A medley of notes from the world of music

By David Amos

David Amos

David Amos

SAN DIEGO — Following are a few events of Music and Judaism which have recently crossed my life that are worth sharing with you.

YAKOV SMIRNOFF’s recent stand-up at the California Center for The Arts provided me with a few surprises. It was titled “Happily Ever Laughter”,and I expected his usual routine of immigrant jokes, one after another, but with fresh material. It was not. It turned out to be lecture, admittedly with plenty of gags and jokes, about the relationship of leading a happy life and enjoying and dishing out laughter.

It was really delightful, but it started to sound like a college lecture. With a pointer in his hand, and a power-point screen for all of us to see, we were part of a class of students being told how to lead a happier, longer life through whimsy, wit, and one-liners. This evening was also videotaped for Public Television, so the audience, in close shots or panoramic picture, became the minor participants of the presentation.

For the ones who know me, you realize that this technique is exactly what I use in my public presentations, and even in rehearsals. Serious matters are far better absorbed with the occasional use of a lighthearted touch. Yes, a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down. I enjoyed every minute, but it seems to have disappointed others who expected something different, from the comments I heard.

HERSHEY FELDER AS IRVING BERLIN at the La Jolla Playhouse was a total delight. We have seen Felder’s phenomenal talent in other one-man shows, such as Gershwin, Bernstein, Chopin, Beethoven and others, and this impersonation of Berlin, together with his masterful pianistic touch, left nothing to be desired. It takes more than a good pianist and actor to make such a fine fusion; there is the stage presence, affinity for the composer at hand, understanding of the composer, his life and his times, and above all, a solid, credible script. This is where Felder shot it out of the ballpark in every category. The audience was spellbound.

Did you see on PBS the VIENNA PHILHARMONIC NEW YEAR’S CONCERT? It was enchanting. Julie Andrews was the perfect host, explaining with gusto and authority the necessary introductions with impeccable pronunciation of the German, as you might expect.

It is very possible to name the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra as one of the great orchestras of the world, but hardly anyone can dispute that no other ensemble in the world can interpret the music of Johann Strauss II and all his other composer-family members better than this group, when under the baton of a great conductor. When you hear them playing such repertoire, it seems “just right”.

The great French conductor PIERRE BOULEZ died this month. I have never met him, but I have heard from dozens of musicians who played under his baton nothing but praise and admiration. His compositions may have been a bit too modernistic to become mainstream, but his conducting, approach to music, and understanding the composer’s intentions, were of the highest level. I have heard first-hand unsolicited praises from members of the New York Philharmonic about the times when he was the resident conductor. His rehearsals were firm, kind, but uncompromising. If you see me in person, ask me about his exchange with a piccolo player.

Did you see the JERUSALEM VIDEO at the Fleet Theatre in Balboa Park?  It was a vivid and realistic overview of the city, with the clear intention of not siding with either the Israeli or the Palestinian point of view. The video quality was superb, as was the music and narration. This show is well worth seeing, with the caveat that this is not an “Israel Rah Rah Rah” film. The Western, modern side of the city is not even mentioned.

What is important to note is that the film makers invested a vast amount of time getting the permission from the Israeli authorities for the aerial filming, which is a delicate security issue. Would this kind of documentary be possible under the authority of any other country in the area? I doubt it. And this by itself, is a clear endorsement of Israel, its system, and open attitude.

Our daughter, Dr. Ilana, plays violin with the GLENDALE COMMUNITY COLLEGE ORCHESTRA. For the December concert, the orchestra joined with the Glendale High School Music Department for their annual Christmas concert. Here we have, a school group and an amateur volunteer orchestra, playing together very tuneful stuff which can’t ever be accused of being too deep. But it was fun. With a minimum of rehearsals, the groups blended nicely, and gave proof to the night that music at any level of competence and musical worth can be a rewarding experience. Try it, and you may be surprised at the level of energy and intimacy.
David Amos is conductor of the Tifereth Israel Community Orchestra and has guest conducted professional orchestras around the world.  He may be contacted via [email protected]. Comments intended for publication in the space below must be accompanied by the letter writer’s first and last name and by his/ her city and state of residence (city and country for those outside the U.S.)

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