The Bright Music of Baruch Berliner

Baruch Berliner, soloist Sergei Antonov, Nord-West Studium Chamber Orchestra of the Petrozavodsk State Glazunov Conservatory. Photo by Dmitry Tsvibel

About the Final Concert of the White Nights of Karelia Festival 2018

The compositions of the Israeli composer Baruch Berliner amazed with their generous melody and richness of expressive devices. There is neither ostentatious complexity nor triviality in them. The programme has a biblical focus in most case.

The Music and Arts White Nights of Karelia Festival has come to an end. Almost all of its concerts will long be remembered by the audience because the programme, conceived and successfully implemented by the artistic director and Honored Art Worker of the Republic of Karelia Viktor Gorin, turned out to be nontrivial.

The credo of the festival’s creator, to delight its followers with the bright phenomena of modern musical life, consists of several aspects. First of all, Gorin tries to choose from the musical reality what is truly worthy. He is also not afraid to return to what was once seen as very attractive and memorable. In this regard, it is sufficient to mention the violinist Dora Schwartzberg, the Borodin Quartet, the soloist of the Mariinsky Theater Viktor Chernomortsev of blessed memory, the mezzo-soprano Olesya Petrova and many others. Finally, one of the most noteworthy personalities for us was the cellist Sergei Antonov, who came to Karelia many times, almost grew up before our eyes and turned from a young boy into an outstanding performer of the last decade.

The artistic director of the festival Viktor Gorin. Photo by Dmitry Tsvibel

Another important aspect of creating Gorin’s programmes is the discovery of new names, when completely unknown musicians are invited to participate in the festival. Many such musicians have visited the republic, and everyone remembers with gratitude Karelia, the hospitality of the festival’s organizers and the warm welcome from the audience. The final concert was no exception and introduced the audience to the Israeli composer Baruch Berliner. The meeting with him was mutually pleasant and unforgettable.

Berliner is a man of very respectable age, he was born in 1942 in Tel Aviv. He is gifted by nature with great talents, at least three of them have shaped his life and creative interests: music, science and poetry. He is not only a composer, but also a recognized scientist who graduated from the University of Zurich with a PhD, wrote more than 70 scientific articles and lectured at famous universities all over the world. In addition, he writes poems.

However, Baruch Berliner came to us with his music, it was the first interest in his life. He began studying violin at the age of 11at the Rubin Academy of Music, now known as the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music in Tel Aviv, and entered the University of Zurich at the age of 18.

Berliner’s musical path was rather unusual. He devoted the first years of his conscious life to music, and later years to science. Music didn’t completely disappear, it was still in his mind, but stepped aside for a while, continuing to fill the inner world of the scientist and forming new opportunities for his realization as a composer.

Berliner offered four pieces for performance at the festival. Three of them are programme orchestral pieces – “Girl with a Pearl Earring” based on a painting by Johannes Vermeer, “Charlotte’s Waltz” dedicated to wife for chamber orchestra and the Concerto for cello and chamber orchestra “The Dream of Jacob”. The orchestra was defined by the author as a chamber one, but in fact, the wind and percussion instruments included in the traditional composition turned it into a small symphony orchestra, thanks to the soloists of the Karelia State Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra.
It should be noted that all of Berliner’s music amazed with their generous melody and richness of expressive devices. There is neither ostentatious complexity nor triviality in them. Each sound has a carefully well-thought-out dramatic basis and at the same time sincerity and naturalness. The author does not hesitate to express himself clearly and complicate where it is required by the content.

A good example of this is the Cello Concerto, which was brilliantly performed by Sergei Antonov. It became a world premiere and more than just a pleasant surprise for the author. Berliner didn’t have a performer for this piece of music, but Gorin knew that Sergei Antonov was capable of performing a work of any complexity. The cellist agreed to the performance, despite being incredibly busy.

Sergey Antonov worked on the piece completely independently, away from the author and without his advice, arrived in Petrozavodsk the day before the performance, and achieved great success. He has already met the chamber orchestra of the Nord-West Studium more than once and has known its possibilities, but its artistic director has changed, Evgeny Terekhov has become him. The conductor of the famous St. Petersburg school, Mikhail Leontiev, who stood before the musicians for the first time, led the concert programme, his contribution to the success of the concert was also extremely great.

Nord-West Studium Chamber Orchestra of the Petrozavodsk State Glazunov Conservatory conducted by Mikhail Leontiev. Photo by Dmitry Tsvibel

The Сello Сoncerto turned out to be the most difficult work, and the author himself admitted it, expressing his deep gratitude to all the performers at the end of the evening. The fact is, the original idea was connected with the violin, and as a result with the amazing virtuosity that filled the concerto. But Sergei Antonov brilliantly overcame all technical difficulties, showing a high level of performance. Repeated exclamations of “Bravo!” and a storm of applause broke the reverent silence of the hall. It was to be hoped that with the light magical bow of Sergei Antonov Berliner’s Cello Concerto would sound all over the world.

The programme has a biblical focus in most case. So the plot of the concert is connected with the legend of “The Dream of Jacob”, which tells us how Jacob, who went in search of his wife, had a dream about a ladder reaching up to heaven, and there at the top the Lord was standing and promising him a numerous offspring. Those who are interested can read the plot in the biblical book of Genesis. Most of the listeners didn’t know the plot, but this didn’t prevent them from perceiving music that appeals to our feelings, because its language is self-sufficient, and the programme is a rather conventional means, only a thin thread that helps to understand the content in general terms.

Sergei Antonov, Mikhail Leontiev and orchestra members applaud Baruch Berliner. Photo by Dmitry Tsvibel

In the second part, the symphonic poem Genesis for orchestra and narrator was performed. This composition is organized differently: the content is revealed directly by the biblical text, which is voiced by the narrator. Andrey Dezhonov, director and excellent actor of the National Theater of Karelia, performed this original part. His voice of pleasant timbre, calm and weighty manner of presenting the text without unnecessary affectation was very much in line with the biblical principle.

The biblical text is read by Andrey Dezhonov. Photo by Dmitry Tsvibel

Seven chapters tell about the stages of creation. The first chapter is called “The Creation of the World” and is perceived as an overture. Further, the stages of creation are sequentially revealed: “Adam and Eve”, “The Fall and Expulsion”, “Cain and Abel”, “Noah”, “The Flood”, “The Token of Covenant”. The music does not so much illustrate the events as correspond to the inner meaning of the story.

What do we know from the Bible, apart from its beginning? “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep. And God said, “Let there be light…” The performance of “Genesis” contained an educational aspect for many listeners, probably not only for people from the Soviet atheistic past, because according to the author during the performance the text is translated into the language of the listeners. This is one of the most popular works of the composer in the world.
The concert was held in a surprisingly warm atmosphere. Baruch Berliner’s bright music, his expression of gratitude to all organizers gave rise to the feedback from the audience and the desire of the musicians to continue their collaboration.

Baruch Berliner thanks the orchestra. Photo by Dmitry Tsvibel

Baruch Berliner thanks the audience. On the left is Sergey Antonov. Photo by Dmitry Tsvibel

Baruch Berliner with his wife and Viktor Gorin after the concert. Photo by Dmitry Tsvibel

Author: Natalia Grodnitskaya