A liturgical fascination

Musician Yair Dalal joins forces with an Estonian choir at the Jerusalem Sacred Music Festival.

Vox Clamantis Ensemble from Estonia (photo credit: Courtesy)
Vox Clamantis Ensemble from Estonia
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Among the many captivating programs of the Jerusalem Sacred Music Festival, which takes place August 21-23, the liturgical one in which Yair Dalal and his musical friends George Samaan, Lubna Salame and Erez Monk join forces with the Vox Clamantis Ensemble from Estonia sounds very intriguing. The combination of Gregorian chants, in which the mostly male choir specializes, with Yair Dalal, known for his long-standing interest in this music that comes from our region, is quite challenging.
The Vox Clamantis Ensemble, which was formed in 1996, is comprised of singers, composers, instrumentalists and conductors who have a common interest in Gregorian chant. In addition, the ensemble often performs early polyphony and contemporary music. Many Estonian composers, such as Arvo Pärt, have written compositions for Vox Clamantis. The award-winning ensemble, which has recorded for ECM Records, Mirare and Arion, performs extensively in Estonia and abroad. Headed by Jaan-Eik Tulve, the ensemble has collaborated with international artists such as Catalan soprano Arianna Savall, Italian nyckelharpa player Marco Ambrosini, Tunisian singer Dhafer Youssef, French pianists Brigitte Engerer and Jean- Claude Pennetier, the Cello Octet Amsterdam, early music consort Hortus Musicus, new music group NYYD Ensemble, the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir – and Dalal.
“We first performed together two years ago in Estonia,” says the Israeli oud player in a Skype interview from his home. “I decided that it would be great to bring them to Jerusalem one day. In Estonia, we performed in a church. Granted, the YMCA auditorium in Jerusalem is not exactly a church, but we shall turn it into one.
Or, more precisely, into a synagogue,” he laughs.
The concert program features interfaith sacred music, prayers of supplication and the songs of pilgrims, with Gregorian chants sung in Hebrew, Arabic and Aramaic.
“My experience with the choir was simply amazing. They not only sang Israeli songs, but they also sang psalms in Hebrew, Arabic and Aramaic, and their slight foreign accent added a touch of magic to the entire music event,” says Dalal. “And there is another aspect that turns the performance into a sort of time travel.
The instruments they use are very few: an oud, a violin and percussion.
The vocal ensemble actually serves as a human orchestra, and you really feel that you have gone back some 400 years.”
Estonians are known for never doing anything in a hurry. So how did Dalal, an Israeli of Iraqi origin, get along with them? “Musically speaking, we still perform the same psalms,” says Dalal.
“True, at the beginning it was quite strange – they are very, very cool. You send them an email, and it takes them a long time to reply, so you start wondering if they are interested at all.
But they are interested. That is how they act, nothing more. Don't forget that Skype is an invention by two Estonians. And they are extremely nice and polite people. Then again, why only Estonians? What about Norwegians, who are almost as cool as Estonians? And what about Iraqis? And Germans? I enjoy working with artists from different cultures. It is always a challenging and enriching experience.”
The concert takes place on August 21 at the YMCA in Jerusalem. For more details: www.jerusalemseason.com/ For reservations: (02) 653-5850