Sunday, 25 June 2017

Omer and Avi - the Avitals play Wigmore Hall

I have waited a long time to hear Omer Avital play in London. I saw him a few years ago in Paris and then again last year in Tel-Aviv where with his quartet he gave a majestic performance of most of the tracks from his Abutbul Music album, a wonderful collection of jazz pieces influenced by traditional Moroccan music. On Friday night at London's Wigmore Hall, the audience was treated to yet another stunning performance as accompanied by Avi Avital on mandolin and mandola, Itamar Doari on percussion and the ever reliable Yonatan Avishai on piano, we were treated to several tracks from the new album - Avi Avital meets Omer Avital.

Part of Wigmore's Late Night series, they played one long set set lasting in which we witnessed musical conversations between Omer and Avi, some stonking percussion solos from Itamar and flawless oriental-referenced piano from Yonatan. We also saw the Avitals move from bass to oud (Omer) and from mandolin to mandola (Avi) in a single song. From the first few notes of their opening number, Zamzama, we were transported to the Levant by music so atmospheric that you could almost see the haze coming off the desert sand. And all of this under the watchful eye of the mythological figures in the arts and crafts frieze above the stage.

Zamzama, Ana Maghrebi and Maroc particularly demonstrate the North African origins of the Avitals with constantly changing rhythms and moods. Arabic maqamat or modes are especially to the fore in Zamzamat  whilst Maroc had a more specifically Moroccan feel in large part due to Doari's expertise on the krakebs which resemble extra large metallic castanets. Ana Maghrebi, which translates to I Am Moroccan plays tribute to the Andalusian tradition and all three numbers have joyously uptempo sections. Omer's enjoyment of these was obvious as he danced and wore the widest smile in London. In addition to the lively numbers the quartet also performed a couple of ballads - Ballad for Eli dedicated to Omer's father who died ten years ago and Lonely Girl which featured a long, engaging introduction by Avi on mandolin. Both were written by Omer Avital.

The quartet also played New Yemenite Song from the previous album and chose Matti Caspi's Shalom Aleicham for an encore. Although on stage chat was kept to a minimum in favour of the music (which is good) Avi explained that the song was well known to Israelis of his generation as it was featured on the after shabbat dinner TV show that most families watched during the 1980's. He told us that they watched it because it was entertaining and because there was only one TV channel then. It was called Channel One. There were several people in the auditorium who recognised Caspi's song but this was not the usual Wigmore  crowd, it was a much younger than usual and I am almost certain it is the first time ululating has been heard in this prestigious venue.

The mixture of jazz and traditional North African rhythms was enthusiastically received by the normally reserved Wigmore audience.  Avi Avital is one of the world's leading mandolin exponents and has performed with major symphony and chamber music orchestras, combining world, jazz and classical music. This fusion of musical styles is common in Israeli jazz with musicians such as Avishai Cohen, Yair Dalal and others pioneering this approach. Dalal will be appearing in London soon too!

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

People Watching In Jerusalem

People watching has to be one of the most interesting activities associated with travel. It offers the opportunity to observe the daily life of locals and the reactions of visitors and can include moments of humour, poignancy and surprise. It's a bit like going to the theatre, only for free.

Jerusalem is one of my favourite cities and is possibly one of the most interesting places in the world to people watch. It is home to many communities, important to three major religions and attracts visitors from all over the world, some of whom come for reasons of faith, others to enjoy its world class museum and galleries and yet more come to see what all the fuss is about. On my recent visit I devoted lots of time watching the city's residents and visitors and capturing some of them in the photographs featured in this post. 

There are many places to people watch in Jerusalem, some of which I am very familiar with, whilst others, although not unknown to me, are places I had not previously spent much time in. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City, falls firmly into the latter category. Of course, I had visited there before but have never lingered and had not realised just how diverse its visitors and "residents" are. During the course of a couple of hours in the church itself and in the front courtyard, I saw a group of nuns from Singapore, Muslim tourists from India, Arab Christians, enormous numbers of Russian Orthodox pilgrims, a group from Moldova, Ethiopian Christians and Israeli Jews. 

People come for many reasons - to light candles, to kneel before the spot where Jesus is believed to have been buried, to admire the beauty of the church as a piece of architecture, to hear a tour guide talk about the tensions and squabbles between the different Christian groups that jealousy guard "their" part of the church, to take selfies or just to sit quietly for a time, lost in thought. Those squabbles can occasionally turn violent if one group feels another is trying to take over its area and there have been occasions when the Israeli police force have had to be called whilst the keys to the church are held by a Muslim family in order to avoid unseemly quarrels between the denominations.

