Labor of love

The Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival is now an eagerly anticipated fixture in the local classical musical calendar. Twenty years after it was launched, founder, artistic director and renowned pianist Elena Bashkirova has lined up yet another star-studded cast of A-lister performers for the 21st edition, which will take place September 4-8.

Fans of small ensemble classical performers who make their way over to the YMCA will catch acts by some of the world’s top performers, including the likes of pianist Yefim Bronfman, violinist Kolja Blacher, festival first-timer Hungarian-Romanian baritone Gyula Orendt and Latvian-born German violinist Gidon Kremer. There is also an Israeli debut appearance for the Paris-based Modigliani Quartet, with compatriot clarinetist Pascal Moraguès and, naturally, Bashkirova herself also in the onstage mix.

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Kramer has been a member of the upper echelons of the classical world for close to four decades now. His international career enjoyed incremental growth after he defected from the USSR, in 1980, and settled in Germany. The now 71-year-old Jewish violinist displayed a penchant for left-field works from an early age, and in 1981 he founded a chamber music festival in Lockenhaus, Austria, that gave stage time to new and unconventional programming, serving as artistic director for 30 years.

There will some of that on offer at the Jerusalem YMCA when Kremer performs, solo, “Preludes to a Lost Time,” based on a score by Polish-born Russian composer Mieczys┼éaw Weinberg, most of whose family perished in the Holocaust. The work was originally written for cello and comprises 24 preludes. Always looking to push the artistic and entertainment boat out, Kremer has written an arrangement for the preludes and transcribed them for violin, while his instrumental work will be accompanied by a multimedia presentation.

Kremer has been a Weinberg devotee for some time.

“Weinberg’s 24 Preludes for solo cello are a masterpiece on its own,” says the violinist. “Having become infatuated with Weinberg’s music some years ago, I cannot let go and want to play more and more of his opuses. This is why I decided to transcribe these pieces for violin.”

For Kremer the score is always the starting point, but other ideas tend to work their way into his creative consciousness en route.

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“The idea to combine them [the preludes] with images came later,” he notes, adding that he provides equal billing for all concerned. “In no way do I see it as ‘visual accompaniment.’ Using photos by excellent Lithuanian photographer Antanas Sutkus, I tried to create a ‘dialogue’ between two great artists who lived in the same time and in the ‘same’ country – the former Soviet Union. Being both very honest in life and in their art, they, who never met, spoke about the same things. This is how ‘Preludes to a Lost Time’ was created.”

Kremer is noted for his renditions of works by Eastern European and Russian composers, although he casts his recordings and performance net far and wide.

“I am drawn to all great creators of the past and today,” he declares. “Being lucky, I was working closely with many of them – Bernstein, Glass, Nono, Adams, Saariaho, etc. But, surely, I did have ‘partnerships’ with many composers of Eastern Europe – [Sofia] Gubaidulina, [Alfred] Schnittke, [Giya] Kancheli, [Leonid] Desyatnikov, [Victor] Kissine and [82-year-old Estonian composer Arvo] Part.”

Kremer says that while nationality is a given, he is drawn to the individual imprint each creator beings to the fray. “What attracts me is always a signature of a personality each of them – being completely different – has. Besides that, usually it is not the sophistication of the writing as much as the message hidden behind the bar lines that makes me want to play their music.”

While he has championed many contemporary works, Kremer says he endeavors to maintain an altruistic avenue of thought regardless of the cultural or temporal baseline. He also believes in providing his audience with its money’s worth. “I approach all new music, music of our time, the same way I approach classics, be it Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert or Schumann. I am trying to serve it and not to ‘use’ it just for my own pleasure. Music is a language that can cleanse our souls, and I consider a mission of a performer to expand the imagination and depth of emotions in a listener. Those who go on stage just for success or a good career are somewhat alien to me. I am trying to reach out for different things.”

Kremer says that, over the years, he has learned to distill his professional ethos and to weed out the dross. “I appreciate, these days, more scores in which only the ‘necessary’ notes can be found. I am trying to make them sound. This is a labor of dedication and love.”

The violinist is delighted to be returning to the Jerusalem Chamber Music Festival, and to be teaming up with an old sparring partner. “Having founded, in 1981, the Lockenhaus Festival in Austria together with Elena Bashkirova, I did run it for 30 years.”

Kremer says the Austrian event eventually helped to get the Jerusalem venture up and running. “I am very happy that it partly inspired Elena to create the Jerusalem Chamber Music Festival, which, like Lockenhaus, is based on a lot of idealism. We have to follow our dreams and cherish our friends. I believe this makes our deeds somewhat valuable.”

For tickets and details: (02) 625-0444, www.jcmf.org.il

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