A truly golden Israel Festival this year

Patrons can have a field day selecting which topnotch local and international performances they want to see.

Israel Festival new311 (photo credit: Amit Lennon)
Israel Festival new311
(photo credit: Amit Lennon)
It’s 50. The Israel Festival Jerusalem that started as a wee series of classical concerts in Caesarea in 1961 has grown into a three-week celebration of the performing arts encompassing dance, theater, jazz, classical, Israeli and world music. The performers come from all over the world and increasingly, happily, over the last two decades from Israel. The festival itself has a respected place and a sterling reputation among the world’s many other international festivals.
“The Israel Festival,” wrote the International Festival Association magazine, “is an excellent example of the importance of cross-cultural dialogue beyond the borders of Europe.”
Now ain’t that nice?
This year the festival runs from May 23 to June 18, and there are 12 premieres of works the festival has commissioned from Israeli artists such as Ohad Naharin and the avant-garde Clipa Theater, as well as a roster of performers from some 18 countries including Chile, Georgia and Japan.
One of the hottest tickets will no doubt be the June 4 recital at Binyenei Ha’uma by Dame Kiri de Kanawa, who last sang at the festival nine years ago. She’s 67 now, doesn’t sing so much opera, but the voice remains luminous and the lady gorgeous.
Her career took off when she sang the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro at Covent Garden in 1971 and has been a diva ever since.
Our own Clipa theater has provided Israel Festival enchantment five time since 1998. This year it offers (A View), which starts in darkness, with the audience comfortably cocooned on a soft floor. Then the multisensual images begin.
From Chile comes Teatro-Cinema de Chile, a ground-breaking visual theater company that combines live action and film. It’s bringing Sin Sangre (Without Blood), a story of love, murder and revenge. They have a kiddie show too, The Man Who Fed Butterflies, but it’s not for the under 10-year-olds.
Click for full JPost coverage
Click for full JPost coverage
In dance, the Merce Cunningham Company is coming with three works, Split Sides, Soundance and Events. The latter piece takes place in the galleries of the Israel Museum.
This is the last time we can see this company because, according to the terms of Cunningham’s will – he died in 2009 at the age of 90 – it will disband on December 31.
Ohad Naharin, who dazzled audiences with Anaphase in 1992 and Z/Na in 1995, is back with the jubilee year’s opening event, temporarily entitle Fields.
The Florilegium early music consort enchanted audiences in 2004. This year they’re back with soprano Gillian Keith playing music by Bach, Vivaldi, Pergolesi and Purcell.
There will also be host of jazz, Israeli and world music events.
ON THE theatrical stage, Berlin and Moscow are sending a couple of great classics given breathtakingly contemporary interpretations by prize-winning auteur directors. From Berlin’s Schaubühne theater comes Thomas Ostermaier’s view of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in which six actors play all the characters. “Ostermeier’s Hamlet confronts contemporary theater head on, full force and with a wicked grin,” writes an Australian critic. Take note: The performance runs two and a half hours without intermission. It’s in German with Hebrew titles, “and we’re working on incorporating English titles for all foreign language theater,” says Israel Festival CEO Yossi Talgan.
The Russian import is Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya starring Russian movie and TV star Sergey Makovetsky in the title role. The production won the Golden Mask in Moscow last year and is presented in collaboration with our own Gesher Theater, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary.
The Studio Premieres Project showcases upcoming young Israeli artists and takes place at the Studio in the Jerusalem theater.
One such premiere is My Father Is Not a Bird by Shahar Phoenix and Shir Goldberg, based on Bruno Schulz’s Cinnamon Shops. It tells the story of a little boy trying to come to grips with his father’s growing insanity. Another is Ruth Kanner’s Flight of the Dove, adapted from Yuval Shimoni’s book of that name. In it, alternative realities coincide in the story of a lone woman and a tourist couple in Paris. A respected theater artist, Kanner is known for the intellectual rigor of her text combined with exquisite poetic imagery.
The Stage Company Jerusalem presents Oedipus 2011, a new look at the archetypical Greek tragic hero by Yagil Eliraz and Ido Aharoni.
IN THE dance domain, UK-born choreographer Tim Rushton’s work “strikes like a thunderclap,” as one critic puts it. Since 1991 Rushton has been artistic director of the Danish Dance Theater, each of whose dancers comes from a different country. It’s bringing two programs: the world premiere of Love Songs, which features singer Caroline Henderson and a jazz trio; and a repertoire evening – Kridt (chalk), Cadance and Enigma. This year, Rushton received an MBE for his services to dance.
In Eastern culture the note “la,” or A on the scale, represents life. Choreographer Nimrod Fried and composer Israel Breit have collaborated to create La, a piece that marries “sound and movement, emotion and color” – another studio premiere.
IN THE classical music vein, harpsichord virtuoso Aapo Häkkinen founded Helsinki Baroque in 1997. It specializes in works that have never been performed and in a new forum for well-known ones. Häkkinen will play an evening with fellow harpsichordist Enrico Baiano, and the ensemble presents a program that includes Bach, Vivaldi and Legeti.
Austria’s Hagen Quartet – all Hagen family members except for violinist Rainer Schmidt – is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year and will play a program of Brahms, Haydn and Bartok. They’re also great champions of new music.
Yet another anniversary belongs to Gustav Mahler. It’s a century since he died and the traditional marathon, hosted as usual by pianist/composer Gil Shohat, celebrates his work, especially his beautiful Songs of the Earth. Shohat accompanies mezzo-soprano Svetlana Sendler and tenor Guy Mannheim. It happens June 3.
More piano – this time from Russia’s Nicolay Petrov and his star pupil, Alexander Ghindin, who will perform a program that goes from Strauss (Richard) to Gershwin.
And yet more piano – this time when the winner of the 13th Rubinstein Piano competition that takes place during the festival gives a concert at YMCA Jerusalem. East meets West in Out of Egypt – From Slavery to Freedom in a musical encounter between Handel’s oratorio and two pieces by Yair Dallal. It’s performed by a Baroque orchestra, Jewish soul singers, a boys’ choir, percussionists and more. The world premiere will be in Berlin a week before the festival.
The main venue for the performances is mostly in and around the Jerusalem Theater complex. This year, other venues will include the Targ Center, Gerard Behar and other Jerusalem venues, as well as Holon, Dimona and other communities. And there will be performances at historic sites in the north and south of Israel, such as Tel Hai and Kfar Mordecai.
And here’s a positive note to end on. Never in all its history has the Israel Festival been canceled because of the security situation. And with very few exceptions, the performers have all turned up, too.
Happy festival.
Tickets to all events are available at www.israel-festival.org.il