Feeling Felicja

The annual Felicja Blumental Festival is 20 years old and, by the looks of it, in rude health. This year’s multifarious musical offering, which will run at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art May 7-12, proffers the usual high quality of artistic endeavor, across several genres and sub-genres.

The festival first sprang into life in 1999, almost nine years after the passing of the eponymous internationally acclaimed pianist. It was Blumental’s daughter, singer Annette Celine, who initiated the now annual event, and the forthcoming edition will be the first to take place since the founder’s death, at the age of 78, in June 2017.

Be the first to know –

This year’s festival, the 20th, is also a tribute, but to Celine, who died last June, and will present the often eclectic styles of music and the artists she liked particularly.

Artists and ensembles from around the world that have performed at the festival in years past return for this one.

Soprano and painter Celine grew up in Brazil, so Brazilian music is always on the festival menu. She loved music of all kinds, classical, jazz, contemporary, and in bringing the music and musicians to the festival often discovered performers who went on to become famous, like L’Arpeggiata.

The L’Arpeggiata early music group (2006 festival) under Christina Pluhar presents Meditteraneo, a program centered on the nations around that sea (May 7). Armonico, directed by harpsichordist Christopher Monks (2007), presents Bach cantatas in the closing concert (May 12). The Brazilian contingent includes soprano Gabriela Pacce, and also Denise de Freitas and baritone Licio Bruno (Brazilian music May 9, 10).

And let’s not forget contemporary percussion and jazz from the Tremolo Percussion Ensemble and from France, the Strasbourg Percussion Ensemble – a collaboration (May 8). The Israeli Jazz Orchestra hosts world-renowned jazz trumpeter Avishai Cohen and bassist Eli Magen (May 11).

There’s also “Songs that Annette Loved and Sang” (May 9), performed by Yael Levita, as well as Chen Reiss singing Schubert, Strauss and Brahms (May 11) and pianist Ann Fort playing Bach (May 12), in addition to lectures, discussions and more. A banquet.

Celine’s embrace of contemporary music and women composers in particular has prompted the festival to include works by three Israelis (or at least Israeli- born) – Chaya Czernowin, Betty Olivero and Shulamit Ram – to be performed by the Israel Chamber Orchestra (May 10) and the Ensemble Nikel (May 7). And you can meet all three women Tuesday, May 8 at 5 p.m.

The first slot on the opening day of the festival, running simultaneously to Yossi Schiffmann’s lecture about how the festival came into being, will be devoted to some of the works of the Boston-based composer Czernowin. The Shidlovsky Auditorium will host the tribute to Czernowin, with a five-piece program that takes in Czernowin’s Knights of the Strange and Sahaf, alongside a couple of contributions by Irish composer Anne Cleare and one by 48-year-old German composer Enno Pope. The works will be performed by Ensemble Nikel – the quartet and composer are seasoned musical sparring partners – with Bulgarian-born accordionist Krassimir Sterev guesting.

Czernowin’s oeuvre incorporates diverse sensibilities and sonic avenues of exploration, a natural product of her formative musical upbringing.

“We didn’t hear just Russian music at home,” she says. “We had a record player. We heard [early 1970s Israeli musical] Kazablan, the [Jewish American liturgical and folk troupe] Malavsky Family, and there was Brahms’s Danses Hongroises [Hungarian Dances] and, of course, my father’s Russian music.”

The composer’s father also had a penchant for the accordion, so perhaps Sterev’s inclusion in next week’s concert lineup is par for the family course.

Cinema also played an important part in Czernowin’s early musical development.

“We’d go to movies with music, there was a Russian one called Biryoska or something like that,” she recalls. “During the break I’d be crying and when they asked me why I was crying I’d say it was because the music was so beautiful. It touched me so powerfully and directly. What you have in your early years stays with you for the rest of your life. It also defines you.”

Having perfect pitch was also a boon, helping Czernowin make accelerated progress on piano.

Having such powerful experiences in her youth not only inspired Czernowin to immerse herself ever more deeply in the intricacies of classical music, it also spurred her on to check things out off the beaten path.

“During the 1990s, I think, I tended to break through conventions and delineations. I think that is an act of rebellion and of a fighter.

Today, I don’t really see myself as a warrior. I see myself as a discoverer, as an inventor, someone who delves into strata that we all have inside us, but we don’t yet know.

Anyway, breaking out through borders is something from the old avant garde, and I don’t belong to the old avant garde.”

Czernowin’s natural gifts were nurtured by all manner of teachers, from strict disciplinarians to those who had a more free-flowing mindset, and encouraged her to find her own path. Czernowin says she came out of her educational roller coaster in sturdy shape.

“In some way, going through approaches that were so radically contrasting puts the focus on you, and your ability to contend with each of them. Each of them enables you to cultivate a different aspect of the swath of your own creativity.”

Czernowin’s output certainly reflects that all-inclusive take on artistic expression.

“Risk taking helps you to grow,” she states. “That may come from my Israeliness,” adds the longtime US resident. “I have a certain degree of faith in conflict, or friction, or struggling to overcome difficulties. That makes you more robust, and helps you to grow.”

For tickets and more information about Felicja Blumental Festival: https://en.fbmc.co.il/festival.