Ringing around Jerusalem

“I live in Tel Aviv, and there is simply nowhere to have concerts there."

May 10, 2019 09:12
Ringing around Jerusalem

THE BERTINI Choir will add some Western classical choral music to the Golden Bells fray, with concerts at Christ Church in the Old City, and at the YMCA.. (photo credit: RAZ ROGOWSKY)

Gold and Jerusalem seem to make for comfortable bedfellows. There is, of course, Naomi Shemer’s anthemic “Jerusalem of Gold” song, written shortly before the Six Day War, and you’d be hard pressed to catch a panoramic shot of the Old City without the golden semi-orb of the iconic Dome of the Rock. So, what could be more natural than having a Jerusalem-based music festival called Golden Bells?

The inaugural edition of the festival takes place May 16 to 18, with artistic director Haggai Goren lining up a veritable feast for the ears and eyes. And it won’t be just about putting bums on seats. There will be plenty to get out and about for, with a slew of fascinating walking tours in the three-day mix, too.

Tel Aviv resident Goren has priors with this end of Route 1. Back in 2012, his steady hands were on the tiller of the Choral Fantasy Festival, brainchild of the late Shimon Bigelman, which offered the vocal music-loving public an eclectic range of sounds. That two-dayer was based at the YMCA, and the current venture has several slots at the magnificent edifice on King David Street.

Goren has cast his creative net far and wide, taking in classical and romantic music, and textures that owe far more to the Middle East than to Vienna, Leipzig or Bonn. He says Golden Bells is simply a natural end result. “This city needs this festival. Jerusalem is so beautiful and so interesting, and there are so many good venues for music.”

The first two epithets are pretty standard, but the latter comes as something of a surprise. I know quite a few artists who bemoan the paucity of suitable locations here in which to strut their stuff. Then again, this is mostly choral, acoustic music we’re talking about.

“I live in Tel Aviv, and there is simply nowhere to have concerts there,” Goren continues. “There are plenty of places for jazz, for example, but if you’re talking about classical, let’s says intimate, music, there’s almost nothing around. Tel Aviv Museum is wonderful, but Stricker and the Einav Center are not ideal.”

The sonic “intimacy” Goren notes stems from the fact that he is in the acoustic, unamplified, performance business. “In Jerusalem, just in terms of churches, you have three churches with the best possible acoustics. Actually, there are more, which are accessible.” Some of the said Christian houses of worship feature in Golden Bells. “There’s the Scottish church (St. Andrew’s), which is better than good. There is Christ Church near Jaffa Gate [in the Old City], which is superb. The acoustics there are not only precise, you also get a sparkling tone. And there is Notre Dame near the New Gate, which is tremendous. And there are other churches around the Old City.”

The festival program covers numerous bases, both in terms of onstage entertainment, and peripatetic slots that will get us out of the cloistered auditoria and onto the streets of some of Jerusalem’s most picturesque and history-laden parts.

“The idea was that Jerusalem is a city that you can walk around a lot,” Goren continues. “You can combine a walk with a concert.”

There are several alfresco jaunts, after some of which the adventurous participants can settle into their comfy seats in a concert auditorium or church and waft away on ethereal waves of heavenly music.

The festival kicks off at 4 p.m. on May 16, with the 90-minute Ballabusteh tour of the ethnographic Old Yishuv Court Museum in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. The walkers will get a handle on Jewish life in the vicinity during the two centuries prior to the War of Independence, when the Old City was taken by the Jordanian army. The slot also includes some of the quarter’s alleyways and wider thoroughfares, under the seasoned guidance of Ora Pikel-Tzabari.

There’s more in the way of stepping out with the Unknown Jerusalem tour at the Jerusalem House of Quality, near the Cinematheque, when Yitzhak Weiss enlightens festival-goers about Jerusalem art during the course of two millennia, as well as contemporary local works created on the site. Visitors will also be able to enjoy an impressive view of the western perimeter wall of the Old City, and the surrounding area, from the roof.

After that, we get down to sonic brass tacks, with the musical curtain-raiser. The opening concert takes place in the YMCA’s richly decorated and storied auditorium, at 8 p.m., with the young Schumann Quartett, from Germany. Naturally, one might assume that the foursome is particularly enamored with the oeuvre of German Romantic composer Robert Schumann. That may very well be the case, but the group’s moniker actually comes from the fact that the three male members of the quartet are brothers called Mark, Erik and Ken Schumann, with Estonian-born, German-resident violist Liisa Randalu joining the lineup in 2012, five years after the siblings began playing together. Their YMCA concert takes in works by Mendelssohn, Janacek and Tchaikovsky.

Meanwhile, over at the Jerusalem House of Quality, at 8:30 p.m., the cultural-genre spread of the festival program ventures into very different musical pastures with the Greek Celebration show presented by the Blue White Greece trio. The two Israeli and one Greek musicians will perform a broad swath of Greek music, from the classical ilk to traditional Pontic music and a liberal dosage of nostalgia, as the trio dips into numbers written and made popular by 69-year-old vocalist-instrumentalist Georgios “George” Dalaras.

