This year marks a century since the orchestral suite The Planets by British composer Gustav Holst premiered in London, and the anniversary was marked in Jerusalem at the beginning of this month with a concert quite unlike any other.
On the stage, where one might expect to see a large orchestra, were just two grand pianos, surrounded in horseshoe fashion by an array of percussion instruments, ranging from marimbas and xylophones to more standard drums, timpani, and gongs.
In fact, although The Planets was scored for a full orchestra, it was to be performed that evening by only nine musicians, representing two distinctive musical ensembles: Multipiano, four hands playing on each of two pianos, and Tremolo, a percussion ensemble comprising five musicians who were in constant motion as they flowed seamlessly from one instrument to another.
The concert began, however, with two pieces that were not on the original program: "Rhapsodie Espagnole" by Maurice Ravel, and “Night (of St. John’s Eve) on a Bare Mountain" by Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky.
Interestingly enough, it turns out that Ravel himself originally scored his Spanish Rhapsody for two pianos. This was one of the interesting facts revealed during the course of the evening by the concert’s MC, pianist Tomer Lev, of the award-winning ensemble Multipiano.
Rhapsodie Espagnole as rendered by Multipiano and Tremolo was entertaining enough, not least because of the novelty of hearing only pianos and percussion together for the first time, but the version of the familiar piece that evening was barely recognizable.
In his introduction to Mussorgsky’s famous tone poem, Lev disclosed -- in addition to the composition’s full, lesser known name, as well as the ritualistic events on the bald mountain -- that they would be playing the original, early version, written in 1867, then lost until it was rediscovered in the 1960's.
The compelling, recurring musical themes of Night on Bald Mountain, nonetheless, were clearly discernible in the resonating interpretation by Multipiano and Tremolo.
Similarly, the centerpiece of the evening, The Planets, was more enjoyable after Lev’s explanation of the composition’s seven movements, representing Earth’s seven sister planets in our solar system, and the mythical attributes assigned to each heavenly body by Holst.
Multipiano and Tremolo definitely succeeded in riveting the audience’s attention throughout most of the piece, although there were admittedly moments when the lack of depth that can be provided only by a full orchestra was felt.