San Francisco Classical Voice: Jacaranda Music Series

Jacaranda Goes Out on Its Own Terms With Exciting Schoenberg Celebration

Feb 25, 2024

Jacaranda, the maverick Santa Monica music series whose home base is a block away from the edge of the North American continent, is no more. Felled in midseason after a bit more than 20 years on the boards.

The reasons are not a surprise — rising union costs, a deficit that couldn’t be tamed. Co-founder/artistic director/prolific program annotator Patrick Scott hinted that “there will be something next” but can’t say what or when. In the meantime, we are left to mourn the loss of one of the more imaginative alternative music series in Southern California, one that was in the middle of celebrating the influence of Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) during his 150th birthday year.

Unlike many organizations that pull the plug with no time for goodbyes, Jacaranda gave us fair warning in advance that it would be folding its tent. And rather than slink quietly off the scene, it went out Sunday afternoon and evening (Feb. 25) with a three-part concert “Fierce Beauty,” which hammered together some at-first-glance unlikely juxtapositions of material, forming a sprawling yet somehow coherent and fascinating whole. A dinner break and an intermission separated the segments. All told, the lingering farewell took about six hours to run its course.

There were two brief surprise cameo appearances by two eminent local pianists — Inna Faliks playing up a storm in one of Schoenberg’s Op. 11 piano pieces and Gloria Cheng offering a quiet, introspective selection from Op. 19 — and the charismatic young pianist Andreas Apostolou tore into the Gigue from the Suite for Piano, Op. 25.


B’nai Br’ith International

Inna Faliks and Bar Avni: Top Jewish Musicians in the Spotlight

March 26, 2024

As a piano virtuoso, educator and highly regarded author, Inna Faliks’ Jewish heritage is an integral component of her artistic persona, in all its aspects. Dazzling audiences during her recitals, guest appearances with noted orchestras, and recordings, Faliks is also known for her concert series which feature repertory by Jewish composers including Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn, George Gershwin and Arnold Schoenberg, These concerts shine the light on innovative contemporary works, some of which include the spoken word, that pay homage to Jewish legacy, history and tradition.

On March 10, during a concert with the Inscape Chamber Orchestra at Washington, D.C.’s National Gallery of Art, Faliks premiered the three-movement “Lilith,” a concerto for orchestra and piano soloist written especially for her by Brazilian American composer Clarice Assad. A musical portrait of Adam’s first wife, of myth and legend, whose licentious and transgressive behavior resulted in her banishment from Eden, the music was also a journey, taking listeners on a wild ride as they experienced the mythic demon’s transformation from steamy and exotic temptress to a nearly combustible, destructive purveyor of erotic chaos and unrestrained desire. Underscored with colorful jazz and klezmer motifs, as well as snatches of melodies rooted in traditional Jewish and Arabic folk melodies, “Lilith” was an explosion of sonic energy, whose heroine, or more likely anti-heroine, was made visibly palpable through Faliks’ brilliant technique and interpretive gifts.

Another notable Jewish work performed by Faliks is composed by Lev Zhurbin, a Russian American composer and instrumentalist. “Voices” was jointly commissioned by the Lowell Milken Fund for American Jewish Music at the University of California at Los Angeles, the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies, and Faliks herself, to whom the work is dedicated. This tri-part composition begins with “Sirota,” in which a simple, chant-like lament repeated by the pianist introduces a vintage recording of a prayer sung by Gershon Sirota, a widely celebrated Polish cantor and concert singer who died during the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Not of this world, the haunting sound of his voice evokes a lost time and place, one of the life and culture that flourished before the Shoah. In essence a collaboration between two artists, one living and one who exists as a memory, “Sirota” is a muted expression of grief, an elegy that signifies and distills those emotions which cannot be translated into words.

Faliks, who also teaches at UCLA, joins forces with distinguished poets during her “Music/Words” concerts, performed across the country and broadcast on Chicago’s classical station, WFMT.

Faliks is now celebrating the completion of one of her latest projects. Published in 2023, “Weight in the Fingertips” is a compelling and intimate memoir which traces her musical journey as a child prodigy in her native Odessa and her family’s exodus from the Soviet during the 1980s to her years as a music student in the United States, her relationship to her faith and ethnicity, and her experiences as an emerging artist. Her life continues to be filled with seemingly infinite creativity.

Listen to Falik’s “Sirota” performance here.

