Love is in the air at Abu Ghosh

The Profeti della Quinta vocal ensemble performs madrigals, as well as new pieces by Elam Rotem.

The Profeti della Quinta vocal ensemble (photo credit: Courtesy)
The Profeti della Quinta vocal ensemble
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The biannual Vocal Music Festival in the picturesque Arab village of Abu Ghosh on the outskirts of Jerusalem takes place between May 15-18. Directed by Hannah Tzur, the popular festival offers a host of appealing concerts, performed in the local churches, which are famous for their excellent acoustics.
The varied program, ranging from Monteverdi and Dvorak to Sibelius and Dylan Thomas, presented in the serene setting of the green hills, is a good reason for music lovers to head to Abu Ghosh.
The roster of performers is quite impressive, with Israeli performers such as vocalists Ye’ela Avital, Claire Megnagi, Avital Deri, Keren Hadar and Guy Pelc; harpist Julia Rovinsky; pianists Jonathan Zack and Yoni Farhi; the Baroccada ensemble; members of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra; and several choirs.
One of the most intriguing performance, which will take place on May 18, comes from Switzerland. The Profeti della Quinta, an all-Israeli male vocal ensemble based in Basel, presents new pieces by the versatile Elam Rotem – the group’s founding member, composer, bass singer and harpsichordist.
Last December, performing concerts in Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel Aviv, the ensemble presented what many music lovers and critics regarded as a modest event that turned into the classical event of the year: the Israeli premiere of Joseph and His Brethren , composed by Rotem in the early music idiom based on the text of the biblical story.
This was not a stylization but an original piece, composed in the music language, which is close to Rotem in many ways, not only as composer but also a performing artist, while the story is one of the most powerful in the Old Testament. There was a profound feeling of authenticity listening to the performance, especially because the text was sung in Hebrew, without any adaptations for the modern audience. The concerts in Israel were a sweeping success, as were the performances abroad.
Profeti della Quinta was recently awarded a special prize by the European Association for Jewish Music for this piece. In January, Joseph and his Brethren was recorded, and next year it will be released on the Pan Classics label, the same one that produced their first disc of pieces by Salomone Rossi.
“This was not obvious at all because Joseph is a strange creature,” says Rotem in a phone interview from his Basel home.
“After all, I am an unknown composer who writes in an early music style. But I guess the fragments of the recording that which I sent to the label sounded convincing. Next year we will continue performing the piece throughout Europe.”
Rotem admits that although he is planning to continue in this genre, it is clear to him that there is no other biblical story that equals that of Joseph in its depth and power.
So this time he is opting for minor compositions just a few minutes long.
“I just keep composing in this style. This time I approached the Song of the Songs , which is a powerful and very ancient love song. And I’ve set to music the dialogue between Samson and Delilah. This, too, is about love, but there is a comic touch to their conversation. These are not epic stories, and in Samson’s story I do not take it to the dramatic end, when he dies under the ruins of the Temple. And although action constitutes most of his story, such as ‘Samson went, Samson burnt,’ etc., I concentrate on the relationship between the characters,” he explains. “So Samson is four minutes long, and other motets are about two minutes long, which is the length of an average madrigal.”
In addition, the program features madrigals by Claudio Monteverdi and Salomone Rossi.
“They were close colleagues,” he says. “They worked together and performed together, so this is a beautiful connection. And we open and close the concert with the famous Hebrew prayers by Rossi.”
The ensemble, which includes Doron Schleifer, David Feldman (canto), Dino Lüthy, Dan Dunkelblum (tenors), Rotem (bass and harpsichord) and Ori Harmelin (theorbo) will give present the concert “Thou Art Fair, My Love” on May 18 at 3 p.m. at the Abu Ghosh Festival.
For more information and reservations, visit