Omer Avital, The New Jerusalem Orchestra 521.
(photo credit:Yishai Levron)
On Thursday and Saturday, the concluding event of the Jerusalem Season of
Culture presents a kind of challenge, according to artistic co-director and
producer, musician Yair Harel. While some internationally famous names in
various fields of art participated in this year’s season, the time has come for
something conceived, written and performed by high-quality, yet exclusively local
artists and performers.
Maqam Jerusalem features, for the second time
since its creation a year ago, the New Jerusalem Orchestra, in a program that
brings together the various Diaspora musical traditions, and brings Jewish and
Arabic flavors, both local and more exotic, to the forefront, presented in a
blend of Israeli tunes.
“It’s time for a typical Israeli sound,” Harel
says enthusiastically. “One that has deep roots in Arabic, Jewish, North
African, Amharic, Caucasian and European traditions. It’s a multi-voice sound,
not only Jewish-Arabic, but much wider, richer, with the orchestra and the choir
[of the Yad Ben-Zvi Institute] constantly on the stage, very present, as various
soloists get on and off the stage. Hence these two [Jewish and Arabic music]
constitute the backbone of the whole concept.”
The New Jerusalem
Orchestra was established two years ago, and debuted at the opening of the
Israel Festival 2010. The orchestra, the brainchild of musicians Omer Avital of
“Third World Love” fame and Harel, is an attempt to create a framework for the
diverse musical expressions of the city’s many cultures, while enabling cultural
dialogue through contemporary forms.
The first part of the program
integrates elements of poetic and musical traditions expressing longing for a
rebuilt Jerusalem. The second part is a new piece by Avital, meant as a
correspondence with the lands of the Middle East, using artistic language that
vacillates between classical western and eastern jazz and
“This program is the fruit of years of dreams, yearnings –
both artistic and personal – that are slowly but surely coming true,” says
Harel, who together with Avital spent almost the entire year transforming this
shared dream into words and sounds, and now hopes for an encouraging response
from the public.
“We could just play classical Arabic music mixed with
Jewish traditions and present the result to the public – it would certainly have
been a success, since there are such beautiful materials in this area,” Harel
continues, “but we wanted to say more. We wanted to say: listen – there is
something that goes beyond, that brings together all these traditions and,
through these blends, gives birth to something new, something deeply rooted in
traditions, but that is created here and now.”
Harel and Avital hope that
the audience will be led by them – and the many performers taking part in this
project – to open their hearts to something both new and ancient. They both wish
to reach, though the music they arrange (Harel) or compose (Avital), new
frontiers of a musical heritage and culture.
“It comes from many places
and times,” says Harel, “but at the same time, it couldn’t have been created
anywhere other than Jerusalem. This is the place, there is no other place like
Jerusalem, and I really hope people will be touched by what we’re offering them
with this very special work.”
BARELY 48 hours after the second
performance of Maqam Jerusalem, another highly acclaimed musical event will kick
off in the city. The fourth Piyut Festival will be held from Monday to Thursday,
offering a rich variety of concerts focused on various Jewish liturgical
Beyond the impressive richness of ethnic traditions, this
year’s program is reminiscent of a long-shared love for this kind of music felt
by both Arabs and Jews in Islamic countries for many centuries. For the first
time in this festival, Arab performers – who have preserved traditions from
North Africa and the Iraqi and Persian world – will perform on the same stage as
To highlight this, Harel, the artistic director of the
festival, has chosen to open it with the Arab Orchestra of Nazareth, and Cantor
David Menahem together with Arab singer Maamun Zayud. The theme for this opening
evening will be famous classical Arab performers such as Abdel Wahab and Oum
Kalthoum in the traditions of the piyut (Jewish liturgical poem).
is a homage to this wonderful tradition, which has lasted for centuries among
classical Arab performers and traditional Jewish liturgists, and which seems to
have more aficionados among Israeli Jews than the young generation of Israeli
Arabs,” says Harel.
Asked if this could also be interpreted as a message
of peace, Harel replies that art in general and music – and liturgical music in
particular – has a wider message that transcends current reality.
a very natural thing,” says Harel.
“It goes beyond the Israeli-Zionist
narrative, or the emblematic slogans about peace in the region and such. It has
a much deeper meaning: that this culture has always been a shared one and that
it has survived all the obstacles. In my eyes, this is the best and most
important message of peace, this is a true dialogue, held in respect of each
On the opening evening, traditional liturgical Jewish songs,
arranged to classical Arabic melodies, will be performed in both Hebrew and
Arabic by Menahem and Zayud, followed by 11 additional programs at Beit Avi Chai
and other venues in the city. Later that night in the courtyard of Beit Avi
Chai, kanun player and music director Elad Gabai will present, together with the
Musrara Ensemble of the Center for Middle Eastern Classical Music, a program of
piyutim and classical Arab music.
Tuesday will be the day for Psalms
performed according to ancient traditions from Indian and Afghani Jewish
communities, held in the Beit Avi Chai courtyard. This will be followed by a
program of liturgical traditions from the Mediterranean communities of eastern
Turkey, Kurdistan and Crete.
The festival also includes two programs
featuring more contemporary music attached to the liturgical traditions, with
popular singers Kobi Aflalo and Shay Gabso, who will perform in two separate
concerts, respectively: Rock Brings Peace and Songs for You in the Libyan
tradition. Two concerts will feature the Ashkenazi traditions for liturgical
songs, with Nitzan-Chen Raz’el and Jeremy Lockwood from the USA, and saxophonist
Daniel Zamir as special guest.
The Piyut Festival takes place at Beit Avi Chai
from September 10-13. For more details: www.piyut-festival.co.il