When I made aliyah, back in the Seventies, I got the distinct impression that Israel was a pretty culturally conservative country. I’d grown up, inter alia, on the groundbreaking sounds of the Sixties and early Seventies, and to my then non-Israeli ears, there wasn’t anything here that was “out there.”
That may have been a totally subjective and uninformed perspective. Be that as it may, things certainly exploded here, in terms of rock music, in the 1990s. The Signs of Weakness record, put out in 1994 by rockers Berry Sakharof and Rea Mochiach, is a prime example of the Israeli music scene well and truly letting its hair down.
This was rock music at its roughest and readiest, with plenty of sampling and electronica woven into the sonic fabric, to boot.
So how is a full-fledged classical-based orchestra supposed to handle that? Since the ensemble in question happens to be the Revolution Orchestra, the simple answer is with rich experience and consummate professionalism, if not ease.
Music lovers can judge for themselves whether the orchestra has the creative nous and artistic collateral to come to grips with the spirit of the landmark Sakharof-Mochiach synergy of a quarter of a century ago, by popping along to the Israeli Opera in Tel Aviv on April 3 (9 p.m.), to catch the orchestral version of Signs of Weakness
FOR ARRANGER and joint artistic director Zohar Sharon, the forthcoming concert is something of a cycle closer. Now in his early 40s, when the record came out, Sharon was a teenaged high school student keen to wrap his young ears around sounds that challenged his evolving perception of life and arts.
“I was 15 when the record came out, when I was at the Israel Arts and Science Academy,” he recalls. “It was an integral part of our soundtrack. Specifically, for me, the album was very dominant.”
Sharon didn’t just make do with spinning the disc for hours on end, he also helped to disseminate its musical message to his peers.
“The album was really weird for me. I’d never heard anything like it before. We had parties in the dining hall, on weekends we stayed at the school, and I’d frequently do a DJ stint.” The new release, with its densely layered numbers, was a staple of the young disc spinner’s school party repertoire. “It wasn’t danceable music, but it was important for us,” Sharon adds.
Fast-forward 25 years, and the Revolution Orchestra coleader got down to the business of deconstructing the packed electronic-based rock material and refashioning it for a purely acoustic classical ensemble.
But while Signs of Weakness
forms the bedrock of next week’s concert and Sharon’s enduring fascination with the material, the Israeli Opera show will not be a cover version of the original.
“I never, in my wildest dreams, thought I’d ever write arrangements for the record,” he says. “You could say that I have the greatest reverence for the music. But I also wanted to express myself with the arrangements. Twenty-five years on, and with an orchestral version, I approach the music from a very different perspective.”
The concert and the orchestra itself are also the brainchild of Roy Oppenheim, who serves as conductor and joint artistic director. Unlike Sharon, he does not have any nostalgic feelings for the record, but says the march of time – particularly from a technological angle – impacts the way he addresses the project in hand.
“Performing the whole record with an orchestra, if you asked even the people who loved the album from when it came out whether they ever listen to it through, from beginning to end, I would wager that they haven’t done that for a while,” he suggests. In an era of instant retrieval and fast-forwarding via YouTube, it is, indeed, a rarity for us to free up 40-46 minutes for an uninterrupted complete album session. “The concert is about the album in its entirety. It isn’t about each individual track.”
So while Signs of Weakness
provides the underpinning for the Revolution Orchestra show, there will be plenty of contemporary sensibilities and reworkings on offer.
“We are not looking just to mollify the audience,” notes Sharon. “We want to communicate well with the members of the audience, and to occasionally examine how far they are willing to go. But we want them to stay on board.”
Then again, you have to be wary of slipping into nostalgia mode. “We want people to remember the original, but we don’t want to just duplicate it,” Sharon adds.
Oppenheim goes along with that. “If you want to bask in nostalgia, you can just play the CD,” he says. “You don’t need us for that.”
“We want to create a new way of returning to the disc. But we aren’t here just to deconstruct the original and to show how clever we are. Sometimes, when you have listened to something so many times, you need to hear it in a different way. When you change the medium, from electronic to acoustic music, and add all sorts of other things, I think you can do it. Hopefully, people will later go back to the original album with new insight.”
For tickets and more information: (03) 692-7777 and www.israel-opera.co.il
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