI)
A labyrinth is more than a puzzle. For Israeli pianist/conductor David Greilsammer, it is the name of a new solo piano album he’s released worldwide on the French Naïve label.
“It is miraculous,” says Greilsammer from his home in Geneva, Switzerland, where he is music director of the Geneva Camerata Orchestra, “that I recorded it in January 2020, edited it during the first difficult days of corona in Europe, and began releasing it to music platforms worldwide just after the first wave of the pandemic ended. I realize how rare and special for me it is to have a new album out during these challenging days.”
Labyrinth is a study in opposites, how they attract and even enhance one another. Greilsammer explains that the idea behind the album has been a part of his life for a good part of his 43 years. His beginnings were as a “Jerusalem boy” who loved and studied music and piano at the Rubin Academy.
“When I was 15 years old, I had a very strange dream,” Greilsammer relates, “which occurred night after night. I saw myself standing in the midst of this immense labyrinth. It was not scary. On the contrary, I found it intriguing, mysterious, engaging with a sense of newness and discovery. It was another universe, another world, and I wanted to understand it.
“It stayed with me through school, my service in the IDF, even as I furthered my career in the United States and Europe. The dream portrayed such a strong, personal encounter, I decided four or five years ago, the best way to explain it and make it exist was through music.
“Within the labyrinth of my dream, I heard music, abstract, attractive sounds, fragments of numerous sonorities, which were like stars in a galaxy to guide me, and take me by the hand to the center of the labyrinth. I decided not to give up, and convey the sounds and emotions of this personal and profound story into a musical experience. And so Labyrinth for solo piano was born.”
Greilsammer began developing the project five years ago. Experimenting through a number of concerts performed at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago’s Highland Park and at the Flagey Festival in Brussels, he chose to present the music of his dream like a novel of seven chapters. Six chapters comprise three musical selections from different eras, and the seventh critical movement, “Love and Death” by Ernesto Granados, stands alone.
A GOSSAMER THREAD connects each section, one to the other, not chronologically but through contrast, color, nuance, harmony or overall character. Labyrinth opens with two short, delicate selections from “On an Overgrown Path” by Leoš Janácek framing the opera selection, “Armide,” by Baroque composer Jean-Baptiste Lully. Two Beethoven bagatelles stand with the linear music of George Crumb’s “Circle of Infinity.” Brash fanfare chords and scale-wise melodic patterns of Hungarian composer György Ligeti form the two-sided backdrop for “The Art of Fugue Contrapunctus 1” by John Sebastian Bach, which lead to “Love and Death” by Granados, the central, passionate, stark and dangerous climax.
Yet Greilsammer has not finished with his journey through Labyrinth.
“Once inside the structure of the labyrinth,” he explains, “you must move forward and back; observe, decide, and change direction; run and stop abruptly; reflect, imagine, dream, hope and reinvent yourself entirely. Each door opens onto something new.”
He bookends his next chapter with the impressionist colors of Erik Satie surrounding the “Fantasia” by C.P.E. Bach, and follows with a chapter highlighting the work of Israeli composer, Ofer Pelz, “Repetitions in Blindness,” commissioned and premiered by Greilsammer. The music of Pelz explores the capacities of the piano, and frames “Chaconne Le Labyrinthe,” written by 17th-century composer Marin Marais and presented in a new arrangement by Greilsammer.
The 69-minute journey through Labyrinth closes with two pieces, “Nuances” and “Vers la Flamme,” by Alexander Scriabin, a late Romantic-era composer whose music is frequently an experiment in colors and sound spectra. Scriabin’s music encircles a new piano arrangement by Jonathan Keren of “Chaos,” a moody, wild orchestral piece written in the 18th century by Jean-Féry Rebel.
For 2021, Greilsammer looks forward to performing Labyrinth as a solo program on tour throughout the United States, Europe and Asia.
Greilsammer concludes he will never know if he truly found the sounds which appeared in his dream or the order in which they emerged.
“What I do know,” he speculates, “is the dream has started disappearing from my life, like a distant memory, fading away into the horizon.”