Song of the south

The Music in the Desert Festival at Kibbutz Sde Boker in the Negev celebrates its tenth anniversary.

The Music in the Desert Festival at Kibbutz Sde Boker in the Negev (from December 4 to 8) celebrates its tenth anniversary - against all odds, accordings to its initiator and artistic director Michael Wolpe. Speaking over the phone late at night from his Kibbutz Ravivim home, the composer, researcher and champion of the local musicians, explains: "Ten years ago people did not really know about Israeli music - they thought there were only the songs. We put Israeli music back on the map." This year the usual three-day festival expands to five, with The Song of Songs as its central theme. "I chose it since this is one of the most important texts in the history of our people and our state," says Wolpe. "Many pieces from the Jewish and Israeli tradition, which relate to this text, are included in the program." From its first year, the festival tried to bring the cultural life of the Israeli periphery to the public's attention. "This year, I accentuate two Israeli peripheries. The kibbutzim is one - there's a lot of music, connected to the kibbutz movement, be it the Aggada of Kibbutz Yagur, by Yehuda Sharet, or Song of Songs, by Nissimov, which opens the festival in a spectacular communal performance, prepared by kibbutz Sde Boker," he says. "The Negev is another periphery, and it is represented by various orchestras and ensembles, such as Sinfonietta Beer Sheva or Andalusian Orchestra, as well as individual artists." Wolpe laments that he has found himself in the center of a dispute. As artistic director, for the second year running, of The Israeli Music Celebration concert series, he was accused in the Hebrew press of showcasing only tonal Israeli music. In fact, he says, he did make room for a-tonal music at those standing-room only festivals of contemporary Israeli music that took place around the country. "I do not pretend to be one who defines what Israeli music is about," he explains. "My objective is to provide a platform to what is local, original and talented, diverse as it is. But I am not ready for anyone to tell me what is good and what is not." The festival programs feature pieces by Dubi Zeltser, Nissim Nissimov, Yehuda Sharet, Paul Ben Haim, Oded Zehavi, but also by Mendelssohn, Bach and Enesco. Among the participants are the Barrocade ensemble, the Li-Ron, Ramat Negev Singers, Upper Galilee and other choirs, soloists Sivan Rotem, Dudu Tasa and Yair Harel, and the Inbal Dance Company. For more details call (08) 656-4162 or visit the site