Elsewhere in the Old City the narrow alleys of the shuk teem with merchants, shoppers, tourists and the occasional religious procession. On shabbat (Saturday), the shops and cafes of the Jewish Quarter are closed but the rest of the Old City is packed as locals shop for freshly made bread, spiced ground coffee, meat, fruit, vegetables and other provisions whilst the tourists search for souvenirs. There are also quiet alleys with few shops and it was in one such street that I met Hassan, an elderly shoe repairer. His shop is not much more than a narrow cupboard with shoes and materials piled up from floor to ceiling behind his tiny work space. He told me he had worked in the shop for eighty years but I suspect he meant he was 80 years of age - I do not speak Arabic, he does not speak English and I found his Hebrew hard to understand. One of his neighbours was selling t-shirts, or at least he was waiting to sell them and whilst waiting he sat reading the newspaper. I couldn't resist photographing him.

Ben Yehuda Street is a short walk from the Old City and one of the busiest streets in Jerusalem. Lined with cafes and souvenir shops it also attracts musicians of varying styles and ability. This is especially so on Friday mornings where it is not unusual to find superb musicians playing classical music, jazz and more recently, eastern instruments such as the kamancheh player pictured below.

The street runs into Kikar Zion, a square (or more correctly a circle) where there are weekly evening craft markets, where people sit and chat and where musicians come to play and entertain.  Of course, musicians can be seen in all of the world's cities but Jerusalem is a city of surprises and one evening I was surprised to see an Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jewish couple entertaining a large crowd - him on the drums and singing, her magnificent on electric violin and even singing a little. This was surprising for a number of reasons. First, Haredi women do not generally sing in public and certainly not in a public square (but of course, there are varying degrees of Orthodoxy within the community), but more even more surprising was their eclectic repertoire. Beginning with Israeli folk songs they continued with Queen's "I Want To Break Free", Toto's "Hold The Line" and finished with a rousing rendition of Michael Jackson's "Black or White". Their audience was equally eclectic with a mixture of secular and religious Jews, Arab teenagers and tourists from many countries. And just when I thought I'd seen it all, another Haredi man arrived and performed the famous bottle balancing trick which involved balancing five bottles on his lip before commencing to clap in time to the music and perform a careful jig! This is Jerusalem.

Shuk Machaneh Yehuda is one of Jerusalem's best known tourist attractions but it is also the place where many of the city's residents go to buy their fruit, vegetables, spices, bread, coffee, meat, fish and household items. During the day the shuk (market) is packed wth shoppers whilst in the evening when most of the stalls have closed, it transforms into a busy social area with restaurants, cafes and bars. It's also a great place to watch and photograph people. Some of the stallholders will happily pose for pictures as they are used to the tourists, some of whom visit in specially guided "tasting" tours, but I prefer to try to get candid "street" pictures such as the three below. The first one shows customers considering bread and biscuits at one of the evening stalls - I liked the look of concentration on each of the shoppers' faces. This second shot took me ages to get. It was taken on a Friday morning when crowds of people were waiting to buy from the stall so I had to wait for a gap in the crowd and for the pancake to be in midair before shooting with a burst. It was worth waiting though. I took the third picture because I liked the style of the elderly gentleman with his snazzy purple trousers, contrasting shirt and kippah worn at a jaunty angle. He looked to be about 70 years of age but was still turning heads with his "look".

The man in purple made me think about the many different styles of dress that can be seen in Jerusalem. Some of them are dictated by the religion of the wearer and of course there are many variations of dress within each faith. The pictures below show some of the city's many styles as well as a few more favourites of mine from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre - I especially liked the lady in green taking a picture with her pink covered telephone.  

You might also like Jaffa - The People in the Shuk

You can see more pictures from Israel here.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Tel Aviv - Five Favourite Bauhaus Buildings

There are approximately 4000 Bauhaus buildings in Tel-Aviv. Most of them were built during the 1930's and many were the work of Jewish architects forced from Europe due to the rise of fascism in Germany and Austria and growing anti-semitism across the continent. These white concrete structures led to Tel-Aviv becoming known as the White City and to its securing UNESCO World Heritage Status in 2003.

Over several decades many of the buildings have fallen into a poor state of repair but in recent years a significant amount of restoration has taken place, precipitated to a large extent by the UNESCO award but also by the commitment of architects and activists and the growing interest of the city's inhabitants. It was this built heritage that first drew me to Tel-Aviv and although I have been visiting for many years now, my fascination with the architecture (and the city generally) has not diminished. I have photographed hundreds of Bauhaus buildings over the years and have written about several of them previously. This is the first in a series of posts highlighting some of my favourites. 

