This may well be my last blog post of 2017. I started on December 28 2015 and here we are, two years and 133 posts later and I’m still at it. I’m truly amazed — really.
All in all it’s been a quiet week. The only thing of any particular interest was the resignation of the coalition whip (chairman), David Bitan, a.k.a. Bibi’s faithful attack dog, amidst the corruption investigation against him. Though Mr. Bitan is a key figure behind the “recommendations law”, which would prevent the police from publicizing their recommendations on indictments, thereby shielding the Prime Minister, he is being investigated by police on suspicion of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes while he was deputy mayor of Rishon LeTzion, none of which is unrelated to the ongoing corruption probes against Netanyahu himself. Well, all politics are local. The amazing thing about this little episode is that he resigned—a rare occurrence in Israeli politics. I guess that he might have time to write about how he came to the decision if and when tried and if and when found guilty.
That leaves Israeli law enforcement agencies, such as the police and the prosecution service, not to mention the press, at the mercy of another of Bibi’s loyal assault hounds, David Amsalem, a man even more menacing than the unwaveringly loyal but apparently well-liked Mr. Bitan. Mr. Amsalem bears grudges, which he expresses at any and every opportunity. He bears one against the “Ashkenazi elite” who he perceives as having humiliated his immigrant father decades ago; he dislikes American Jews and has a grievance against Reform and Conservative Judaism in particular; he has a resentment against the police, the prosecution service and basically anyone who doesn’t see eye to eye with him. Nice man!
These characteristics make him admirably suited to carrying out Mr. Netanyahu’s bidding and make me think that Bibi’s ability to think clearly these days is limited to little more than his own political survival. Meanwhile, he spent an evening last week doing what he does best—casting gasoline on and then fanning the flames already alight under his loyal Likud supporters—by denigrating the police, the prosecution service, and the press, all of which are institutions essential to the maintenance of any democracy anywhere. His paranoias concerning persecution in what he sees as the most notorious witch hunt and broadcasting of fake news in Israeli history has reached new levels. All those victimising him, of course, are those infamous “leftists” who just rejoice in maltreating the innocent, in other words, Bibi & Co. All this while conveniently forgetting or ignoring the fact that these “leftists” haven’t been in power for most of the past 40 years.
Anyway, enough of Israeli politics.
I have been overly conservative with walks over the past week. I know that I resolved to spend at least one day a week in parts of town that I don’t know very well or at all but somehow I have been stuck on almost exactly the same course for the past fortnight — home, park, port, Nordau Boulevard, Brandeis Street, home. The amazing thing about this is not the sameness that one might expect from walking the same route over and over again but quite the opposite. There’s always something new or different or something neither new nor different but which I hadn’t noticed before even though I have passed it several times a week for the past few years. And, as I mentioned last time, you never quite know who will cross your path. Last Friday, within the space of less than half an hour, I encountered in the park the Mayor of Tel Aviv, the Governor of the Bank of Israel and Israel’s only Jewish Communist member of the Knesset. And in none of those three cases was I quick enough to focus and click so you have to take my word for it. So much for Waterman the paparazzo.
The park is showing signs that winter is on its way even though there’s been precious little rain this year up until now. Having said that, the weather people are promising us a wet Christmas rather than a white one and yesterday (Sunday), the rain duly arrived.
The enclosed dog pens in the park along both banks of the river offer many opportunities for both the dogs and their owners to get to know one another, even if the methods they use to acquaint themselves with each other differ somewhat.
There seemed to be a plethora of birds to photograph this last week or so but probably no more than on other occasions. The herons and the lapwings seemed to be out in force…
… as were the cormorants, one of which did a vanishing act — now you see him, now you don’t.
The egrets, usually ubiquitous, seemed to be missing but the gulls and pigeons, the geese and ducks, and others more than made up for their absence although I did manage to catch one in flight as it flew across the promenade at the port.
The hovering kingfishers aren’t as easy as some others to catch but if you persevere, you can usually manage one or two good pics.
But the pick of the week was a mynah. Mynahs are birds that usually congregate in gangs in the morning, wondering who or what they can terrorise later on but this one was on its own.
And then, of course, there are the birds that you don’t expect to pop up right in front of you, This one was an older bird than she thought she was.
There were the usual sights in the park — blade runners and bottoms up…
… and then elsewhere, there was yet another bottom up…
People walk, run, or cycle through the park and port though at times, it’s necessary to take a break from whatever it is you’re doing and catch up with friends and family.
Out on the streets, there were things that I’d seen before and other things that I’d missed although how I managed not to notice this spectacle on the wall is beyond my ken. Potentially quite shocking, I imagine!
I usually take notice of signs but this one, which I hadn’t seen before turned up in front of me the other day on Basel Street and I’m still wondering about whether or not it is supposed to have some meaning. (For non-Hebrew readers, it says “Martin Buber was right — Google”.) Perhaps some bright spark can offer an explanation.
