A musical celebration of Israel's 60th anniversary

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The Boston Globe
Matthew Guerrieri
November 4, 2008

The Boston Modern Orchestra Project and director Gil Rose have cultivated a fascinating niche: aural snapshots of particular countries or national traditions. The past couple of seasons witnessed programs spotlighting France and Armenia; on Sunday, a concert sponsored by Combined Jewish Philanthropies and the Judaica Division of the Harvard College Library celebrated Israel's 60th anniversary.

The Israeli government designated this the "Year of the Child"; thus the opener, a brief "Festive Dance" by 15-year-old Brookline composer Jeremiah Klarman. It's a charming curtain-raiser, deploying instrumental choirs with polish; Rose and the group provided fine, warm sheen. The musical content is readily tonal in a way that, through the afternoon's lens, recalled Meyerbeer, the Jewish pioneer of 19th-century French grand opera.

Soviet-born Mark Kopytman's "Beyond All This," composed for Israel's 50th anniversary, drops Jewish folk-like motives into a sound-world recalling classic Eastern European modernism: simultaneous melodies smeared into rich clusters and haloes of close-quartered harmonies. Though often ravishing (and given a ravishing performance), the landscape rarely varies: Except for a brief episode of driving rhythm, the piece remains content with its gradual accretions of yearning lines.

Paul Ben-Haim fled Nazi Germany to Tel Aviv in 1933; his 1947 Concerto for Strings overlays Hindemith-like neoclassical energy with Jewish musical accents in a similar way, and with similar results, to, say, Leonard Bernstein's early compositional efforts. Silesian-born Joseph Tal (who died earlier this year) eschewed a deliberate marriage of East and West; his 1953 Symphony No. 1 features a lyrical center derived from a Jewish-Babylonian lament, but the dominant vocabulary is an efficiently orchestrated European expressionism, pithy drama Rose and the players relished.

Israeli-born Betty Olivero's "Kri'ot," a world premiere, mixed elements from numerous Jewish folk singing traditions into a loud, multifarious collage for saxophone solo (the redoubtable Kenneth Radnofsky) and orchestra. With busy, dissonant polyphony expanded to bracing scale, much was compelling from a standpoint of sheer sonic force, but Radnofsky's eloquence was largely spent on cantillated arabesques that never took on a distinctive thematic profile, and the dense orchestral activity became monolithic.

Nonetheless, it was a provocative contrast: Where her immigrant countrymen selectively drew on those parts of tradition that readily combined with their European experience, the native-born Olivero tries to pin down the tradition's entire genealogy. Where Israel was the culmination of a dream for that pioneering generation, their children see a work in progress - inspiring both persistence and reimagination.

Copyright 2008 Globe Newspaper Company