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7Apr/11Off

The ARC Ensemble tours Israel & Amsterdam

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.

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