Shimon Levi House, 56 Lavandah
Lavandah Street is in the extreme east of the city, some distance from the commercial heart and close to the run down area around the main bus station. It is not the most obvious place to look for architectural treasures but it is where you will find the Shimon Levi House sometimes known as the ship due to its nautical appearance. Designed by Arieh Cohen and built from 1934-35 it is today somewhat stranded, surrounded by extremely busy roads. It is a long, narrow apartment block which originally stood on a sandstone hill that had to be excavated when an approach to the central bus station became necessary. This left the building on a podium supported by retaining walls.

Despite having seen better days, the house retains a striking presence on this extremely busy corner. There are several other Bauhaus buildings in the neighbourhood, one or two of which have recently been restored. It is to be hoped that the Shimon Levi house can benefit from similar help before much longer.

Former Ha'aretz Print Works, 56 Mazeh
56 Mazeh Street was built in 1934 as the print works of the Ha'aretz newspaper. Father and son architects Joseph and Ze'ev Berlin designed the building which stands in an otherwise residential street. The newspaper ceased use of the premises many years ago but the current commercial users have retained the beautiful facade with its glazed stairwell, narrow open railed balcony and steel framed windows. Originally the facade also featured the newspaper's name in stylised Hebrew lettering but this was almost certainly removed when ownership changed. A modern block, sympathetically designed, now sits behind the old print works. The Berlins designed many of Tel-Aviv's Bauhaus buildings either together or working separately. Joseph Berlin, Ze'ev's father also worked in the earlier eclectic style and examples of his work in this genre can still be seen around the city.

Poliashuk House, 1 Nahalat Binyamin
The Poliashuk House at 1 Nahalat Binyamin stands on one of Tel-Aviv's most prominent corners at the junction of Allenby and King George streets and adjacent to the Shuk HaCarmel. Built in 1934 and designed by Salomon Liakowsky and Jacob Ornstein, it was allowed to deteriorate for many years but has recently been restored, the graffiti removed and a boutique hotel opened in the upper levels. Yehuda Poliashuk, the orignal owner filled the building with 50 offices and 15 shops including the famous Naalei Pil (Elephant shoe shop) which was particularly popular with children as it gave balloons and yo-yos to its young customers. During the period of the British Mandate, it also housed the clandestine printing shop of the Etzel, which produced newspapers and flyers agitating for independence from Britain.

Following the restoration it is possible to get some idea of the original grandeur as it retains  its art deco portholes, roof top terrace and pergola and streamline design including that beautiful curved corner. The exterior is covered in beige ceramic tiles rather than the more usual concrete and there is a plaque on the Nahalat Binyamin facade, bearing the date of construction ad the architects' names. If you want to see inside you can book into the Poli House boutique hotel or perhaps just have a drink in the hotel bar. Other buildings further along Nahalat Binyamin are now being restored although the street is still a long way from its original splendour.

Jacobson's Buildings, 28 Levontin
Jacobson's Building at 28 Levontin has also been recently restored. Originally designed as an office block with shops on the ground floor, in practice it has always included residential units. Occupying a large corner site, it comprises three sections in a horseshoe shape. The southern facade has both protruding and recessed balconies whilst the corner stairwell has a fabulous semi-glazed "ladder" to admit light and complements the narrow windows on the adjacent curved wing. The doorway and the lobby have several art deco features although I have only ever been able to peep at these from the street! Designed by Emanuel Halbrecht and completed in 1937, the restoration and extension took place in 2012 under the supervision of Nitza Smuk architects. The works included increasing the number of apartments and changing their arrangement, installation of security rooms and lifts as well as the authentic restoration of the commercial elements on the ground floor.

Levontin Street lies in the once forgotten but now rediscovered and edgy, artsy Florentin neighbourhood. On my recent visit I noticed that a couple of Bauhaus buildings on the adjoining Mikveh Israel street are now being restored and that works on a Yehuda Magidovitch designed eclectic style building on Levontin itself are almost complete. Perhaps these works were stimulated by the success of Jacobson's Building.

