The Jerusalem International Oud Festival has ended and its producers are already beginning to think about next year's festivities. One thing is for sure: The festival is becoming one of the city's most attractive cultural events, despite a low budget and its emphasis on oriental and ethnic music. Besides the rich selection of programs and high quality of performers, the Confederation House claims to be the only cultural venue at which local and foreign Arab artists perform with their Jewish counterparts on the same stage. And this multicultural showcase draws a particularly diverse audience. At an Oud Festival concert Arabs can be found sitting side by side with secular and religious Jews (including haredim), young and old. That was particularly the case during programs dedicated to contemporary classical Arabic music, like the evening of Om Kolthoum's songs, which were performed by Dallal Abu Amnah from Israel. In a full Henry Crown Hall, Jews from Iraq and Egypt, and Arabs from east Jerusalem and Galilee, sang along to the Egyptian diva's hits. Abu Amnah, who executed the particular gestures and the precise performance of the different makamat (oriental scales) well, had a tendency to raise her voice too high, thus losing the dramatic effect of her tremolos. Nevertheless, the beautiful and famous songs - including the immortal "Inta Omri" (You Are My Life) - won enthusiastic applause from the audience. The concert presented by the American-Armenian oud player and composer Ara Dinkjian, with his international ensemble, including Israeli percussionist Zohar Fresco, was one of the festival highlights, with a special musical program dedicated to peace and brotherhood. But the opening concert was no doubt the most inspiring: A homage to Solomon Ibn Gvirol, the well-known poet of the Spanish Golden Age, composed and performed by Barry Sakharov, "the prince of Israeli rock" was a great musical achievement. Sakharov, who in recent years has explored ancient music and poetry traditions, presented a highly professional program. The music and the arrangements (especially for the first song) were all as close as possible to perfection. Sakharov's traditional and mystical music ensemble Hayona opened the concert with a new program of Ibn Gvirol poems and gave a traditional, oriental-flavored performance that drew heavy applause. Artistic director Effi Benaya and his team say they will allow themselves only a short break before resuming preparations for next year's festival. Let's hope they will reach even higher achievements, for the benefit of the city and music lovers alike.

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