ARC Ensemble record works by Israeli composer Paul Ben-Haim
Musical Toronto – The imperatives of perfection behind Royal Conservatory ARC Ensemble’s latest recording
Please read this recent article on the ARC Ensemble's recent recording of the music of Paul Ben-Haim.
Toronto (Canada) ... The Royal Conservatory's ARC Ensemble announces the details of its collaboration with the 2013 Stratford Festival. The ARC Ensemble will present two concerts as part of the festival's Forum initiative, a wide-ranging, multi-disciplinary series of events. In its inaugural year, the Forum explores themes of community, especially communities in conflict, and the role of the outsider.
“From the moment I learned of ARC’s presentations of music by Jewish composers lost during the Holocaust, I knew the ensemble could play an important role in The Forum – a festival inside the Stratford Festival, in which we present exceptional events to enrich the play-going experience,” said Antoni Cimolino, Artistic Director of the Stratford Festival. “Simon has developed two programs for us, one exploring the Russian-Jewish musical roots of Fiddler on the Roof, and another to examine music suppressed by fascist regimes, to inform my production of The Merchant of Venice, which will be set in 1930s Italy. The ARC Ensemble performances promise to add an important musical element to the Festival’s artistic discussion.”
"This partnership provides us with terrific opportunities," said ARC's Artistic Director, Simon Wynberg, "It offers us the potential to broaden our audience while also creating truly bespoke programs that will both illuminate and explore Stratford's main-stage themes and productions."
The ARC Ensemble's first concert program examines the origins of the Broadway classic, Fiddler on the Roof, one of this year’s main-stage productions. While the music is generally regarded as pure Broadway, there are inflections and idioms that draw on traditional Jewish sources. In fact, the over-arching theme of Fiddler is tradition, and the tensions that occur when tradition is challenged and obliged to adjust. This concert will include excerpts from Sholem Aleichem's Tevye stories, complemented by the music of his Russian contemporaries –– composers who sought to integrate Jewish elements into the classical music tradition.
To complement the Merchant of Venice, the ARC Ensemble will present a concert that investigates fascism's impact on music, and, with the introduction of race laws, its suppression. The concert will include a rare performance of Mario Castelnuovo Tedesco's Piano Quintet. Tedesco, whose ancestors had lived in Italy for generations, fled Italy in 1938 and settled in Los Angeles. Here he composed prolifically, both for the concert hall and the cinema, and taught a generation of film composers. One of his students, John Williams, won his first Academy Award for the adaptation of a theatrical score: the 1971 film version of Fiddler on the Roof.
Both performances are part of the Stratford Festival’s innovative new Forum initiative, and take place on Sunday June 16, 2013 at 5:30PM and Saturday September 21, 2013 at 5:30PM. Tickets are available by visiting: www.stratfordfestival.ca
The ARC Ensemble must take the credit for the impressive effect in this concert. Exceptionally controlled, but always full of intensity and emotion, the musicians handled the elegiac passages of the final variation movement with the same sovereign accomplishment as the dense intensity of the first and middle movements, in particular the clarinetist Joaquin Valdepeñas, with his controlled and beautiful ensemble playing.
– Florian Zeugner, Esslinger Zeitung
The performance of [Ben-Haim's] 1941 Clarinet Quintet op. 31a was much more than a expression of respect for music ostracized by Nazi Germany: the ARC Ensemble presented chamber music that was a discovery –– and raised the question of why it is so rarely finds its way to the concert platform [...]
There is the "Hebrew Fantasy" by Samuel Gardner (1891-1984): a fascinating wealth of heartrending melodies and whimsical folklore that make you want to cry and dance at the same time! Or maybe Mieczysław Weinberg's Piano Quintet op. 18, written in Moscow. Here and there one notices similarities to Shostakovich, but to speak of him as an epigone would be more than negligent. The manner in which the ARC Ensemble presented this musical web of insistent, archaic rhythms, distinctive colours and ironic, upside-down dance-melodies was astonishing.
