A season of music; a journey into Jewishness

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Internationally renowned musicians – some of the finest of our era – grace the inaugural season of the International Concerts Series at Central Synagogue. It’s a series with a peculiarly Jewish twist

It is no exaggeration to say that the inaugural season of the International Concerts Series at Central Synagogue boasts some of the world’s finest musicians – but then a fair few concert series in the UK can say something similar. What marks this one out as distinctive, as a series in the true sense of the word – meaning something with continuity – is a theme that is at one with its venue. In one of the country’s truly iconic Jewish buildings, Central Synagogue, these musicians will explore the Jewish cultural contribution to the world and the world’s cultural contribution to Jewish identity, through music.

The renowned soloists bring a variety of perspectives – some are Jewish themselves, some have other insights into music and the Jewish experience; all have something fascinating to explore with our audiences. Any one of these concerts will give a memorable insight, all of them together will take us on a journey of the mind and the heart that will, we hope, be continued from season to season.

Here then is the line-up of concerts for the 2014-15 season:

• “Wide Awake Schubert” Inon Barnatan, piano, 10th September, 2014

Tel Aviv-born Inon Barnatan is one of the most exciting young pianists in the world today. He has already made his reputation in the US, where he has played the Aspen Festival, Carnegie Hall and the Hollywood Bowl and he was recently named the first-ever “Artist in Association” (a three-year position) with the New York Philharmonic. In the UK his fast-growing reputation has seen him a repeat visitor to Wigmore Hall. His recordings, for Avie, have been widely praised and one – Darknesse Visible – was selected as one of the recordings of the year by the New York Times. He is as the Evening Standard has written, “a true poet of the keyboard”. The Pianist magazine wrote, “One of the finest musicians…You don’t notice his fingerwork, you simply immerse yourself in the sound he produces…and you know that there are no technical limits to what he can do.”

Famous for his Schubert interpretations, here he will play Schubert’s last two sonatas, pivoting those two great masterpieces around a new work written for him by the Israeli composer Avner Dorman (perhaps the most in-demand of Israel’s composers) – the intriguingly named, “Nocturne Insomniaque”.


• “Hebrew Melody” Jack Liebeck, violin, Danny Driver, piano, 12th November, 2014

One of the most haunting, beautiful pieces of music ever written by a Jewish composer, one that for all its brevity somehow pierces straight to the heart of Jewish culture, Joseph Achron’s Hebrew Melody sits at the centre of this recital from two of London’s most admired Jewish artists – the Classical BRIT-winning violinist Jack Liebeck and the pianist Danny Driver. The concert will begin with Brahms’s Sonata in A major, followed by Bloch’s Baal Shem suite (including its famous second movement, Nigun). After the interval, the Achron, followed by Mendelssohn’s wonderful F Major Sonata and finally, John Williams’s unforgettable main theme to Schindler’s List.

“Liebeck threw off the fiendish pyrotechnics with obsessive panache. The final slow movement was hypnotic, mesmeric…” – The Times on Jack Liebeck
“Driver’s irreproachably eager and stylish pianism is a joy to encounter” – Gramophone on Danny Driver


• “From Beethoven’s mouth to Bloch’s ear” Raphael Wallfisch, violin, John Yorke, piano, 17th December, 2014

Ernest Bloch was one of the most prominent Jewish composers, writing works that are explicitly from that viewpoint, some of which feature in this concert. What is perhaps less well-known is the extent to which he influenced the development of Twentieth Century music – numbering among his pupils era-defining composers such as George Antheil and Roger Sessions.

