Orchestrating an identity

Shofar players, cantors, an orchestra and Shalom Hanoch get together to forge a new Israeli musical identity.

zipi fleischer (photo credit: )
zipi fleischer
(photo credit: )
"I can't imagine my new piece being world premiered in any place other than Jerusalem," says composer Zipi Fleischer. "The music and the city belong to each other; I only helped them meet." Her Symphony No. 5, "Israeli-Jewish Collage" for orchestra and magnetic tape, incorporating the voice of legendary Israeli rocker Shalom Hanoch and drawing on diverse Jewish liturgical traditions, will be performed by the Jerusalem Symphony (which commissioned it) this week at the Jerusalem Theater. The symphony starts from the idealistic beginnings of the country, follows its fight for survival, and culminates in a dream of future calm. "Its musical texture is complicated and rich, consisting of four audio lines: the orchestra, the shofar players, the cantors and the voice of Israeli rock pioneer Shalom Hanoch," explains Fleischer by phone from her Haifa home. "Hanoch, in outbursts of his rough voice, repeats over and over: 'Yes, yes, yes, the situation is difficult.' In those few words he summarizes the entire story, which the orchestra describes in detail." Fleischer recalls that she first tried, and failed, to write her symphony according to a strict plan. Looking for material, she reached the Jerusalem Renanot Institute for Jewish music. "It's not a music academy; anyone can learn Hebrew liturgy and shofar there." Choosing the five most talented shofar players, she recorded and arranged their music in the studio to fit her dramatic needs. Fleischer also discovered "a real treasure" of recorded Jewish liturgy in Renanot. She chose fragments of the Kol Nidrei prayer in various versions: Indian, Kurdish and Ashkenazi. "I could have brought them all to live performance with the orchestra, but they're not those kind of musicians; they don't really know what the conductor does on stage." Only after she created the magnetic tape of cantors, shofar and Shalom Hanoch did the orchestration go easily; the composer holed up at the Eilon kibbutz in the Galilee and completed the work in just two weeks. Synchronizing the tape with the orchestra, however, took a whole year. "This music expresses my thirst for a new Israeli identity. Trying to answer the existential question of how one can live here in peace with himself and with the others, I reached a state of despair," says Fleischer. "And for an artist, peace of mind is essential. Jews and Arabs, Ashkenazi and Mizrachi, secular and religious - is there anything we all love?" In the composer's vision, the crises through which Israel goes are not political but spiritual. In consequence, the solution has to be spiritual. "I've come to the conclusion that the only thing we all love is nature. The piece ends with people dancing at the seashore… I had to collect seashells, stones and dry branches and bring them to percussionists in Jerusalem." The "Israeli-Jewish Collage" will be premiered by the Jerusalem Symphony under the young British conductor Rebecca Miller this Wednesday and Thursday (when it will be broadcast live on Israel Radio's Voice of Music) at Jerusalem Theater's Henry Crown Hall. The concerts start at 8 p.m., and will include Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No 3, Schumann's "The Bride of Messina," and Dvorak's Symphony No 8.