The National Chamber Ensemble opened its 2013-2014 season with a concert called Jewish Musical Treasures, honoring the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht. With a horrid and tragic event of this magnitude at its core, one might imagine a solemn and somewhat mournful musical tribute to and remembrance of the 91 people who died on this fateful night, as well as the millions of innocent victims who would soon lose their lives as a result of one of the most inexplicable and regrettable periods of hate and fear in human history. On the contrary, the concert honored the souls of those who died and the souls of those who lived with celebratory messages of love, hope, understanding, and survival that was communicated in the universal language we call music.
The concert was introduced by guest host Daniel Heifetz, the Founder and Director of the Heifetz International Music Institute. In a touching tribute to his friend and former student NCE Artistic Director Leo Sushansky, Heifetz confessed that, “for teachers and mentors, our greatest joy comes in seeing our students surpass us.” Then, after aptly commenting that Jewish music might be better described as the “soul music” of Jewish people, and just like the soul music of other cultures, it is meant to be shared and enjoyed by all people, a most wonderful concert began.
In addition to violinist and NCE Artistic Director Leo Sushansky, the featured musicians included tenor Mikhail Manevich, Cantor of the Washington Hebrew Congregation, frequent collaborator and virtuoso pianist Carlos Riodriguez, and special guest artist and internationally acclaimed clarinetist Julian Milkis.
It is often said that as much as the world loves an overnight sensation, in reality it is much more likely that these artists are actually new discoveries. Such was the case on Saturday evening when I first experienced the stunningly beautiful sound of Julian Milkis, who without question is now among my lifetime favorite clarinetists and musicians, in general. As the only student of Benny Goodman, with degrees from the Manhattan School of Music and Juilliard, and a performance history that has taken him all over the world, he is a copy of nobody. His tone is exquisite, his technique is amazing, and his ability to communicate mood and message is more than fascinating. While he has the assurance that comes with talent and experience, it is clear from the moment he walks onstage that he is involved simply for the love of music.
National Chamber Ensemble’s concert opened with the premiere of “Sabbath Song,” a setting of a poem by Arnold Horwitt, composed by Tony Award- nominated, Obie Award winning composer Gary William Friedman. Performed by Cantor Mikhail Manevich, Leo Sushansky, and Carlos Rodriguez, the melodic piece was very well received in its first performance. Cantor Manevich was also featured in performances of “Eyli, Eyli, “Maz’l,” and “A Liedele.”
Leo Sushansky and Carlos Rodriguez performed the Theme from Schindler’s List, a flowing piece by John Williams that is known and loved the world over. They also performed the first and third movements of the famous Baal Shem Suite, by Ernest Bloch. Sushansky and Rodriguez collaborate frequently, and it is always a pleasure to hear them play together.
Julian Milkis made his entrance with a klezmer-inspired performance of the folk song “Beigelach,” which he performed with Sushansky and Rodriguez. He followed this with a hauntingly beautiful rendition of “Last Gloomy Sunday,” a song made famous by Billie Holiday, a wonderful Dick Hyman composition called “At the Jewish Museum,” and “Murka, Metamorphosis,” a rousing piece Milkis (to the delight of his audience) described as “the anthem of the low-life criminals found in the jails of the former Soviet Union.”
The high-point of the concert was, without question, the trio work between Leo Sushansky, Carlos Rodriguez, and Julian Milkis. The Ballad for Violin, Clarinet and Piano from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, transcribed by Robert Russell Bennett, was beautiful, and the give and take between the three talented and versatile musicians – who were so clearly relaxed and confident with themselves and each other – was wonderful to observe.
The program concluded with the premiere of Alexander Goldstein’s Trio on the Roof, based on Fiddler on the Roof, by Jerry Bock. This audience-accessible piece presented familiar and well-known themes that were recognized by an obviously pleased audience, but those familiar melodies overlaid very challenging rhythmic patterns and changes that did require the high level skills and talents of the performing musicians. The audience reacted with an immediate standing ovation, one which recognized and rewarded not only the performance of this exciting new work, but also appreciation for what was a truly wonderful night of music.
Jewish Musical Treasures was performed on Saturday, November 9, 2013 at The Rosslyn Spectrum – 1611 North Kent Street, in Arlington, VA.
National Chamber Ensemble’s next concert, Happy Holidays, will take place on Sunday, December 8, 2013 at 4:30 pm. As is tradition, outstanding young musicians will join the ensemble for some wonderful holiday music. This concert presents a perfect opportunity for families and friends to kick off the holiday season with classical masterpieces, caroling, and more fun than should be legal. Tickets can be purchased online or in person at Artisphere’s Rosslyn Spectrum Theatre box office – 1611 N. Kent Street, in Arlington, Virginia, or by calling (888) 841-2787.