Bar Avni

Selected from among 197 contestants from 47 countries, 34-year-old Israeli conductor Bar Avni has attained the coveted title of “La Maestra” as the first prize winner of the eponymous international competition for women conductors. Established in 2019, the contest is sponsored by the Philharmonie de Paris and the Paris Mozart Orchestra, whose young musicians performed the final movement of Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 under Avni’s baton live on the European arts television channel. Judges and observers praised her gestures, expressivity, charm, power and determination.

In addition to the award of €20,000, Avni also received the French Concert halls and Orchestras Prize, the ARTE Prize, the €2,500 Paris Mozart Orchestra Prize, and the European Concert Hall Organization (ECHO) Prize, which was awarded to her by its representatives.

Making guest appearances in Israel, Germany and Austria, Avni is a percussionist who began her studies when she was eight years old. She just completed a three-year term as Chief Conductor of Düsseldorf’s Bayer Philharmonic.

Listen to Bar Avni and the Bayer Philharmonic perform music by Brahms here.

Cheryl Kempler headshotCheryl Kempler is an art and music specialist who works in the B’nai B’rith International Curatorial Office and writes about history and Jewish culture for B’nai B’rith Magazine. To view some of her additional content, click here.





Inna Faliks and Bar Avni: Top Jewish Musicians in the Spotlight


NoHo Arts District

[NoHo Arts District, CA] – A NoHo Arts music review of Inna Faliks’ “The Story of a Pianist” at The Athena Foundation for the Arts 2023 Spring Concert Series. Read entire review.

Inna Faliks performed her “The Story of a Pianist” in NoHo and played with a rare and uncompromising talent that demanded attention and I for one was more than willing to give it. The story of this pianist is as harrowing as it is adventurous. Each piece that was selected and played not only complemented her story but also punctuated the drama and emotion of leaving the USSR for a better life in the United States.

This virtuoso plays with such intensity and passion that, at times, you may forget to breathe. And at other times, she gently caresses the keys, applying just enough pressure to make the audience feel each and every note. Ms. Faliks’ understanding of the pieces she plays is not only technically flawless, but she also plays them as if they were being heard for the first time, as if they were made for us to listen. This fierce energy at the keyboard is balanced by the charm of her stories of a little girl playing on a kitchen table.

Performing Arts Review

by Daniel Kepl

Santa Barbara Symphony review – April 15, 2023: Beethoven Dreams
Performing Arts Review

[On Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4]

Faliks has crafted a signature interpretation of the work. Her confident playing, bold and articulate, is also a puff pastry of tapered phrasing and delicate rubati. Faliks demurs discreetly at cadential points and enjoys with delight, the fun of harmonic crunches, especially the sneaky ones. Her cadenzas Saturday night, particularly at the end of the first movement, were a pleasure to hear, as the artist contemplated then dissected, the art of nuance.

Feature on Reimagine – Nine World Premieres

Interview with Piano Street Magazine with Patrick Jovell
from coverage of Cremona Musica festival

Pianist Inna Faliks’ project “Reimagine – Nine World Premieres” includes composers’ responses to Beethoven’s late Op. 126 Bagatelles as well as Maurice Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit. Piano Street enjoyed her performance at the Cremona Musica and got the opportunity to talk to her about her ambitions project.

At Cremona Musica’s Piano Experience last fall, one half of Ukranian-American pianist Inna Faliks’ project “Reimagine – Nine World Premieres”, was brought to an international audience. This second half called; “Reimagining Gaspard de la nuit” brought more than Faliks’ impressive rendition of original composition though. We heard three commissioned composers’ reactions on Ravel’s work through their own compositions. Aesthetically, very different in styles.

The whole project, which Faliks has performed worldwide, also includes composers’ responses to Beethoven’s late Op. 126 Bagatelles, and the whole exciting enterprise can be enjoyed on Falik’s album released for the Navona label in 2021. So, in whole, nine contemporary composers, including Richard Danielpour, Paola Prestini, Billy Childs, and Timo Andres, were commissioned to craft responses to Ludwig van Beethoven’s Bagatelles, op. 126 as well as Maurice Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit. According to critics the results are exhilarating, not least owing to Faliks’ stunningly precise and sensitive pianistic interpretations. Inna Faliks manages to unite three centuries of musical styles and social commentary, as well as producing an album monument not only to the genius of Beethoven and Ravel, but also to the perseverance and verve of some of today’s most exciting and important composers.

Patrick Jovell: Thank you for your lovely performance of Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit at Cremona Musica. Can you tell me the background of this whole ”re-imagining idea”?

