Saturday , April 13 2024
Kissin performs for Jerusalem itself and, looking for this welcomed opportunity, he approached his friend, Lady Annabelle Weidenfeld.

Concert Review: Evgeny Kissin – International Convention Center, Jerusalem 2/16/11

Even though pianist Evgeny Kissin’s “Liszt – Recital Tour” did not actually start out, as originally planned in Jerusalem, and instead started in Madrid, playing in Jerusalem for the first time was of great moment to his heart. As he put it, “Im Eshkachech Yerushalayim Tishkach Yimini. …” (translation via Douay-Rheims Bible: “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand be forgotten”).

I could not even begin to imagine the impact of this literal transcription.

Kissin performs concerts in Tel Aviv on a regular basis, but this concert, held on February 16, (instead of as planned on January 8) was the first of its kind and had a locally invested objective: to help raise funds for the Jerusalem Music Center. [Photo to the left by Tomer Appelbaum, Hebrew University in Jerusalem]

The initiative for the concert, as Kissin told me, was based on his wish to perform in Jerusalem itself and, looking for this welcomed opportunity, he approached his friend, Lady Annabelle Weidenfeld.

As a member of the Center’s Advisory Board, Lady Weidenfeld, in conjunction with the Jerusalem Foundation and renowned pianist Murray Perahia, the organization’s president since 2009, obliged enthusiastically and the concert was planned as part of Kissin’s 2011 world tour.

The concert, to honor Liszt’s 200th bicentennial was held at the International Convention Center “Binyanei hauma” in Jerusalem to accommodate as many people as possible. This was part of a Liszt recital tour which put Jerusalem on the classical music map along with the usual venerable venues including Carnegie Hall, the latter on March 9, 2011.

Situated within the picturesque neighborhood of “Mishkenot She’ananim”, near Jerusalem’s Old City, JMC was founded in 1973, inspired by the vision of legendary violinist and mentor to many great artists, Isaac Stern and Teddy Kollek, then eminent mayor of Jerusalem.

As an advanced training center for Israel’s young musical talents, JMC’s mission, as executive director Hed Sella in an interview with Sarah Carnvek explains, is not geared to discover the next prodigy, but is rather invested in helping talented young people to become all-round musicians.

Says Sella: “From the JMC point of view, we try to be apolitical and invite only those with the best musical quality. We are involved in several projects that see Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs playing together. We believe in coexistence.”

Without being a school, JMC provides a most formidable education, like the “Perlman Music Program” that makes it possible for students to play in an orchestra under the baton of Maestro Yitzhak Perlman, as well as study chamber and classical Arabic music; and also sing in a chorus and receive individual lessons from a world class faculty.

Kissin agreed to donate proceeds from his Jerusalem concert to support the JMC training programs for young pianists at the center. According to Sella: “It was a solid reaffirmation of high esteem for Jerusalem’s culture.”

It most certainly was a gesture to honor Jerusalem, which had honored Kissin before. In 2010, Kissin was the recipient of an honorary doctorate at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. [Conferment of honorary doctorates on Mount Scopus pictured on the right] Kissin has increasingly made public notice of his heritage, with the intent to ideologically stand by the Jewish people and halt anti-Semitic tendencies.

A written interview with the Jerusalem Post in January 2011, depicts Kissin’s strong sentiments, towards his Jewish identity: “…In spite of the fact, that I… grew up in an assimilated family and knew nothing about Jewish history, let alone religion … when I was a child, I wrote a will (yes!). The content of which, I believe, reveals a lot. It read as follows: ‘When I die, bury me in a forest’ … with the following inscription: ‘Here lies Evgeny Kissin, a son of the Jewish people, a servant of music’ … See, that’s how I identified myself already as a child.”

When living in England, Kissin was exposed to rising anti-Semitic and anti-Israel sentiments. He felt an obligation, being in the public eye, to come to Israel’s defense.

My article examined his public outrage voiced in his open letter to the BBC.

His fan site incorporates a library that he describes with statements like these: ”Authors who are mainly non-Jews, many of them Arabs, giving interviews in support of Israel. … I started to speak up in public, in order to counter the raging anti-Israel hysteria in much of the world. Since I was well known and hundreds of thousands of people all over the world were coming to my concerts and buying my recordings, I felt that I had to tell them: ‘If you like my art, this is who I am, who I represent and what I stand for.’” Kissin explains his convictions to his fans on his website with essential historic facts about Israel, in an attempt to counteract anti-Israel propaganda.