94-96 Dizengoff
And speaking of Yehuda Magidovitch, my final choice for this post is one of his works - 94-96 Dizengoff. It is one of several structures surrounding Kikar (circle) Dizengoff - a spectacular, properly planned circle, which was constructed in the 1930's and which lies at the heart of the city. The original design proposed commercial units on the ground floor of all buildings in the circle with public functions on the first floor. The overall design displays some of Le Corbusier's principles including horizontal ribbon openings, pilotis, a smooth facade and roof gardens. Extensive works are currently being carried out to restore the original centre of the circle with grassed areas replacing a very hard and not much loved raised concrete walkway constructed in 1978.

The preservation and extension works were carried out by Bar Orian architects in 2014 and included reconstruction of the apron balconies, horizontal windows and white plaster. Two new floors were added following the original design together with a further floor, set back from the facade and not visible from the street. Several new shops have opened on the ground floor including my favourite Tel-Aviv cafe - Nahat which is small but beautiful, with great coffee, friendly staff and the best cheesecake in the city. Great architecture, coffee and cake - what else could you want?

You might also like Bauhaus Revival on Rothschild

Friday, 2 June 2017

Jaffa - the people in the Shuk

Jaffa's Shuk HaPishpishim (fleamarket) is one of Tel-Aviv-Yafo's most popular attractions. It is also one of my favourite places in Israel. Full of shops and stalls selling antiques, carpets, clothes, bric-a-brac, food and drink, it's a great place for strolling and browsing. I love looking at the items for sale, occasionally picking up a bargain and regularly stopping for a drink or a snack. But the thing I enjoy most of all is watching the people that make this place so special - the merchants, the shoppers and on Friday, the musicians and entertainers. I recently spent a week in Jaffa, visiting the shuk every day and getting to know some of the people who work there. Several of them agreed to pose for photographs whilst I captured others in more candid shots. This post features just a few of my favourites.

The merchants

Along Oleh Zion Street, there are several shops selling carpets, rugs and other handmade floor and furniture coverings. These are not just any old carpets but beautifully crafted pieces from Turkey, Persia (Iran), Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. Many of them are antique and were made up to 100 years ago. The merchants are happy to show their wares to visitors and serious shoppers will be treated to Turkish coffee and long discussions before coming to a decision to purchase. The shop owners are not only merchants - they are also craftsmen who can be seen sitting outside their shops repairing carpets whilst waiting for customers. 

Many of these craftsmen were born in Iran, learning their skills there at a young age and coming to Israel after the Khomeini regime was established in 1979. There were once 100,000 Jews in Iran, with major communities in Isfahan, Shiraz and Teheran with a history going back to the sixth century BCE. Today there are probably no more than 10,000 Jews living there. The two men pictured at work were both born in Iran and have shops on Oleh Zion Street. I was struck by Shalomo's expression, clearly delighting in his work and by Reuven's chic style with his hat and scarf. Both continued to work as they told me their stories.

The shuk has changed significantly in recent years with fewer of the older merchants and more and more modern boutique shops selling a range of products including soaps, candles, furnishings and food items. I like both styles. The mix is very appealing and attracts a most eclectic audience but it will be a terrible shame if the older more serendipitous concerns disappear all together.

I met Mikhail in the Greek Market, just north of Oleh Zion. He has a small shop there selling antiques and vintage items. His collection includes hanukkiot, siddurim (prayer books) with silvered Bezalel School of Art designed covers, small sculptures and a range of old household items. We got talking when I asked him about a tiny, blackened metal item that turned out to be a small cooker, more than 80 years old.  Mikhail told me he was born in Afghanistan and came to Israel as a child about 60 years ago. He was very happy for me to take his picture and reminded me several times to come and see him again when I next visit the shuk. I liked his kind, open face and those bright eyes that remain the eyes of a much younger person. I asked him about his beautiful kippah with it's bright colours and decorative detail. He told me it came from Afghanistan along with the family.

The shoppers

The shuk attracts many kinds of people. Some come to buy expensive items from the modern shops. Others come to the real "flea" section at the back of the market. This is a browser's paradise with goods spread haphazardly over stalls or on sheets on the floor. In this part of the shuk you can find just about anything - vinyl records, Russian military pin badges, books, second (third, fourth, fifth) hand clothing in great heaps, shoes, hats, electrical goods and glass or metal items. The stall holders here are diverse as are the shoppers who include religious Jews, Arabs, Africans, Chinese, Filipinos and tourists from all over the world. You might even see one of the more established stall holders in here searching for items that they will later sell from their own shop.

One of the things I enjoy most here is watching the faces of the serious browsers as they hunt, pounce or consider whether they will make a purchase or not. Then of course comes the discussion about price. The man looking at the books and discs is deep in thought, having a "buy or not to buy moment". I wonder if he went ahead with a purchase.

