The Madeira Classical Orchestra plays Baruch Berliner and Beethoven
The world needs new classical music compositions in order to renew the genre. The Artistic Director of Madeira Classic Orchestra, the concertmaster Norberto Gomes, had the great idea of bringing Baruch Berliner (*Tel Aviv, December 8, 1942) and his concerto for violin and orchestra The Jacob’s Dream to Funchal. On May 20, 2023 the public at the Centro de Congressos da Madeira witnessed its European premiere.
In Funchal, I had the chance to talk to Baruch Berliner about his work. Jacob’s Dream aka Jacob’s Ladder is a biblical story taken from the Old Testament’s Book of Genesis. During the flight from his brother Esau, the Patriarch Jacob had a dream about a ladder — the famous stairway to heaven.
Baruch Berliner told me that he had composed the concerto for violin and orchestra from 2015 to 2018 with the help of Nachum Slutzker, the music teacher of his sons, producer and manager, who was also present in Funchal, helping the Madeira Classical Orchestra and the conductor for this special occasion, José Eduardo Gomes, finding their interpretation of this new work.
Jacob’s Dream is part of a larger project, the symphonic poem for narrator and orchestra Genesis. Started in 2007, it combines religion and classical music. The Jacob’s Dream started as a symphonic poem, including biblical texts as well as poems Baruch Berliner had written for his wife. With the help of Nachum Slutzker, the composer later arranged the work as a cello concerto and, subsequently, as a concerto for violin or clarinet and orchestra. On the island of Madeira, we witnessed the performance of the version for violin and orchestra.
Baruch Berliner told me that the Prologue of Jacob’s Dream introduces us into the atmosphere. After stealing the inheritance of his older twin brother Esau, Jacob feared his brother’s wrath and fled to Harran. One night, he dreamed of a ladder going up into heaven. At the top stood God, reaffirming his covenant with Abraham that now passed to Jacob: “The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring.”
In the second mouvement, Allegro moderato, Baruch Berliner musically translates the talk between Isaac and his son Jacob. God gave Jacob the order to bring monotheism into the world.
The third and last mouvement of the concerto, Lento — Moderato — Allegro molto, is based on Jacob’s stone, the stone the patriarch Jacob used as a pillow and then had his famous dream (Lento), Jacob then consecrated the stone to God (Moderato), God finally promised Jacob and his offspring the land (Allegro molto).
THE FUNCHAL PERFORMANCE OF JACOB’S DREAM
The May 20, 2023 Funchal performance of Baruch Berliner’s Jacob’s Dream concerto for violin & orchestra offered a celestial beginning of the Prologue aka Isaac’s Blessing with the excellent harpist Jéssica Sá and Anikó Harangi on celesta. Quickly, solo violinist Haik Kazazyan joined them with heart-warming string sounds which, just for a few notes, reminded me of the light tunes by Johann Strauss, Franz Lehar and Emmerich Kalman, the joyful music the young Baruch Berliner had grown up with, thanks to his mother Charlotte, a pianist, dancer and singer from Vienna.
The second part, Jacob’s Dream aka Allegro moderato, began calm, continued with short, bombastic elements and drum rolls, with a sensitive solo violine against strong wind instruments, warning of dangers ahead. During the few solo moments, The Prayer, Haik Kazazyan and his violine reigned supreme. After some drama followed a calm ending.
The third part, Gate to Heaven, Lento — Moderato — Allegro molto, offered thrilling and joyful sounds, partly inspired by Jewish and Eastern European folklore. At moments, one felt like in a Hollywood movie, with the composer offering great cinema feelings through music. In return, the public offered the musicians a standing ovation.
As an encore, the young conductor José Eduardo Gomes said that they would play the Jewish prayer El Male Rachamim (God full of Mercy), in memory of the 1941 Babi Yar massacres by the Nazis, which cost the lifes of some 100,000 Ukrainian Jews. The movie The Address on the Wall uses as film music the fourth part of Baruch Berliner’s Genesis (Cain and Abel) and ends with the prayer El male Rachamim, which Baruch Berliner composed together with Serge Krutsenko and Nachum Slutzker.
The Funchal rendition by Haik Kazazyan and the Madeira Classical Orchestra was very emotional, followed again by standings ovations for the musicians as well as Nachum Slutzker, who joined them on stage; the religious Baruch Berliner was not present on Saturday, respecting the Shabbat.
