Thanks to the efforts of R.I. Chamber Music Concerts, the world-renowned Jerusalem Quartet will return to Providence for the first time in five years, playing music that expresses the Jewish experience in 20th-century Europe and Israel.
The quartet will perform at McVinney Auditorium on Oct. 3 as part of its 2023 world tour, which includes concerts in the Netherlands, France, Spain, London and New York City’s Carnegie Hall.
In Providence, the quartet’s carefully curated program will include Paul Ben-Haim’s deeply moving String Quartet No. 1, written in 1937, just three years after he fled to Palestine from Germany.
Ben-Haim, one of the founding fathers of Israeli classical concert music, wrote over 250 works, many featuring the musical style for which he became popular – tonal melodies in the 20th-century European style mixed with elements of Middle East folk music and adapted for a classical venue.
In his String Quartet #1, some interpreters hear Ben-Haim’s emotional journey from Europe to the Middle East, his relief and joy in discovering his new homeland, and his despair at the events unfolding in Germany in the late 1930s.
The quartet’s repertoire also includes the string quartets of Dmitri Shostakovich, most of them written during Stalin’s evil machinations against the Jews of the Soviet Union. “This music seems to tell ‘our’ story,” said first violinist Alexander Pavlovsky.
That story is personal: Three of the quartet’s members were born in the former Soviet Union: Pavlovsky, second violinist Sergei Bresler and cellist Kyril Zlotnikov.
Shostakovich, at great risk to himself, helped many Jewish artists, and he included elements of klezmer, folk and liturgical motifs in many of his greatest works, including String Quartet #2. Themes in the second movement echo those of klezmer bands, and the fourth movement begins and ends with a mournful Jewish-sounding melody.
Reflecting further upon their fondness for Shostakovich’s quartets, Pavlovsky said, “Each composer we play is our favorite composer at that moment. … We have a special relationship with the music of Shostakovich. But that does not mean that playing Haydn or Beethoven is any less meaningful for us.”
On Oct. 3, the quartet will open its concert with Haydn’s String Quartet Opus 76, No. 6, a piece in which all four instruments are used in leading melodies.
Pavlovsky plays a 1696 Antonio Stradivarius violin; Bresler plays a 1770 Lorenzo Storioni violin; and Zlotnikov often plays a 1743 J.B. Guadagnini cello. But violist Ori Kam plays a viola made by the contemporary luthier Hiroshi Iizuka.
“Hiroshi has built one of his best violas in my opinion, and it is all mine,” Kam said.
The Jerusalem Quartet will perform on Tuesday, Oct. 3, at 7:30 p.m., at the McVinney Auditorium, 43 Dave Gavitt Way, Providence. Tickets may be purchased at the Rhode Island Chamber Music Concerts’ website, RICMC.org, and at the concert.
After the concert, audience members are invited to enjoy light refreshments and to meet the members of the Jerusalem Quartet.
LINDA K. SHAMOON is a board member of RICMC (RI Chamber Music Concerts) and LLC (Lifelong Learning Collaborative).