‘We will perform a couple of things with masks on,” explains The Jerusalem
A-Cappella Choir’s British-born conductor and artistic director Judi
“What is a mask?” she continues, somewhat enigmatically, before
explaining that there may be more here than meets the eye, literally.
all wear masks. Do we have the courage to remove our masks? Nino Rota did and
Kurt Weill did. They had the courage to show another face.”
The gents in
question are just two of the composers whose work will be performed in this
evening’s Jerusalem A-Cappella Singers repertoire. Weill’s pieces are performed
regularly by all manner of instrumental and vocal outfits, but Rota’s name is
not one that readily springs to mind in such a setting.
concept [for the concert] started from Rota. He had a legendary relationship
with Federico Fellini,” says Axelrod.
“He wrote some of the greatest film
music ever, but he was not known at all as a composer of classical
The conductor feels this is an injustice and, presumably, hopes
the choir’s concert will go some way toward redressing the accolade deficiency
for the man who is, perhaps, best known for writing the soundtrack for The
“He wrote some nine operas and symphonic music and chamber
music, and it’s never performed. The man was a genius.”
When Axelrod came
across Rota’s classical oeuvre, she was duly impressed and determined to get
some of it out there, especially in this country.
“I thought, ‘My job as
a conductor is to bring new works to the stage.’ Choirs in Israel, in general,
tend to perform similar pieces,” she says, although adding that she fully
understands the bottom line consideration.
“There are people who go a
little bit off [mainstream material], but there is always this fear of not
selling tickets. There is always this thing in your mind about having to attract
an audience. But in this concert, I didn’t think about that. I just thought I
want to do things that contribute to concert tradition, to audience experience
and coming face to face with things you have never heard before, which I happen
to consider being very good.”
ROTA, IT seems, is the perfect choice for
putting together a visually, as well as aurally, entertaining
“He loved anything to do with theater,” explains
“He was a collector of toys and trinkets and was very attracted
to the circus and makeup and costumes and masks. He was a very interesting
character, aside from his music. Rota was the starting point for me.
more I found out about him, the more I realized I had to do some of his works.
He had masks, but he also removed them and showed another face to the
But Rota’s output is not just about putting a smile on the
audience’s face. There is some uplifting and moving stuff in there
“For me, he was revealing his more fragile side, and a lot of his
music is also deeply religious, Christian music,” continues Axelrod, “and we’ll
be doing some of that in the concert.
Instead of the music of [Fellini
movies] 81⁄2 and Roma, which is so dramatic and passionate and humorous, you’ve
got his Il Presepio, for mezzo and string quartet, which is all about Mary
singing to the baby, and she is so poor she can’t heat the room.
also doing Rota’s Salve Regina [for mezzo and organ]. You can see Rota’s soul in
But this evening’s concert is about much more than Rota and
Weill. It also takes in contributions by English 20th-century composer Vaughan
Williams, 41-year-old American Grammy nominee Eric Whitacre, septuagenarian
Icelandic composer Thorkell Sigurbjornsson and contemporary envelope pusher John
Although he has a high profile in popular operatic circles, Axelrod
feels that Kurt Weill could also do with some PR in other areas of his
“I thought, ‘What is there by Weill for a choir?’ He is best known
for The Threepenny Opera and his songs. He wrote Kaddish for a choir, but that
didn’t move me. Then I discovered an opera called The Silver Lake – Der
Silbersee. It is a highly emotive piece. Weill wrote in 1932, when a lot of
people were starving. The two protagonists are digging graves just to make a few
pennies, and there’s a whole duet about how their stomachs are turning. It’s
Axelrod says her Weill selection fits the Masks Off
“With this piece, the mask of opera is being removed because opera,
even when there is death and love and passion, is always done in a poetic and
Here, Kurt Weill is giving us a different story
With such an intriguing and adventurous program, and with a
setting to match, Axelrod and the choir look set to offer the public a rare
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