– Günter Helms, Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung
Erika Raum and Marie Bérard, violins
Bryan Epperson, cello
David Louie, piano
The Royal Conservatory
April 26, 2011
Music's purpose during the Hitler years and its relationship to officialdom and to the public is as complex as it is fascinating. Beyond the Nazis' incorporation of music into its racial policies and their exploitation of it as both rallying-cry and battle-cry, musical themes include the achievements of the Terezin composers; the use of music in concentration camps (and, latterly, as vehicles for Holocaust memorial projects); Hitler's appropriation of Wagner; the Reich's relationship with jazz, and music as an expression of internal political rivalry, between Goebbels and Goering for example. What accounts for our fascination? The visual art and literature of the Nazi period receive nothing like equivalent attention, although in the years just after the Holocaust, there were indeed significant responses across all the arts.
We know that a musical work, or a specific section of a musical work, can arouse feelings of transcendence — of involvement, connection and satisfaction that are rarely offered by other artistic forms. But music in its purest form, without text or programmatic substance, refers only to itself. Its power lies in its ability to subvert and satisfy expectation simultaneously. And, one assumes, the more experienced and sensitive the listener, the keener, the more discriminating and intense the response. The state of grace that music encourages is sui generis, unrelated to any external morality or ideals of purity, decency or generosity. Of course music can express a variety of emotions and conjure up all manner of associations, which are generated not only by the music itself but also by the circumstances of its performance. But whatever these qualities may be, they are disconnected from concepts of innate good or evil...
(This is an excerpt of ARC Ensemble Artistic Director Simon Wynberg's essay for The OREL Foundation. Read the full article here.)
November 9, 2011 – This week, the Grammy-nominated ARC Ensemble announced its exclusive representation by the powerhouse European management group Konzertdirektion Schmid (KDS). The move significantly raises the group's European profile through additional performance and touring opportunities.
ARC is renowned for its "Music In Exile" series, which focuses on the works of composers exiled from Germany as a result of the upheavals of the Second World War. The project has won universal acclaim on international concert stages in the U.S., Netherlands, Hungary, Sweden, Italy, Poland, and Canada, among others. Two of their recordings, Right Through the Bone and On the Threshold of Hope, have been recognized with Grammy nominations.
Formed in 2002, the ARC Ensemble features faculty members of The Royal Conservatory's Glenn Gould School. The core ensemble comprises a piano quintet plus clarinet, with the addition of strings or woodwinds as required. The Ensemble's Artistic Director is Simon Wynberg.
KDS represents some of the world's best-known classical artists in Europe, and the ARC Ensemble joins an elite group of musicians which includes Yo-Yo Ma, Yefim Bronfman, Christia Tetzlaff, the Scharoun Ensmble and The King's Singers, all of whom have performed at The Royal Conservatory's Koerner Hall in Toronto.
The ARC Ensemble's Benjamin Bowman can now add "fashion icon" to his list of accomplishments. Ben's roguish good looks are on display in the fall/winter issue of harry magazine, a quarterly issued by the exclusive Toronto menswear emporium, Harry Rosen. The accompanying article, written by the magazine's editor, food-writer and longtime ARC fan, James Chatto focuses on Benjamin’s travel fashion and discusses the ARC Ensemble's recent engagements in Israel, Amsterdam and Milwaukee, where the group performed for the annual MTNA (Music Teachers National Association) conference.
Despite the lavish wardrobes of the ARC Ensemble's women, not to mention the sartorial accomplishments of the ARC gentlemen, our Boulevardier Bowman has now raised the bar to a maddeningly high standard. In the "harry notebook" section of this national arbiter of men's fashion (see picture below), Benjamin descends the steps of the Royal Conservatory's Koerner Hall with his customary allure and insouciance. He opens the ARC concert on September 11 at Mazzoleni Hall with Gerald Finzi's Elegy and a sonata movement by Mendelssohn completed by David Louie, the pianist who will partner him. Paul Ben-Haim's Clarinet Quintet op. 31a and Sir Edward Elgar's Piano Quintet, op. 84 complete the programme. As for competitive couture, the gloves are off!
