Since traditional liturgical songs (piyutim) have become popular on the local cultural scene, it was just a matter of time until a new festival dedicated to these songs would be launched. The first Piyut Festival, launched by Beit Avi Chai, Yad Ben-Zvi and the Lev Ha'ir Community Center, comprises seven days of concerts, conferences, exhibitions and encounters with the performers in Jerusalem and Yeroham. Until now, most of the concerts and gatherings focusing on piyutim have drawn almost exclusively on Oriental traditions - from the Babylonian and Haleb (Aleppo) tunes, meeting with the Moroccan and local Jerusalem tunes. But at the first - and let's hope not the last - festival of piyutim, the public will have a chance to listen to great performers of Ashkenazi tunes and traditional liturgical songs, from the Western and Eastern European hassidic and klezmer traditions. In addition to the interest raised by the opening evening - Piyut and Jazz - and the closing concert - Rock and Piyut - the world premiere of a new work by composer Peretz Eliyahu sounds promising. The event (April 1 at 8 p.m.), based on the traditional liturgy of Bukharan Jews, will be performed by cantor Ezra Malkov. Eliyahu, one of the most innovative and creative composers living in Israel, has dedicated his life to establishing a new corpus of liturgical music based on ancient traditions woven into modern classical music. The festival also includes lectures by Prof. Haviva Pedaya of Ben-Gurion University and writer Rabbi Haim Sabato, as well as street songs along the path between Yad Ben-Zvi and Beit Avi Chai and a marathon of documentaries on traditional music. The Piyut Festival runs from March 30-April 5. Info and tickets: 621-5900. Downloadable complete schedules are available at www.piyut.org.il/festival2008.

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