Easy integration, by Yohanan Boehm

Since SERGIU NATRA arrived here from Romania in 1961, his name has appeared regularly on concert programmers and in subsequent Post reviews. 

Born in Bucharest in 1924, Natra started study of music during World War II. He did not interrupt his studies while serving in forced labor camps during the Nazi oc­cupation; indeed, two of his early compositions, Divertimento in Ancient Style and March and Chorale saw their premieres in a camp in 1943-1944 performed by a symphony orchestra consisting of Jewish in­mates. After the war, he continued his studies at the Bucharest Music Academy, seeing many perfor­mances of his works and winning prestigious awards and prizes, such as the George Enescu Prize in 1945 and the Romanian State Prize in 1951. 

Natra's integration into Israeli society and its cultural scene was achieved without difficulty. His music, which does not search for unknown regions or extra-musical dimensions, scorning electronic media and other contemporary, short-lived trends, was readily accepted by conductors and orchestras; the Israel Philharmonic and Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra have been performing his works for over 20 years.

Natra's approach to composition styles and attitudes has not changed radically since his early works although, of course, the change of milieu has affected his choice of subjects. In addition to many pieces for various chamber and orchestra combinations and a preference for the harp more about this later, he has become known for his Song of Deborah, which on him the Engel Prize in 1970. In 1968 he wrote Commentary on Nehemiah for the year’s Tetimonium. His ballet music, Voices of Fire (1967) and Dedication (1972) for mezzo-soprano and symphony orchestra, also take their inspiration from biblical sources. 

A Sacred Service (Avodat Hakodesh) was commissioned by Temple Emanu-EI in San Francisco and premiered there the following year; a concert version was performed by the Israel Philharmonic in 1983.

NATRA is closely associated with the harp and its performers. This instrument was, of course, included in his scores back in Romania, but it was only in Israel, mainly through the impact of the triennial International Harp Contest in Israel, that he concentrated more on writing specifically for the harp. 

One of the first works (published by the Israel Music Institute) was Music for Violin & Harp (1962). For the 1965 Competition, his Sonatina for Harp won first prize and became the obligatory piece for all the contestants. This Sonatina, which has since become included in the standard international repertoire was also chosen as the set piece for the 1975 Competition of the American Harp Society, which selected his prayer for its 1978 competition.

In 1973 Natra wrote his Book of Hebrew Songs 10 short pieces for harp solo, and in 1976, his Divertimento for Harp and String Quartet (a commission by the late Pearl Shertok, outstanding American harpist and teacher), which had its premiere in Boston but has not yet been performed in Israel. (Last July, at the International Harp Congress in Maastricht, Holland, Israel's Irena Kaganovsky won so much applause for her performance that the work had to be repeated. Congress director Phia Berghout readily greed, even though it meant an extra drain on her precarious budget: the Dutch string players refused to pick up their instruments again, unless they received a repeat fee!) 

In 1979, Nicanor Zabaleta, grand master of the harp, asked Natra to compos a piece for harp with small ensemble (similar to Ravel's flute, clarinet and strings) 

When the Israeli Music Institute (IMI) celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, Natra's Hours for mezzo-soprano, violin, clarinet and piano was chosen for the festivity. The text was written by Sonya Natra, the composer's wife, (translated by Slomo Izre'el) and paintings by Sony, an integral part of the work, were projected on the screen during the performance. 

DESPITE a heavy teaching schedule at the Rubin Academy of Music at the Tel Aviv University, as well as active participation in organizing Israel's International Harp Contest, Natra is constantly busy on new compositions. 

At the moment, he is working on an Interesting commission, proposed by Oscar Gottlieb Blarr, organist of the Neander Church in Dusseldorf. Based on the Book of Jeremiah, in the Luther translation, and scored for organ, voices, choir and chamber ensemble, the work is intended for the celebrations of the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's birth. It will be premiered during Passover in Jerusalem, and in Dusseldorf the following June. Blarr spent a sabbatical in Jerusalem two years ago, and has since visited Israel several times. 

Also on Natra's books is a commission for Edna Michell and her Camerata Quartet, to be presented in 1984 at her festival in the United States. 

It seems from the previous lines that Natra, not pinned down by any system or school, must be one of the busiest composers of our time. The commissions and awards he collects are certainly the best proof of his music's quality and acceptability by a wider audience. His musical style has been characterized by some as influenced by Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Hindemith, while others point to traces of Bartok; but all stress Natra's independent expression and a disarming sincerity. His music echoes his personality.