Sunday, July 05, 2009

Paul Ben-Haim (July 5, 1897-January 14, 1984)

I've been meaning to note how impressed I was by the U.S. premiere, on May 31, 2009, of Paul Ben-Haim's Second Symphony (1945) courtesy of conductor Leon Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra (ASO).

That's right: It took nearly 65 years for this work to receive a live performance in the United States.

Paul Ben-Haim, born Paul Frankenburger in Munich, served as conductor of the Opera in Augsburg from 1924 through 1931. (As such, he might have had an influence on my own musical tastes, as my own mother enjoyed the opera in Augsburg as a child, though probably after Frankenburger's departure.) In 1933 Frankenburger fled the Nazis and moved to Palestine, where he changed his name. His First Symphony (1940) apparently expressed his angst over the growing Nazi threat. I was surprised by how optimistic the Second Symphony (1945) turned out to be, but I suppose that Ben-Haim felt happy over the collapse of the Nazis and looked forward to new beginnings.

Ben-Haim received awards and other recognition throughout his career and apparently enjoyed the friendship and support of Leonard Bernstein, but he remains largely unknown. Two strikes against him must have been his relative isolation in Palestine/Israel and his conventional compositional approach (at least as heard in the Second Symphony and his 1950 Fanfare to Israel, both performed at the May concert). Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra made a very good case that the Second Symphony deserves more performances (and recordings), and made me wonder how a Ben-Haim tribute concert might be programmed. It seems that, in addition to the Second Symphony and the Fanfare to Israel, the First Symphony and the admired Sweet Psalmist of Israel might make for an impressive orchestral program.

Ben-Haim's Second Symphony turns out to be the second rarely performed symphony I've heard recently that I think deserves more attention. The other is Amy Beach's "Gaelic" Symphony (1896), which I heard performed in March by Alondra de la Parra conducting the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas (POA).

For a sample of Ben-Haim's work, here's the song "Hashaon."

Source (2:05)

No comments: