October 20, 2018

Flexibility is key to Israeli Chamber Project

It takes more than a lineup substitution — even a major lineup substitution — to rattle the Israeli Chamber Project (ICP). The circumstances that will bring the company —  which offers a rotating roster of musicians from Israel and elsewhere — to make its Southland debut on Nov. 30 in a Da Camera Society concert at the Doheny Mansion were fortuitous, if not a bit tumultuous. How about two of the three originally scheduled musicians bowing out?

Pianist and ICP Executive Director Assaff Weisman characterizes the switch as “just part of the life of a touring musician.” And, indeed, in the ICP’s five years of touring the world, recording and collecting accolades, the New York- and Israel-based group knows that things don’t always go according to plan.  

All the same, when asked about the lineup for ICP’s Nov. 30 Da Camera engagement and its Dec. 2 concert at UCLA’s Clark Memorial Library, Weisman admits, “It’s a bit of a story.”

And it is. Weisman originally planned to appear with clarinetist and ICP Artistic Director Tibi Cziger and cellist Michal Korman, who also happens to be Cziger’s wife. ICP has a rotating lineup of musicians, and contingency plans for the Los Angeles stop were at the ready. 

Cziger and Korman, as it turns out, are “expecting their first baby, and it’s already past due,” Weisman explained. “We knew ahead of time that Tibi wouldn’t be available for part of the tour. We had a cellist ready to step in for Michal. Then, when she still hadn’t delivered, Tibi couldn’t leave her.”

“Plus, they’re in Tel Aviv. They can’t leave,” Weisman added, alluding to the recent unrest in Gaza. “So it’s a combination of personal circumstances and Middle East politics getting in the way. But things happen. You address them and roll with the punches.”   

Stepping in for Korman is L.A. native Brook Speltz, whose accolades include the American String Teachers Association (ASTA) National Solo Competition and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Bronislaw Kaper Awards. Clarinetist Moran Katz, like Speltz a Juilliard graduate, also has numerous awards to her credit and has performed with the ICP before. “We were lucky to get them both,” Weisman said.

Da Camera General Director Kelly Garrison, who had received strong word-of-mouth about the ensemble from New York agent and classical music power broker Edna Landau, contacted ICP, only to discover that the ensemble already had the UCLA-Clark Library date booked. It became a relatively uncomplicated proposition to get ICP to add a second date, performing the identical program for the Clark date. (The Clark Library performance is not open to the general public.)

The program is, Garrison said, an exciting one. Schumann’s Fantasiestüke for Cello and Piano, Op. 73; and Brahms’ Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano in A Minor, Op. 114; were a natural pairing, given Schumann’s professional and personal championing of the younger Brahms as the next great composer. The Brahms trio is a lesser-known work, and on the more “folksy side,” according to Weisman.  

The evening opens with selections from Eight Pieces for Clarinet, Cello and Piano, Op. 83, by Max Bruch (1838-1920), which the composer originally wrote for his clarinetist son. Rounding out the evening is the Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano by the Russian-born, Palestinian emigre Mordecai Seter (1916-1994). As part of its mission, the ICP aims to expose audiences to the works of developing and lesser-known Israeli composers, and Seter’s place in the program definitely goes toward that mission. 

“That piece is interesting, because it mixes influences of Jewish traditional music with Western classical training,” Weisman said. “Seter was influenced by folk songs, which he incorporated into his writing, and Brahms incorporated Hungarian gypsy motifs into classical foundation. It will be interesting for audiences to hear composers from different centuries doing the same things with different results.”

“I quite liked the program; I liked the variety,” Garrison added. “Our patrons tend to be outgoing and adventuresome. Many of our concerts have receptions, and there’s a real camaraderie and a strong social element in the event.”

Based out of Mount St. Mary’s College and celebrating its 40th year in 2013, the Da Camera Society is all about the adventure of chamber music. Programming chamber music concerts in highly intimate historic sites around the city, Da Camera presents six soirees per season in venues as far-reaching as the San Fernando Mission, Union Station and the Aikido Center in Little Tokyo. 

The Doheny Mansion’s Pompeian Room — one of Da Camera’s regular venues — is a room in which musicians and audience are so close, Weisman, Speltz or Katz could literally reach out and touch a front-row patron. With its octagonal Tiffany glass-domed ceiling, the venue feels like something out of an Edith Wharton novel, according to Garrison. 

“I always say, in some ways it’s like the setting becomes the fifth member of the quartet,” Garrison said. “The congruity between the works and the architectural style is strong. They come together to heighten the experience.”

The Da Camera evening includes a preconcert talk and a catered artist reception following the 105-minute evening.

“With some programs, you have an hour in length,” says Garrison. “We want this to be a full concert experience, a substantial ‘meat and potatoes’ program.”

For information or to purchase tickets for the Nov. 30 concert, call (213) 477-2929 or visit http://dacamera.org.