Music from Down Under

For Australian Voices artistic director Gordon Hamilton, the works of Israeli composer Yitzhak Yedid are a natural choice for the ensemble’s Palestinian tour.

Yitzhak Yedid370 (photo credit: Tomer Aharoni )
Yitzhak Yedid370
(photo credit: Tomer Aharoni )
The distressing events taking place around the region are, naturally, a major news item around the globe, and they have not escaped the attention of former residents of this part of the world who have relocated. One such is Jerusalem-born pianist and composer Yitzhak Yedid, who has been living in Australia for several years now.
Yedid’s sorrow at the violence taking place in Syria and Egypt has been channeled into a creative direction, and has spawned a new choral work entitled The Crying Souls. Although Yedid is still Down Under, the composition has made it over to this neck of the woods.
The Crying Souls was commissioned by The Australian Voices ensemble for its current tour, which takes in around 10 concerts, as well as workshops, around the Palestinian Authority, including Ramallah, Jericho and Bethlehem. The first concert took place last Friday and the choir will wind up its local circuit in Ramallah on Saturday.
The choir’s artistic director Gordon Hamilton says Yedid’s work was a natural choice for the ensemble’s Palestinian tour.
“When I found out we found out we were coming here to take part in the festival [the Palestine Choral Festival] I thought it would be very interesting to talk to Yitzhak, and to find out what his ideas were and if he had something to give which we could express musically, take to this part of the world and really engage the listeners” explained Hamilton when we met at the Lutheran Church in the Old City of Jerusalem. “Yitzhak knew we would be performing for Palestinian audiences so he came up with this idea based on an Arab folk song, so he wrote this piece for us.”
Yedid is an accomplished composer and pianist, and has put out several CDs over the past decade and a half. His multi-layered compositions are often technically challenging, and offer his audiences plenty of food for thought.
Hamilton says that he was intrigued by Yedid’s score. “It is a very difficult piece to pull off, and with only six singers that makes it even more difficult to precisely do what he has scored and intended, but it is completely rewarding. We have put a lot of effort into it and we have really enjoyed working on it.”
The Australian says that there is plenty for performer and listener to feed off and, as the work’s title suggest, the piece reflects hardships.
“There are such interesting sounds, including sounds of screaming and other sounds which are quite harsh and capture something very dark.”
But The Crying Souls is not all doom and gloom. “There are other moments that are quite light and beautiful and even jolly, so you can really enjoy going through all these emotions and colors, and bringing them out and taking them to their logical extreme. It has been very rewarding working on this.”
THE AUSTRALIAN ensemble has been around for 20 years. The principal motive for establishing the group in the first place was to promote the work of contemporary Australian composers. While Yedid does not hail from Down Under, his Australian residence and strong connections with the Middle East made him a natural choice for the choir.
“The choir exists to bring Australian music to the rest of the world,” explains Hamilton, “and it’s still exciting to have an Australianresident composer for us. I think it is an interesting take on our mission, to have this connection between Israel and Palestine and Australia.”
The Crying Souls is one of several works the choir is performing in Palestine this week. “We try to commission and perform music that says something about Australia,” Hamilton continues, “that says something about Australia that is different from our British roots. Of course, choral singing in Australia is very much rooted in the British tradition and that is wonderful, but we are trying to establish our own tradition. There is certainly now a tradition, which is over 60 years old, of Australian composers looking inward to our own landscape, at our ideas, through poetry and expressing musical ideas that are distinct from Britain.”
That, of course, also means digging into Australia’s past and feeding off the indigenous population. “We are performing one work by an Aboriginal composer called William Barton, and we imitate a didgeridoo in it. He gets us to do a very interesting vocal technique, with overtone singing, whereby a single singer can produce more than one note. It really is reminiscent of a didgeridoo and, indeed, the flat landscape of Australia.”
Hamilton says he, and the other members of the choir, have imbibed some of our human and physical landscapes during their stay here as well, of course, getting into some of the soundscape. While we chatted, there was a raucous choir in action in the inner courtyard of the church, courtesy of several dozen feathered friends.
The chirping was intermittently overlaid by the cries of a nearby muezzin, which Hamilton found particularly enticing. “Every time I hear the call to prayer I have to stop to listen to it, and listen to the notes. I find it so pretty and strangely moving. And I always think of the [musical] possibilities when I hear these guys singing and chanting.
It is a very interesting function of music that we Australians are not familiar with.”
Australia, like Israel, is a cultural melting pot and Hamilton says he is always on the lookout for some fruitful confluence. “I love collaborations where someone like Yitzhak brings something to the table, and we bring our sound to the table and create something that neither of us could have made without the other. That’s what I love about collaboration.”
For more information about the Palestine Choral Festival: Choral_Festival/Schedule.html