Inna Faliks: The idea was to create a bridge between past and present. The Beethoven Bagatelles Op. 126 are forward looking, experimental, transcendent but also humorous and simple. For me, programming new music is hugely important, and a better way to present it to a larger audience is to invite them to connect to something they already know, and then listen beyond it. So I asked 6 friends, wonderful composers of jazz, film, contemporary classical music etc., to pick a bagatelle and use it as a starting point. My idea was to build this bridge between the past, present and future. I continued by asking 3 of the best known American composers – jazz star and composer Billy Childs, Timo Andres and Paola Prestini – to respond to Gaspard de la nuit, a work I recorded in 2008 on my first commercial record on MSR called Sound of Verse, and one I perform frequently. This work in itself was a response to poetry – so the project becomes almost Meta here. What I got were three significant, large new works for the piano.

PJ: The project has enabled you to work closely with a number of composers. I guess composers in general are more or less familiar with the piano. What can you tell us about these multifaceted and varied personal collaborations?

IF: Each of the collaborations was unique in character. Each of the composers is either a personal friend, colleague or somebody I have known and respected and was interested in working with.
Richard Danielpour is a very frequently programmed and performed composer, and he writes magnificently for the piano. He is my colleague at UCLA – we are close as I was premiering his Bagatelle cycle. The Bagatelle he wrote for me for Reimagine Beethoven and Ravel was actually part of this cycle – and I performed it at the Wallis in Beverly Hills, a prestigious and beautiful Los Angeles theater, alongside with Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes. We became close while I was playing these for him and I am in fact playing another premiere of his; something akin to “Kinderszenen” – this May. I look forward to playing this, and many more works of his. His writing is sensuous, dramatic, technically very effective and demanding but – as very fine piano writing often is – stays very pianistic.

Tamir Hendelman is a jazz pianist and also a good friend – responding to the 2nd Bagatelle for him was fun as it is almost like an improv that spins out. It was a give and take process, definitely – and I am very happy with the energy of this piece.

Mark Carlson’s voice is very tender, heart on the sleeve, very beautiful – and beloved, because it is so sincere. His Bagatelle has received so much responses – it has truly magical colors. So often composers are afraid to write music that is “beautiful” – this piece shows how magical that can be when it truly comes from the soul. I always felt that I can be very very free with this piece, and that’s what made him most happy.

David Lefkowitz is the head of theory at UCLA, and was actually the most demanding in terms of how the piece needs to flow. I really appreciated this – because it is very complex, and haunting.

Peter Golub’s Bagatelle is wonderful as the first piece. It’s quirky and feels to me as though the original Bagatelle is looking into the mirror and seeing something very funky, as though the mirror breaks, or the light shifts. Peter is a film composer, and has very clear moments of action and suspense in his Bagatelle, I think.

Ian Krouse’s piece is the most difficult – it’s really a huge virtuoso showpiece, with an insane fugal section that repeats differently each time, without a pattern, and a transcendent contrasting section, just as in the 4th Bagatelle. This was the hardest piece, physically – its toccata-like intensity and changing patterns require lots of work. Ian was always very gracious – and forgiving, in terms of some very prestissississimo tempi! But I like to take it fast, and the recording succeeds I think.

Now for the Ravel pieces. The most “in-person” collaboration was with my dear friend Billy Childs, because he lives in Los Angeles. That was also the most challenging one. Billy’s piece is truly brilliant, a virtuoso masterwork – and it refers to a Black man running from the police, as it was composed shortly after the George Floyd murder. It will be the first piece in a suite that Billy is writing for me, called “Freedom Suite”. There are sections in the piece that are inspired by Herbie Hancock. I would play it for Billy, and he would always tell me that I am playing those sections “too beautifully”, with a natural rubato, but he wants them as steady and direct and almost “ugly” – so that was a challenge, to find a balance. Billy’s harmonies are incredibly luscious. Ravel is his favorite composer. It’s hard not to make those harmonies sensuous! I just can’t help it sometimes.

Timo Andres’ piece has its own difficulties. It’s a huge minimalist work that grows in intensity. It may not sound like it, but it is hugely challenging because there are no patterns at all. It needs enormous restraint and stamina. Sometimes, I would be tempted to allow a climax to happen way before it needs to, to use more pedal – but it needs restraint.

Paola Prestini’s piece was very natural to play, just so colorful and so fitting to Ondine. We worked out various rhythmic details – the piece is written meticulously, even if it sounds very natural and sometimes almost improvised.

In the Ravel response cycle, each piece really can stand on its own. They are fantastic additions to the piano repertoire, and I am very proud to premiere them and to be the dedicatee for them.