On first site, I thought that the man with the guitar was one of the many musicians and entertainers who sometimes turn up in the shuk. Then I realised that he was trying the instrument out before deciding whether or not to buy it. As with our other pensive shopper, he appears deep in thought and somehow aloof from all around him. I really like his very cool shirt. Speaking of fashion, I also spotted a rather fabulous lady wearing leopard skin print, leafing through a book.  She had picked it up from a chaotic pile of "stuff" that includes bags, clothes, more books, an old radio and one of those revolving electric fans. A veritable department store.

The entertainers 

Friday is my favourite day at the shuk. As well as the regular shops, traders and cafes, there are extra street stalls in the Greek Market where local artists and artisans sell their work. It is also the day when singers, musicians and other entertainers come along to perform. One of my favourites is a musician who plays the kamancheh, an Iranian stringed instrument, sometimes accompanied by two other players. Their traditional Persian music is hauntingly beautiful, always attracts a crowd and on at least one occasion provoked loud ululation  from a female passerby!

Others include the wonderful mime artist who puts on an amusing, witty and sometimes sad performance to a variety of songs ranging from French chansons to modern pop music. Elegantly dressed in trousers with braces (called suspenders in North America but definitely not in the UK!) he fits in very nicely to the surroundings of the Greek market and could easily have come directly from Saloniki. Just a few steps away from him you can see another kind of street theatre as a young woman produces enormous bubbles by soaking a hoop in detergent and then letting the wind catch it. As a child I loved those small bottles of bubbles we would be given from time to time so this is a real throwback for me. And clearly not just for me as she gathers quite a crowd of adults (and children) taking pictures or trying to catch or burst the bubbles.

Then there are the people passing through, stopping to chat with friends or just enjoying the atmosphere like those in the pictures below. Watching people must be the best free entertainment there is. I can't wait to return before the end of the year...

Shuk HaPishpishim is open from Sunday - Friday. Most of the shops and stalls are closed on Saturday for shabbat although several of the restaurants are open.

Read more about the Fleamarket here.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Villa Cavrois

Villa Cavrois is a spectacular modernist building tucked away in Croix, not far from Lille in Northern France. Built between 1929 and 1932, it was designed by architect Robert Mallet-Stevens for industrialist Paul Cavrois. The villa was intended as a home for the Cavrois household which included seven children and a number of domestic servants.  The family fortune had been made from two spinning operations and dye-works. Hailing from neighbouring Roubaix, he married his brother's widow and together they had four children to add to her three from the first marriage.

The villa makes a spectacular impact on this green, semi-rural area due to its striking yellow brick structure which is supported by a concrete frame. Mallet-Stevens was also responsible for a number of Parisian villas built between 1926 and 1929 in the street now named for him. Beautiful as his Parisian buildings are, Cavrois is surely his masterpiece.

The architect was not the first choice for the commission. Jacques Greber had been engaged to design the house in 1925 but his proposals were not finalised. Cavrois preferred to employ Mallet-Stevens who began drawing up plans in 1929. Wanting to convince the family of his approach he took the couple to Hilversum in the Netherlands to show them the Willem Dudok designed Town  Hall. Sold on the modernist style, the couple agreed to this approach for their home including the facades being covered with those wonderful yellow bricks. Work was completed in 1932 and the house was inaugurated on July 5th with the marriage of their daughter Genevieve. Despite this being during a period of economic crisis, the wedding was an opulent affair. Flowers were dropped from an airplane in honour of the newlyweds and after nightfall, Andre Salomon the lighting engineer orchestrated a mise en lumiere.

Mallet-Stevens set out his design principles for the villa in his book. Une demure 1934 (A 1934 home). These included making use of the most up to date technology including central heating, ventilation and lifts as well a telephone and a radio in every room. Furthermore the villa was designed with separate areas for receiving guests, for carrying out domestic tasks, for the parents, for the children and for sport and leisure.

The Second World War began just seven years after the house was completed and between 1940 and 1944 it was confiscated by the occupying German army and sustained damage at the War's end. The Mallet-Stevens had died in 1945 and so when the family returned in 1947, Monsieur Cavrois requested another architect, Pierre Barbe to add two apartments for the elder sons.

The family remained in the villa until 1985 before it was sold to a real estate company that wanted to subdivide the park. The new owners ceased maintaining the building which became prey to looters and despite being listed as a national monument was allowed to become dilapidated. Credit for saving the villa must go to the Association de Sauvegarde de la Villa Cavrois, founded in 1990. The organisation ran an intensive media campaign supported by several of the world's leading architects including Tadao Ando and Renzo Piano. Eventually the state stepped in, purchasing the property in 2001 and handing it to the Centre des Monuments National at the end of 2008. 

