Michael Melzer
Michael Melzer at his Jerusalem home Photo by Michal Fattal
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The auditorium in Kfar Blum was full at the weekend for the closing concert of the 26th Chamber Music Festival. Michael Melzer, its artistic director for the last 11 years, came onstage as usual. He was having a hard time with his soft-spoken manner and the angry message he tried to convey to the large audience.

The festival exists thanks to his artists, who come on a volunteer basis, he said and repeated, trying for toughness in his voice - thanks only to his artists. He got a vigorous round of applause. He then denounced the dedication of the previous day's concert to "some bank," as he put it, referring to Bank Hapoalim, one of the event's usual sponsors. To dedicate it to a bank? he chided. If the concert is to be dedicated, then why not to the casualties of the helicopter crash, for example?

The audience was puzzled. Why the outburst of anger on a Saturday morning, at the closing? Who is the target? There was no applause. Again Melzer said the festival relies exclusively on his artists. He forgot there are other elements of some importance to the festival's existence - the audience, for example. From now on, he said angrily, the number of volunteer artists would drop, as their family members could no longer stay free of charge at the Kfar Blum Guest House. The agreement had been canceled.

The audience surely must have sensed this was the tip of a terrible conflict, but it was impossible to discern what it was about and why the arrangement ended and who ended it. Confusion fell over the auditorium, and it began to be irritating. Fortunately, Melzer immediately invited cellist Gary Hoffman and pianist Ohad Ben-Ari to perform the Beethoven sonata.

Some detective work uncovered the war up north taking place behind the scenes. At the start of the program, where the festival director makes his remarks, Melzer announced his resignation and thanked "everyone who supported and helped me to fulfill the difficult and sometimes thankless job...." He thanked the artists, artistic producers, the artistic committee, the festival founder and finally the audience. Only one body was omitted: the producer of the festival, the Upper Galilee Regional Council. The council representative who holds the culture portfolio, Haggai Agmon, who is also the director general of the festival, came on stage at the closing concert to address the audience and thanked everyone but the departing artistic director.

A month before the festival Melzer told Haaretz that the council was sabotaging his artistic initiatives, and the council's spokesperson said in response that the artistic program was a function of the financial framework.

In this ego battle, it seems something important was forgotten, that the Voice of Music Festival in Upper Galilee is part of the artistic fabric of Israel. There are many festivals here, and most of them are affiliated with this scene. Each one has some contrived reason to justify its existence. Kfar Blum, like the Abu Ghosh Vocal Music Festival, does not need to justify anything. The whole thing radiates naturalness and the right time and the right place. It is the chamber music festival of the summer that brings together musicians and audiences who combine art with vacation.

True, the one-time gathering of musicians to perform chamber works does not always yield good results. There are always surprises and since the pianist Idit Zvi founded the enterprise, it has been characterized by both unusual events and interesting combinations and a repertoire that is mostly classical-romantic, beloved, precisely what the heat-stricken audience (39 degrees! ) wanted and needed. Now, the regional council must find a new director who understands the unique character of the Kfar Blum Festival and its audience and will be able to meet the challenge within "the financial framework."

The encyclopedia definition of a madrigal comedy goes something like this: an entertainment genre that was common in Italy in the late Renaissance, featuring a series of secular songs connected to each other through a loose plot, where the music illustrates the drama and the characters. In the program notes for the madrigal comedy "La Pazzia Senile" by Adriano Banchieri, Michael Melzer adds: "Originally the piece was not written with a dramatic stage production in mind ... (but ) we took the liberty this time of deviating from the intentions of the original composer...."

At festivals, it's good to dare and stretch the composers' intentions and to create in the spirit of madrigal comedies and commedia dell' arte. But all depends on how you do it. "La Pazzia Senile" by definition is a collection of madrigal songs for many voices from the late 16th century. Its hero is Pantelona, the stingy and irascible commedia dell' arte character who obstructs love, youth and freedom. If you closed your eyes during the Kfar Blum performance, no doubt you were moved by the timeless beauty of the music, the singing of sopranos Ye'ela Avital and Anat Edri and baritone Hemi Levison and by the musicians playing baroque instruments, led by Alon Sariel. The set was also tastefully designed. But anyone who made the mistake of watching regretted the decision to digress from the composer's original intentions and act out this work. Like an elementary school performance, the singers roamed aimlessly with nerve-racking slowness. They tried to obey director Julia Pevzner's surprising instructions for moving and acting. The vulgar translation in Hebrew by Omer Tadmor was flawed in meter and rhyme. Michael Melzer, as the flutist, who as usual dominated the stage and demanded all the focus, even tried to be funny. How embarrassing it all was, how contrary to the composer and the genre! Melzer himself said in the program notes: "Our spectacle is designed to take place solely in your imagination; you should use not your eyes, but your ears. Instead of watching, listen. And keep quiet!"

There is a future

Before resigning, Melzer achieved an important objective for the festival. He integrated it with music education programs, the international summer course of the Jerusalem Academy of Music, headed by cellist Zvi Plesser. Early on, the festival was a place of pilgrimage for young musicians; people even slept in sleeping bags on the grass just to watch and listen to concerts and came primarily for the free open rehearsals. The young came to the most recent festival in large numbers. They were visible in the audience, carrying their instruments on their shoulders, and also at the rehearsals and master classes that are part of the course. They were performing beside the adults in the major concerts. In the Dvorak sextet for strings and in Mozart's piano quartet, and in other works, young musicians performed as equals alongside international artists. The combination of the two enterprises is a brilliant move with a spark of genius, like any effort that seems natural, appropriate and obvious - once someone came with the idea.