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Talea Ensemble performs at DiMenna Center for Classical Music for Azrieli Music Prizes, 10/16/2021. Photo by Chris Lee
Talea Ensemble performs at DiMenna Center for Classical Music for Azrieli Music Prizes, 10/16/2021. Photo by Chris Lee

Concert Review (NYC): Talea Ensemble Performs U.S. Premieres of Azrieli Music Prize Winners

by Noémie Chemali

When I first saw the program for last Saturday’s concert at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music, I braced myself to hear the kind of experimental music that glorifies noise as high art. I could not have been more surprised at what I heard. The virtuosity of the Talea Ensemble in conjunction with five genre-bending composers left me feeling inspired and grateful to be both a musician and a concert-going New Yorker more than ever before.

The first piece on the program was the “Double Concerto” by Canadian composer David Adamcyk. It featured soloists Sam Jones on trumpet and Mike Lormand on trombone. I was drawn in by the soloists’ assured presence as they distorted their sounds using different types of mutes, creating a mesmerizing “wah-wah” effect.

“Dissidence” by the late Canadian composer Pierre Mercure was next on the program, with Sharon Azrieli as soprano soloist. I must say, this piece was a perfectly packaged little gem, short yet so full of contrasting emotions, keeping me on the edge of my chair throughout. This composition could not have been executed so perfectly without the poise of such an accomplished performer as Ms. Azrieli and the virtuosity of all of the players in the Talea Ensemble.

The last piece before intermission was Keiko Devaux’s “Arras.” It is no wonder that Ms. Devaux was awarded the 2020 Azrieli Commission for Canadian Music for her work. Her brilliant use of textures stemming from her French-Japanese background elicited a strong reaction from my imagination, hearing the wind howling (which she actually intended), but also taking me on a journey of my own; picture whale dialogue, serpentine slithering, and a whole range of accompanying emotions.

Talea Ensemble performs at DiMenna Center for Classical Music for Azrieli Music Prizes, 10/16/2021. Photo by Chris Lee

The Azrieli Foundation seeks to promote new music that answers the following questions: “What is Canadian music?” and “What is Jewish music?” The first half of the program answered the former, and the second half sought to answer the latter.

The US premiere of Israeli-Australian composer Yitzhak Yedid’s “Kadosh Kadosh” and “Cursed” introduced us to a piece inspired by the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which is a place of worship open to Muslims and Jews alike. It was clear listening to the piece that it was a comprehensive blend of traditional Jewish folk songs, Arabic maqam scales, and Western classical avant-garde elements, which stirred me to think, even just for a second, that perhaps it is in fact music that can bring peace and reconciliation between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East.

The last piece on the program was Yotam Haber’s US premiere of “Estro Poetico-Armonico III.” I must say, this piece was my favorite on the program. Haber sets ancient recordings of cantillations and liturgical texts from Italian synagogues as a foil to texts written by modern-day Israeli poets, sung by mezzo-soprano soloist Eliza Bagg. Bagg’s voice, so pure and rich in timbre, emerged so wonderfully from the ensemble’s refined and polished sound, leaving the audience completely in awe at this powerful communion.

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