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'Any Israeli with talent is welcome at this festival," says composer Michael Wolpe, artistic director of the Israeli Music Celebration for the second year running. The 10th annual festival, which takes place in Haifa, Beersheva and Jerusalem between September 17 and 19, offers a wide array of Israeli music presented by the best local artists and ensembles.
"Some call my approach populist, but in my eyes it's pluralist," says the Negev-based composer. "More than 90 pieces are performed over the course of the Celebration in a wide variety of genres and epochs."
The festival, Wolpe says, is first and foremost an educational event. "There's almost no music education in this country. So many people are not even aware of the variety of Israeli music that exists out there. The only thing they know is [the televised song competition] A Star is Born and the Reshet Gimel Radio station slogan 'Only Israeli music.' This is my way of bringing great Israeli music back to audiences."
In his first year as artistic director, Wolpe managed to turn the event, which was about to wrap up, into a sizzling, packed festival.
"We made a switch from concerts with uniform and homogeneous programs (which quite often were excellent) to more open programming. As a result, people who came to the concerts always discovered something new. It's kind of a honey trap - they come to listen to singer Korin Alal and they also end up hearing a piece by Oedoen Partosh."
Encounters and workshops with Israeli composers are another important innovation. "These encounters help people find their way through the labyrinth of the Israeli music scene. Here, too, pluralism is the name of the game - people come to a Dubi Zeltser workshop (the musician who wrote the popular musical Kazablan), and are also introduced to the music of Yoram Meyouhas, who is less familiar to the public."
Wolpe says that he also hopes to create a kind of network of colleagues that will develop friendship and appreciation for each other. "If I have any credo at all, this is it: You can write in any style, but it shouldn't prevent you from enjoying other genres."
Many leading Israeli ensembles and soloists with international careers, such as violinists Rivka Golani and Itamar Ringel, pianist Gila Goldstein and guitarist Liat Cohen, are happy to come to Israel to participate in the festival.
"This is a pioneering enterprise. At the moment, we work in a kind of a cultural desert - the result of years of neglect. Jewish wars have also harmed local art, with various schools of thought opining as to what is good or bad for Israeli music. I am trying to bring another face to Israeli music - sympathy, curiosity and acceptance of each other."
The concerts take place today at Haifa Auditorium complex, tomorrow at Ben-Gurion University, Beersheva and September 19 at the Jerusalem Theater. Admission to the concerts is free. Reservations must be made in advance by calling (03) 696-1593.