KINAN AZMEH: Prayer – A Tribute to Edward Said (Kinan Azmeh, solo clarinet)
PIERRE BOULEZ: Anthemes I (Michael Barenboim, solo violin)
BELA BARTOK: Contrasts (2nd movement: "Relaxation") (Michael Barenboim, violin; Kinan Azmeh, clarinet; Daniel Barenboim, piano)
FELIX MENDELSSOHN: Octet (complete)
How often do you get a chance to experience an evening of music with one of the world's greatest classical musicians and his proteges in the intimate and relaxed setting of a small New York club?
This rare kind of opportunity arose when NPR Music, New York's WQXR and (Le) Poisson Rouge, working in collaboration with the Cogut Center for the Humanities at Brown University, presented members of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (WEDO) and conductor Daniel Barenboim in a live video webcast of a transfixing and music-filled evening spanning both the Western classical tradition and the sounds of the Middle East. It's an entirely apt combination for this groundbreaking ensemble of young musicians drawn together from Israel, Palestine and across the Arab world under the leadership of Barenboim, who founded the group in 1999 alongside his dear friend and frequent collaborator, the late Palestinian literary scholar Edward W. Said.
The program opened with a gorgeous and deeply felt performance by Damascus-born clarinetist Kinan Azmeh and the work he composed in tribute to the Divan's late co-founder, entitled Prayer — A Tribute To Edward Said. The ruminative mood continued with a stunning performance of a work by Pierre Boulez for solo violin. Called Anthemes I, it was written for the Yehudi Menuhin Violin Competition in 1992. It's a deeply lyrical piece that Boulez has said was a musical evocation of the Biblical Lamentations of Jeremiah he heard in church as a young boy, with its textual mix of Hebrew letters folllowed by Latin phrases. In Boulez' reimagining, the Hebrew is representing by ethereal long held and gliding tones; the Latin, by quick, punchy phrases. The younger Barenboim had to pause mid-piece and then restart to account for a temperamental violin string, but the magic of the work held beautifully.
Then came a very special treat: the beguiling middle movement of Bartok's Contrasts for violin, clarinet and piano — with Daniel Barenboim himself at the keyboard, joined by his son Michael and Kinan Azmeh. Titled "Relaxation," it's a Bartokian bit of night music. Finally, the assembled string players of the Divan concluded with Mendelssohn's passionate and nearly symphonic-sounding Octet, written when the composer was just 16 years old: a fitting piece for this youthful ensemble.
The orchestra was in New York in a rare tour to the United States as part of its ambitious "Beethoven for All" project, which includes a full cycle of Beethoven symphonies being performed at Carnegie Hall. In fact, their Feb. 3 performance of Beethoven's Second and Ninth Symphonies will be available in a live audio webcast as part of our ongoing "Carnegie Hall Live" series, in collaboration with WQXR and American Public Media.
Video: Producers: Saidah Blount, Denise Debelius, Amy Schriefer and Anastasia Tsioulcas. Audio Engineer: Ed Haber. Videographers: Gabriella Garcia-Pardo, Christopher Parks and A.J. Wilhelm. Hosted by Jeff Spurgeon and Anastasia Tsioulcas.