After the intermission, the Madeira Classical Orchestra played Ludwig van Beethoven’s (1770 – 1827) Symphony No. 7 in A major op.92. The first movement, Poco sostenuto — Vivace, sounded a bit dull at the beginning, maybe the result of the poor accoustics. Anyway, the reel Beethoven feeling started when Ana Rita Oliveira joined with her transverse flute. The Vivace was impressive, offering a full, rich and poignant sound.
The Madeira Classical Orchestra played the second mouvement, Allegretto, indeed cheery and lively. The celli started cautious, the violins joined and added color. The full orchestra offered a powerful sound.
The third movement, a scherzo in F major and trio in D major, starts with Presto, and the orchestra seemed at ease, followed by a part Assai meno presto.
The highlight was the final mouvement in sonata form, a great triumphal march. This Allegro con brio offered high dynamics, force and fury from the start, with great wind instruments, especially outstanding were the two transverse flutes played by Ana Rita Oliveira and Pedro Camacho. Another standing ovation ended the concert which, unfortunately, was not sold out.
BIOGRAPHY OF BARUCH BERLINER
Baruch Berliner was born in Tel-Aviv, Israel, then Palestine, on December 8, 1942. His parents had fled Nazi Germany in 1937. His mother, Charlotte, who had grown up in Vienna, was a pianist, singer and dancer, his father Shabtai was a lawyer and businessman, who was an agricultural pioneer in Palestine long before the state of Israel was created.
Baruch Berliner told me that, as a young boy, he grew up with the music of Johann Strauss, Franz Lehar and Emmerich Kalman, which his mother used to listen to and sing. Until the age of 12, he studied the violin with the Israeli composer Oeden Partos, the director of the Academy of Music in Tel Aviv and winner of the Israel Prize.
In 1955, together with his parents, Baruch left Israel for Berlin, where his father wanted to reclaim property he had lost during the Nazi era. This took quite some time and, in the end, Baruch Berliner stayed some 35 years in Germany and Switzerland, where he studied theoretical physics at the University of Zurich and obtained a PhD in mathematics in 1968.
Baruch Berliner told me that, until the age of 47, he worked as senior actuary at Swiss Re in Zurich, the world’s largest reinsurance company. He was an invited lecturer at different Universities all over the world. He published two scientific books and about seventy papers in actuarial studies and finance. He told me that his book, The Limits of Insurability of Risks, became a bestseller and was published in several languages.
It was not until 1990 that Baruch Berliner returned to Israel with his family and worked until retirement in 2007 as a Senior Research Associate and as Chairman of the Scientific Committee at the Erhard Insurance Center at the Faculty of Management of the Tel-Aviv University and as a judge at the “Berliner Prize”.
In Berlin, from the age of 15 to 17, he had studied music again. And, while working on his thesis in mathematics, he went to Lake Zurich (Zürichsee) to relax. Walking on the lakeside, many melodies came into his mind, which he wrote down in his note book.
Years later, for an anniversary of his beloved wife Ruhama, Baruch Berliner wrote a poem and composed a melody, to be performed by his two sons on violin, his daughter on piano as well as the teacher of his sons, Nachum Slutzker. The light and gay melody played in front of 50 guests was a success. Nachum Slutzker, whom he had met in 1992, told Baruch Berliner to return to intensive musical study, which he did. He showed Nachum his note book and this was the trigger for composing the symphonic poem Genesis.
Since then, in a cooperation spanning over threee decades, Baruch and Nachum became close friends. In addition, Nachum Slutzker became the producer advisor and many times also the initiator of diversified joint projects.
The Genesis project, started in 2007, after his retirement, unites faith and music, two themes close to Baruch Berliner’s heart. The composer wants to spread the word of God through music, without the idea to convert people. Baruch Berliner told me that Genesis, the work for narrator and orchestra, is ideal to be performed around the world because the Bible has been translated into some 700 languages, which allows the narrator to read the Biblical text in the local language.
In addition to the symphonic poem Genesis, he has composed several symphonies, oratorios and concertos, including Jacob’s Dream, featured on this page, Baruch Berliner told me that, in addition, he has written some 3500 poems, hundreds of proverbs and dozens of short stories, mostly in German and partly in English. Many of his poems have been published in books, mostly in Hebrew, but also one in German.
One idea I remember from my conversation with Baruch Berliner: God gave humans the possibility to be good or evil. Only because there is the possibility of evil, there is a free will.
