Chq Daily: Finding Heritage in Sound

As the Symphony Orchestra reporter at The Chautauquan Daily, I previewed orchestra concerts and wrote music features. This piece profiles conductor Yaov Talmi, cello soloist Julie Albers, and the story told through the repertoire. 

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By Kathleen Chaykowski

For guest conductor Yoav Talmi, personal heritage has always been at the core of his music making. Talmi grew up in a 700-person village in Israel that was rich with music. Musicians flooded to Israel from Europe as a result of World War II, Talmi said, and the outcome was an opportunity to learn from some of the best that the music world had to offer.

“They were people like (Itzhak) Perlman on the violin,” Talmi said of the artists. “You were really blessed to be able to start with the best teachers. This kind of inheritance is something I always carry with me as a big gift.”

Tonight’s Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra concert, which will take place at 8:15 p.m. in the Amphitheater, will open with Ludwig van Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3. It will be followed by Joseph Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Hob. VIIb: 1, featuring soloist Julie Albers, and Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 97 (“Rhenish”).

Talmi, who has conducted with the CSO before, is currently the artistic director and conductor of the Quebec Symphony and the principal guest conductor of the Israel Chamber Orchestra in Tel Aviv. He has been a conductor for nearly 40 years, and has conducted ensembles throughout Europe and North America. He has been the recipient of several conducting awards — most recently, the “Frank Pelleg” prize of the Israeli Cultural Ministry in 2008.

Talmi is a graduate of the Rubin Academy of Music in Tel Aviv and The Juilliard School. He holds an honorary doctorate from the Laval University in Quebec.

According to Talmi, conducting in Israel can be quite different from his other conducting roles because “conditions in Israel are very tight.”

Financial and political tumult both complicate the lives of ensembles in Talmi’s home country. The musicians don’t earn very much, Talmi said, and they usually need a substantial side job in addition to their orchestra work in order to make ends meet. This makes it difficult for the musicians to be as prepared for first rehearsals, he said.

Working in a country at war intensifies the uncertainties that loom over an ensemble. Musicians are concerned about being drafted to the army, and there is perpetual worry for, and sometimes loss of, loved ones in conflict zones. The musicians make up for the distractions through the incredible enthusiasm they exude in rehearsal time and the performance, Talmi said.

Growing up in a musical family in Israel had a huge impact on Talmi’s development. When he was about 15 years old, his father, a music teacher, bought him a Beethoven score; his second score was of Johannes Brahms.

“I started to read scores like the kids next to me reading books,” he said. The feeling of being able to look at printed notes and keys and to be able to hear those notes come to life in one’s head is a personal revelation that continues to fill Talmi with wonder.

Talmi had to branch out from his Israeli roots when he started studying at Juilliard as an undergraduate. He knew some English, but his first year was “tough” as he was constantly trying to learn how to speak and write the language. His following years were much smoother, but even as he became fluent in English, the influence of the musical world that surrounded him in childhood remained with him across the Atlantic, he said.

Just as music was passed down in Talmi’s native village, Beethoven’s compositions were passed down to other composers, influencing their future works. Beethoven’s Leonore Overture will pay homage to the 200th anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven’s first symphony, Symphony No. 1 in C Major, an anniversary which is being celebrated across the music world.

Beethoven’s overture was originally written for his opera, Fidelio. He wrote multiple versions of the overture before deciding on Leonore No. 3, titled after the heroine of the opera who disguises herself as a prison guard named Fidelio to rescue her husband, Florestan, from being executed in a political prison.

Talmi said many composers who lived around the time of Beethoven lived in Beethoven’s musical shadow. Schumann was one of these composers. Although Beethoven’s influence might not be obvious in Schumann’s “Rhenish,” Talmi said there are motifs and structural patterns in the piece that reflect Beethoven’s legacy.

The “Rhenish” is much more often performed in Germany than in North America, which made Talmi particularly excited about sharing it with the audience. The “Rhenish” reflects the “true personality of Schumann,” which is conveyed through two characters in the piece: the “masculine,” “decisive” personality of the first and last movements and the “feminine,” “sensitive” quality of the middle movement, Talmi said.

Guest artist and cellist Julie Albers will play Haydn’s Concerto No. 1 in C Major. Haydn, who is considered the father of the string quartet, laid a foundation for chamber compositions to come. The concerto integrates the ritornello form of the Baroque concerto with sonata-allegro form.

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