The local interest in European “classical” music appears to have grown lately. With festivals providing platforms for high-brow music from around the world, university halls hosting soloists and chamber group performances, Lebanese audiences face a widening selection.
One of the very few permanent spaces devoted to hosting performances of the European repertoire is Kaslik’s Selecteum des Arts et des Sciences, which Wednesday hosted “Music Through the Ages,” featuring chamber group Musique del Tempo. The quartet performed a pair of pieces – Haydn’s “String Quartet” opus 76 n.3 (the “Emperor”) and Smetana’s string quartet “From my Life” in E minor.
The performance of the Haydn was passionate and dynamic. One of the pleasures of this Musique del Tempo performance is the obvious enjoyment and amusement with which the four instrumentalists play altogether. Haydn was punctuated by friendly eye contact and knowing smiles, one player to the other, as though the audience were sitting in on an ad hoc rehearsal.
Accentuating the intimacy of the show is the space itself, whose stage is so close to the audience that you almost feel as though you are participating in the performance.
Musique del Tempo is comprised of Iraqi violinist Brin Hashim, Lebanese violinist Michel el-Murr, violist Samir Amouri, also from Lebanon, and Russian-born Lebanese cellist Anastasia el-Murr. Wednesday evening’s performance was the ensemble’s second at Selecteum. They debuted in 2009 with their interpretations of Germanic masterpieces by Joseph Haydn and Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy.
The apotheosis of the quartet’s show was their rendition of the Smetana. In the catalogue, this piece has an autobiographical quality. The quartet sublimates the turmoil of the composer’s early years, his love for his wife and the abrupt closure of his productive years as a composer due to his sudden deafness.
The ensemble’s performance was as passionate as the tragic circumstances that inspired the music, with cellist Murr, her eyes squeezed shut, being particularly impressive. Violinist Hashim also provided a powerful conduit for Smetana’s tumultuous dolor.
Selecteum des Arts et des Sciences was founded three years ago by artist Dede Horani. Located in a residential building in Kaslik, the center is comprised of two large rooms on two floors. The Johann Sebastian Bach Hall, as the lower floor has been dubbed, is reserved mainly for performances. The upper floor, the Wassily Kandisky Hall, is used principally for receptions.
Selecteum hosts an event every month or so. Last month, the spotlight was shone on Lebanese pianist Walid Howrani, whose “Intonation of the Heart” featured a selection of Grieg sonatas, Chopin waltzes and some of Howrani’s original compositions.
Entering the Johann Sebastian Bach Hall, audience members were made to feel they were in Howrani’s private rooms. Several of the artist’s paintings (some figurative, others abstract) adorn the walls. The walls of the corridor are lined with religious icons on one side, and a smattering of Howrani’s drawings on the other.
The performance hall’s decor underlines the venue’s intimate atmosphere, making it ideal for the consumption of the European repertoire. Audiences are seated on gold-painted chairs coated in red velveteen, creating the impression of being in a European theater. Windows are draped in red velvet curtains, saving audiences the distraction by outside noises.
As mentioned, the stage, against one wall, is an integral part of the room, making every seat in the house a good one. It is an ideal chamber for the performance of chamber music.
For information on events at Kaslik’s Selecteum des Arts et des Sciences visit the website http://en.selecteum.com/.