Thursday, February 14, 2013


                Being from the South, I much prefer warmth to the chill. However, I would (and did) most willingly subject myself to getting chills and goosebumps over and over again when listening to the two august performances I attended this past week. The first was a concert by the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra, playing Beethoven, Debussy, and Gounod in Amsterdam’s famed Concertgebouw, a concert hall likened to Carnegie Hall in New York City. The second was a pied chamber music performance by the Amaryllis Ensemble in the Theater De Tobbe in Voorburg, the Netherlands. To hear two world-class concerts in the span of four days is a tremendous gift, the likes of which I could not possibly do justice with words. If I had recordings, I would share them because performances as divine as these must be shown to the world; they could only serve to better the human condition.

                The inadequacy of language be as it may, I will try to describe a bit in hopes that you, the reader, may share in my elation and amazement. Picture this: pristine white walls, stoic columns supporting the balcony, the names of the great composers surrounding the audience, velvety scarlet seats, and a stage populated with musicians poised to play. Now that you’re in the Grote Zaal (Great Hall) of the Concertgebouw, listen for the whisper of strings, a slightly cacophonous time of individual warm-up. This pre-performance time is one of my favorite parts because it reminds me of the personal melodies our lives sing; while they may be to our own rhythms, they interact with the songs around them, a blissful symphony of dissonance and resonance, often surprising us with the harmony that takes over.

Grote Zaal
(picture from:

                Finally, the three featured players—the  violinist, cellist, and pianist—entered to a stream of applause, appearing focused and mirthful in anticipation of their ensuing act of Beethoven’s Tripleconcert for violin, cello, piano, and orchestra. Without a conductor, the orchestra danced to a start, their quick fingers dazzling the audience. Not only did their phrasing impress, but also the trio’s body language and communication gave the feeling that we, the audience, were being let in on an intimate secret they shared with each other. The violinist hopped with each crescendo. The pianist swept his arm with a flourish into the air after each grand gesture. The cellist glowed with laughter and broke hairs on his bow with the intense climaxes. What fun they had, and so did we.

                Later in the week, my mother and I attended a more intimate performance in the streamlined Theater De Tobbe. More intimate hardly means less good, though. Far from it! The Amaryllis Ensemble is nothing less than phenomenal. And it is our great fortune to call the artists—Uzi Heymann (pianist), Rani Heymann (clarinetist), and Liat Alkan-Heymann (soprano)—our dear friends. We feel incredibly blessed to know such talented and unendingly hospitable people.

From left to right: Uzi, Liat, and Rani
(The relations: Uzi and Rani are twins
Liat and Rani are married)
                They opened with Louis Spohr’s Das heimliche Lied, a demanding and touching piece that speaks to the core. But don’t let my words diminish it, listen to them perform it (click here or the link above). Even though I could not understand the German or the later songs in Hebrew and Yiddish, it hardly mattered, for Liat’s expressive face and gestures told the story as much as the music itself did. Especially during a particularly gripping performance of Lior Navok’s Three Songs based on poems by Lea Goldberg (Ba’erev, Song without a name, and Veshuv…), I felt the longing, the nostalgia, and the ache of the song’s subject, a woman so alone.

                While there is not enough room to mention all of the great expression in the concert, I must applaud the way the ensemble captured each different character of the flowers in Terence Greaves’ A Garden of Weeds. From the seductive Poppy to the crabby Thistle, each weed (as funny as it sounds) came alive with the music, and the audience laughed wholeheartedly.

                Finally, I have to say that I wanted to move in to Luigi Cherubini’s infamous Ave Maria, so I could rest and fathom in its beauty forever. To hear Rani, Uzi, and Liat perform it was like that feeling you get when you suddenly intake a life-sustaining breath after having forgotten to inhale. Refreshing. Pure. Life. Bravissimo!

                Happy Valentine’s Day to all! May you rejoice in love in all of your relationships.

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