Thursday, September 19, 2013

Cantori New York - Gurol, Ben-Haim, Flecha, Castelnuovo-Tedesco & Breit - 09/14/13

Artistic Director & Conductor: Mark Shapiro
Erol Gurol: Gel bak ne buldum
Paul Ben-Haim: Four sephardic songs
Mateo Flecha: El fuego
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco: Canciones gitanes - Rémi Jousselme
Jonathan Breit: Recette de bouillabaisse

When I first heard at the end of last year that Cantori New York would be singing in Marseille, France, as the only American vocal ensemble invited to take part in the city’s year-long celebration for being one of the two European Capitals of Culture for 2013, I jokingly said that I’d love to tag along so that I could discover the ancient metropolis and pay a visit to my mum and step-dad who live in the area by the same token. After successfully negotiating numerous twists and turns in terms of finances, schedule and logistics, this past weekend the original tongue-firmly-in-cheek statement had become a sometimes still hard to believe reality.
Once the standard tourist fare was more or less planned and underway, my mum and I headed towards Cassis late on Saturday afternoon for Cantori’s first performance of what sounded like a very busy weekend.  Partly scheduled to coincide with the annual "Journées du patrimoine" (Heritage days), during which the entrance to all French cultural institutions is free, the "20 lieux sur la mer" (20 leagues/places on the sea) events included whirlwind and multi-faceted musical explorations of Marseille and the Mediterranean region.
Neither the concert location – the Fondation Camargo – nor parking was particularly easy to find, but our efforts were handsomely rewarded when we heard the choir rehearse from the rocky beach below, an irrefutable proof that we were in the right place. After a dinner and a walk in the picturesque little harbor, we made it back to the by then open gate of the estate at dusk and found ourselves entering what looked like a little corner of the garden of Eden. Overlooking the serene Mediterranean and facing the imposing Cap Canaille, at our feet laid a miniature amphitheater surrounded by grass and trees, forming a setting so fairytale-like that I half-expected some Greek gods to suddenly materialize out of the invigorating maritime air. More prosaically, the members of a slightly modified Cantori New York eventually appeared onstage instead.

Their Mediterranean tour kicked off in Turkey with "Gel bak ne buldum" (Come see what I've found) by in-house composer Erol Gurol. Dreamingly evoking the fascinating country where East meets West and possibilities seem endless, the Turkish language’s unusual sounds started the musical voyage with mystery and exoticism galore.
Next, we went back to the roots of Mediterranean travel with four sephardic songs by Paul Ben-Haim in Spanish. Probably some of the most traditional work I’ve ever heard from Cantori, those attractive testimonies of the various moods of love from a culture that would symbolize the Judeo-Spanish exile into eastern Mediterranean lands enlarged the scope of the adventure to a more global scale.
As the evening was becoming darker and the air cooler, the lighthouse started flashing its green warning light and we got to experience an irresistible fire during our stop in medieval Spain. That's where Mateo Flecha’s ensalada "El fuego" brought up the earthier concept of sin, brazenly stressing out the fun part of it, even as the cooling chorus was trying rather unsuccessfully to keep things under control. Accordingly, the ensemble heartily sang about the eternal tug of war between fire and water while keeping the former fiercely burning, steadily avoiding the dreaded ignis interruptus.
We remained in Spain and moved further forward in time with some Lorca-inspired canciones gitanes by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, which took us on a colorful Spanish journey. By turns joyful, wishful, or mournful, occasionally whimsical, those songs gave the singers plenty of opportunities to emphasize the intrinsically musical nature of the Spanish language. This entire collection of appealing tunes was soulfully supported by classical guitarist extraordinaire Rémi Jousselme, who, beside a promising earlier YouTube glimpse, had just met his vocal partners and conductor that very same day.
The closing number, on the other hand, zeroed in on Marseille proper. Committed to the official theme of the Mediterranean region yet determined to do it their own way, Cantori did not come up with any high-brow tribute to the typical "Cradle of Civilization" image, but served us a high-spirited "Recipe for bouillabaisse" – Marseille’s trademark fish stew – in French instead, courtesy of their other in-house composer Jonathan Breit. Vividly bringing to mind the exorbitantly priced, but guaranteed 100% authentic and all-around divine bouillabaisse my mum and I had enjoyed the night before while watching an incredible sunset on the coast – if you’re gonna do it, just do it right – this entertaining musical version of the culinary classic concluded our enchanted evening in Cassis, France, on a truly local note.

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