Restoration work began in 2004 and included removing the vegetation growing on the exterior, reinforcing the main structural elements and as far as possible, preserving the original materials. Some of the features added by Barbe as an extension of his 1947 commission were deemed to be detrimental to Mallet-Stevens' work and removed. Replacement bricks had to be manufactured for those beyond repair or missing. The interior was also in very poor condition but the existence of early documents and photographs aided the work of restoration.

The villa is now open to the public. Approaching through the park and the former caretaker's pavilion, the first view of the house and its yellow exterior is quite breathtaking. The varying heights and masses, recesses and glazed surfaces make it difficult to know where to look first. The main doors are flanked by beautiful curved brickwork, reminiscent of the entrance to number 10 Rue Mallet-Stevens in Paris. A canopy supported by rounded brick pillars protects visitors from the elements whilst light filters through from above by means a circular glazed element.

The glazed elements of the facade include both austere, narrow horizontal windows in the "box" shaped sections as well as a "thermometer" at the rear which runs the length of a staircase connecting all floors. The roof terrace includes a long pergola and even here, the yellow bricks are in evidence, being used as tree planters. Other elegant features include the concrete diving boards and white hoop ladder for the pool at the rear of the house - although the pool looks rather shallow for diving today! This feature demonstrates nicely the play of light and shadow on the villa with the hoops reflected on the bricks. 

The interior is equally striking. Materials used include opaline glass, white marble for the stairs with black marble for the risers, aluminium wall covers, pear wood and ceramic tiles. The salon-hall is especially impressive, occupying a large space and overlooking the park. The showstopper is the yellow Sienna marble fireplace and built in bench seats. Several of the rooms contain original furnishings all of which were designed by the architect. Much of the furniture had been sold in 1987 but the original inventory made it possible to recover some items which are now on display. They have been placed according to the layout shown in photographs from the 1930's.

Much as I like that fireplace, my favourite internal feature has to be the staircase linking all of the floors at and above ground level. Despite being encased with a curved glass thermometer, the staircase is not of the spiral style, rather a more conventional angled backwards and forwards design that lends itself beautifully to the zig-zag patterns on the risers and under the steps. This is a sharp contrast with the shapes caused by the play of light on the rounded landings, reflecting the window-frames. 

The works were completed in 2015. Since 2012 Villa Cavrois has been part of an international conservation programme designed to protect important 20th century houses - the Iconic Houses programme, furthering assuring the future of Mallet-Stevens' wonderful work.

Details of when the Villa is open for visits can be found here.

You might also like - Paris - a tale of three architects Part 2 - Rue Mallet-Stevens

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Bauhaus Revival on Rothschild

Rothschild Boulevard has long been Tel-Aviv's glitziest street with it cafes, bars, restaurants and the city's most expensive real estate. You may need to be wealthy to live on his street but there is no such requirement for spending time here. Every day thousands of Tel-Avivians stroll along the lovely central pedestrianised section, sheltered from the stifling summer heat by the gorgeous jacaranda trees, stopping off at one of the several kiosks for a drink and a chat and to watch the countless dog-walkers, buggy-pushers, cyclists and skateboarders go by.

Book-ended by Habima (the national theatre) at one end and Independence Hall at the other, Rothschild has seen some of the major events in Israel's modern history and this is reflected in its architectural ensemble with examples of Eclectic and Bauhaus styles as well as some ultra modern buildings and even a little Brutalism. It is not hard to imagine how the street must have looked in the 1930's with its sparkling white modernist apartment blocks contrasting with the green of the  walkway. Over time several of these buildings deteriorated, some quite badly, but in the last few years many have been restored. I was recently back in Tel-Aviv and had the chance to see some of the results of this work.

82 Rothschild Boulevard, Josef and Ze'ev Berlin 1932.
Josef and his son Ze'ev Berlin were two of the city's most prolific architects during the 1930's. Berlin the elder worked first in the eclectic style before embracing modernism. The Berlins worked together on a number of projects including the apartment block at 82 Rothschild Boulevard.

