Classical Review

Jerusalem Sacred Music Festival An Ethiopian Nun-Composer YMCA, August 20.

EMAHOY TSEGUÉ-MARIAM GUEBRÙ: 370 (photo credit: Gali Tibbon)
(photo credit: Gali Tibbon)
Most people, if asked to imagine a composer, would not conjure up an Ethiopian nun.
But unlikely or not, Emahoy Tseguee- Mariam Guebru, the composer of several works performed as part of the Jerusalem Sacred Music Festival, is both. (“Emahoy,” or “mother,” is a monasterial rank, not her given name as the program notes erroneously imply.) Authentic Ethiopian ambiance was conveyed by the Ethiopian Monastery Choir in some prayer chants. These vocal pieces were reminiscent of Ethiopian church services on feast days, and some were accompanied by the highly impressive large African drum. A purely traditional sound also characterized the folk songs “Gojam” and “Gondar,” which were performed in a parlando-like vocal style, without cadential endings, unlike Western songs, and were accompanied by the masinko, the onestringed Ethiopian fiddle.
In her Lord’s Prayer and some other vocal pieces, Guebru makes a very personal use of characteristic traditional Ethiopian intervals in the melodic lines, blending in quite harmoniously with the accompanying piano.
Her piano solo pieces “Jerusalem,” “The Garden of Gethsemane” and “The Homeless Wanderer,” on the other hand, performed competently by Omri Mor and Maya Dunietz, did not stray far from Chopin and the Western Romantic style.
The grand finale, pieces for string orchestra and piano performed by Dunietz and the Tel Aviv Soloists, and conducted by Barak Tal, bordered on the pretentious.
As a significantly individual and original attempt at drawing inspiration from traditional musical elements for new compositions, Guebru deserves the attention of Israeli composers who grapple with similar problems.