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In a unique mission to unite three cultures and religions - Jewish, Italian, and Palestinian - the Italian Judaism Museum, the Jerusalem Municipality, the Tourism Ministry and the Italian embassy presented "From Bethlehem to Jerusalem: A Concert for Life and Peace" on Thursday night at the Jerusalem Convention Center.
The force responsible for the event, now celebrating its fifth year, is Italian producer Rino Maenza, who brings together different performers for each year's programme. This year's concert featured violinist and conductor Shlomo Mintz - who originally emigrated to Israel from Moscow with his family at the age of two - along with the Teatro Comunale orchestra and choir from Bologna.
Mintz's performance, carried out with dignity, poise, and humility, included a violin concerto during the first half and masterful conducting of the choir and orchestra in the second.
A major contribution to the concert's overall success took place during the second half, at which time the audience was treated to the vocal accompaniment of two female soloists, who grew up on opposite sides of the Israeli-Jordanian border. The young women possessed presence and maturity beyond their years; Israeli mezzo-soprano Karin Shifrin carried with her voice strength and power, and the voice of Palestinian soprano Dima Bawab revealed great delicacy and sweetness at times, and pronounced depth at others.
In an interview prior to the concert, Israeli soloist Karin Shifrin suggested that Mozart's vibrant compositions naturally draw out message of peace and coexistence. His music is transparent, she commented, one can neither hide anything in it, nor superimpose anything on it. These qualities of authenticity and vitality are befitting a concert in Israel - a country not of niceties or subtlety, but of raw emotion and political fire. Knowing the performance is meant to convey this pivotal message gave both Shifrin and her fellow performers an even greater drive to excel.
When asked to comment on the relationship among Jews, Italians and Muslims, Shifrin said she believes Jews and Italians share a sense of openness and compatibility. Regarding Jews and Muslims she remarked, "Its like a dispute between brothers...When Dima [a Palestinian soloist] and I sing together, our voices are confluent." The conflict, she says, is "floating above us - but once you concentrate on the music, everything else disappears."
The final act of "The Magic Flute," said to represent the triumph of light, wisdom, and peace over darkness, was perhaps the most breathtaking part of the performance. Federico Busone has written: "The magic flute summons up several motifs - instructive, spectacular, sacred, amusing - over which reigns such a fascinating music, that hovers over and includes everything..." The motif of sacredness was indeed drawn out, particularly by Shifrin and Bawab.
Additional concerts took place last week at the St. Katherine Church in Bethlehem and at a historic auditorium in Rome in an effort to promote positive relations between the three communities and to mark the 250th anniversary of the birth of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
In attendance were Italian religious and political delegates from various institutions as well as Palestinian and Jewish representatives. The symbolism inherent in an Israeli and a Muslim singing alongside one another in Bethlehem - the historic place of Jesus's birth, the site of Rachel's Tomb, and the location Mohammed is said to have prayed on his way to Jerusalem - is compelling.
Shifrin proffered that "the colors in Mozart's music are perfect." Indeed, sections were bright, playful and celebratory, while other parts were dark, turbulent, and dramatic. The juxtaposition of these opposing melodies represent the disparate voices in a region striving for peace.
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