Two recent concerts gave Israeli audiences fascinating glimpses into two very different worlds of Asian percussion: one featuring a classical Western orchestra playing an original Chinese composition, and the other - traditional Japanese instruments played by Israeli musicians.
The Israel Symphony Orchestra Rishon LeZion plays host this month to the distinguished Chinese conductor Muhai Tang, that country’s foremost conductor of Western classical music, for a series of four concerts featuring the work of his fellow countryman Tan Dun, himself the winner of an Academy Award, for composing the score to the hit movie “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”
Conductor Tang is known for introducing Tan Dun to Western audiences, and the composition currently enjoying its Israeli premiere is “Tears of Nature,” a concerto for percussion and orchestra. Performing this interesting work is Chen Zimbalista, considered Israel’s most prominent percussionist, who demonstrated his mastery by playing a panoply of percussion instruments, from xylophone to drums to gongs, as well as unusual devices that simulate familiar sounds of nature, such as thunder and rain.
Following Zimbalista’s brilliant rendition of the concerto in three movements “Tears of Nature,” he joined with the five percussionists of the symphony orchestra in performing a piece that was not on the program: a sonata for percussion by another contemporary Asian composer, this time Japanese.
Of course, these two percussion-centric works were not the only pieces on the program. The other two were both orchestral suites by Russian composer Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov: Spanish Capriccio and Scheherazade. It is easy to see why the latter symphonic suite was chosen to conclude the evening’s performance: it employs all five percussionists of the philharmonic -- and received a rousing ovation at the end.
The final concert in this series will take place on the evening of Saturday, 11.1, at the Meir Nitzan Hall for Culture and the Arts in Rishon Lezion.
The Art of Japanese Drumming
The Israeli Japanese drumming troupe Taiko Life is also giving a series of concerts, with the title “Everything Is You.” The first performance debuted this past November, while the second is scheduled for January 9, 2020, at the Bascula Urban Circus performance venue in Tel Aviv.
Taiko Life was founded and is directed by Nitay Zelniker, an Israeli musician who studied Japanese drumming for years in Taiwan and Japan. Interestingly, there is a connection with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra Rishon Lezion: Zelniker is the son of
Orit Zelniker, who plays bass violin (a.k.a., contrabass) with the orchestra, and has joined the troupe both as a taiko player and an accompanist playing original compositions for contrabass and taiko drum.
Besides Nitay (as lead taiko player) and Orit, the Taiko Life troupe includes taiko drummers Maho Sato (Nitay’s wife) and Einat Chitayat. In “Everything Is You,” they are joined occasionally by Alon Nataf and Miho Kataoka playing Japanese flutes: the Shinobue and the recorder-like Shakuhachi. Finally, manifesting cross-cultural creativity, they even incorporated vocals and oud.
All in all, the six works comprising “Everything Is You” added up to a full-sensory experience -- visual as well as auditory -- that alternated between pulse-quickening thunderous drumming and beautifully melodic interludes punctuated with rhythmic percussion. Highlights of the concert included impressive solo improvisations by Zelniker, and precision drumming choreography by the entire troupe.
The finale is especially unforgettable, as the drummers play while reclining in seemingly impossible stances, requiring the agility and stamina of athletes.