New York, New York (March 13, 2019) — Israeli violinist Itamar Zorman makes his label debut on BIS Records with a recording devoted to works by Israeli composer Paul Ben-Haim (1897-1984), to be released in the U.S. on Friday, April 5. Mr. Zorman, a recipient of an Avery Fisher Career Grant and joint winner of the International Tchaikovsky Competition, embarked on this project with the support of a Borletti-Buitoni Trust Award, seeing it as an opportunity to bring the music of Ben-Haim to a wider international public. He makes a case not only for the artistic quality of this repertoire, but also for its relevance today, in light of the composer’s immigrant experience and its impact on his musical language.
This album—titled Evocation, after Ben-Haim’s 1942 “poem” for violin and orchestra recorded here for the first time—is Mr. Zorman’s first collaboration with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales (BBC NOW) and Swiss conductor Philippe Bach. Mr. Zorman has previously appeared with such orchestras as the American Symphony, Israel Philharmonic, and Mariinsky Orchestras and with conductors Valery Gergiev, Zubin Mehta, and David Robertson, among others.
The featured works span 40 years and a range of genres, from solo etudes to chamber compositions to works with orchestra. Mr. Zorman is joined by BBC NOW in Evocation (1942), Violin Concerto (1960), and a Toccata arranged by his father, the composer Moshe Zorman, from Ben-Haim’s Five Pieces for Piano, Op. 34 (1943). The two chamber works on the recording—Three Songs without Words (1951) and Berceuse sfaradite (1945)—are performed with pianist Amy Yang. Mr. Zorman performs solo in the world-premiere recording of Three Etudes (1981).
The Borletti-Buitoni Trust has made a short film to coincide with the recording release in which Mr. Zorman reflects on Ben-Haim’s life and work and why he was drawn to this project.
Itamar Zorman: The Music of Paul Ben-Haim
Mini-documentary produced by the Borletti-Buitoni Trust.
Mr. Zorman first came across the music of Ben-Haim in his late teens while studying at the Israel Conservatory of Music in Tel-Aviv. The composer was born to secular Jewish parents in Munich as “Paul Frankenburger,” and his early music was distinctly Western European in style. After he fled Nazi Germany and moved to the British Mandate of Palestine in 1933 at the age of 36—where he changed his name to “Paul Ben-Haim”—he absorbed the Arabic and Jewish folk music of the Middle East and channeled these into his music.
For this recording, Mr. Zorman has chosen a span of four decades to chart the development of Ben-Haim’s style and how it synthesizes cultural influences from the East and West. He says:
“Much like Mahler, Ben-Haim composes what he hears from the outside world—the music of the time and place—which he then integrates with his personal thoughts and feelings to become the music on the page.”
Historically, Ben-Haim serves a similar role in Israel to those of Bartók and Kodály in Hungary and was one of the founders of a new national style, which later became known as the Mediterranean style in Israeli music. For the composer, the evolution of his music was part of a desire to build a new life in a new country after his departure from Europe.
The earliest work on the album is Evocation (Yizkor) from 1942. It was written in memory of violinist Andreas Weissgerber, one of the first leaders of the Palestine Symphony Orchestra (later renamed the “Israel Philharmonic Orchestra”), and belongs to the Romantic tradition of grand, single-movement works for violin and orchestra. According to Mr. Zorman, “The Middle East has little presence in this piece; instead, it echoes some of the tragic events in Europe at the time of its composition.”
By contrast, the Three Etudes for solo violin, written for Yehudi Menuhin in 1981 towards the end of Ben-Haim’s life, reflect a synthesis of Eastern and Western musical influences. Unlike most of the composer’s scores, these etudes are notated with very few performance directions, leaving much of the interpretation to the solo performer.
The Three Songs without Words from 1950 portray three scenes from Middle Eastern daily life: the heat of midday in the Judea Hills, the babbling of a story teller, and an actual Sephardic Jewish tune to which Ben-Haim provides harmony and counterpoint.
The Violin Concerto from 1960 is classical in form, but many of the tunes and harmonies are influenced by Middle Eastern dances and arabesques.
Berceuse sfaradite for violin and piano from 1945 was commissioned by the seminal Israeli folk singer Brachah Zefira (1911-88) and is based on a Sephardic folk song with harmonies reminiscent of French music of the early 20th century. In its vocal version it became one of Zefira’s most celebrated songs, and the instrumental version is one of Ben-Haim’s most beloved works.
The recording concludes with Toccata, arranged from 1943’s Five Pieces for Piano, Op. 34. This virtuosic piece combines baroque form with an imitation of an Arabic string instrument, the qanun. Though orchestrated by Mr. Zorman’s father, this arrangement was also a collaborative effort between father and son, as Mr. (Itamar) Zorman prepared the solo violin part himself.
Violinist Itamar Zorman has performed at major concert halls and with leading orchestras around the world—from his native Israel to the United States. He is the recipient of an Avery Fisher Career Grant, a Borletti-Buitoni Trust Award, and was also joint winner of the International Tchaikovsky Competition.
He has performed as a soloist with such orchestras as the American Symphony Orchestra, German Radio Philharmonic, HR-Sinfonieorchester Frankfurt, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, KBS Symphony Seoul, Mariinsky Orchestra, and Utah Symphony, and with such conductors as Yuri Bashmet, James DePreist, Valery Gergiev, Zubin Mehta, and David Robertson. His past engagements include performances at Lincoln Center’s David Geffen Hall, Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium, Tokyo’s Suntory Hall and Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw.
As a recitalist he has been presented by Carnegie Hall and has also performed at the Louvre Museum, Suntory Hall, Frankfurt Radio, and at the Verbier and Marlboro Festivals, among others. An active chamber musician, he is a founding member of the Israeli Chamber Project and a member of the Lysander Piano Trio. He has performed chamber music at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall’s Zankel and Weill Recital Halls, and at the Kennedy Center, among other venues.
Born in Tel-Aviv in 1985 to a family of musicians, he began his violin studies at the age of six at the Israel Conservatory of Music, graduating in 2003. He went on to earn his Bachelor of Music from the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, Master of Music and Artist Diploma from The Juilliard School, and Artist Diploma from The Manhattan School of Music. He also studied with Christian Tetzlaff and Mauricio Fuks at The Kronberg Academy, and has participated in master classes with violinists including Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zuckerman, Shlomo Mintz, Ida Handel, and Ivry Gitlis.
He plays on a 1734 Guarneri Del Jesù from the collection of Yehuda Zisapel.
For more information, visit itamarzorman.com.
Evocation: Violin works by Paul Ben-Haim
Bis Records (BIS-2398)
Itamar Zorman, violin
Amy Yang, piano
BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Philippe Bach, conductor
Paul Ben-Haim (1897-1984)
- Evocation (Yizkor): poem for violin and orchestra (1942)*
Three Songs without Words for violin and piano (1951)
2. I. Arioso
3. II. Ballad
4. III. Sephardic Melody
Violin Concerto (1960)
5. I. Allegro
6. II. Andante affetuoso
7. III. Vivo
Three Etudes for solo violin (1981)*
8. I. Vivo
9. II. Fuga
10. III. Presto e molto leggiero
- Berceuse sfaradite(1945) for violin and piano
- Toccatafrom Five Pieces for Piano, Op. 34 (1943), arranged for violin and orchestra by Moshe Zorman
Recorded December 2017, Hoddinott Hall, Wales Millennium Centre