David Greilsammer

Israeli Pianist Promises Unique Take On Mozart

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

The beautiful melodies of Mozart charm and sooth modern-day listeners, but during his day, the great 18th-century composer’s music was considered radical.

“When you read critics in Mozart’s time, they hated it, it was too complex for the time,” said Israeli guest conductor and pianist David Greilsammer, who leads the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony this weekend in Mozart — Pianist and Conductor.

“It sounds beautiful, melodic, but to the ears of that day, it sounded very complex,” he said. “They could not understand his music.”

When Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni premiered in 1787, Greilsammer said critics complained. “They said it was good but too many notes.”

Much the same was said of composer Claude Debussy, so Mozart did not stand alone under the critical eye of the public. Debussy, who died in 1918, was known for his impressionistic music, another radical, yet today much loved and appreciated as is Mozart. Even Bach was considered a “third rate composer,” though his skills on the organ were appreciated for their virtuosity.

Many of these great composers were men ahead of their time, creating music that was too modern to be appreciated. But like some art, with a bit of work and patience and an open mind, meaning and beauty can be discovered.

That will be Greilsammer’s goal this weekend as he, like Mozart in his day, directs the symphony from the keyboard of a grand piano, performing four of the composer’s works. He’ll open with the well-known Concerto No. 8 in C major for piano and orchestra, to be followed by the magnificent Symphony No. 40. After intermission, Greilsammer will surprise the audience with Symphony No. 23 in D major, written when the composer was young and rarely performed today.

“For a lot of the public, it will be the first time they heard this music,” he said. “I wanted to bring something quite unusual.”

At only 36, Greilsammer is an internationally recognized Mozart expert, even though he has a few things to say about our cultural desire to continue focusing our musical interest on composers who have been dead for a couple of centuries.

As the founding artistic director of Geneva Camerata (also known as GECA), he continually commissions young composers to create new works. Given the orchestra is comprised of musicians with busy careers outside the orchestra, he can recruit a couple or a couple dozen to perform a concert, depending on the piece of music and the venue. Such flexibility is nearly impossible with most orchestras, he said.

Orchestra members also shift roles. If a violinist has a special feeling for a piece of music, he or she can take on a leadership position as concert master or first violin.

“I always felt there was a different way of making music, a different form, something freer,” he said. “It can be fluid.”

Born and raised in Jerusalem, Greilsammer’s background is an international one. His father immigrated from France and his mother came from Belgium. The Jewish couple had four boys and all were expected to learn to play an instrument.

“Music was part of our lives,” he said. All four sons were also influenced by everything around them in the city, the many cultures and religious groups, the Arabs and Christians and Jews, as well as the tensions and the politics. When a major influx of Russian Jews moved to the city in the 1990s, many were musicians and soon changed the musical landscape of the city.

He said Russian musicians brought a unique colour to the city’s musical scene, a “positive influence” and one he has not forgotten. “Because my parents came from Europe, we had a lot of European influences as well,” he said.

With such a unique background, Greilsammer said he learned to embrace all cultures, which also opened his mind as an artist.

“I have all these different backgrounds,” he said. “It helped me in my music.”

After serving a mandatory three-year stint in the army, where he had precious few opportunities to continue practising piano, Greilsammer moved to New York where he studied at The Julliard School. He made his concert debut at New York’s Lincoln Center in 2004.

“I wanted to experience a new, freer musical training,” he said. While doing his master’s degree at Julliard, Greilsammer also studied conducting.

The young musician records under the Sony Classical label, divides his time between Geneva and Paris and this weekend will be his Waterloo Region debut.

 

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