Located on the corner of Rothschild and Mazeh Street, it is characterised by its simplicity with straight, clean lines. The corner location makes it difficult to fulfil some of the Bauhaus principles, particularly the idea of emphasising the vertical axis of a structure but nonetheless this building has a real presence. It was originally a three-storey house with two apartments per floor, flanking the stairwell and reflecting the symmetry of the building's design. The glazed facade of the stairwell sometimes called a "thermometer' is perhaps the most outstanding deature. There are also protruding balconies on the facade for the flats at the end of each wing. Designed for the Braun-Rabinsky families, construction was completed in 1932.

Significant works to the building took place in 2013 under the supervision of Bar-Orian Architects , a prestigious company that has undertaken several restoration projects. Works included full preservation of the stairwell and "thermometer", wood elements, iron works and terrazzo tiling. As with several other restoration works, the building was extended with the addition of a penthouse and a further extension of the rear. The penthouse is not visible from the street due to it being recessed whilst the rear additions do not impact on the Rothschild/ Mazeh views of the building. Whilst not everyone agrees with the addition of extra floors, there are strict rules about how such changes are implemented and of course this helps with the huge cost of carrying out sensitive restoration.

118 Rothschild Boulevard, Yitzhak Rapoport 1933. 
Number 118 was built in 1933 and designed by Yitzhak Rapoport who was also responsible for what is now the French Ambassador's House in Jaffa. Originally known as the Sarah Rapoport House, it was built as a three storey residential building for the family of Shmuel Rapoport who founded and directed the Kupat Am Bank. Shmuel was not the only notable person to have lived here as the City Mayor, Israel Rokach was also a resident from 1938 to 1959.

The building is divided into three sections. The central staircase has horizontal windows with concrete awnings that remind me of the The Shami House at 5 Frug Street. These are especially striking when viewed from the northern corner together with the "floating" balconies. on the side facing away from the Boulevard.  The balconies serve apartments in a corner of the building and are of such generous proportions that they protrude beyond the recess. The main facade which looks over Rothschild is the most austere section of the structure but still manages to catch the eye due to the framing of the roof terrace.

Restoration work took place in 2013 and was carved out by Oded Rapoport of Rapoport Architects Ltd. and son of the original architect. The front sections were completely restored although smooth plaster was used rather than the original Kratzputz or scraped plaster. The wooden elements of the windows, stairwell handrail, fence and gate were reconstructed and two and a half extra floors were added but set back far enough to preserve the original street view. A lift, security rooms and a basement were also installed.

118 Rothschild Boulevard, Yitzhak Rapoport 1933.
85 Rothschild was designed by Carl Rubin for the Sadowski family. Rubin was also responsible for number 87, next door and had spent some time working in the Berlin office of Erich Mendelsohn before coming to Tel-Aviv. Completed in 1933,  number 85 is an L-shaped building, best known for its series of balconies which are recessed into the building's volume, producing the same impact as modernist ribbon windows. The balconies on the front facade have a parapet with iron rails whilst those at rear are without rails. Rough plaster was used on the front facade with the exception of the balconies where smooth plaster adds contrast. The stairwell has one of those delightful "thermometer" glazings above the main door which is discretely tucked into the corner of the recessed part of the building.

Bar Orian Architects also restored this building, in 2013. The work included reconstruction of doors, windows and the wood shutters and the thermometer was fully restored. Like many other Bauhaus buildings in Tel-Aviv a number of the balconies had been closed to acquire additional internal space. All of the closed balconies were re-opened (hooray!), restoring the original appearance. The impact of this change is significant as anyone who has spent time walking the streets of Tel-Aviv will know. Whilst understanding the need for more living space, the impact of different methods of closing off balconies serves primarily to destroy the overall look of a building and to transform a thing of beauty into a mess. The works included the addition of three floors, one designed in the same way as the original building and two set back, not visible from the street.

85 Rothschild Boulevard, Carl Rubin 1933.
85 Rothschild Boulevard, Carl Rubin 1933.
79 Rothschild Boulevard, Joseph and Ze'ev Berlin 1929.
Bar Orian also undertook restoration work at the adjacent buildings of 79 and 81 Rothschild in 2009. The two apartment blocks are very different to each other, 79 having been designed by the Berlin father and son team and completed in 1929 whilst 81 was the work of Moshe Czerner and completed in 1931. Interestingly, Czerner like the elder Berlin had also originally worked in the eclectic style before moving to modernism.

Number 81, the Cohen House, on the junction of Rothschild and Balfour has rounded balconies that emphasise the corner location and together with the windows, accentuate the building's horizontal lines. Number 79 is symmetrical with square balconies. The central stairwell divides the building in two, with square windows on each side  the symmetry. The restoration included the reopening of closed balconies in both buildings, the reconstruction of damaged elements and adding three new floors. There is also an extension at the rear that connects the two. 