And I discovered that in the Land of Nutters, there are also knitters. This individual was settled in a shopping mall in central Tel Aviv knitting scarves and he told me that he just loves knitting, so much so that he can’t stop himself. He even told me that when he wakes up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep, he takes out the needles and the wool and starts knitting, not an activity conducive to getting back to sleep, I imagine.
And, of course, there were the inevitable members of the fire hydrant fraternity posing for the photographer.
And then on Dizengoff Street I noticed is a flower shop that I can’t recollect ever having seen before.
Now, this is the season when Israeli musicians living abroad try to combine a family visit with a professional performance so for music lovers, in the period between around December 10 and January 10, just about every day you can find a concert or recital (often more than one) worth going to. In addition to these “homecoming” concerts, just before I left for London three weeks ago, I received a telephone call from the producer of the Arthur Rubinstein Piano Masters Competition telling me that last Thursday (December 21), there would be a piano marathon at the Israel Music Conservatory down the street. There would be three recitals and would I like a pair of tickets for each? I thought that was such a nice gesture that in my pre-dotage, I asked her if she would like me to take some photographs. And, of course, the response was both immediate and positive. So I found that not only would I be listening to three quite different piano programmes but I would also be “working”.
The recitals were being given by Daniel Ciobanu, a Romanian pianist studying in Glasgow who won 2nd prize in last May’s competition and Sara Daneshpour from the United States, who took 3rd. In addition, the third recital would be given by Luca Buratto, the most recent winner of the Honens International Piano Competition in Calgary, who in addition to the kudos attained by winning was also the recipient of the Honens’ $500,000 Artist Development Program. Not bad for a pianist at the start of his career.
So, in order to “earn my keep”, I took myself off to the auditorium at 4 in the afternoon to photograph the rehearsal. Actually, it was less a rehearsal and more of a run-through to try out the piano because unlike string and wind instrumentalists, unless you’re someone like Vladimir Horowitz, you don’t travel with your piano in tow.
Prior to the run-throughs, though, I sat and watched the tuner prepare the piano for the evening’s performances. It’s always fascinating to watch these people at work. They manage to practically strip the instrument, tighten the strings to the correct tension, prod and poke the hammers and carry out various other maintenance procedures in double quick time — and then put it all together again so that the performers can perform.
As it happens, the performers were late in arriving and in the event, only two of them — Sara and Luca — turned up. Daniel is quite the showman and he was apparently confident enough and sufficiently well prepared to strut his stuff on whatever instrument was provided and in whatever condition it turned out to be in. So once they were in place, I took some pics. I enjoy taking pictures during rehearsals more than during performance because it gives me extra freedom to walk around and find interesting angles and views.
Once the dry-runs were over, I walked the 300m home and returned in the company of my better half and waited for the show to begin. While we were waiting, I noticed Sara peep out several times from the wings just before she walked on to the stage so I decided to keep the camera focussed on that spot and the image below was the result. She was simply doing what I’ve seen many other musicians do before a performance; she was just trying to size up the audience. It’s always an interesting phenomenon to observe.
Different musicians combat stage nerves in different ways. Years ago when the kids were starting out on their professional careers as musicians, it seemed as if all their friends were on mild beta-blockers prior to performing and I thought that if artists were treated like athletes, many theatres and concert halls might fall silent. I know one musician who just has to walk through the lobby of the performance space he’s playing in before a concert to listen to the chatter and “get a feel” for the audience. For five years, I had an office less than 50m from the stage door of the Wigmore Hall and had plenty opportunities to observe performers in various stages of nervousness. I remember once witnessing a world-renowned pianist outside the door about half an hour before an afternoon performance of Beethoven’s Hammerklavier sonata go through what seemed like a whole carton of cigarettes in 10 minutes (obviously I exaggerate to make a point). I really couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing; his hands were shaking so much that I thought they might become detached from his wrists. The performance shortly after was stupendous.
A couple of minutes later after carrying out her reconnoitring exercise, Sara was on the stage totally composed and in complete control playing pieces by Rameau, Chopin and J.S. Bach, musicality personified. The whole evening was worth it just to hear her play the third movement of Chopin’s second sonata (the funeral march) although judging from some of the comments in the lobby later on, we were clearly in the minority.
The two male performers added generous dollops of testosterone to their performances. Buratto’s performance, half of which I hear from outside was interesting although I wouldn’t normally have paid money to hear the programme he played. Ciobanu, however, is ever the showman pianist and although he’s very talented, I wish he had played a little more piano on the pianoforte. I’m always fascinated by hearing how three different pianists can get such different sounds out of the same instrument. All in all, there was one recital in which I heard mostly music and two in which I heard a piano. Still, on the whole, it was an enjoyable evening.
But to put everything in perspective, having heard the winner of the 1st Prize at the Rubinstein Competition 2017 perform three weeks ago in London, I think that the jury in that competition got it about right.
Finally, for all those of you who are celebrating Christmas and New Year, have a wonderful time with family and friends. And for those who are not, have a wonderful time with family and friends, too.