'The Israel Philharmonic going down to the Negev for the first time in decades - it's history," says the founder and the artistic director of the Sounds of Desert music festival, composer Michael Wolpe. "This is a great achievement, but regretfully, the Sounds of Desert is a festival which lacks a budget; the people dedicated to the 'real' culture (as opposed to TV entertainment) are the festival's true treasure, which gives us an opportunity to keep going." This is the festival's 11th year; it began on Sunday and runs through December 28 at Kibbutz Sde Boker. Wolpe, who has been supporting peripheral music activity for years, and who has discovered quite a few talented young artists far from the bustling Tel Aviv area, always manages to find a special hook for this annual music event. He turns it from a series of concerts into a themed festival. This year, it is dedicated to Israel's 60th anniversary and its motto is "Farewell, Europe." Which is quite natural - since Israel is situated at a cultural crossroads and its music has been influenced by classical European composers. The festival opened with the Israel Philharmonic performing a captivating program, featuring veteran composer Aharon Harlap's concerto for piano, a piece by his much younger colleague Ronen Shapira for oud, kanun, darbuka and two pianos, and Voice of the Memories, by Mark Kopytman, for a Yemenite singer and big orchestra. The festival's other programs are duly impressive, with a variety of styles and creative spirit behind them. There will be arrangements of Israeli songs and dances, and encounters with such composers as Gil Shohat and Tzipi Fleischer - the latter is both an internationally renowned musician and a specialist in Semitic languages. She will speak about classical and folk cultures and present, together with the Naked Voices choir, ancient Beduin songs, as well as her opera Solomon's Judgment (on video). An example of another, no less exotic program is by Sweden-based Russian-Jewish virtuoso trumpet player Elias Feingersh, who never misses an opportunity to appear in Israel. He will play Uri Brener's "Night at the Cinema," which was written for him and Aviv quartet. Indeed, the festival's motto, "everything which is Israeli and talented is welcome," is coming true. For more details and reservations call (08) 656-4161/2 or visit the www.rng.org.il.