An affirmation of the human spirit

Irish pianist Barry Douglas performs ‘Resurrection,’ a tribute to 9/11.

Irish pianist Barry Douglas performs ‘Resurrection,’ a tribute to 9/11. (photo credit: MARK HARRISON)
Irish pianist Barry Douglas performs ‘Resurrection,’ a tribute to 9/11.
(photo credit: MARK HARRISON)
In its season opener, the Rishon Lezion Symphony will perform Resurrection, a piano concerto by Krzysztof Penderecki, dedicated to the September 11 tragedy. Pendercki, who is one of the most important composers of our time, will lead the musical forces through his monumental piece, scored for a large orchestra, including triple wind and a raft of percussion, while world-renowned Irish pianist Barry Douglas will play solo.
“Resurrection is a vast canvas piece, about 40 minutes in one movement, an affirmation of the human spirit. It is humanity in the face of adversity, and Pendercki manages to make a very positive statement about the positive endeavors of human nature,” says the Irish pianist in a phone interview from his Belfast home.
“It is a fabulous piece of music. It is like a Mahler symphony but for piano,” explains Douglas, who has world premiered and recorded the concerto. “The piece is written with great skill. Everybody immediately understands the humanity that is behind it.”
Sometimes classical musicians are thought to dwell in an ivory tower, but performing a piece like Resurrection is a totally different experience.
“I think that classical musicians, like any artist, are trying to create an artistic event will hopefully change things for the better. We are obsessed by this sort of things. I think that the mutual connection between creativity and world events, between creativity and the human condition, is absolutely essential. It should not be just a piece of music,” he says.
To that end, he is looking forward to coming here.
“I have missed coming to Israel,” he says. “I have not performed in your country for such long a time. I have many friends in Israel. The late Ya’acov Bistricky, the founder of the Arthur Rubinstein Competition, was my dearest friend. I am looking forward to performing in Israel again. Of course, the loss of innocent lives during the new round of hostilities makes me very sad.”
As for his sense personal security, he says, “I don’t want to be injured, but I grew up in Belfast in the 1960s and ‘70s. It was dangerous. Every time I went to the center of Belfast, there were bombs, so I have a different kind of mentality compared to people who grew up in peace time. And I know that people in Israel grew up with this.”
Born in 1960 in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Douglas studied piano, cello, clarinet and organ.
“I was lucky to play so many instruments,” he says, “but when I was 16 I met Felicitas LeWinter, a pupil of Emil von Sauer and grand-pupil of Franz Liszt. She was Jewish and fled Austria before WW II. Her entire family was in Ireland, so when she came to visit I had about 20 lessons with her, and she inspired me to become a pianist,” he recounts.
He later won fourth prize at the Rubinstein Piano Competition and first prize at the Tchaikovsky Piano Contest in Moscow, which catapulted him to a major international career.
A busy artist, Douglas, who in 2002 was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services to music, divides his time between performing, recording and conducting. He founded Camerata Ireland in 1998 and is the artistic director the Clandeboye Festival in Clandeboye, Bangor, County Down.
“I was inspired by the idea of the Marlborough Festival.
In Clandeboye, young Irish artists live side by side with world-renowned musicians, who conduct master classes.
It is also the summer home of my Camerata orchestra, which is the all-Ireland orchestra – that is, of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland together – which has the queen of England and the president of Ireland among its patrons,” he says.
Douglas, it seems, has a strong Irish identity.
“Ireland is very well known for its traditional music, theater and visual arts, as well as for its Guinness beer. It also can be known for classical music, since the quality of our instrumentalists is very high. Ireland can be culturally united, although we are not united politically. My mother was from the Republic of Ireland and my father from the North, so I feel a special emotional need to find these connections. And although I realize that in the Middle East the situation is different, I still believe that in that part of the world arts, too, can bring people closer to one to another,” he says.
The concerts take place on September 13, 14 and 17 at Heichal Hatarbut in Rishon Lezion; September 15 at TAPAC in Tel Aviv; and September 16 at the Northern Theater in Kiryat Mozkin. For reservations, call (03) 948-4840.