The ARC Ensemble's recent trip to Israel and Amsterdam undeniably scored a high note for the "Music in Exile" series, and for the ARC musicians as well. Besides the hectic concert schedule, there were also numerous rehearsals, dinners to attend, and even a bit of sightseeing. What follows is a brief photographic essay of ARC's travels this past March, all candid shots by the musicians themselves.
ARC violinist Erika Raum in a field outside of Jerusalem. Says Erika: "We were in a van on a group tour, on our way back from the Mount of Olives. This chair was just sitting all alone in an empty field. On closer inspection, neither field nor chair was quite as fresh and fragrant as it might look here. Naturally, I checked for rats before I sat down."
Mishkenot Sha'ananim faces the western ramparts of Jerusalem's old city. Built by Moses Montefiore in the 19th century, it is now an international conference centre and an important venue for artistic and political dialogue. Over the years it has hosted a who's who of creative giants: Primo Levi, Amos Oz, Saul Bellow, Laurie Anderson, William Kentridge... the list is long. Mishkenot provided the base for the ARC Ensemble's tour of Israel, the central part of its “Music in Exile” project, which, in addition to ARC's five concerts, included a film series on exiled composers, an international conference, and the "Banned by the Nazis – Entartete Musik" exhibition which was installed at Tel Aviv University's Central Library. Ensemble members also presented master-classes at the University's Buchmann-Mehta School, formerly the Ruben Academy.
ARC's concerts at the Buchmann-Mehta School included two extraordinary works by Mieczyslaw Weinberg: the Clarinet Sonata and the Piano Quintet, both composed in the mid-1940s, by which time he had fled Nazi-occupied Poland and found refuge in Moscow. Less than 10 years later, Weinberg's survival was again in the balance when he was arrested by the NKVD (Stalin's secret police). There were very real fears that both Weinberg and his wife Olga might be killed and Shostakovich's wife, Nina Vasilyevna was given power-of-attorney for the Weinberg's young daughter Vitosha (Victoria), should the worst come to pass. But Weinberg was released shortly after Stalin's timely death in March 1953 and the two families toasted a ceremonial burning of the power-of-attorney. Victoria, who has lived in Tel Aviv with her mother since the early 1970s, attended the Thursday performance at Tel Aviv University. It was a rare opportunity for her to hear her father's chamber music in Israel, and a moving and thrilling opportunity for the ARC players to meet her.
ARC's touring programmes also included a Clarinet Quintet composed by the father of Israeli music, Paul Ben-Haim—originally Paul Frankenburger—who fled Germany for British-mandated Palestine in the 1930s. It is a substantial and atmospheric work that melds the academic and architectural rigor of Central Europe with the twirls and turns of Middle Eastern melody and melisma—a language that Ben-Haim was still absorbing. ARC's string players and its clarinetist Joaquin Valdepeñas effortlessly succeeded in combining these two forces without compromising either. Jehoash Hirshberg, Ben-Haim's biographer and emeritus professor at the Hebrew University, hailed the performance as the best he had ever heard.
The Ensemble's final concert in Israel was broadcast live from the Jerusalem Theatre, which has hosted this series for more than 25 years, despite ongoing threats to Israel's music programming. ARC then moved on to Amsterdam where it presented two concerts at the Concertgebouw's Small Hall, an elliptically-shaped room that is as elegant as it is acoustically blessed.
Built in the late 19th century, the Concertgebouw's three venues now present some 800 concerts a year. Unusually for the Netherlands, the institution receives almost no government support and is funded solely by ticket revenue and commercial sponsorship, notably from Deutsche Bank. Both of the concerts had been sold out for weeks and enthusiastic audiences responded to an evening programme of Prokofiev, Brahms, and Weinberg, and a broadcast matinée of Mendelssohn, Röntgen, and Elgar with bravos and standing ovations. It made for a satisfying close to the tour.