The Piyut Festival of liturgy-oriented music, based at Jerusalem’s Beit
Avi Chai, has become an important event on the local cultural calendar.
Now in its fifth year, the festival attracts top artists and
enthusiastic audiences from around the country, and the program spread
has gradually stretched to accommodate associated genres.
year, for example, the lineup of the four-dayer (September 10-13)
includes regulars from the liturgical music beat, bolstered by some big
names from rock and rock-related areas, such as Ehud Banai and Kobi
Aflalo, as well as seasoned jazz saxophonist Daniel Zamir and Jewish New
York blues-infused rock guitarist-vocalist Jeremiah Lockwood and his
Sway Machinery band. It is a heady mix, indeed. Concerts will take place
at various locations across Jerusalem, such as the Yellow Submarine,
the Gerard Behar Center, the National Library, Zappa Club and Hazira,
the Interdisciplinary Arena.
One of the most intriguing aspects
of this year’s Piyut Festival is the marriage of liturgical sentiments
from seemingly disparate cultures. One such slot is the From India to
Here concert led by Yaron Pe’er (pictured left), which will take place
at Beit Avi Chai at 7:30 p.m. on September 11, with Pe’er fronting an
ensemble of eight instrumentalists and four vocalists. The show
repertoire will feed off a rich hybrid of Psalms, original scores based
on the principles of Indian classical music, an ecstatic vocal music
form that hails from the Rajasthan district of northern India, and
ancient Jewish liturgical works that originate in Afghanistan.
the thousands of Israeli backpackers that traipse around the Indian
subcontinent each year are some who go there with some specific artistic
intent, in addition to aiming to take in as many of the vast country’s
better-known tourist attractions as possible. Many of these gravitate
toward Varanasi and spend long periods of time studying the mysteries of
various Indian musical instruments. Pe’er was one of those and
continues to further his understanding of Indian music with his teacher
“I have been going to India to study with my teacher
Santosh Kumar on and off for 12 years,” he says. “My teacher is the 14th
generation of sarangi players – that’s around 500 years of playing
Peer joined forces with Kumar in Israel earlier this year at the Indian Music Festival at Confederation House.
From India to Here concert has been brewing for some time, and Pe’er
says he didn’t work hard to put the repertoire together. “The things we
will play in Jerusalem just evolved over time,” he explains. “It wasn’t
that I sat down with the intent of writing music for the concert. It all
came out of my studies in India and the fact that I have immersed
myself in Psalms over the years. The melodies wrote themselves and just
started playing themselves in my head.”
Even so, to the layman the amalgam of Indian music with Hebrew texts from Psalms does not appear to be a natural confluence.
music is based on very simple principles,” says Pe’er. “I think they
had the same things in the music that was performed in our Temple, and
they used many of the same scales.”
It seems there is common
spiritual ground too, as well as an odyssey to be undertaken. “In the
Temple, the music would capture the very soul of the listener, and then
it would take him to the very essence, to the root of his soul and strip
him of all his protective layers. Then the music would move into major
scales and raise the listener up and give him hope and joy. They say
that after hearing that music [in the Temple], people would emerge fully
aware of where they came from, the essence of their soul and their
destiny in life.
It is the same experience with Indian music.”
the members of the audience at Beit Avi Chai enjoy anything like that
spiritual voyage, they will get far more than their money’s worth.
the way it is with Indian music. It takes a person in a state of
complete awareness on an odyssey based on only one musical note,” Peer
notes, adding that the audience will enjoy a rare experience. “Indian
classical music has scales and rhythms you don’t find anywhere else in
the world. It is very rich music based on circular themes. We will start
the concert with circles of 12 beats, which is a rhythm that comes from
the dhrupad style, which is 4,000 years old. It has hardly changed at
all in all that time and is almost not music. It is more like a prayer.”
That, naturally, makes it a good musical backdrop to the words Pe’er has chosen from Psalms.
Piyut Festival will open with a salute to legendary Egyptian singer and
composer Mohammed Abd el- Wahab and iconic compatriot diva Oum Kulthoum
and the meeting ground with the material they made famous and texts
taken from Jewish liturgy. The concert program was devised by Elad Gabai
and Nizar Radwan, with the latter also conducting the Arabic Music
Orchestra from Nazareth. There will also be a number of vocal soloists,
such as Rabbi David Menachem and Mamoun Zaiwad.
standouts include the Sounds of the East concert, which encompasses
numerous styles from around the Middle East and marries them with Jewish
liturgical melodies and texts. The energy level at the festival will
rise a notch or two on September 11, when top Israeli metal rock band
Orphaned Land joins forces with vocalist Kobi Aflalo and an instrumental
ensemble that includes Gabai on oud and kanoun, and Raba Sol on guitar,
mandolin and vocals.
Lockwood’s Municipality Rock show will also
put out an abundance of amps as he and his Sway Machinery band traverse
such disparate musical fields as rock, blues, jazz and cantorial
Jazz saxophonist Daniel Zamir will add his seasoned energies to the fray.
festival closes with another cross-cultural escapade fronted by veteran
violinist-vocalist Nitzan Chen- Raziel. The Motzeh Makom concert will
dip into synagogue melodies, rock ‘n’ roll and various parts of the
world music domain. Chen-Raziel will be supported by a six-piece band,
with Ehud Banai putting in a guest appearance.For tickets and more information about the Piyut Festival: (02) 621- 5900, www.bac.org.il and www.piyut-festival.co.il