Leia Zhu, an 11-year-old violin prodigy
At the end of January, the Tel Aviv Soloists Ensemble hosted Leia Zhu, an 11-year-old violin prodigy, for a sold-out concert at the Israel Conservatory of Music in Tel Aviv. This was the second appearance of the Chinese child prodigy in Israel, both occurring in 2018.
The concert actually began with a performance of Symphony No. 19 by Joseph Haydn. The symphony, which has only three movements, was performed by the ensemble’s 30 young musicians under the baton of conductor Barak Tal, the orchestra’s founder and music director.
Zhu took the stage for the second piece on the program, the Concerto No. 5 for Violin -- the Turkish -- by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The gifted young violinist performed flawlessly, demonstrating virtuosity throughout the three movements, whether the tempo was allegro, adagio or rondeaux-minuetto.
After the intermission, the ensemble performed the world premiere of Music about Land and Sea, by Israeli composer Adir Levy. It certainly was an emotional event for the young composer, who was in attendance and was introduced to the audience.
Zhu returned to the stage -- after a change of dresses -- for two final pieces: Melancholy Serenade for Violin and Orchestra by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and Rondo Capriccioso for Violin and Orchestra by Camille Saint-Saëns. This was the second time Zhu has performed Saint-Saëns’ playful piece in Israel, following her appearance with Keshet Eilon last summer.
The rondo was a last-minute substitution for a different piece Zhu was scheduled to play: Carmen Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra by Franz Waxman, based on the classic composition by Georges Bizet. It is hard to escape the feeling that the audience would have preferred that the Carmen remain on the program, perhaps in place of the Levy debut.
At the conclusion of the concert, Zhu answered questions from the audience. She answered with all the charm and poise of a young woman who has been performing on international stages since the age of four.
Later this month, the Tel Aviv Soloists Ensemble will host renowned mandolin artist Jacob (Yaki) Reuven, for a series of concerts in Haifa and Tel Aviv.
Music of Bohemia, from classic to rock
At the end of February, the Israeli Vocal Ensemble performed the concert “Bohemian Rhapsody, from Dvorak to Freddie Mercury,” in the auditorium of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. The ensemble of 19 voices was conducted by its founder, Yuval Benozer, and accompanied by Yuval Rabin on the harmonium and pianist Raviv Leibzirer.
The entire first half of the concert was devoted to the Mass in D Major for Organ, Soloists and Choir, by Antonin Dvorak. The mass was rendered beautifully by the ensemble and four soloists, two men and two women, singing the roles of soprano, alto, tenor and bass.
Following the intermission, the homage to Dvorak continued with his Moravian Duets. Opus 32, performed by the entire chorus. Words to eight duets were included in the program notes.
Conductor Benozer introduced a brief musical interlude by saying a few words about the harmonium, a piano-like keyboard instrument that sounds like an accordion and which was standing in for an organ that evening. Rabin played two short compositions for harmonium by Joseph Low.
The concert concluded with a rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody, a song written by Freddie Mercury for the rock band Queen in 1975. Not only was this a shift in centuries, it was performed by the chorus a cappella, with no instrumental accompaniment whatsoever. In fact, at times the voices mimicked some of the instruments played by Queen at the time of the original recording.
The song was such a crowd-pleaser that the second half of it was reprised as an encore, following a resounding ovation.
The next performance by the Israeli Vocal Ensemble will be of Itamar Meets a Rabbit, a children’s opera by author David Grossman and musician Yoni Rechter.