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New Classical Tracks: Itamar Zorman celebrates music of Paul Ben-Haim in 'Evocation'

Itamar Zorman Jiyang Chen
4min 59sec : New Classical Tracks: Itamar Zorman
21min 19sec : New Classical Tracks: Itamar Zorman (extended)

Itamar Zorman/BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Philippe Bach — Evocation (BIS)

Itamar Zorman has been a recipient of an Avery Fisher Career Grant and joint winner of the International Tchaikovsky Competition. He's an Israeli violinist who recently released a new recording called Evocation. Two works recorded here for the first time, by Israeli composer Paul Ben-Haim, provide the framework for this release. They also demonstrate the evolution of his composing style.

"Well growing up in Israel, Ben-Haim is a relatively well-known name. He's regarded as really one of the fathers of Israeli classical concert music — whatever you want to call it. But I only fell in love with this music much later, I guess, when I had a little bit more context.

"This was during my undergrad. I was playing a piece by him for string quartet. There is something about the writing of it that I found really touching in a not too sentimental way. I somehow really connected to it, and then I was thinking I would like to explore a little bit more of that composer.

"This is what I did. I read his biography, which was really eye-opening. And when the opportunity came to record a CD with orchestra, this was really my first thought, especially when I discovered this piece Evocation, which has never been recorded. I thought I would go for it and try to put together a CD that really represents his development and trajectory as a composer, because he had quite an interesting life."

Tell me what you found so eye-opening when you read Ben-Haim's biography.

"The music that he wrote in Germany was very German, it was — if audiences listened to it today, they would think, 'Yeah, this is a German composer, a little bit like Strauss.' It's actually quite romantic music, it sounds like Mahler, something like this. Very beautiful, in fact. But the music that he wrote afterwards was so different.

"In Ben-Haim's case, it started being the music of the Middle East that he would hear on the bus, in cafes. So, it started sort of creeping into his style in a very gradual way, in fact. First just certain tunes he would use and then let's say write variations on them, and then it became more ingrained and a more fundamental part of his style, I would say."

His Evocation, which you just mentioned, opens the recording. And then later in the recording, there are Three Etudes for Solo Violin, written 40 years later. So, we really get to hear this contrast in his compositional style. That helped you form the framework for the entire album. Can you talk more about that?

"The style of Evocation is much closer to the music that he wrote back in Europe. There isn't much of the Middle East in it. And then the recording goes almost decade by decade. First, he incorporates just the melodies from the Middle East — Sephardic Jewish tunes — while keeping the harmony very much western. So, you would hear this beautiful Spanish-sounding, almost, melody. This is Berceuse Sfaradite, the Sephardic lullaby.

"And then by the time we reach the Etudes, which he wrote in 1981, it's a true fusion of east and west."

Your father adds a personal touch to this recording with his arrangement of Ben-Haim's Toccata for Violin and Orchestra, and that is quite a showpiece.

"It's a very good way to end the CD with a virtuoso piece like this."

To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.


Evocation (Amazon)