A lute for all seasons

The Oud Festival this year features two full weeks of concerts in Jerusalem - plus three days in Nazareth.

October 26, 2006 12:33
4 minute read.
A lute for all seasons

Orphaned Land 298.88. (photo credit: Court)


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The Jerusalem International Oud Festival kicks off this week with an ambitious lineup of local and international musicians. Organized by Confederation House, the festival has expanded considerably since its inception seven years ago, and is now one of Israel's major musical events. This year the program features two full weeks of concerts in Jerusalem and, for the first time, three days of performances in Nazareth. The oud is an 11-stringed lute that occupies a place in Middle-Eastern music very similar to that of the piano in Western music: a required introduction for all music students and the universal instrument for teaching music theory. An essential part of nearly any middle-eastern ensemble, the oud is also an exceptionally expressive solo instrument. Although the festival takes its name from this ancient instrument, the programming is more focused on singers and ensembles, and features music from a wide variety of traditions. "I don't want to keep the Oud Festival just Jewish and Arabic music," explains artistic director Effie Benaya, the driving force behind the festival. "I always want to feature other cultures. Palestinian, Iraqi, Turkish, Persian... all the countries that were influenced by Islam." This year's theme is the Golden Age of Spain, which is usually placed between the 8th and 11th centuries, while Islam ruled most of the Iberian Peninsula but before the successes of the Christian Reconquesta. Known romantically as a time of tolerance and civilization, the golden age was characterized by inter-cultural interaction in art, politics, science and music. "For me, the whole festival is a small golden age," says Benaya. "I wanted to make a journey to Muslim Spain, because Jews and Muslims lived in harmony and this [culture] was very influential. I want to bring that here, today." He continues: "We are doing concerts in Nazareth... I want to reach out to the Arabic community, and for this to be a festival of the two peoples. I think this is very important." The festival opens at the Jerusalem Theater on Thursday, November 2 with a tribute by Taiser Elias and ensemble to Egyptian composer Sayed Darwish, who passed away in 1923 at the age of 31 and is regarded as the father of modern Arabic music. Elias is a masterful oud player and director of the middle-eastern music program at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance at The Hebrew University. On Sunday November 5 Jerusalem's own Shaharit Ensemble presents the poetry of Abraham Ibn Ezra, who lived from 1093-1167. Born in Tuleda in southern Spain, due to prosecutions of the Jews he spent the later part of his life wandering through North Africa, Europe and the Middle-East. Shaharit is dedicated to composing original music for piyutim (religious poems), and will present Ibn Ezra's works with melodies specially composed for this event. The following evening, Monday November 6, a special performance will be presented at Beit Shmuel by Eduardo Paniagua's Ensemble for Ancient Music from Spain. An artist with Sony Classical, Paniagua has dedicated himself to medieval Spanish/Arabic music for decades, and has released many albums and performed throughout Europe and the Middle-East. His ensemble performs authentic Arab-Andalusian classical music with Arabic, Hebrew and Spanish vocals, and features musicians from both Spain and Morocco. Another international ensemble performing at the Oud Festival is the father-and-son team of Armenian-Americans Onnik and Ara Dinkjian, who will play at the Jerusalem Theater on Saturday, November 11. Ara Dinkjian, who performed at last year's festival, is an oudist and composer whose music is very popular in Turkey and Israel. His father Onnik is an accomplished singer of traditional Armenian popular and liturgical music who has been performing for five decades. Their ensemble consists of Turkish, Greek and Israeli musicians, including master percussionist Zohar Fresco. The festival of course features a fantastic array of local artists as well. Among the performances scheduled are: a tribute by Yair Dalal to the Iraqi Jewish musicians who immigrated to Israel in the 1950s, a selection of Palestinian folk songs by exquisite singer Amal Murkus and ensemble, a concert of piyutim and rock with the Yona Ensemble, Barry Sacharoff and Meir Banai, an appearance by Israeli rock/ethnic experimenters Orphaned Land, a performance directed by Elad Gabbai of the Arabic and Ladino songs of 20th century Jerusalemite composer Asher Mizrahi, and many more. The final concert in Jerusalem on Thursday, November 16 at the Jerusalem Theater features the virtuoso Persian melodies of the Lian Ensemble from Los Angeles, home to a huge community of Iranian expatriates and often called "Irangeles." The Lian Ensemble features the best Iranian musicians in the West, including acclaimed vocalist Naderi Vaseghi Soleyman and percussionist/vocalist/nai player Houman Pourmehdi. To their base of classical Persian and sufi music the Lian Ensemble has added a strong jazz influence, giving their music a unique East-West feel while retaining their roots in the ancient music traditions of Persia. The concerts in Nazareth take place from November 22-24 at the Nazareth Cinemateque, and are encores of concerts that will be performed in Jerusalem during the main festival. They include: a specially commissioned selection of Islamic, Christian and Jewish religious music performed by singer Inas Masalha and ensemble, a recital by young oud virtuoso Wisam Gibran based on the controversial and popular work of early Islamic poet al-Mutanabbi, and a concert by the Tarshihah Orchestra dedicated to the mighty Egyptian singer Farid al-Atrash. A full schedule for the Jerusalem International Oud Festival can be found at www.confederationhouse.org or by calling (02) 624-5206. Prices range from NIS 75-110 with discounts for those attending multiple performances or for group purchases. Advance reservations are strongly recommended, as most of the concerts last year were sold-out. Tickets can be ordered at the following numbers: (02) 623-7000, (02) 622-2333 and (03) 604-5000.

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