In this concert Raphael Wallfisch, one of the most admired cellists of our time, and the pianist John Yorke explore Bloch’s influence in another way. If works like Three Pieces ‘From Jewish Life’ and even the unpublished Sonate (1897) have helped to form our sense of what Jewish music is, what happens if these works are interspersed with some of the masterpieces that Bloch himself would have grown up listening to? And how much does context matter when we hear music? So if we listen to Beethoven’s 12 Variations on a theme from Handel’s oratorio ‘Judas Maccabeus’ (Jewish-themed of course), Schumann’s Five Pieces in Folk Idiom and Rachmaninov’s Sonata in G minor Op.19 – all of which the musicians will play – interspersed with the two ‘Jewish’ works by Bloch, could we hear something, somehow Jewish in them? Something that Bloch might have picked up on and might have then become integrated into Jewish music and even into the music in our synagogues today? Of course, one doesn’t have to ‘listen with Jewish ears’ to enjoy this as what it will certainly be – a wonderful concert!

• “You don’t have to be Jewish” Mark Bebbington, piano, 4th February, 2015

The leading English pianist Mark Bebbington explores little-known Jewish influences in music. There are composers, including Debussy and Arthur Bliss, who weren’t Jewish but, though many may not know it, were influenced by Jews. Both had Jewish wives and the pieces of theirs that Mark will play in this concert – Bliss’s Masks and Debussy’s Preludes – weave Jewish threads. Then there are terrific Jewish composers whose fame has inexplicably dimmed over the years – the Italian master, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco with his blend of Neopolitan Jewishness, and Harriet Cohen, the remarkable woman who inspired a generation of fellow composers here in England, from Elgar and Vaughan Williams to her lover Sir Arnold Bax. In a world first, Mark Bebbington will in this concert play world premieres of some of Harriet Cohen’s pieces that have never been publicly performed (not even by Cohen herself), as well as an extremely rare performance of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Jewish rhapsody Piedigrotta. In a playful finish, Mark will turn to a Jewish composer whose music is very famous indeed – with selections from the George Gershwin Songbook!


• “Exiles Cafe” Lara Downes, piano, 25th March, 2015 – POSTPONED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE

Little-known in this country, in her native US Lara Downes is seen as a trailblazer – merging fascinating concepts, music and speech to reinvent the solo piano recital. Exiles Café, a project that came out of her recent, acclaimed album for Steinway Records, is performed here in London for the first time. That most Jewish of themes – exile – is explored from the unusual viewpoint of the cafes and bars where composers in exile would meet and be cheered by fellow wanderers. But the Exiles Café is also a place of the mind, where exiles of different eras meet and collide and share experiences, through their music. Central Synagogue’s Wolfson Hall will be transformed into a café for the evening, with the piano in its centre amidst the tables. And all are invited to imagine as Lara Downes plays host to the music of Rachmaninov, Stravinsky, Kurt Weill, Korngold, Chopin, Martinu and Milhaud. And the evening’s climax is the spiritual acceptance of a new life in the New World, with a performance of George Gershwin’s love letter to America, Rhapsody In Blue.
“Luscious, moody and dreamy” – the New York Times on Lara Downes’s newest album
“A magnetic force, wrapped in flawless technique and a silken touch” – Musical Toronto


“Three Worlds” Avi Avital, mandolin, Ray Chen, violin, 27th May, 2015 – POSTPONED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE

In a major musical event, two of classical music’s brightest young stars come together for the European debut of their exciting new partnership. “Three Worlds” (working title) sees Israeli mandolin player Avi Avital (who records for DG) and Chinese-American violinist Ray Chen (a Sony artist) explore three areas that have greatly influenced string-playing traditions – the music of Bach, Chinese folk music and Jewish klezmer. It promises to be a unique and magical encounter with two magnificent artists and three very different spheres.
“To die for. He had the kind of liquid tone that carries with it emotional depth of great intimacy” – The Huffington Post on Ray Chen
“Exquisitely sensitive playing.” “Stunning agility” – The New York Times on Avi Avital


Booking details
Tickets for each concert are £20. Book a 2014/15 season subscription to all five concerts for £80 (a saving of £20). To book for the complete season online please click her. To book for individual concerts please visit here.

For tickets and enquiries please email bookings@centralsynagogue.org.uk, or phone 020 7580 1355.

This concert series is presented by Central Synagogue with Inverne Price Music Consultancy.
The Jewish Chronicle is a media partner for the series.

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