PJ: Thank you for providing your personal reflections about the works of your collaborators. Such a project states the eternal qualities of art creation mirroring a process how contemporary expression is made possible through reflections and references to the past. In the old days the pianist and composer was the very same person. The modern performer though is trained to interpret only. As a university teacher, how are your thoughts on composition and improvisation for that sake, among young performers heading for a professional career?

IF: First of all, I am a performer through and through, and this is why I have a fresh outlook on teaching. I believe the two things cannot be separated.
Now about improvisation – every performance needs to have an element of improvising, of spontaneity. Imagination, honesty of musicianshiip and music making that comes from the heart are the things, in my view, that distinguish a real artist. In my view, composition and improvisation are an integral part of a musician’s world and should be experienced by every child from the start and be part of tbeir vocabulary. I started out as a composer. At 9, I composed an opera that was performed in Odesa. I had lots of piano music, cello, voice music- I studied composition seriously but then the piano took over. My many projects , I believe, are the way I express that part.
When I performed Rzewski ‘s People United, my favorite part was the long improvisation at the end… and somehow that restarted something. I am beginning to compose again.
I recently revised a few short pieces I carried with me through immigration. They will be a “Ukrainian Childrens Suite”. Also, I may be composing for a project of responses to Schoenberg’s op 11, one of my next things.


Reimagine! – Contemporary Piano Pieces with Inspiration from the Past


Review of Polonaise-Fantasie: The Story of a Pianist

by Christopher Axworthy

Review of Polonaise Fantasy: The Story of a Pianist
JW3 in London

Inna Falik’s Love of Life – The extraordinary story of a great artist told with mastery, intelligence and beauty

Inna Faliks in London to play for the first time in the JE3 Arts centre.
Telling her story of growing up in Odessa under the Soviet regime and even playing on the red piano in the room allocated to her family.
A three room appartment allocated to seven people!
Immigration was the word used in 1988 when the family prepared to flee to a freer life in the USA.
Now head of piano at UCLA in Los Angeles she came to London to share her story with us.

Eloquent as a poet but above all an eloquence in music that is so immediate and simple as every note touched places that other musicians can rarely reach.

A first half opening with Shchedrin’s athletic Basso Ostinato. Like a tiger being let out of cage as Inna ravaged this magnificent Yamaha piano with devilish glee .A ‘coup du theatre’ indeed after which we needed the calm aristocratic sounds of Bach’s knotty twine.
Jan Freidlin’s Ballade in Black and White was composed for Inna who gave its premiere in 2011 in Carnegie Hall.It was played with a clarity and total conviction that was enthralling.
After Bach it was Mozart to calm the air now with a performance of his D minor Fantasy of great simplicity and beauty.
The ‘Maiden’s Wish’ was played with wondrous jeux perlé in the style of the pianists of another age, that of pure gold.Scintillating exuberance and aristocratic style made one wonder why this little gem has been so rarely heard in the concert hall since the grandiloquence of Arrau.

Following with the most famous of showpieces :’ La Campanella’.Paganini and Liszt in cahoots to beguile and seduce with seemingly impossible pianistic gymnastics.
Inna played it with amazing clarity and insinuating charm with a kaleidoscope of colours that made this old war horse shine as new.
Streams of gold and silver sounds were thrown off with an ease and precision that were breathtaking in their audacity.
The mighty Polonaise Fantasie, from which this moving tale takes its name, was played with aristocratic style and ravishing beauty.
There was an architectural shape of such intelligence that restored this work to the Olympian heights of beauty and originality penned at the end of Chopin’s all too short life.It gave great meaning to a work that can sometimes ,in lesser hands, appear simply fragmented and structurally weak.
Inna showed us the revolutionary originality of the form that is free but in a highly original frame where Chopin’s genius shines through every bar.
Inna had realised this as she saw in this masterpiece a road plan of her own extraordinary life.

The most moving part was to come, both in words and in music, as Inna described the reappearance of Mischa Shpigelmacher in her life.
Out of the blue an old schoolboy friend suddenly appears at her concerts. A spark is felt as she decides to turn down a sumptuous after concert supper and to flee to Paris with Mr Shpigelmacher becoming fast best friends and an obvious kindred spirit for life.
Now happily married with two teenage children Mr and Mrs Shpigelmacher are still best friends and enjoying together this moving celebration of love in London.

