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It may sound like just a load of promotional blurb, but the twice yearly Abu Ghosh classical music festival's unique combination of incredible acoustics, unique settings, and a rich and varied musical program, leaves little to be desired. The popularity of the five-day agenda (October 2-6) provides evidence that this festival is one worth visiting.
The festival's formula mixes classical staples with more consumer oriented material, and culls works from around the world. The forthcoming program is the 32nd time the festival has been held, and audience numbers show no sign of waning.
The program includes one of the perennial Abu Ghosh favorites, Ramirez's Misa Criolla, but based on an interpretation by Argentina diva Mercedes Sosa. Soloist Yonit Shaked-Golan will be supported by the Megiddo choir and all-female Shani choir, the latter comprising an equal number of Jewish and Arab singers, under the direction of Pnina Inbar. In recent years, the Shani ensemble has made something of a name for itself around the world, performing in the Vatican as well as across Europe and the States.
Festival artistic director Hanna Tzur has certainly dipped into her atlas for next week's event, with works coming from right across the globe, including France, Spain, Germany and Italy, Britain and Brazil.
It's not all classical fare. The "Duet with an Accordion" concert (October 6 at 2 p.m.), for example, features accordionist Eitan Shapiro alongside bassist Eli Gornstein. Gornstein is better known to TV viewers for his appearances on such shows as Zehu Zeh, Rehov Sumsum (the local version of Sesame Street) and Neighbors. However, besides his comic acting talents, Gornstein is also an accomplished musician, both as an opera singer and double bass player. For "Duet with an Accordion" he has assembled an intriguingly eclectic roster of works by the likes of classical figures Rossini, Faure and Leonard Bernstein, iconic Israeli composer-pianist Sasha Argov, veteran Canadian poet-singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen and even Israeli pop-jazz artist Alon Olearchik.
Despite the breadth of the artistic spread festival producer Gershon Cohen says he, and Tzur, are not looking to stray too far from the beaten track. "Abu Ghosh is a traditional festival, and there's nothing wrong with that. We mainly offer liturgical and baroque music, from the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries."
But it isn't always the tried and tested stuff that makes it on to the festival roster. "We try to bring unknown works, and sometimes different versions of well known compositions, such as the Mercedes Sosa version of the Misa Criolla."
According to Cohen, the festival has gained a good reputation outside Israel too. "We have ensembles clamoring to appear at Abu Ghosh, and we get the best there is."
The Chamber Choir of Stuttgart, which will perform a program of baroque compositions as well as a program of romantic works, is a prime example of the latter. They are the crÃ¨me de la crÃ¨me," Cohen states. "They perform a capella. That's a really special experience. I highly recommend it."
The festival producer also lauds the festival's extramural program. "The outdoor stuff is always very popular, like the Song in the Forest slot, which has the audience singing too." Other outdoor events offer chamber music, flute and organ works, and opera.
Cohen is also keen to highlight the side benefits offered by the festival. "This is a totally pluralistic event. You have Jewish audiences coming to hear concerts performed in churches located in a Muslim village. How much more pluralistic can you get? It also helps the local economy. The tzimerim (bed and breakfasts) in the area do good business during the festival."
Apparently, Cohen doesn't have to blow his own trumpet too hard either. "I visit a lot of festivals abroad and, wherever I go, I am told there is nothing like our festival anywhere in the world. A production team came over from [French-based culture TV station] Mezzo a few years ago, to film the festival. They said they don't have anything like it in Europe."
Cohen's main problem, however, is self-inflicted. "I have people calling me complaining there are so many great concerts in the program that there can't afford to go to everything they want. That's a nice kind of problem."
For more information about the Abu Ghosh Festival, go to: www.agfestival.co.il
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