Aviv Geffen’s Orchestral Maneuvers Fail

The singer-songwriter’s concert with the Israel Philharmonic made him sound even more like a frog.

People who aren’t Aviv Geffen fans like to say he sings like a frog. While there’s some truth to that, Geffen’s talents as a composer and performer offset his vocal challenges. If the melody is good and the band creates enough drama, Geffen’s voice is a frog one can swallow.

But what happens when an orchestra replaces the rock band and the orchestra plays beautifully and sounds like a princess? It’s harder to swallow the frog. The contrast between the frog and the princess is too great.

That’s what happened at Geffen’s concert with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in Tel Aviv late last month. The music’s beauty led us to believe we were about to hear a singer with a good voice — maybe not a Frank Sinatra or an Arik Einstein, but someone who sang well. That’s not what happened at the Charles Bronfman Auditorium.

It can be said that “Drops of Water,” the last song before the intermission, failed — despite the orchestra’s stormy crescendo and the audience’s rocking reception.

After the intermission, Geffen returned with his pianist, Eran Mitelman, as the orchestra took a break backstage. Geffen and Mitelman played four songs together, and even though the versions weren’t particularly interesting, Geffen’s singing was much better than in the first half of the show.

When the orchestra came back, many of the first half’s problems came back too. For example, the monotone rhythm that characterizes Geffen’s songs made it hard for Ilan Mochiach, the arranger and conductor, to provide creative orchestration. And the songs were still better when played without the orchestra.

The chanson “Avec Le Temps” was the first song the orchestra played that sounded completely natural. The fact that it’s an old chanson and not a Geffen tune surely helped, but toward the end of the show it turned out that the orchestra could even play Geffen songs with joy and momentum.

This happened with “Hope Song” and “Billion Mistakes,” and extremely well with “It’s Only the Moonlight,” the best song of the night by far. After a fairly monotonous hour and a half, the orchestra played with humor, lightness, rhythm and invention.

The auditorium filled with a Beatlesesque mood, and when the woodwinds played a wonderful bridge that isn’t in the song’s original version, it seemed as if some of the musicians would burst out singing “Goo goo g’joob.”

Daniel Tchetchik