What better music could there be than Beethoven’s op 126 Bagatelles.
Ravishing beauty and quixotic changes of character they were played with the true mastery of someone who listens to the sounds she is creating.
A purity of sound with a fluidity where bar lines seemed not to exist .Even Beethoven’s precise pedal makings in the third were translated into the magical disintegration of the melodic line.A magic disappearing trick interpreted as Beethoven obviously intended.
It contrasted with the ferocious fourth that in turn dissolves into a bagpipe drone on which a fragmented melodic line is allowed to float as if suspended in air.
The purity of the melodic line in the fifth was a lesson in how to let the composers words speak for themselves without any personal intervention from the mere performer.
‘Je sens,je joue,je trasmets’.
The tornado that is unleashed in the sixth broke the spell but created another even more mysterious cloud of sounds where mere words have no place.
Like in the last great trilogy of Sonatas, in particular op 111, the fragments of melody were floated on a bass pedal note like puffs of smoke that Beethoven could see with the vision of the paradise that awaits.
With subtle intelligence and scholarship she could turn these baubles into gems.
Penned in the last moments of Beethoven’s life when he could find the serenity that had eluded him all his life.

Inna imbued them with the same love that she communicated so movingly in this personal story.One that has become even more poignant for the events that are unfolding with disturbing intensity in her homeland where her soul still abides.
Dedicating the performance to her family:her parents,Irene and Simon Faliks who were brave enough to leave the USSR when they did.
Her husband and best friend, then and now, Misha Shpigelmacher. Her two children,Nathaniel and Frida ,as well as to anyone who has ever left a place in search of a better life.
If music be the food of love, play on!

What a story!
Simple great music pouring from a sensitive soul as she communicates the remarkable adventure that is her life.
Fragments pieced together on a constant bass undercurrent which is love itself.
No greater story could there be than this extraordinary ‘Love of life’.

No surprise that I had first heard and met Inna here in the city of dreams :


Review of Reimagine: Beethoven & Ravel performance

by Christopher Axworthy

Review of Reimagine: Beethoven & Ravel performance,
from coverage of Cremona Musica festival

I was heading to hear Inna Faliks in ‘Reimagine Ravel’ , intrigued by the title,having studied myself with Vlado Perlemuter who had been coached by the composer himself for first performances in the ’20’s. It was indeed a fascinating story she had to tell of building bridges past and present, looking to the future.

Reimagine: Beethoven & Ravel — 9 World Premieres finds Inna breaking new ground, paying a respectful homage to source material by Beethoven and Ravel. The album was released by Navona records last June .Featuring nine contemporary composers, including Richard Danielpour, Paola Prestini, Billy Childs, and Timo Andres, who were commissioned to craft responses to Ludwig van Beethoven’s Bagatelles, op. 126 (incidentally, the master’s favorite) as well as Maurice Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit.

The results are exhilarating, not least owing to Faliks’ stunningly precise and sensitive pianistic interpretation: the Ukrainian-born American pianist ties together Classical, Romantic and modern pieces with disarming nonchalance and rock-solid technical skill. Defying the challenge of uniting three centuries of musical styles and social commentary, as well as producing an album during a global pandemic with the help of Yamaha’s Disklavier technology, Reimagine proudly raises a monument not only to the genius of Beethoven and Ravel, but also to the perseverance and verve of some of today’s most exciting and important composers.

[A] fascinating project that saw Paola Prestini inspired by the fluidity of Ondine, the water nymph. This was followed by Timo Andres inspired by Ravel’s depiction of the gallows with a minimal piece of Philip Glass proportions incorporating a quote from Billy Holiday’s Strange Fruit with Afro Americans hanging from the branches of a Becket type tree. Billy Childs’ an Afro American jazz pianist and composer inspired by Scarbo by a black man being chased by the police. Some very fine fully committed playing from Inna Faliks and knowing the background made it a truly fascinating mirror on this very well known suite by Ravel.

It was though her stunning performance of the full original suite that won the day. A ravishing performance of Ondine and a fascinating one of Le Gibet in which her pointed bass notes gave a fluidity and luminosity to the bleak repeated bell. Scarbo too was a revelation for the clarity of detail especially in the left hand figurations and of course her scintillating fearless playing of a piece that Ravel wrote specifically to outdo Islamey for transcendental difficulty.

A fascinating performer.

  1. La Campanella, Paganini - Liszt Inna Faliks 4:53
  2. Rzewski "The People United Shall Never Be Defeated" (excerpt, improvised cadenza) Inna Faliks 8:36
  3. Beethoven Eroica Variations Inna Faliks 9:59
  4. Gershwin: Prelude 3 in E-flat Minor Inna Faliks 1:25
  5. Mozart Piano Concerto #20 - II Inna Faliks with Chamber Orchestra of St. Matthews 10:27
  6. Gaspard de la Nuit (1908) : Scarbo - Ravel Inna Faliks 9:07
  7. Sirota by Lev 'Ljova' Zhurbin Inna Faliks 7:45