(photo credit: MARCO BORGGREVE)

The Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival, which opens for 22nd time on September 3, offers, as in every year, a rich program for its devoted followers. The musical roster of the festival, under the artistic directorship of pianist Elena Bashkirova, includes both veterans of the festival – such as violinist Gérard Caussé, violinist Madeleine Carruzzo, double bass player Nabil Shehata and pianists Sir András Schiff and Kirill Gerstein – as well as new names. The most prominent of the new names is Jörg Widmann, a German composer, conductor and clarinetist.

“Elena Bashkirova has been inviting me for years, but I was busy, now it finally happens,” says Widmann in a phone interview from his Berlin home. “This will be not only my first appearance at the festival, but also my first time in Israel and I am very enthusiastic about it.”

Widmann (b. 1973), who performs regularly as a soloist with best orchestras around the globe, is also a prolific composer. In 2018, he was named the world’s third most performed contemporary composer.

”I probably am the last person to speak about me,” laughs Widmann. “This statistic is not important for me. I don’t plan to write a successful piece. I believe much more in Arnold Schoenberg’s wonderful saying: ‘I have to do it.’ So one day I have to write a piece without any pitches, kind of white noise, and another day I will write a purely tonal piece. I write music that I have to write. For me, success is when my music is performed wonderfully, and I love when there is silence between two chords, the audience breathes together and we have the same feelings. My music comes from my heart and I am very happy when it touches other people’s hearts.”

Widmann mentions that he tries “Not to repeat myself. If you hear an evening of my music, sometimes you would be surprised that the same composer wrote all the pieces. But of course, the works have many things in common, starting from harmonies, which are very important for me.”

Widmann began his music journey as a clarinet player.

“In pre-school, they played various instruments so one day I came home saying to my parents: You know what? I want to study clarinet. Of course, they were suspicious – one day the child is asking for a cat, and on the other day he wants a dog and then he wants to play clarinet. However, very soon they realized that I am very serious about it, and from the age of seven I am in love with the instrument. It is equally as important for me as my composing.”

What is it that attracts you most to the clarinet?

”For me, there is a magic about the ability to create notes from silence and disappearing in silence. You can hear it in Alban Berg’s music, which I will play at the festival. Mozart for sure knew this secret of the clarinet. His music sounds almost erotic when it transpires. I feel that at the precise moment, when the sound of the clarinet is disappearing, the world is transformed.

“Conducting is becoming more and more important for me. I have just finished recording all Mendelssohn symphonies with my Irish Chamber Orchestra and played all his string symphonies, too. We play all kinds of music, contemporary of course, my music too, but we really specialize of Mendelssohn. He wrote his string symphonies at the age of 12-14 and his sheer ability and mastery of counterpoint was amazing – even Mozart was not as developed at that age. I also play his totally unknown clarinet sonata, which he wrote at the age of 15.”

Widmann says that he keeps a special place for chamber music in his heart, both as a performer and a composer.

“There is a special intimacy in chamber music. People play differently and we have to listen to each other that sometimes create a totally different sound. When it happens, I suddenly feel at home, wherever in the world I play at that moment.”

For a detailed program and reservations please visit the site https://jcmf.org.il/en

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