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Beginning tomorrow night, a consortium of mostly European sponsors will treat Jerusalemites to Sounding Jerusalem, two weeks of free chamber music concerts. In contrast to the annual International Jerusalem Chamber Festival, which opens the classical music season every September, this festival takes place in less-likely, less-traditional classical music venues, mostly in eastern Jerusalem and its environs.
Nearly double the size of last year's inaugural Sounding Jerusalem, this year's festival will showcase a number of contemporary Western works, some composed specifically for the festival. Two cross-cultural concerts will feature improvisational music by aspiring Palestinian musicians, with performance titles like "Baroque 'n' Roll" (an all-Vivaldi concert taking place July 2 at 6 p.m. at the Church of the Ascension) intended to draw a younger audience.
In comparison to last year's event, which Sounding Jerusalem director Erich Oskar Huetter says was very Austrian in emphasis, this year's festival will have a more international flair. It has the support of the European Commission, the U.S. embassy and a variety of organizations from Austria, Germany and France, and features European, American, Israeli and Palestinian performers.
In hunting for concert venues, Markus Bugnyar of the Austrian Hospice and his fellow event organizers searched for "hidden pearls" that would reflect a unity between the concert space and the music being performed. Planners hope the diverse festival program will bring together ethnically and culturally mixed audiences of Jerusalemites for "precious moments of delightful chamber music in a unique and inspiring atmosphere."
Jewish musicians have been invited to play at only two of the 25 concerts, both of which are among the three concerts to be held in western Jerusalem.
The East-West fusion music to which Israelis have become accustomed will be performed only at an invitation-only concert at the Belgian Consulate, at the Wide Perspectives mix of Arab and European artists at the Mount of Olives Amphitheater (July 2), and at the "Flint Stones" concert at the Al Kamandjati Music Center in Ramallah (July 5).
Most of the musicians will be arriving for the festival from Austria, and the few Palestinian and Israeli performers were not encouraged to collaborate, despite the fact that participating artists will live and rehearse together at Jerusalem's Austrian Hospice during the event. Asked why the shows are so distinctly separated, Huetter said that he "would like to have Israeli and Palestinian musicians play together, hug, and say 'I love you,' but political realities prevent this from happening. We want to bring music to the people in a neutral environment, so we won't force performers of different backgrounds to work together."
Huetter has performed in the past with Ramallah-based musical peace projects led by conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim, the founder of an Ramallah-based orchestra composed of young Arabs and Israelis.
Although Palestinians and Israelis do play together in Jerusalem, Huetter says this was not the festival's primary objective.
Organizers also express concern that passport issues might hamper attendance at some concerts, with Palestinian and Israeli concertgoers and musicians facing likely difficulties in getting to venues in western Jerusalem and the West Bank.
For example, Israeli concertgoers will be unable to attend at least two events, including the festival's headlining show: a sunrise concert on the Mount of Temptation in Jericho, where tickets include a cable car ride and breakfast (July 6).
Despite the accessibility issues, organizer Petra Klose expects to see a diverse audience at every performance - perhaps drawn by the several big-name, mostly Austrian, musicians coming for the festival, including acclaimed violinist Christian Altenburger. More than 3,000 visitors are expected at the concerts over the course of the festival.
All concerts are free of charge, but because a few indoor events have already reached capacity, reservations are recommended. Call 054-468-7640 or visit www.soundingjerusalem.com
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