Unity free for all

Chamber musicians will play 21 shows for Israelis and Palestinians, hoping to bridge some gaps.

Music good 88 (photo credit: )
Music good 88
(photo credit: )
An international group of elite chamber musicians will descend upon the Jerusalem area from June 15 to July 5 to play a series of free concerts designed to unite Israelis and Palestinians through classical music. Austrian cellist Erich Oskar Huetter, artistic director of the Sounding Jerusalem Chamber Music Festival, spoke of his vision for the festival at a press conference in Jerusalem on Wednesday. He said that the festival aimed to perform for a "balanced audience" of Israelis, Palestinians and international chamber-music lovers. Because Palestinians are less mobile than their Israeli counterparts, Huetter said, the festival would bring the music to them. So the same high-quality musical experiences will be available to audiences on either side of the Green Line, with 21 separate shows in both east and west Jerusalem, as well as West Bank Palestinian locales like Jericho and Jenin, along with Israeli areas such as Abu Gosh and Ein Kerem. The festival will culminate in a concert called "Connecting Jerusalem" in which 30 Israeli, Palestinian and European brass musicians will play together on the rooftops of Jerusalem's Old City in a musical experience that the festival's brochure claims "will unify the city on air." Speaking about this final show, Huetter noted that this was intended as a purely symbolic unification of Jerusalem. "You could say that this final concert is an illusion because we try to connect things that are not connected," said Huetter. Philip Holzapfel, a political officer of the Representative Office of Germany in Ramallah, also spoke at the press conference. He commented on the complexities of using music as a tool for unity. "I don't think Sounding Jerusalem or any other musical project could have a claim to solving the Middle East conflict," said Holzapfel. And notwithstanding the cross-cultural nature of the festival, it does not claim a political agenda. "We're not making political statements through our music," said Huetter. But the festival does have some concrete goals. In addition to the concerts themselves, Sounding Jerusalem will try to engage youth through a series of workshops with chamber musicians. The workshops will feature Austrian painter Maria Tupay Duque, who will lead children in the interpretation of music through painting. These paintings will then travel with the musicians to be displayed at their concerts. Huetter strongly believes that chamber music can be used as a tool of unity. "There's always a misunderstanding that Western classical music is only for Western people - that's not true," Huetter told The Jerusalem Post. Nor is all of the the music being played traditional Western chamber music. The initial concert in the series, "Melange Orientale," will feature an original composition reflective of the four quarters of the capital's Old City, including sounds recorded in the Old City itself. Although the majority of the musicians will come from Austria, the festival will also feature musicians from Germany, Japan, France, Switzerland and Finland. Four of the participating musicians are Israeli: violinist and oud player Taiseer Elias; pianist Arnon Erez; marimba player Chen Zimbalista; and conductor Ronen Nissan. Other Israeli musicians will participate in the final event in Jerusalem. Questioned about the relatively small number of Israeli musicians, Huetter said that the options for including Israelis in the festival were limited due to the complications Israelis face in traveling to PA-controlled areas. Even if chamber music cannot enable the removal of security checkpoints, perhaps it can help break down some cultural barriers. Tshe Sounding Jerusalem Chamber Music Festival 2008 will take place in various locations around Jerusalem and the West Bank from June 15 to July 5. The schedule can be found at www.soundingjerusalem.com