Music with a view

Aiming to increase dialogue across faiths and cultures, Sounding Jerusalem offers concerts in the capital and in the West Bank.

Erich Oskar Huetter 88 248 (photo credit: Christian Jungwirth)
Erich Oskar Huetter 88 248
(photo credit: Christian Jungwirth)
Screaming market vendors, muezzin calls and the voice of prayer at the Western Wall - for Jerusalemites of the Old City, this is the backdrop of daily life. On June 13, audiences at the fourth annual Sounding Jerusalem festival will hear these everyday sounds transformed into improvised music. Featuring Israeli, Palestinian and European musicians performing in Jerusalem and the West Bank, Sounding Jerusalem's goal is to facilitate multi-faith and multicultural dialogue through musical collaboration. Within the three-week festival is a series of four concerts entitled Mélange Oriental, the festival's "Program in Residence." By uniting eastern and western music, Mélange Oriental seeks to advance Sounding Jerusalem's aim of coexistence. The Viennese coffee shops of artistic director and cellist Erich Oskar Huetter's native Austria inspired the program's title. "A mélange is the perfect blend of a very nice coffee with milk. With Mélange Oriental, we add an oriental flavor," Huetter said. The Mélange Oriental series premieres on June 13 at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, located in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City, with a program subtitled "Departure." Audiences will taste the oriental flavor in the first half of the program, which features a free improvisation with viola, cello, double bass, piano, accordion and the Trio d'Argent flute ensemble. The improvisation includes recordings that Huetter and jazz pianist and improviser Stefan Heckel captured from each quarter of Jerusalem's Old City. "It's like a little walk from one quarter to another. We caught people in intimate moments where they weren't aware of us being there. We recorded spiritual sounds, such as religious Jews at the Western Wall celebrating with very beautiful, passionate songs, Jewish soldiers, an Armenian priest and muezzin calls. There's a real beauty in expressing yourself musically through religion. We also got sounds of the shuk, where of course you hear people shouting," Huetter said. The second half of the program will feature the Schubert Cello Quintet in C major, performed by the Casals Quartet joined by Huetter on cello. During the concert, the audience will also enjoy projected images by Austrian photographer Christian Jungwirth. "On his previous trips to Jerusalem, he took fantastic, beautiful pictures that are emotional and very touching. They're very personal, intimate pictures," Huetter said. Through these concerts, Huetter hopes to facilitate dialogue among the audience as well as between the musicians. "We really want to attract everyone to attend our concerts. We want to create human encounters. It's not just a concert; it's a coming-together. We have beautiful settings for people to meet, talk, respect each other, and listen carefully to the music and to the people sitting around them. Through respect, we can start to accept each other's differences and start to listen to each other," Huetter said. Inevitably, Huetter says, he has faced criticism about his pluralistic festival. According to Huetter, some argue that by performing in Jerusalem he is excluding Palestinian audiences, and by performing in the West Bank he is excluding Israeli audiences. But Huetter claims that, on the contrary, by performing concerts in both locations, he is bringing the music to all audiences, not denying one or the other. "We're trying to create a frame without borders. Through this frame, we want to bring music to people where they can't receive music," Huetter said. Tied to its goal of building cultural and religious bridges, Sounding Jerusalem does not accept official donations from either Israeli or Palestinian political sources. "We don't take any governmental money because we don't want to become political. Often people want to put you in a box, but it's the most important thing for us not to be put into a box. We don't belong to one side or another," Huetter said. The first Mélange Oriental concert is June 13, and the Sounding Jerusalem festival runs until June 28. Admission is free to all Sounding Jerusalem performances. For more information, visit