81 Rothschild Boulevard, Moshe Czerner 1931.
117 Rothschild Boulevard, Yitzhak Rapoport 1933.
Finally, 117 Rothschild, another Yitzhak Rapoport building is currently under restoration and already looks stunning with its crisp white exterior contrasting beautifully with Tel-Aviv's bright blue summer sky. Occupying a large plot, number 117 boasts not one but two "thermometer" stairwells and a series of sharp and rounded corners on each of the building's sections. Nahoum Cohen notes in his   Bauhaus Tel-Aviv book published in 2003, that "Although the people living on Rothschild Boulevard...are wealthier than the average, the upkeep of the place is not as good as one might hope as the paint and some of the stucco have deteriorated...". Well it looks like that is being taken care of now and I look forward to seeing the work completed on my next visit.

It is wonderful to see the city's built heritage being cared for - and not just the Bauhaus treasures as many of the earlier eclectic buildings are also being restored to their former glory. You can find lots more information, books, posters and even go on a guided tour of some of Tel-Aviv's Bauhaus buildings by visiting the Bauhaus Center in its new home at 77 Dizengoff or by going to their website.  If you are specifically interested in restoration you can buy copies of Preservation and Renewal: Bauhaus and International Style Buildings in Tel-Aviv.

You might also like Tel-Aviv More Beautiful Bauhaus

117 Rothschild Boulevard, Yitzhak Rapoport, 1933.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Ari Erev - Jazz In Givatayim

I always try to get to at least one jazz gig when travelling. My recent time in Israel coincided with an appearance by one of my favourite jazz pianists - Ari Erev who played a brilliant set at the Givatayim Theatre, just a short taxi ride from central Tel-Aviv.

I first heard Ari play in 2005 at the prestigious Felicia Blumenthal Centre in Tel-Aviv. It was a memorable night as he performed a tribute to Bill Evans who he lists as a major influence. It was also memorable because I had what I can only describe as a very Tel-Avivian experience of ending up in an ice cream parlour at midnight with an octogenarian couple who had sat beside me in the concert, chatted to me in the interval and then invited me to accompany them to a cafe afterwards.

Just before the gig - Ari Erev
Back to Givatayim. The gig took place in the basement of this very modern venue giving the evening a more intimate feel.  Ari was accompanied by Eli Magen on bass, Lenny Sendersky on sax and clarinet, and Gasper Bertoncelj on drums. Together they worked their way through a dozen pieces, mostly taken from his most recent album - Flow, opening with the title track which as well as being a great jazz piece shows hints of classical influence some of which is also clear in the opening bars of Continuance, the second number also taken from the album. Both Flow and Continuance have a slight melancholy feel about them. We were also treated to some Latin influenced pieces. Treasures in Havana and Latin Currents particularly demonstrated this, the first alluding to a family trip to Cuba. 

The quartet also played a few non-Erev compositions including the well-received, exuberant uptempo number Doce de Cocopenned by Brazilian-Jewish composer Jacob do Bandolim. Kenny Barron's Voyage was given a very long very cool workout. So cool in fact that we could easily have been sitting in a New York jazz club listening to it. Dave Brubeck's In Your Own Sweet Way was a perfect vehicle for Ari's piano lead, as indeed it was for his hero Bill Evans. If you are reading Ari, I think you should record Voyage on your next album!

July Again is a tribute to Udi Kazmirski, former bassist with the group who first played with Erev on a July day and who sadly died in July 2012, thus the title. Despite the sad story, for me it is an optimistic piece emphasising memory, light and recovery. Israeli jazz musicians often include a folk song or a nostalgic song from the country's past as part of their repertoire. Ari chose Gan Ha-shikmim (The Sycamore Garden), written by Yohanan Zarai. It was clearly a good choice as some of the audience sang along for a few bars.

My favourite track, Jump Into The Water came near the end. It is a great jazz number, urgent and uptempo. Held together and directed by Ari at the piano, each musician was showcased and I particularly liked the conversation between piano and sax on this one. For an encore we were given a version of Gershwin's But Not For Me which just happens to be my favourite Gershwin song, sending me home happy. Israel has many great jazz musicians, probably more than any other country of similar size. Ari is one of the best and it would be great to see him play in the UK at some point.

You can hear some of Ari's music on his website where you can also keep up to date with his performance schedule. Flow is a great album and you can buy it here in both CD and MP3 format.

His next planned performance is on June 21st in Ashdod. In the meantime you can have a sneak preview below...