(photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)
It’s generally a good idea to start off the country’s major cultural event of the year with all guns blazing and this year’s Israel Festival has certainly got that one right.
The most expansive, eclectic and prestigious festival around opens on May 28 with an outdoor concert at the Sultan’s Pool Hassenfeld Amphitheater starring Israeli rock pioneer Shalom Hanoch. The 68-year-old singer-guitarist will be benefit from the seasoned support of the likes of celebrated bass guitarist and record producer Yossi Fine and bluesman Ronnie Peterson, with the guest performer list featuring rock-pop heavyweights Yehuda Poliker, Danny Sanderson and Berry Sakharof.
The musical horizon stretches much further on June 16, with Hilula – Tribute to a Mother, which goes by the epexegetical sequitur of “An Oriental Rock Opera,” and was written by researcher, historian and poet Haviva Pedaya and composer Piris Eliyahu, who also serves as artistic director, with his son Mark Eliyahu serving as producer and arranger.
This is a work of operatic proportions which addresses wide and diverse areas of artistic endeavor, taking in classical Jewish liturgical music as well as classical Christian requiem sensibilities. The music for Pedaya’s poem was composed by virtuoso Eliyahu Sr., while Eliyahu Jr. arranged the score to create a new and contemporary Oriental rock opera, described as “a mesmerizing artistic fusion of traditional Jewish lamentations and the Catholic Mass for the dead.” Hilula is a highly ambitious project which also feeds off the work of the members of the classical pantheon across the centuries, such Mozart, Verdi, Brahms and Britten, as well as ancient lamentations, Greek rembetiko music; Turkish and Persian maqams, and rock. The Eliyahus have enlisted the wide-ranging talents of Dikla, Shai Tsabari, Yael Deckelbaum and Berry Sakharof to proffer the lavish sound spread to the public.
As Dylan may have noted, in retrospect, the times have truly changed.
Thirty years or so ago it would have been almost unthinkable to consider featuring the music of the singer Zohar Argov – who was dubbed the “King of Mizrahi Music” and spearheaded the so-called “cassette singers” genre – in such an Establishment affair as the Israel Festival. On June 18 the Tower of David will host a star-studded concert called “Badad, Zohar Argov – A Musical Journey.”
The stellar lineup for the show is an indication of not only how much the late vocalist’s oeuvre is now appreciated, but also of the cross-sector appeal of his plaintive singing and emotive persona. “Badad,” named after one of Argov’s best known numbers, features such bill toppers as singers Ninet Tayeb, Shai Tsabari and Ravid Kahalani, as well as jazz trumpeter Avishai Cohen and an ensemble conducted by musical director Rea Mochiach. The show is said to move “between the abstract and the concrete, echoing the contrasts that characterized Zohar Argov and his work.”
There is more multilayered musical stuff on offer at the Jerusalem Theater on June 21, when the Ensemble Modern of Germany takes the stage to perform Heiner Goebbels’s Music Theater production. The work is based on texts by Edgar Allen Poe and 20th century French writer and philosopher Maurice Blanchot. The score straddles numerous sonic and stylistic boundaries, as befitting the ensemble’s ethos of consistently challenging musical and concert-related conventions, and offering innovative adaptations that transform the concert into a theatrical experience infused with rich imagery.
And last and possibly, in the Israeli Festival honchos’ eyes, least, the sole jazz slot in the month-long program features celebrated cross-genre Austrian guitarist Wolfgang Muthspiel, who will be joined by Swedish cellist and bassist Svante Henryson who plies his talents across a wide spectrum of disciplines including jazz, classical music and hard rock.
Like much else at this year’s Israel Festival, it is an intriguing confluence which, hopefully, will deliver the goods and broaden our minds.