While I was very familiar with Kissin’s commitment of speaking out in support of Israel’s democratic rights and obligations, I became only recently aware of his heartfelt love of and proficiency in the Yiddish language.

Doomed by the threat of extinction, Yiddish was the vernacular language of Jews living in Eastern and Central Europe before World War II, and has become a national treasure of Jewish culture. In an interview in Yiddish, with Dr. Max Kohn on the video channel of the Forverts (the Yiddish version of the Forward),

Kissin explains how he taught himself the “Alef Beis”, the Hebrew letters necessary to read Yiddish in its “Urtext.” He also promotes his CD, On the Keys of Yiddish Poetry, featuring poems by Yiddish poets which Kissin recites in Yiddish. The interview (in Yiddish as well), is available on Youtube. He also has done live presentations in Yiddish at Verbier and Montpelier.

Not unlike the American people, Israelis are bound to a multitude of ethnic presences, even though Israelis are only one generation removed from their ancestors’ cultural heritage.

At the Jerusalem concert, the Russian keyboard master played for a practically sold out hall, despite the short notice change of date. The prevailing language heard, besides Hebrew, was Russian. As I sat next to an older lady, who was muttering comments in Russian, I gathered she was a piano teacher. We were sitting in the front row, and she watched every move on stage critically. She might as well have been an acquaintance of Kissin’s own great teacher, Anna Pavlovna Kantor.

The great school of Russian-Jewish musicianship prevails in Israel after a significant wave of Russian Jew emigration in the ’70s and ’80s. This is made evident, for example, by the large percentage of Russian descent musicians within the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

Kissin was celebrated throughout the performance, with young and just as enthusiastic older fans approaching the stage and handing over one bouquet of flowers after the other.

Immediately following the concert, a flock of admirers, music students and all, followed Kissin to the make shift Greenroom, of the Convention Center. One could think this was a scene from a Rock concert; fans hovered around Kissin, struggling to get a glimpse, an autograph, a photo from their idol.

At the Greenroom, a very friendly and courteous Kissin, greeted his fans, including myself. We had been in touch over email, but it was the first time we met in person.

His affable and responsive salutation: ”Shalom Ilona, at last we meet,” after having him heard perform the most remarkable concert, with the most definitely ideal rendition of the Schubert–Liszt-transcription “Soiree de Vienne, Valse Caprice No.6”, was just the perfect encore for me, personally.

About Ilona Oltuski

About GetClassical – Positively Personal Performance Welcome to GetClassical – a platform for classical music enthusiasts, offering information about today’s classical music scene through our blog posts and connecting new audiences to GetClassical’s concert events. Music Journalist and founder of GetClassical, Ilona Oltuski, (member of MCANA) is thrilled to announce a new season with a variety of great performances by upcoming and arrived musicians, of great caliber. Some, you will have heard here first, some are household names within New York’s vibrant music scene – but all collaborations are based on close relationships with the artists and appreciation for their great, musical talent. GetClassical continues its relationship with WWFM whose broad spectrum of listeners we would like to welcome for another exciting season of broadcasts. We produce events of a great variety, performed at different venues: from cabaret star Adrienne Haan’s Carnegie Hall’s debut at Weill Recital Hall, to world renowned cellist Mischa Maisky and friends, at LePoisson Rouge. Art lovers will experience music in their favorite environment: Soho’s art gallery Louis Meisel. Our monthly series at the very intimate, downtown Jazz Club Zinc Bar, right in the heart of New York City’s downtown nightlife scene continues, while we are looking forward to a new collaboration for a GetClassical Salon series, with Yamaha Artists Services, at their newly renovated showroom. Classical music has a great tradition, but musicians realize the importance of reaching out to a wider audience, and to create a fresh outlook and enthusiasm to classical music. What makes our concerts special is the actual concert experience: GetClassical creates a very personal and relaxed environment that encourages people – with a glass of wine in hand – … to celebrate talent, the way it used to be celebrated when classical compositions of the day, represented the newest talent on the block. It’s in this spirit of community building and artistic interaction; we also welcome visiting guest artists to the stage. Jazz musicians have always encouraged “jamming” together – we will extend this friendly gesture to the classical experience, adding an element of excitement and surprise. You will definitely have the opportunity to meet the artists, up close and personal – we bring the after-party to the concert.

Check Also

Anthony Edwards, Prayer for the French Republic

Theater Review (NYC): ‘Prayer for the French Republic’ – Profound, Timely

In 'Prayer for the French Republic' questions are raised about the safety of French Jews with antisemitism on the rise. Wouldn't it be better to emigrate to Israel where it is safer?