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The Schmooze

Jerusalem Chamber Festival Fills Gap in Berlin

Photo: Monika Rittershaus

This past weekend saw the third installment of the Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival at the Berlin Jewish Museum. The brainchild of Russian pianist Elena Bashkirova, the festival comprised over 40 musical pieces spread over six very full concert programs, featuring an enviable array of international musical talent, including many Israeli performers.

The festival, which ran this year from May 7 – 11, fills a gap in Berlin’s musical landscape. “Berlin, with all its multitude of musical events, doesn’t have a chamber music festival,” Bashkirova explained. “It has a lot of great concerts and everyone plays here, but there isn’t an actual festival. So, I think there was a great interest from the public. And now we’re doing it for the third time and I’m very happy.” Judging from the generous attendance for the three concerts I attended, it seems that the festival is indeed catering to a demand felt by this city’s musically inclined.

At first glance, the title is likely to confuse. The festival director explained the Berlin series’ connection to an older, more established musical event in Israel. “This festival is like the little brother of the Jerusalem Chamber Music Festival,” Bashkirova said referring to the festival she founded in 1998 and is held every September in Jerusalem. “We are doing programs that are very similar to in Jerusalem and the people who play are mostly the same,” she explains.

“But it’s not a tour,” she hastened to add. “It’s a little festival in its own right,” she explained at intermission during Thursday night’s packed concert in the museum’s distinctive Daniel Libeskind-designed Glass Courtyard. The German soprano Dorothea Röschmann, who was to sing a selection of songs by Richard Strauss (whose 150 birthday this year was one of the festival’s focuses), was indisposed. In her place, the legendary pianist Radu Lupu — already engaged for two Mozart pieces on the program — sprung in with a Schubert impromptu to make up for the lost Lieder.

Also featured in the Thursday program was Bashkirova’s son, the violinist Michael Barenboim. Her husband, the conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim, an indispensable musical personality in Berlin (he has led the State Opera for over two decades and is a frequent guest with the Berlin Philharmonic) has also taken part in past years.

I suggested to Bashkirova that the festival is somewhat of a family affair and she partially agrees. “It’s also a family in a sense of the musicians that come here. Many of them come over many years already to Jerusalem and we have created, like, a musical family. And a very special one,” she said. Numbering among the festival’s regular guests are singers from the Berlin State Opera, soloists from the Berlin Philharmonic and alumni of Daniel Barenboim’s celebrated “West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.”

The Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival also enlarges the Berlin-Israel musical connection. “Berlin is a natural place for a lot of musicians to live, especially for Israelis,” Bashkirova explained. This can create an unexpected situation: “Sometimes if we want to grab Israeli musicians for the festival in Jerusalem we have to import them from Berlin,” she said with a laugh.

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