Pamela: How would you describe your own “relationship” with PHOENIX?
Myrna: In Brazil, I played with the “Quadro Cervantes” Early Music Quartet for seventeen years. It was then the most successful Brazilian early music ensemble. With more players added, it was enlarged to become Rio’s Baroque Orchestra, (Academia Antiqua Pro-Arte), and I assumed its musical direction. It had a regular orchestral repertoire, and I directed it while continuing to pursue my solo performing career at the same time.
From the time I arrived in Israel, I continued to appear as a soloist and also joined the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra under the baton of Dr. David Shemer. It was similar to the professional life I had been leading in Brazil. However, my dream was to establish a viol consort in this country. On September 3 1998, the “Israel Consort of Viols” had its first rehearsal. The viol was so unfamiliar to Israeli audiences that I decided to change the group’s name to “PHOENIX”. Our first performance landed us an excellent review. The Jerusalem Post’s music critic, Uri Epstein, wrote “This is a red letter day for Israel’s musical life. The consort will have to work hard to live up to the standard that it has established at its debut”. It seems Epstein had picked up on the fact that I am a perfectionist and, indeed, high standards have become one of the ensemble’s trademarks.
Before PHOENIX, I tended to see the ensembles I played in as something external, but with PHOENIX, this was changing. I had created a new tool of expression for myself…you could say PHOENIX was my “new instrument”. Our first revolutionary program was “Wind and Sea”. Chana Zur, of the Abu Gosh Festival, had requested a program of Brazilian music. “Wind and Sea” presented music by two of Brazil’s greatest composers: H. Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) and Dorival Caymmi (b.1914), the latter being the greatest 20th century Brazilian composer of popular music. Caymmi died in August 2008. Brazilian jazz pianist and arranger David Feldman did the Caymmi arrangements for us. The program was recorded by NMC, an Israeli recording company, and the Brazilian BRASCAN company ordered one thousand copies of it to be sent to Brazil as Christmas gifts. Caymmi, himself, was most enthusiastic about the program: he recorded a blessing for the project and contributed graphic material for the disc. The project was scored for five viols, theorbo, Baroque guitar, Baroque bassoon, Brazilian percussion and four singers. Life had taken a new turn – we had produced “world music”. Come to think of it, viols and Brazilian music are the very essence of my soul.
“Wind and Sea” is possibly the most beautiful project of my life; it is surely the most personal. In it, I have joined my two worlds – Brazil, Rio, from where I come, ever present within me, and Israel, where I have chosen to live and where I have acquired wonderful friends and colleagues. We are currently involved in the reissuing of this CD.
Pamela: In what direction did PHOENIX go after that? Or, should I ask, where did it take you?
Myrna: The next large project was also initiated by Chana Zur: it was a program of Bolivian Baroque music, calling for wind instruments, including shawms and dulcians, a large continuo section, violone and lute. We had to borrow instruments and help the musicians to learn to play them. We had 50 musicians on stage, including a large choir, sometimes split into three choirs, and four soloists. I, myself, became acquainted with Bolivian Baroque music through the “Criolla Celebration”, first performed in 2004. I also conducted it (and, this time, not from within the orchestra or the soloist’s podium). This was another “first” for me. Doron Salomon, conductor of the Be’er Sheva Sinfonietta, had assisted me greatly, helping me find a conducting language that suited me. The “Criolla Celebration” is a complicated and challenging program, especially when it comes to rhythms, but it went off so well that Timeless Recordings chose it as one of the two best performances of that Abu Gosh Festival and released it as a disc. The whole thing was amazing to me! Here I was conducting for the first time; all I had been hoping for was a reasonable performance. Before that, I had never considered conducting and I was, so-to-speak, discovering a secret room in my own house!
From then on, I felt free to create and direct whatever projects came to mind and began to be much freer in programming. I started seeing PHOENIX as a colorful tool, as my new
instrument of expression. My next big adventure, demanding no less creativity, was the full staging of the “Play of Daniel”. I transcribed the 12th century manuscript into modern notation, decided on the cast, did stage- and general musical direction, produced it, and also took part in fund-raising. Our stage director was Niv Hofman of the Tel Aviv Opera (he was also responsible for costumes); Dania Zemer was the lighting artist. This was the first fully staged performance of this work in Israel. To help audiences follow the Latin text, it was necessary to create the role of narrator, taken on by Benny Hendel. Reviews were excellent, but I felt most rewarded and excited when meeting people who were visibly emotionally moved by the performance.
Pamela: What PHOENIX concerts will we still be able to hear in the 2008-2009 season?
Our consort of viols is happy to be joining conductor David Shemer and the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra in June 2009 for “War and Peace”, a program of German music in the wake of the Thirty Years War. The concert will include works by Schuetz, Buxtehude, Tunder and Rosenmueller.
Pamela: I hope we are going to be able to hear some of PHOENIX’s earlier programs again.
Myrna: Yes, of course. It is time to go back to and also record some of our earlier projects. I would like us to record the 17th century Zapotek Mass, a Mass composed in 1636 by a Mexican Indian of the Zapotek tribe. If we can find sponsoring for this, it would be nice to issue the disc together with the manuscript facsimile. We should also record the “Play of Daniel” and “Convivencia”. The latter is a magical concert of music of the Golden Age of Iberia, embracing the music of Islam, Judaism and Christianity and involving performers of all three faiths.
Pamela: Thank you, Myrna, for giving us of your time.