Matters take a sharp turn in the direction of the visually spectacular, at 10:30 p.m., with the King David show at the Tower of David Museum. The slot features a virtual tour based on the multifaceted figure of the eponymous biblical ruler, as portrayed in the works of some of history’s seminal artists, such as Marc Chagall, Henri Matisse and Michelangelo. That will be followed by a sound-and-light show projected onto the walls and towers of the Citadel.

And if you are the late-to-bed type, you might want to join Itamar Ben David on the Night Owl at Mahaneyuda guided foray into the shuk’s jumping Thursday evening-night scene, with its zippy bars and eateries, street artists and musicians setting the place alight.


JERUSALEM IS, of course, the definitive cultural melting pot, and the Near Eastern concert feeds off a range of musical idioms, from Arabic music, Eastern folk material and Western choral works, performed by Jewish and Arab musicians. Add to that the acoustics and special ambiance of the Scottish church, and you have yourself one compelling musical and experiential package. That takes place on Friday at 4 p.m.

But there’s nothing like getting to a concert enthused and full of healthy vigor. That corporeal and emotional state of affairs can be attained prior to the concert, when the Between Scotland and Jerusalem walk leaves the Jerusalem House of Quality, with Esther Saad at the helm. The tour takes in various intriguing Scottish aristocratic seals and romantic English architecture, and some elucidation regarding the Old City walls, with the participants able to catch them from a strategic vantage point. Saad will regale her listeners with stories from the Bible, as well as a bunch of anecdotal tales, including one about a dreamy-eyed entrepreneur who launched an adventurous project that ultimately fell flat.

Once ensconced in their church pews, the concert patrons will have their heartstrings tugged and ears caressed by an eclectic program performed by the Arab-Jewish ensemble Abad, with Western choral music presented by the Bertini Choir, under the steady guiding hand of conductor Ronen Borshevsky, while singer Maria Jubran will seamlessly incorporate opera music and Arabic art music. The roster also features internationally renowned pianist Nizar Elkhater, who will offer his own singular readings of songs by such titans of the classical Arabic music world as Fairuz, Abd el-Wahhab and Farid al-Atrash, as well as arrangements of works by contemporary Israeli composers such as Yehezkel Braun, Sarah Shoham, Zvi Sherf and Moshe Zorman.

Things become a little more open-ended at 7:30 p.m., when we finally get to hear the titular instrument, as veteran chimer Gabi Shefler works his magic with the bells at the top of the YMCA tower. The all-inclusive community spirit takes off in earnest straight after that with the 8 p.m. fun Singing Together slot, at the YMCA, as the Koolulam mass-singing event gang gets the audience singing Bob Marley’s “One Love” together.

Koolulam is a social-musical initiative which aims to enhance social cohesion by gathering nonprofessionals in collaborative musical creation.

“They do it so well, and so professionally, that audiences go wild,” says Goren.

After an hour and a quarter or so of the heartwarming, spirit-uplifting and vocal-chord-stretching endeavor, the Coral vocal ensemble, with Sherf front and center, will entertain the YMCA crowd with a string of Israeli and other classics by the likes of Matti Caspi, Haim Hefer, Rachel Shapira, Leonard Cohen and George Gershwin.

Earlier in the day, back at the Jerusalem House of Quality, the noon Beautiful View concert has the Thalamus vocal quartet delivering polished renditions of a wide-ranging repertoire from Renaissance and Baroque songs to music closer to the here and now by Naomi Shemer and Cole Porter, and quite a lot betwixt.

There’s more. The program for the final day, Shabbat, offers three walks, another bell-ringing stint by Shefler and a feast for Bach lovers. The latter features the Bach: Anna Magdalena concert, courtesy of the Barrocade Baroque ensemble. The concert repertoire includes Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 4, the Violin Concerto in E major, Cantata 82 for soprano, and pieces from Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach, which the composer dedicated to his beloved second wife.

The three-day agenda will end with a bang, with a festive closing concert featuring the stylistically expansive Jerusalem Street Orchestra, the Bertini Choir, and the Chamber Choir of the Jerusalem Academy of Music, with soprano Daniella Skorka, tenor Eitan Drori and baritone Yair Polishuk filling the solo vocal parts. The concert opens with Bach’s Cantata 31, conducted by Ronen Borshevsky, followed by Jerusalem Street Orchestra leader Ido Shpitalnik wielding his baton in a performance of Fauré’s Requiem.

Goren is happy with the broad-based itinerary, and says he looks forward to the festival becoming an annual event. He also has firsthand knowledge of the benefits of combining a constitutional with musical entertainment. “The last trip I was on was up north. We went to Acre, and in the evening we went to Keshet Eilon [Music Center in the Galilee] for a concert. When the concert was over, you saw everyone was in seventh heaven. People said they’d had a fantastic day – all day outside seeing different things, and then you get this wonderful music. It is a winning combination; especially if the music is music good.”

That should be a shoo-in.

For tickets and more information: (02) 671-7430 and jsa@art-jerusalem.co.il

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