The Jerusalem PostMeeting Simon Casali-Krzentowski off-stage is like being introduced to a completely different person. The young conductor who explodes, rebels and frantically inspires his musicians during performances, becomes a gentle, almost shy person when he no longer wears his concert dress. Sunday the 17th of February, he will perform with his Hafnia Chamber Orchestra at the Jerusalem Theatre, presenting works of, amongst others, Ben-Haim, Donizetti and Tchaikovsky in a concert where the Old World meets the New World. A monologue:

When I introduce myself, the first question people always ask me, is where my last name comes from. Originally a Krzentowski, my grandfather changed his last name into the less Jewish sounding Casali. This was just before the Holocaust started, after which he fled Italy to start a new life in Mexico. As a sign of respect for, and identification with, my past, I decided to add the original family name to the existing one. It shows the complexity of exile: I have family all over the world.
My parents moved to The Netherlands in which I lived my first 25 years, after which I continued my studies in Finland and Denmark, residing currently in the latter. I visit Israel frequently, and itís therefore such a joy to come back now with my own orchestra.

In the summer of 2005 I founded the Hafnia Chamber Orchestra. Hafnia is the Latin name for Copenhagen and was chosen to show the international character of the orchestra. The sixteen members are from various orchestras from both Denmark and abroad, including the Royal Danish Opera Orchestra, Staatskapelle Dresden, Hamburg Opera and Finnish Radio Orchestra. We are all young musicians who come together to enjoy and perform music during short projects in Denmark and abroad.

In preparing the tour to Israel, putting a programme together was one of the most fascinating tasks. I wanted to present music that would have an artistic and cultural coherence as well as contrast and conflict, all under the subject of the Old World meeting the New World. Presenting music of Nielsen and Langgaard, the two leading Danish composers of the first half of the 20th Century, I put together two artists who during their lifetime were bitter competitors. While the former presented the more innovative stream, the latter clung to old Romantic principles. Nielsen acquired world fame, whereas Langgaard died unknown and embittered.
Performing in Israel meant for me presenting a work of an Israeli composer. Ben-Haim was the perfect exponent. Born in Europe and responsible for educating and inspiring a whole generation of Israeli composers he is the personification of the Old World meeting the New World. The two last composers who complete the programme, Donizetti and Tchaikovsky, present a European journey from Tsarist Russia to the warm Mediterranean. Donizetti wrote his work as a teenager, Tchaikovsky wrote his work after a visit to Italy. The question as to if I consider Israel to be the Old or the New World, I wonít give an answer. That is to be interpreted by the listeners of our concert.

Having toured Vietnam last year, itís important for me to come with the orchestra to Israel. Itís frightening and sad to see how the world has turned its sympathy for the country into scepticism and aggressive criticism. Now that the Holocaust more and more becomes a memory, the feeling of supporting a country which ensures that something like that will never happen again, disappears with it. The softer the cries of survivors become, the louder the opposition against Israel gets. I see how people around me, always having felt the security of a safe democracy, judge a country surrounded by so much aggression and threats.
To come here and make music therefore is so much more then just performing in great venues and visiting family. Itís showing my support for something I believe in. Itís returning to a country I deeply love. Itís like coming home.

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