In London, Israel and Morocco celebrate the union of East and West through music

  (photo credit:  Or Ben Zrihen)
(photo credit: Or Ben Zrihen)

In early February, the Israeli Embassy in the UK joined forces with its Moroccan Embassy counterparts in London to arrange the British debut of Jerusalem Orchestra East & West (JOEW). The brainchild of Israeli conductor and composer Tom Cohen, the Jerusalem Orchestra East West is a multi-cultural orchestra featuring musicians from three religions from all over Israel, that make up all of Israel’s diverse groups. The orchestra draws on a broad repertoire involving both Western and Middle Eastern musical traditions, as well as more contemporary styles, such as jazz and pop, that are performed in a Western classical orchestral setting.

On February 5, 2023, the JOEW premiered at the Barbican, a performing arts center in the Barbican Estate of the City of London and the largest of its kind in Europe. The Barbican is known as one of London’s hip performance venues and was built near the site of a Roman watchtower dating from the first and second centuries CE.

  (credit:  Or Ben Zrihen) (credit: Or Ben Zrihen)

Almost 1,700 visitors, including Israeli Ambassador Tzipi Hotovely and Moroccan Ambassador Hakim Hajoui, came together to sway to hypnotic Gnawa rhythms – Moroccan religious songs –  virtuosic jazz and Western harmonies, performed primarily by Middle Eastern string players, alongside Moroccan Gnawa musician Mehdi Nassouli and Israeli jazz pianist Omri Mor.

Like the ensemble’s name implies, the JOEW thrives on collaboration – between styles, traditions, musicians and nationalities. Shared roots – in this case, both jazz and Gnawa derived from the West African musical heritage, paving the way for this nationality-connecting project which, in London, resulted in a rich, cultural experience that touched both heart and soul. Israeli Ambassador Tzipi Hotovely emphasized the great links between “East and West, in order to celebrate peace, to celebrate the great things that are happening in the Middle East.”

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