Last, but not least, at 80, Baruch Berliner is a very busy man: after Funchal, he will attend and supervise performances of Jacob’s Dream in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo in Brazil, in Lima and Quito in Peru, in Bogotá and Bucaramanga in Colombia and then embark on an Italian tour, to mention just a few of his 2023 stops!
BIOGRAPHY OF NORBERTO GOMES, ARTISTIC DIRECTOR OF THE MADEIRA CLASSICAL ORCHESTRA
The violonist and professor Norberto Gomes studied music at the Conservatório de Música da Madeira, together with his sister Zita Gomes, thanks to a fellowship offered by the Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian.
Subsequently, Norberto Gomes won several national music competitions, among them the 1st Prize for Superior Level ‐ Soloist in the RDP Musicians Competition and the Artistic Merit Medal awarded by the Regional Government of Madeira.
In 1989, thanks to a grant by the island’s regional government, he began a long period of studies in the former USSR. He studied with violinist, musical critic and pedagogue A. N. Gorochov, graduating in 1995 from the Tchaikovsky Conservatory with a Master of Fine Arts. Among his professors were Tibor Varga, Aníbal Lima, Vasco Broco, E. Kononenko, I. Tsarevitch, A. Krasnachuk and A. Igorov. In 1997, Norberto Gomes finished his doctorate as a solo violinist and Professor of Higher Education at the Ukrainian National Tchaikovsky Academy of Music.
From 1992 until 1996, Norberto Gomes worked as concertmaster assistant for the Chamber Orchestra Archi, participated in several international festival tours, and was also recording for CDs, radio and TV.
Norberto Gomes is a founding member, artistic director and concertmaster of the String Orchestra Madeira Camerata which, between 1997 and 2000, toured continental Portugal (Porto and Lisboa), Spain (Ferrol, Sevilla, Madrid) and Macao.
He is a co-author of the project MIM-MUSEUAPA (Musical Instrument Museum — Museu Artur Pestana Andrade).
Norberto Gomes has been distinguished as a music teacher, with his students winning several awards for young violinists. With the Orquestra Clássica da Madeira, he also supports young regional musicians.
As artistic director, he has invited artists of worldwide renown such as the Berlin Philharmonic principal oboist Albrecht Mayer to perform on the island of Madeira, a fact which has allowed him to present them also for masterclasses for young students of the Conservatório de Música da Madeira. Last, but not least, Norberto Gomes has been a great promoter of the interpretation of Portuguese classical music, particularly from Madeira, as a way of making known and preserving the Portuguese musical heritage.
BIOGRAPHY OF NACHUM SLUTZKER
Nachum Slutzker was born in Kaunas, Lithuania. He received his musical education first at the Vilnius Conservatory and, after moving to Israel in 1981, at the Rubin Academy of Music in Tel Aviv. Nachum Slutzker is a musician and a music teacher, among others of Baruch Berliner’s son. Nachum Slutzker has written several violin textbooks. He is the co-founder of the network of elitist science and art schools Israeli Lyceum. He is a producer, initiator and creator of the “Baruch Berliner’s Genesis International Project”. In addition, Nachum Slutzker is the founder and leader of several music schools, faculties, youth orchestras in Israel and the initiator and organizer of art festivals, in particular, the International Musical Spring Festival in Herzliya, where he lives.
In two decades, Nachum Slutzker has produced 15 works together with the composer Baruch Berliner, notably their joint symphonic poem project “Genesis”, which has already been performd in 31 countries with conductors such as Ronen Nissan (Israel, Austria), Vasyl Vasylenko (Ukraine), Volodymyr Sirenko (Ukraine), Michael Guttman (USA), Mihail Agafita (Moldova), Anthony Armore (Italy, USA), etc. The principal conductor of this Genesis project is Mikhail Kirchhoff (Russia).
The Genesis project has already had some four million views on YouTube. In addition to the traditional classical version, sympho-rock, sympho-pop, jazz, fusion, rock oratoria, multimedia and ballet versions of the symphonic poem have been produced.
In addition, Nachum Slutzker has produced two films in collaboration with Sergey Krutsenko (Kiev, Ukraine): Hope (2017) and Address on the Wall (2021), which features the Jewish prayer El Male Rachamim.
