Invited to come together in 2008, in a concert for peace in Oslo, Norway, Yaron Kohlberg and Bishara Haroni, gifted Israeli and Palestinian pianists, respectively, decided to concertize together on a more permanent basis in 2011.
Active in bringing the two opposing factions closer in peace, they have played around the globe, forming a cultural club for both nationalities in Berlin where they live. How à propos then was the Duo Amal (love) recital at the Kravis Center on Sunday afternoon, as Secretary of State John Kerry was working to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
From the lukewarm reception the two pianists had Sunday, it isn’t likely they are having much influence, but their efforts are truly commendable on an individual level. Indeed, judging from the audience reaction, it appears Americans are heartily sick of Middle East turmoil.
Now for the concert: Opening with the Schubert Fantasy in F minor for four hands (D. 940) they sat at one Steinway concert grand together, symbolically side by side. These two very sensitive young men have a light touch, working as one with brilliant playing from each as the work progressed.
It’s a grand sonata with a haunting theme that reappears time and again, beautifully played by both. They first tackled it in 2008 at Oslo. A very cool reception from the Kravis crowd met their talented playing. What was wrong? Was it their suits? Haroni wore a gold lamé affair and at 6-foot-4 towered over Kohlberg, who was wearing an electric blue suit. Perhaps the colors seemed hardly conducive to the seriousness of their cause.
Next came a short piece commissioned by Duo Amal called Karsilama, by Avner Dorman, an Israeli composer living in America. Huge chromatic scales open it as each pianist masterfully commands the keyboard. Kohlberg continues these runs as Haroni punctuates them with a dissonant chord or single repeated note. Very clever, and quite original, musically. This is accessible music, but alas, it was too short. Warmer applause greeted this.
Shostakovich’s Concertino for Two Pianos ended this first half of the program. It begins slowly with dramatic exploratory music leading to a lively melody. A dance theme begins to evolve and cheeky, joyful music brought smiles to the artists’ faces as they exchanged glances. Shostakovich’s familiar chromatic scales are interrupted by flashes of keyboard genius from both players. A long pause gives way to sustained bell-like tones.
Syncopated passages build as we near the challenging racy ending, before which the composer treats us to a few reflective bars of romance. Dexterity is everything in this 1954 piece the composer wrote for his son, Maxim, a student at Moscow’s Music Conservatory. It also showcased the composer’s own flamboyance at the keyboard.
Before the second half began, Sharon McDaniel, programming associate for the Regional Arts series at the Kravis, announced a change in the program, saying in effect the pianists “might” play the scheduled Prokofiev piece if the Odeh-Tamimi and Stravinsky works to come were well-received. Did this reflect their disappointing reception in the first half? After all, the audience had arrived in a monsoon-type rainfall.
Or was it because the last 10 rows of seats were empty? It was a puzzling message with which the artists had burdened McDaniel. Perhaps it was a set-up for the next piece they played, described by Haroni as “very modern music,” a phrase he repeated three times.
Indeed, Samir Odeh-Tamimi’s Amal for Piano Duo was a cacophony of Schoenbergian proportions. Dissonant harmonies, plucking of piano strings, helter-skelter notes from all over the place led to an ending of four long strummed chords as each pianist stood to pluck the strings with coy smiles. It was a dreadful piece.
The following four movements from Stravinsky’s ballet music for Petrushka showed the pianists at their best. They caught the charm and urgency of this revolutionary musical language, which still has the power to astonish after all these years. Written in 1911, it is bursting with youthful energy and fresh invention. The original piano score for two pianos was used for the first performance by the Ballet Russes. Nijinsky danced, Balanchine choreographed. Roars of approval greeted the two pianists’ presentation.
Now, would we have the Prokofiev? Yes, but only the first movement of his Classical Symphony. What a letdown, and not as published in the program. Haroni and Kohlberg, who started out making peace their goal through harmonious living among the tribal Semites of the Holy Land, left a lot of supportive Palm Beachers feeling shortchanged by leaving the last three movements of the symphony unplayed. What a pity.
Rex Hearn founded the Berkshire Opera Company and is a regular contributor to Palm Beach ArtsPaper.