Boundless sounds

Pianist/vocalist Maya Dunietz will perform at the Tzlilim Bamidbar festival.

Pianist/vocalist Maya Dunietz will perform at the Tzlilim Bamidbar festival (photo credit: GONI RISKIN)
Pianist/vocalist Maya Dunietz will perform at the Tzlilim Bamidbar festival
(photo credit: GONI RISKIN)
There are musicians whom it is fairly simple to pigeonhole, at least in terms of general genre. Most would agree to the affixing the epithet “classical” to Beethoven, “jazz” to Louis Armstrong and “rock” to Led Zeppelin. But what is one to make of Maya Dunietz?
Dunietz, who will join forces with the Meitar Ensemble and the Bat Kol Choir on December 14 as part of the 20th edition of the Tzlilim Bamidbar (Sounds in the Desert) festival, which will take place at Kibbutz Sde Boker on December 13 to 16, is best described, simply and succinctly, as a musician.
“I’ll go along with that,” she says from her base in Paris, where she was busy sorting out the preliminaries for a couple of projects due to be performed in the French capital next year.
Dunietz, and her all-embracing approach to music, sound and various artistic disciplines, appears to be the ideal choice for a festival founded and directed by composer, conductor and educator Michael Wolpe, who takes a similarly unconstructed line to the business of music making.
Predominantly known as a pianist, Dunietz engages in so many areas of music and associated fields that it’s hard to keep up. She appears to have no borders at all.
“That was probably the case, but in the last few years I have actually been looking for boundaries,” she notes. “I like to test boundaries and, yes, maybe to push them a bit.”
That is a sizable understatement, but at least Dunietz does suggest a way to pool her constantly expanding musical endeavor under a single neat definition of sorts.
“I’d say there is a common denominator to my work. I used to be more eclectic, but I am more focused now. It may all look very different, but I’d say I am researching sound and also the effect on society or groups of people,” she says.
That philosophy is central to the work she will present at Tzlilim Bamidbar, which she calls Chai Shirim Ba’Aravit, or 18 Song Cycle, but which translates as “18 Songs in Arabic.” Besides checking out practically every sonic nook and cranny she lays her capable hands on, Dunietz looks at the wider social picture. After all, art is created to be appreciated by the general public.
“For me, Chai Shirim is a special project,” says Dunietz. “I have been working on it for two years, with the generous support of Mifal Hapayis and the Yehoshua Rabinovich Foundation for the Arts, and in collaboration with the Meitar Ensemble and Bat Kol.”
The latter also helped to pave the way for Dunietz’s exploratory path. She was a member of the youth choir.
“[Choir conductor and musical director] Anat Morahg and all the exercises she gave us are the basis for a lot of the vocal work I do today. For the past 15 years or so I have been working with choirs, too. I established a choir when I was 20, together with Michal Oppenheim. A lot of the singers later became famous, people like Riff Cohen and Ravid Kachlani, and Rona Keinan was there, too,” she recounts.
Sounds like Dunietz got into directing her own musical ventures from an early age, which was helped by her educational line of evolution. She started out on piano at the age of five, and by the age of 10 she had been introduced to the creations of such free-thinking contemporary composers as Gyorgy Ligeti and John Cage, besides all the regular classical fare. By the time she hit high school, Dunietz was getting into jazz in a big way, first and foremost pianists such as Art Tatum, Thelonious Monk, Mal Waldron and Ahmad Jamal. She also began improvising, and later enhanced that unfettered ethos with a spell at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York. While in the Big Apple, she encountered and worked with the likes of leading avant-garde saxophonist and record label owner John Zorn and Israeli jazz saxophonist Daniel Zamir, and Marshall Allen. Allen is best known as member, now leader, of the experimental Sun Ra Arkestra.
After returning home – she felt New York had enough music without her adding her contribution – she continued to ply her own pathway, getting into performance-related work, theatrical projects and practically anything where sound was the central element.
Dunietz also sees music as a means of bridging gaps of cultural social, religious and even political nature. Hence Chai Shirim, which is based on Arabic language poetry.
“I found a lot of wonderful works by people of all ages, like Nidaa Khuri, who is a professor at Ben- Gurion University, and Rita Odeh from Nazareth and [Prime Minister’s Prize for Literature laureate] Almog Bahar. If we can get close to the language, even just through the phonetics, that can help to dissolve barriers,” she says. Amen to that.
Tzlilim Bamidbar will take place on December 13 to 16 at Kibbutz Sde Boker in the Negev. For tickets and information about the festival: (08) 656-4115 and