BIOGRAPHY OF HAIK KAZAZYAN
Haik Kazazyan was born in Yerevan, Armenia in 1982. In 1989, he enrolled in the Yerevan Music School Sayat-Nova in the class of Professor Levon Zoryan. In 1996, he moved to Moscow, where he continued his studies at the Gnessin Moscow Special School of Music with Professor Eduard Grach, subsequently with the same teacher at the Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatory (2000−2006). After graduating from the conservatory, he studied at the Royal College of Music in London with Professor Itzhak Rashkovsky (2006-2008). In the years of study, he won the title of laureate of the International Tchaikovsky Competition (2002), the International Henryk Wieniawski Violin Competition in Poznań (2001), the Long-Thibaud International Competition in Paris (2005). He was awarded the Gold Medal and Audience Choice Prize at the violinist’s competition in Switzerland (2004) as well as in Tongyeong (South Korea, 2007)
Haik Kazazyan is the soloist of the Moscow State Academic Philharmonic. He is not just a rising star, he is already an outstanding violinist. He has been collaborating with composer Baruch Berliner and producer Nachum Slutzker since 2022.
Haik Kazazyan performs a lot in Russia, in Europe and the United States. He has been part of the International Music Festival in Sion (Switzerland), the Verbier Festival (Switzerland), the Tongyeong International Music Festival (South Korea), the festivals of Denis Matsuev “Stars on Baikal” and “Crescendo”, Yuri Temirkanov’s festival “Square of Arts” in St. Petersburg, etc.
Haik Kazazyan has played with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra, the Russian National Orchestra, the State Academic Symphony Orchestra “Evgeny Svetlanov”, etc. He has collaborated with conductors including Valery Gergiev, Alexander Lazarev, Alexander Sladkovsky, Andrew Litton, Jac van Steen, Constantine Orbelian, Alexander Polyanichko, Alan Buribayev, Alexander Liebreich, Jonathan Darlington, Pavel Kogan and others.
As part of chamber ensembles, Haik Kazazyan has played with the pianists Denis Matsuev, Eliso Virsaladze, Frederick Kempf, Alexei Lubimov, Alexander Kobrin, Ekaterina Mechetina, Rem Urasin, Andrey Shibko, Vadym Kholodenko; with the violinists Gordan Nikolitch, Boris Brovtsyn; with the cellists Natalia Gutman, Alexander Kniazev, Alexander Rudin, Boris Andrianov, Alexander Buzlov, Sergey Antonov. Haik Kazazyan has recorded a number of solo albums. He has been teaching at the Moscow Conservatory since 2008.
BIOGRAPHY OF THE CONDUCTOR JOSÉ EDUARDO GOMES
José Eduardo Gomes studied the clarinet in his Portuguese hometown V. N. Famalicão. Later he continued his studies at ARTAVE and ESMAE in Porto, where he graduated in the class of Antonio Saiote. He continued his studies in Orchestral Conducting at the Haute École de Musique de Genève (Switzerland) with Laurent Gay and choral conducting with Celso Antunes.
Today, he is the Principal Conductor of FEUP Orchestra (Porto – Portugal), Professor at Porto Music University and Principal Conductor of their School Orchestra.
In 2019, José Eduardo Gomes won the 1st Prize in the European Union Conducting Competition, and the Beethoven Prize in the same competition.
Previously, José Euardo Gomes has worked as Principal Conductor of the Orquestra Clássica do Centro (Coimbra – Portugal), Associate Conductor of the Orquestra Clássica do Sul (Faro – Portugal), Principal Conductor of the Orchestre de Chambre de Carouge (Switzerland) and principal conductor of the Circulo Portuense de Opera Choir (Porto – Portugal).
José Eduardo Gomes is the founder of the clarinet ensemble Quarteto Vintage and Serenade Ensemble. In the past few years he has been invited to work with the main Portuguese orchestras, performing in important festivals, such as Dias da Música, Festival de Sintra, Festival PJM, Festival Cantabile, Festival das Artes, Festival de Música de Leiria, FIMA, Música no Colégio, Festival Internacional de Música Religiosa de Guimarães, among others.
José Eduardo Gomes has conducted several opera productions, including Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” and “Cosi Fan Tutte”, Marcos de Portugal’s “La Donna di Genio Volubile” and Haydn’s “Lo Speziale”.
Another important part of his work is dedicated to youth orchestras all over Portugal. In 2018, he was awarded the “Medalha de Mérito Cultural”, by his hometown, V.N. Famalicão.