A musical Mediterranean bridge

Jordi Savall presents a concert in praise of Jerusalem.

The Israel Festival always brings an interesting array of international artists to perform in Jerusalem, but it is rare that an artist comes to perform a work about Jerusalem. Yet that will be the case on Wednesday night as renowned Spanish early music virtuoso Jordi Savall presents his ambitious new production "Jerusalem, City of Heavenly and Earthly Peace," a sprawling, scholarly endeavor presenting Jewish, Christian and Muslim music concerning the Holy City, from biblical times until the 20th century. He will also perform a concert of Sephardi music the following evening. Savall is a major international figure in medieval, Renaissance and Baroque music performance and research. A master of the viola da gamba, he is sometimes credited with bringing that instrument back to the modern stage. A two-time Grammy nominee, Savall has released more than 100 recordings since the 1970s, often in conjunction with his ensemble Hesperion XXI and with his wife, soprano Montserrat Figueras. In a phone interview from Barcelona, Savall says the idea of the concert is to present Jerusalem as a place where the heavenly and earthly spheres meet. "Everything God creates in Heaven, he also creates on Earth, and Jerusalem is a mirror. The celestial temple is a mirror of the one that King Solomon built in Jerusalem." The concert, which falls somewhere between a show and a ceremony, traces the religious and cultural history of Jerusalem through music and text. The production opens with visions of Judgment Day from the three Abrahamic religions - the heavenly Jerusalem. It closes with prayers and texts longing for a peaceful Holy City - the earthly Jerusalem. The program begins with ancient Jewish sources leading through the Christian, Arab, Crusader and Turkish periods until the lamentations and dispersals of the 20th century, featuring works and melodies in Hebrew, Latin, French, Arabic, Armenian, Turkish, Greek and Ladino. "The idea is to show a mosaic of those 2,000 years of history," Savall says. "It also shows what we have forgotten today - the power of music. In biblical times, this music helped people to survive, to be happy, to recover some hope when they were sad, and I think it's important to remember this." Along with Figueras and the members of Hesperion XXI, Savall will be joined by singers from the Capella Reial de Catalunya choir of Barcelona, another project he directs, as well as musicians from Armenia, Greece and Turkey. In addition, the al-Darwish Sufi group from the Galilee; Israeli cantor Lior Elmaliah; and Savall's long-time collaborator Israeli oudist Yair Dalal and ensemble will perform. Savall and Dalal have worked together on various projects for 10 years. "For me, this contact with Yair and his musicians is very important," says Savall. "They try to preserve these ancient traditions, conserved by oral tradition. We can make our world richer if we learn to listen to one another." This year Savall has been designated EU ambassador for intercultural dialogue, and his concert on Thursday highlights a period of such dialogue and its end: The Golden Age of Spain and the subsequent Sephardi diaspora. The performance includes Ladino songs from around the Mediterranean in medieval style. "The Golden Age was not perfect," says Savall. "But a certain dialogue and communication was there. The cultural, scientific and artistic achievements of medieval Muslim Spain, where Jews, Muslims and Christians lived in relative harmony, were crucial to the development of European, Mediterranean and Islamic culture." This period has a special appeal for Savall. His first album, released 40 years ago, was a recording of Christian, Jewish and Muslim music for the Spanish court. "Even then we were convinced we had to do the music from the people and the courts," he says. "We have tried to develop it over the years. It is a long progression, learning manuscripts, reconstructing instruments, learning old tablatures and languages ... and then learning to improvise with the music." Savall's experience with historical music performance and research gives him an insight into the power of music and its role that is particularly appropriate for a venue in Jerusalem. "I am convinced that music, and art in general, is our last chance. With violence and weapons, we can never find a solution. Music is the best way to communicate. If you make music with people, you must have a certain sympathy; you have to listen to them, learn to respect them and key in to the same tuning." "Jerusalem, City of Heavenly and Earthly Peace" is performed at the Henry Crown Symphony Hall on June 4 at 8:30 p.m. "Sephardi Diaspora" is performed at the same venue on June 5 at 8:30 p.m. A discussion with Jordi Savall takes place on Thursday at 3 p.m. at Mishkenot Sha'ananim. For more information, see www.israel-festival.org.il or call 1-700-70201.